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March 6, 2018

Noting the focus on prosecutor elections as new front in criminal justice reform efforts

This new McClatchy article, headlined "Progressive groups investing in district attorney races as path to criminal justice reform," highlights the new focus on DA elections within the broader modern criminal justice reform movement. Here is how the piece starts:

The American Civil Liberties Union, backed by millions in funding from billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, is investing resources and applying organizational muscle in local district attorney races in 2018.

The ACLU is among a variety of organizations working to elect prosecutors willing to jumpstart a laundry list of criminal justice reforms, including an overhaul of the pretrial bail bond system. It received a $50 million grant from Soros’ Open Society Foundations in 2014.

Now, in this year’s elections, the organization is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri.

The group hasn’t determined which local races will be targeted, but it will focus on contests in big cities with large jail populations that feed the state prison system, said Taylor Pendergrass, senior campaign strategist for the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice.  More than 1,000 local prosecutors are up for election in November, according to the group. “We’re just recognizing how powerful district attorneys are in shaping criminal justice policies, both at the local level, but also at the statehouse,” Pendergrass said. “The lobbying power of prosecutors is really a substantial force almost everywhere we want to see change made in the criminal justice system.”

The ACLU doesn’t endorse political candidates. Instead, it said the objective is to raise awareness about criminal justice issues of concern to the organization, its members and the voting public.  But Soros-funded super PACs and advocacy groups have helped elect a growing number of progressive district attorneys who now serve metro areas such as Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and Orlando. And it’s looking to add more in 2018.

The Color of Change Political Action Committee, which has also received Soros funding, is urging black voters to support Democratic candidate Elizabeth Frizell for Dallas County District Attorney in Texas.  A former state district judge, Frizell has called for special prosecutors to investigate shootings by police.  She also supports replacing cash bail bonds with a pretrial release system based on factors such as the type of offense, the facts of the case and the defendants’ likelihood to re-offend and return to court.

An African American, Frizell reflects a new wave of ethnically diverse, activist district attorney candidates, many of whom support policies such as diversion programs for minor drug offenders, reentry programs for people leaving prison and reducing disparities that disproportionately impact poor and minority defendants in the courts.

March 6, 2018 at 08:20 PM | Permalink


Doug, I note that there has not been a comment from Supremacy Claus in the last four posts. I hope you pulled the plug on him following his over the top remark about Justice Ginsburg.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 6, 2018 8:36:34 PM

Don't poke the sleeping Behar bear....

Posted by: Doug B | Mar 7, 2018 9:54:22 AM

I wrote this for C&C regarding this topic. I am re-posting it here.

The ACLU has rolled out a new campaign in California (https://meetyourda.org) to help people learn about the "most powerful elected official you may not know;” the elected District Attorneys. Instead, the ACLU has managed to increase misunderstanding rather than enhance any knowledge.

The ACLU states that a California DA has the "sole" power to decide what charges to bring and the severity of those charges. This is not true. Many, perhaps even most of the felony charges that are filed in California, can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor and the court has the authority to reduce that type of charge even when the DA chooses a felony charge. This power under section 17 of the Penal Code is not mentioned, but most certainly relates to the severity of a charge.

"They alone decide who is deserving of a jail or prison sentence and who will instead be routed into a diversion program to help rebuild their life, or have charges dismissed." Let me count the ways in which this is false. Odd that the ACLU would not mention that most crimes, including some violent crimes such as robbery, are probation eligible. In those instances, the court gets the final say on who goes to jail or prison, not the DA. Of course, the ACLU does not mention the power of the court to dismiss charges, penalties, or both, under section 1385 of the Penal Code either. A section invoked by the court, over the DA's objection, every single day in trial courts throughout the state.
The website provides four scenarios where the public is invited to "be a DA for a day." The choices are extreme and binary; as a result, they are not particularly realistic. Most outrageous, however, is the ACLU's statement in a drug sales scenario that if the DA chooses the most serious charge, that the defendant will receive a prison sentence, for the maximum term, and with no good time credits to reduce incarceration time. Using a 21-year-old female as the example, which is hardly representative, the ACLU fails to mention the fact that California law grants generous credits for good behavior, and rarely does the court impose the maximum sentence, even if the DA asks for it.

Despite the vigorous use of collateral consequences as advocacy throughout the website, not a single word is dedicated to California's longstanding and generous record clearance procedures that have recently been expanded by the Legislature. It appears that the ACLU has gone out of its way to reduce the public's understanding of California law, not enhance it.

The ACLU lawyers who designed this campaign must know all of this; however, they chose not to mention them. California lawyers have an ethical duty of candor and honesty to the court as well as a jury; it appears the ACLU sees no need to extend the same courtesy to the rest of us. If all they wanted to do was to show that some elected DA's were out of step with the voters of California based upon Props. 36, 47 and 57, the data presented at the website and the public positions of the elected DA's would be sufficient. However, given the rest of the ACLU's presentation, it is no wonder that the public might become misinformed with respect to those very same propositions.

Posted by: David | Mar 7, 2018 10:19:05 AM

Bruce. No matter what I do, I just cannot get banned on Facebook recently. I am getting a dozen libtards and gays banned on Facebook daily. Getting people banned is a good Facebook game. It adds spice to a boring activity. So, I am sorry to have less time for this blog. I did get banned from LGBTQ Nation. The gays were just great. No one responded more than they did. I still get notifications of vicious personal attacks from them, but I cannot reply. They were deniers of reality 10 times more than the lawyers.

If you are on Facebook, send me a Friend request. I will accept it. Many of my posts are about the law, outside of sentencing.

This is how I relax. It is an escape from real world stress. Thanks for helping me relax.

Speaking of getting people banned on Facebook. NY Times: millions of identity thefts on Facebook and on Twitter. These are real profiles. They are stolen and used to sell Followers for one cent each. For $200, I can buy 20,000 followers, with real names, real profiles. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, amended in 1996, prohibits such misuse. The sentence is 10 years, for each theft.


I have complained of the 15 million identity thefts, each netting $5000, not being counted as part of a crime surge. If you include each appropriation of an identity and its reselling, the crime surge is not in the millions, but in the billions.

Doug, you have to address internet sentencing and the CFAA in your next textbook revision. Lower your priority on decarceration bullshit, false propaganda. Raise your priority on internet crime sentencing. Get with the times. I know, I am not your boss, but I am a consumer. Customer Service is where a company gets consulting valued in the $millions for free.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 7, 2018 12:52:17 PM

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