Pennsylvania Legislators Quickly And Quietly Passed A Law That Strips Power From Its Reform-Minded DA

from the dirty-deeds-done-with-amazing-alacrity dept

The residents of Philadelphia elected Larry Krasner as their new DA in 2018. Krasner promised reforms to the criminal justice system. And he delivered. He secured 33 resignations from prosecutors and staff who didn't feel they could back his reforms. Shortly after this, he received the best possible (inadvertent) endorsement for his reform efforts, one that took the form of criticism from the head of the local police union.

Krasner eliminated cash bail for nonviolent defendants and made it clear he would not tolerate misconduct or abuse by police officers. More importantly, he did more than talk. Two officers were criminally charged for performing an illegal stop of a pedestrian and Krasner secured an indictment from a grand jury against a cop who shot an unarmed man in the back.

Local law enforcement isn't happy. Neither are many politicians. As Akela Lacy and Ryan Grim report for The Intercept, moves have been made to blunt Krasner's reform efforts.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have quietly muscled power away from reformist District Attorney Larry Krasner, passing new legislation giving authority to the state’s attorney general to prosecute certain firearms violations in Philadelphia — and nowhere else in the state. The provision will expire in two years, or just after Krasner’s first term ends.

The bill silently sped through the legislative process. It was referred to the Judiciary committee on June 11th and signed into law by the governor on July 2nd. That's amazing turn-time for a bureaucracy. It appears there are plenty of state legislators who prefer their prosecutors to be hard-nosed punishers, rather than actual arbiters of justice who realize the normal way of doing things (cash bail, stiff sentences, over-prosecution of minor crimes) contributes very little to anyone's idea of "justice."

Krasner's office has responded by pointing out the obvious.

In a statement, Krasner’s office said the move is an attempt by the legislature to undermine the will of voters who turned out in record numbers to elect him. “District Attorney Larry Krasner was elected by an overwhelming margin to push for badly needed criminal justice reforms in one of the most highly incarcerated big cities in the country, and he has serious concerns about what Act 58 does, the potential precedent it sets, and what it signifies for the justice movement at large,” said spokesperson Jane Roh, referencing the legislation the new law amends.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to point out the obvious to put something on the record in black-and-white -- something the legislators who hastily shepherded this bill through the state legislature can't ignore. And there's more to it than a bunch of legislators yearning to stick it to the new reformer. It appears some legislators were completely unaware targeting Krasner was the goal of this legislation.

Multiple legislators made statements to The Intercept indicating the version the House approved did not match the Senate version, which was apparently surreptitiously changed to narrow the focus of the bill to Philadelphia and Krasner in particular. The version these legislators voted for gave smaller towns better access to attorney general resources. The final bill does none of that. All it does is wrest power away from Krasner and hand it to the state's AG.

Meanwhile, the AG's office is claiming this has nothing to do with Krasner -- whose power it preempts -- and everything to do with the city's gun violence problem. But this is bullshit because the problem the AG's office and supportive legislators have with Krasner's exercise of prosecutorial discretion is that he exercises it too often.

Supporters of the legislation say Philadelphia was singled out not because of Krasner, whose office would still technically have jurisdiction over the offenses, but because the city is home to the bulk of the state’s gun violence. “The Philadelphia DA continues to have the authority to prosecute these crimes, should he decide to start enforcing the law,” Republican Rep. Rob Kauffman, who sponsored the bill and worked directly with White to craft the amendment, wrote in a statement to The Intercept. “This wasn’t done statewide because prosecuting these gun offenses doesn’t seem to be a statewide issue.”

If Krasner passes on gun cases, the AG can now prosecute instead. Prosecutorial discretion means nothing when another prosecutor can push cases dropped by a city DA. The city has found one way to undermine a DA who actually changed things. I'm sure they'll keep experimenting until they can undo the good he's done.

Filed Under: criminal justice, criminal justice reform, da, larry krasner, pennsylvania, philadelphia, prosecutors


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2019 @ 1:52pm

    Every Nation

    Deserves the Government it has.

    Or in this case... every state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 15 Jul 2019 @ 1:58pm

    But..

    Does it exclude the local DA from making a plea deal with immunity grant which means the state prosecutor can't renege on it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2019 @ 2:11pm

    Lie Detector

    Every person in political office should be constantly wearing a lie detection device.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:01pm

      Re: Lie Detector

      Terrible idea, the thing would constantly be going off, deafening anyone around them. Better by far to attach a truth telling device, you'd only rarely hear that beeping if it was attached to a politician.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Qwertygiy, 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:44pm

        You're right, the beeper on a political polygraph would be a public nuisance. All sorts of noise ordinances that could potentially violate. Not to mention, the medical bills for people listening to politicians would skyrocket. Insanity is bad enough, but insanity and deafness is simply inhumane.

