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November 8, 2017

Another notable set of Election Day results for the criminal justice reform movement

One could readily spin the 2016 election as a good one for the (non-capital) sentencing reform movement: marijuana reform and sentencing reform initiatives won in a wide array of blue and red states, and the presidential candidate more supportive of federal reforms won the nationwide popular vote by a fairly sizable margin.  But, on the other side of the spin cycle, the death penalty won big ballot initiative victories in a three states (including California), and Donald Trump won all the right votes in all the right places to become Prez and bring his tough-and-tougher attitudes about crime and punishment into power in the federal executive branch.

I remind everyone of these mixed-message stories from the major election of 2016 because it seems there are not mixed messages or competing spins likely to emerge from the off-off-year election results in 2017.  In two gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, the candidate more supportive of some form of criminal justice reform prevailed.  As noted in this prior post, Prez Trump used his Twitter thumbs to make crime a central issue in the Virginia race, but his preferred candidate seems to have badly under-performed his poll numbers.  And in a widely-discussed local DA race, long-time defense attorney Larry Krasner won big in Philadelphia and now seems poised to engineer a whole new approach to the prosecutorial function in one of the largest cities in the US.

For an array of reasons, these results do not ensure that an array of sentencing reform movements at the federal, state and local levels are sure to be ever more successful and productive in the months and years ahead.  But they serve as a clear signal at this moment in time that advocating criminal justice reform in the right ways and in the right places can be part of winning political strategy (at least on the east coast).   The importance of that signal cannot be overstated.

November 8, 2017 at 09:11 AM | Permalink


In Philadelphia, we will have natural experiment. The new District Attorney subscribes to the left wing ideals of this blog. He was an extremist left wing defense attorney, with the interests of the criminal defendant as his goal and his job. He was funded massively by George Soros. He basically wants to end punishment, no cash bail, diversion to social services for addicts. the works. We will see the result. Whatever the results, they will be the full responsibility of the voters who put him in office by a wide margin.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 8, 2017 10:23:39 AM

The DA is someone to watch and the discussion a few weeks back about how even "liberal" prosecutors tend not think outside the usual tough on crime boxes was appreciated. Maybe, we can have periodic updates to see what changes in policy occur in Philly. Like a ball team that is re-building, change might take time to occur.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2017 11:58:35 AM



Court holds that certain kinds of "rapes" for state law purposes are not "violent rapes" for ACCA sentencing purposes. It has a lot of snide comments about SCOTUS's approach to law in this area, which it clearly disagree with.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 8, 2017 2:14:18 PM

Thanks, Daniel. I have largely given up blogging about ACCA cases because there are so many and the jurisprudence is so uninspiring. But I will be sure to check out the snide comments.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 8, 2017 3:48:16 PM

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