In November, most Americans will go to their polling places. Most will have decided which candidates they will vote for president, governor, senator and legislator.
However, very few will have informed opinions about the district attorney.
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Such ignorance is unfortunate and may be disastrous. Leftist prosecutors increasingly use their offices to promote radical policies. Voters who hear the phrase “progressive prosecution” linked to the electoral race should pay very close attention.
The Power of Prosecutors
Prosecutors, like district attorneys, occupy a unique place in the justice system. They are relatively invisible, yet have a great deal of discretionary power. They determine who is prosecuted and the crimes for which they will be tried. Judges frequently follow the prosecutors’ recommendations when setting bail. To streamline the system, prosecutors often propose “plea bargains,” in which defendants plead guilty to lesser crimes.
District attorneys are part of the executive branch of government. Therefore, legislatures are unable or unwilling to limit their powers. Unless some blatant act of corruption, such as a bribe, takes place, no law can force a prosecutor to prosecute.
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They have this discretion because society assumes they act in the interest of public safety.
Defining Progressive Prosecution
“Progressive prosecutors” see their role differently. The University of California – Davis Law Review provides an explanation that can serve as a definition. In “The Progressive Prosecutor’s Handbook,” David Alan Sklansky of the Stanford University Law School, a supporter of the trend, presents the goals of the movement.
“[A] growing number of chief prosecutors have won office by pledging a more balanced approach to criminal justice — more attentive to racial disparities, the risk of wrongful conviction, the problem of police violence, and the failures and terrible costs of mass incarceration.”
Notice the phrase “balanced approach.” It hides a progressive agenda. The task of a district attorney is to prosecute those accused of breaking the law. Mr. Slansky asserts that racial disparities and police violence may override the law itself.
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Allegorical statues representing justice portray a blindfolded female figure carrying scales. The scales denote the need to weigh both sides of a case according to the evidence. The blindfold symbolizes the impartiality of the judge who is blind to a person’s status or station.
Prosecutors play a crucial role in the process of justice. They defend society’s right to peace and safety by removing those who violate just laws.
Professor Slansky continues, “activists across the country increasingly blamed prosecutors for much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system — its cruelty, its violence, its wastefulness, its biases and its unreliability — and they increasingly turned to prosecutors to fix those problems.”
Resisting Law and Order
During the late sixties, “law and order” candidates gained popularity with traditional Americans. Race riots and anti-Vietnam War protests shook dozens of cities. Violence was part of a growing “drug culture.” Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court appeared to put the rights of criminals over those of victims. Many citizens demanded more rigorous law enforcement.
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The police and the prosecutors had to “clean up the streets.” The public demanded that criminals be arrested, tried, and “put away” for long sentences. Voters evaluated prosecutors accordingly.
The result was predictable. The increase in crime caused more arrests, which in turn yielded more convictions. Prison populations grew. Under great stress, police officers sometimes overreacted.
Such situations were intolerable to the left. Law schools soon trained their students to fight against such “outrages.” The mainstream media publicize cases of “police brutality” against citizen-victims.
Those efforts are bearing fruit in progressive prosecution.
A “New Paradigm”
A typical effort is the “Institute for Innovation in Prosecution” at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Its stated goal is to “consider a new paradigm for measuring prosecutor success that eschews conviction rates and plea conditions to focus instead on community-centered standards of public safety, equity, and social wellbeing.”
A prime example of the new “focus” is the centuries-old system of posting “cash bail.”
Cash bail serves several functions. It discourages the accused from fleeing before trial. It releases people who have not been – and may never be – found guilty of any crime. The accused can still fulfill job and family responsibilities. It relieves the state of feeding and housing the accused.
Progressives are oblivious to these benefits. Ideologically blinded, they only see a system that releases the rich, while incarcerating the poor. Thus, these progressive prosecutors request release without bail. The increased risk of flight must be sacrificed to the goal of a more egalitarian society.
Other methods include low sentencing recommendations and charging the defendants with lesser crimes. Some “victimless crimes,” such as drug possession, are not prosecuted at all.
A Prime Example
Perhaps the best example is Chesa Boudin, the District Attorney for San Francisco.
If revolutionaries acknowledged a kind of radical “hierarchy,” Mr. Boudin would be on top. Commentary describes his background.
“Yale- and Oxford-educated Boudin is the son of Weather Underground terrorists Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert…. [O]n October 20, 1981, Chesa was left with a sitter as they went off … to execute the infamous Brinks armored-car robbery…, in which the plotters murdered a private security guard and two police officers…. Chesa was raised in Chicago by their Weatherman comrades Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, two other terrorists who escaped prosecution.”
The New York Post quoted one of Mr. Boudin’s campaign videos. “Growing up, I had to go through a metal detector and steel gates just to give my parents a hug.” His father remains incarcerated. His mother was paroled and is now on the faculty of Columbia University. She co-directs its ironically named Center for Justice.
Mr. Boudin reflected on his childhood for NPR. “Years now, decades, of visiting my parents behind bars taught me hard lessons about how broken the criminal justice system is – about how devoid of compassion it is. It’s not healing the harm that victims experience. It’s not rehabilitating people. And in many ways, it’s making us less safe.” Nowhere does he blame his parents’ crimes for his childhood travails.
His campaign was true to form. Real Clear Politics reported that “The cornerstone of Boudin’s campaign is sabotaging immigration enforcement. He has called for prosecution and imprisonment of ICE and police officers for doing their jobs and vowed to create an “immigrant defense unit” within the DA’s office to “stand up to Trump on immigration.”
Taking a Principled Stand
This trend is dangerous. It is outrageous not to prosecute merely because the accused is poor or part of a minority. “Progressive Prosecution” must be rejected. Such practices enshrine a fundamental Marxist fallacy in which the group identity replaces the individual.
Prosecutors’ discretion should apply to individuals rather than groups. A poor person’s circumstances might deserve mercy. It should never be ladled out solely because defendants are impoverished.
This phenomenon is nationwide. All voters should look at their local prosecutors. They should ask lawyers for recommendations. Local newspaper reporters, especially those who cover the courthouse, may have useful information. Most district attorneys have a presence on the Internet. Voters need to see if the candidate’s website reflects a traditionalist or progressive point of view.
To those who are not part of the legal system, the local prosecutors’ activities are invisible. The health and safety of a community – and the ideal of justice itself – may depend on changing that situation.