“A Shift in Thought”

That is the tag line on the Christian Science Monitor’s article  describing a “new breed” of prosecutor in the United States: “From Texas to Florida to Illinois, many of these young prosecutors are eschewing the death penalty, talking rehabilitation as much as punishment, and often refusing to charge people for minor offenses. While their numbers are small, they are taking over DA offices at a crucial moment… “It does seem to be a new and significant phenomenon,” says David Alan Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School, of the new prosecutors. “It’s rare to see so many races where the district attorney is challenged, where they lose, and where they lost to candidates calling not for harsher approaches, but for more balanced and thoughtful, more restrained, more progressive approaches to punishment.”

At this point only a few dozen DA’s out of  2,500 nationwide fit the Monitor’s description, but the paper suggests that those numbers could grow, as activists increasingly target DA elections, and a generational divide becomes apparent between younger prosecutors who came of age in an era of low crime, and older DAs shaped by the war on drugs.

One marker of the change is capital punishment. Aramis Ayala, the new district attorney in Florida’s Orange County, has received the most national attention for her refusal to seek the death penalty in any case, but she is not the only one. Beth McCann, the district attorney in Denver, is doing the same thing, and Larry Krasner, who is poised to become the next DA in Philadelphia, is an opponent of capital punishment as well.

There are other indicators in multiple jurisdictions: James Stewart, the district attorney in Caddo Parish, in Louisiana, took control of an office with a record of aggressive capital convictions and has quietly not gone to trial on a death penalty case since being elected in 2015; Kim Foxx, the new state’s attorney in Cook County, in Illinois, announced in March that her lawyers will not oppose the release of detainees from jails who can’t afford cash bonds of as much as $1,000; Kim Ogg in Texas, who took over an office plagued by a recent history of unethical prosecutions, dismissed three dozen prosecutors in leadership positions and has hired a former judge to lead a newly formed ethics office.

Leave a Reply