Civil Liberties

District Attorney Candidates Win Big Against 'Tough on Crime'

During the last few election cycles, a wave of well-funded progressive candidates have run for prosecutor's offices in major cities. This time, quite a few reform-minded D.A.s won.

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You might have missed it amid all the shouting about the 2020 election, but the most populous county in the United States will now have a reform-minded district attorney.

Challenger George Gascón beat incumbent Jackie Lacey 54–46 percent in November to become the top prosecutor of Los Angeles County, which has a population of 10 million. It was the most significant win of the cycle for criminal justice reformers who in recent years have focused on local prosecutor races.

D.A.s wield an enormous amount of power and discretion in the criminal justice system, deciding which crimes to prioritize, how to charge defendants, and whether to seek high bail amounts. During the last few election cycles, a wave of well-funded progressive candidates have run for prosecutor's offices in major cities, turning what were once sleepy races into hotly contested battles over criminal justice reform.

The L.A. district attorney race was one of the most closely watched in the country. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been beset with accusations of misconduct, secrecy, and excessive force. Black Lives Matter activists criticized Lacey for failing to prosecute fatal police shootings. Gascón, who was San Francisco County's district attorney until 2019, has promised to reopen investigations into killings by police, focus on rehabilitation and drug treatment rather than incarceration, eschew much-abused penalty enhancements for defendants who allegedly belong to gangs, and refrain from seeking the death penalty.

"I think that this has been a campaign that has been driven by passion, by an honest commitment to reimagine our criminal justice system, moving away from punishment," Gascón told the local ABC station. "It's really about redemption."

Gascón wasn't the only prosecutor to win office with promises to change the status quo. Voters in Austin, Texas, and Orlando, Florida, elected two former defense attorneys to be their top prosecutors.

In Austin, José Garza is the new Travis County district attorney. The Appeal reported that his platform included declining to prosecute drug cases involving simple possession or the sale of less than a gram, "a policy that would effectively decriminalize small quantities of any controlled substance in Austin."

That move would go further to decriminalize drugs than Dallas and Bexar counties, where district attorneys said they would stop prosecuting people for possessing trace amounts of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

In Orlando, Monique Worrell will be the next state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties. Worrell's campaign platform included ending cash bail, using incarceration only as a last resort, limiting cases in which juveniles are charged as adults, and creating a special investigations unit focused on criminal accusations against police.

"We will seek incarceration only when it is absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety of others or when all other interventions have failed," Worrell's campaign website said. "We will generally not request prison sentences for drug and other victimless offenses, unless unusual and extreme circumstances are present."

In Honolulu, Hawaii, a retired judge was elected district attorney on a promise to clean up the office. The incumbent Honolulu prosecutor was on paid leave between November 2018 and September 2020 amid an FBI investigation into local corruption.

Cook County, Illinois, State Attorney Kim Foxx, who in 2016 became one of the first reform candidates to take over a major metropolitan prosecutor's office, cruised to reelection. Her office, whose jurisdiction includes Chicago, has undertaken an unprecedented transparency initiative, releasing detailed data on its charging decisions and outcomes.

Meanwhile, the race for New Orleans D.A. was set to be decided by a December 5 runoff between two candidates who both have pledged to reform the office to -differing degrees. The Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office became a high-priority target for criminal justice reformers after 12-year incumbent Leon Cannizzaro announced that he would not seek reelection.

The American Civil Liberties Union in 2017 sued Cannizzaro's office over its practice of sending fake subpoenas to crime victims and witnesses, and his office once used a habitual offender enhancement to obtain a sentence of 20 years to life for a man convicted of stealing a candy bar. New Orleans will now have a chance to bring its criminal justice system into the 21st century.

NEXT: Brickbat: I'll Show You a Warrant

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61 responses to “District Attorney Candidates Win Big Against 'Tough on Crime'

  1. “a wave of well-funded progressive candidates”

    Gosh, where did this money come from? Did they harvest it from the money tree?