        The solution, then, is obvious. The polygraph shall not contain a beeper, but a buzzer. Should the politician display a low intermolar veracity, they shall be swiftly reminded that truth is the key of success. This reminder shall be patriotically presented as a faithful recreation of the feeling that our great Philadelphian Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, experienced when clutching such a key and successfully discovering that a thunderstorm does not create the optimal conditions for the flying of kites.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Lie Detector

      Every person in political office should be constantly wearing a lie detection device.

      It was well known even 50 years ago that their lips are such a device.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 15 Jul 2019 @ 2:17pm

    As usual reporter should follow the money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 15 Jul 2019 @ 2:53pm

    Why Bother with Elections?

    Pennsylvania Legislators Quickly And Quietly Passed A Law That Strips Power From Its Reform-Minded DA

    PA's legislators need to change the state motto from:

    Virtue, Liberty and Independence

    to:

    Vile, Tyranny and Dependence

    The bill silently sped through the legislative process. It was referred to the Judiciary committee on June 11th and signed into law by the governor on July 2nd. That's amazing turn-time for a bureaucracy.

    Mayhap they would be able to legislate the changed motto in record time?

    Like recently when PA's legislature moved at light speed to strip Philadelphia's DA of the ability to use prosecutorial discretion bringing charges in firearms related cases.

    Will of the people and consent of the governed be damned!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:11pm

    Could you at least TRY to hide your corruption?

    Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have quietly muscled power away from reformist District Attorney Larry Krasner, passing new legislation giving authority to the state’s attorney general to prosecute certain firearms violations in Philadelphia — and nowhere else in the state. The provision will expire in two years, or just after Krasner’s first term ends.

    Because nothing says 'this has nothing do do with the DA, and everything to do with a serious problem that isn't them' like making the new provision expire right after said DA's term expires.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Qwertygiy, 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:26pm

      And to think, some people's careers are destroyed by the mere appearance of impropriety, when a little digging clearly shows that everything was legitimate.

      I have a sneaking suspicion that a scoop into these politicians and their bill would, quite likely, reveal less than stellar intentions behind their dripping red hands.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:33pm

    “The Philadelphia DA continues to have the authority to prosecute these crimes, should he decide to start enforcing the law,” Republican Rep. Rob Kauffman, who sponsored the bill and worked directly with White to craft the amendment, wrote in a statement to The Intercept.

    So... Exactly which violations of the law did Krasner not prosecute, such that passage of a law empowering the state AG to do it became necessary? I'd be curious to know what great injustices the Representative feels the DA dropped the ball on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 15 Jul 2019 @ 3:41pm

    Jobs for the boys?

    I do not believe there is much ideological difference between progressive DAs and old-guard DAs on prosecuting gun crimes. More likely this is patronage by the new AG, finding work for the prosecutors fired by the Philadelphia DA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan Neely (profile), 16 Jul 2019 @ 7:28am

    As a Pennsylvanian I can't say I'm surprised. While Democrats are competitive in state wide races the state legislature is close to being a fully owned subsidiary of the Republican party.

    Gerrymandering definitely helps, but even assuming the court ruling that forced US Congressional districts to be redone more fairly for 2018 applies to statewide redistricting after the 2020 census I suspect the larger number of districts will mean that the R's winning the rural half of the state 2:1 while the D's win the big cities 10:1 will still give the former an advantage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 16 Jul 2019 @ 7:46am

    They hate our freedom

    Republicans hate democracy. That's why they're erode it in the US and impose it on countries they don't like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 17 Jul 2019 @ 5:16am

      Re: They hate our freedom

      Confirmed correct. I've seen right-wingers refer to the Constitution as the "Con-stitution." They don't like the rule of law.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2019 @ 11:27am

    I was unaware that changing a state Constitution was so easy, I used to think it required some sort of vote by the eligible voters in said state or something like that. But apparently a small group of douche bags can conspire to do damage from back rooms with little to no repercussions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 16 Jul 2019 @ 1:37pm

    Juist a few.

    How many times has the State had to goto court to justify What the police do/have done/will do??
    How much money is spent a a Screw up, that has to be investigated, processed, goto court, find the officer did ????(good of bad) then give the complaintent money to shut up.. because if you dont they will go up the ladder..

    It was interesting to hear the rules of being a security officer for a large retail...THEY MUST FOLLOW THE RULES...or justify(imagine) a reason for what happened.
    Because the retail store gets Sue'd, not him. HE LOOSES HIS JOB...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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