    Also, the article doesn’t mention that Gascon

    “has issued a memo to prosecutors in his office seeking to change how they deal with a range of low-level crimes.

    “The memo spells out misdemeanors which should be declined or dismissed before arraignment, with a number of exceptions at the discretion of the prosecutor. Among them: Trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving with no license or a suspended license, making criminal threats, drug possession, drinking in public, loitering to commit prostitution and resisting arrest, among others.

    “The exceptions include situations which may involve repeat offenses, domestic violence or physical force used against an officer, among others.

    https://abc7.com/george-gascon-los-angeles-district-attorney-lada-misdemeanor-crimes/8674095/

    1. At minimum, I’d think trespassing and criminal threats violate the libertarian NAP. Does Reason have any comment?

      1. Orange Man Bad?

        1. Orange Man Gone. Why are we still talking about Orange Man?

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      2. By “reform” they mean that the laws will remain on the books but suspected criminals will not be prosecuted if they have the correct political affiliations. Alt-right, neo-Nazis MAGA chuds will still be prosecuted (and persecuted) to the fullest extent of the law. Liberty for me (and BLM) but not for thee.

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        2. Exactly. Sam Francis called this “anarcho-tyranny.”

      3. Reason is not a libertarian publication, and they don’t care about the NAP. I do not believe it’s hyperbole, based on the coverage or riots and looting all last year, to say that Reason does not think property rights are near as important as other rights.

        When was the last time the NAP was even mentioned in this publication? Do the younger writers even know what it is?

        1. Ps. This topic was covered before, and there was no criticism of not prosecuting trespassing in that article either.

      4. I think both of those crimes are often technical violations, victimless in such cases. Probably discretion would be used in those cases where there are actual victims.

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    3. That’s your choices now – support the criminals or support the criminal cops. Just like the giant douche or the turd sandwich, you’ve got no good choices,

      1. Which is unfortunate, because BLM actually had momentum and could’ve gotten us what we need: reform without going to extremes in either direction.

        But then they went full retard and killed any chance of doing any good. Instead of focusing on how we deal with actual victimless crimes (drugs, prostitution etc.) they decided to lump in a bunch of crimes where they just don’t like the victim.

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    7. “The exceptions also include lurking, speaking rudely, holding weapons disguised as yard tools and clenching fists, if the accused is determined to have voted for Trump.”

      Yeah, we really need a lot more prosecutorial discretion.

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  5. Does Reason.com get a cut from the spammers?

    1. Clicks are click, man. I just flag them all now and hit refresh.

      1. You do know that only removes them from YOUR view of the page?
        We still get to savor each and every one.

        1. I do know that.

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  6. This is great news for the Koch / Reason #EmptyThePrisons agenda. Every person who doesn’t end up behind bars represents one more potential Koch Industries employee.

    #GetReadyForTheKochComeback

  7. Oh yes, nothing better than DA’s who will not enforce laws except against their political enemies. Nothing makes for a freer and fairer society than completely arbitrary enforcement. Swear to god, its like no one actually knows how authoritarian governments reign terror on their people around here.

    1. Libertarians for Anarcho-Tyranny!

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    2. How many rioters and looters were prosecuted in Kenosha? I know of at least one convicted felon that had a firearm while rioting that, last I knew, was not prosecuted.

    3. They know Illocust; they just don’t care.

      Shackford has been beating the drum here for ‘bail reform’ and decriminalization of malum in se offenses for the last year. Take a look at his articles praising NYC getting rid of bail for ‘non-violent offenses’ like theft, robbery, and assault. It is more important to the writers of this magazine (and ultimately, their patrons and paymasters) that a violent shithead get a 10th “second chance,” than that ordinary citizens be protected from being assaulted or robbed.

      If we’re lucky, it will only be as bad as the 70s and early 80s again. I suspect it will be worse. It isn’t accidental or unintended, either. Increasing actual crime—whatever CompStat or other statistical measures may otherwise say—suits the goals of the people bankrolling these initiatives.

    4. Because the cops are bad, Reason is now pro-criminal.

      That’s the level of analysis I no longer pay for from them.

  8. “The incumbent Honolulu prosecutor was on paid leave between November 2018 and September 2020”

    That’s a good gig if you can get it.

    1. Almost as good as the teachers in NYC; they get to sit forever and get paid.
      OK, maybe not forever, they still get to retire.

  9. The libertarian progressive alliance. OBL called it.

    1. Yes, and I also welcome neocons (Kristol, Frum, Boot, etc.) into the alliance.

    2. A shorter and more accurate word is fascism.

      1. You mean “the third way” or “great reset”

  10. Retailers are going are going to flourish with these new enforcement guidelines.

    What could be better than operating a retail outlet in a city where shoplifters are only prosecuted if they take $1000 or more in merchandise. Every retailer has all sorts of extra cash around to hire security guards to apprehend shoplifters, turn them over to the police, and then watch in amazement as the reformed-minded DA will give him a stern talking to. Then that person is now redeemed and will never shoplift again. Or at least until next Thursday.

    And the non-enforcement of trespassing, loitering and prostitution laws will really enhance the living experiences of the people who live, work, shop and operate businesses in these enlightened cities. Who doesn’t love living with doped up gang members, alcoholic vagrants, and hookers. Great selling points for any city.

    The libertarian future will be glorious.

    1. Those who don’t move out will raise their prices to compensate for the lost products. Then a couple years later the Pols will be railing against the greedy businesses that charge inner city residents so much for the same products. That’s how this cycle works.

    2. In the US, insider(employee) theft is a bigger problem for large retailers than shoplifting.

      Study: Shrink costs U.S. retailers $42 billion; employee theft tops shoplifting

      1. So? Because A steals more than B is not a good reason to let B get away with stealing.

        1. Yeah, unless Matthew is suggesting there are retailers who have a policy not to punish employees for theft under $1000.

          Which he might actually be saying, now I think on’t.

    3. San Francisco is already seeing what happens under the new guidelines.

      1. on the other hand, the 100% off sales at retail outlets do stimulate the online retail market for “like new” items.

  11. Amazing how unReason has become.

    An article about George Soros funding far left wing DA’s who support BLM, Antifa and other criminals that never mentioned the names of foreign left wing billionaire George Soros’ or his mega bucks Open Society group.

    This is like writing an article about the Trump’s financial empire without ever mentioning Trump’s name.

    1. My thoughts exactly.

      As for “I think that this has been a campaign that has been driven by passion, by an honest commitment to reimagine our criminal justice system, moving away from punishment,” Gascón told the local ABC station. “It’s really about redemption.”

      Let the current generation get a taste of what life was like in the 70s and 80s; then watch just how “tough on crime” the next wave of prosecutors are.

      1. Not if they start fixing DA elections the same way they fixed the presidential election. (And why wouldn’t they?)

  12. This is just a pragmatic approach to pro-liberty reform. Libertarians don’t have enough strength to get much reform on our own, but we can roll logs with “liberals” and “conservatives” on some issues wherein neither of us get exactly what we want, but we’ll get something approximating it.

    Right now there’s not enough support to get repeal of victimless crime laws per se. However, there’s a lot of overlap between victimless crimes and low-level crimes generally, so while a reduction in prosecution of low-level crimes won’t get us exactly what we want, and in some cases will produce the opposite of what we’d like, it stands a chance to allow a winning coalition that produces approximately what we’d go for if we were actually in charge.

    1. This makes sense but I think the author could have at least tried to present an argument for why we don’t care about trespassing or threats or for why we shouldn’t be concerned the DA will enforce laws to suit a political agenda. The premise of the article is that we want a DA who serves a particular political agenda, whether progressive or libertarian, but at least nominally the job of the DA is to enforce whatever the law happens to be and it’s the job of the legislature to promote actual agendas.

  13. Joe Biden has urged all Americans to “punch out” domestic violence.

    1. Right on, Joe!! I’m with ya!

      And fuck rape too!

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