Our state gives broad discretion to district attorneys as to what cases they accept for prosecution and for what charges defendants will face. There are good reasons for this, DAs are expected to have the ability to evaluate cases and to serve the cause of justice.
When lawmakers granted such broad powers, they did so with the understanding that a nation of laws is the only way to achieve a stable and safe society. The laws that limit citizen behavior are derived from the collective will of a democratically elected legislative body.
So how do we justify granting DAs discretion to bypass enacted law? One word, practicality. The criminal justice system is so complex that such discretion is needed to operate it effectively.
When the theory of discretion was envisioned, no one could foresee a time when, in order to press a personally-held political position, DA’s would use their power to systematically bypass legislative will. Refusing to indict or to prosecute criminal defendants was used as a tool to rewrite the laws of the state would have been thought an absurdity a decade ago.
Our democracy wholly depends on the expectation of citizens to rely on and have faith in our system of law. The explosion of crime and the accelerating growth of social ills in so many of our cities is ample proof of the danger that lurks when DAs use their power of discretion to unilaterally implement their own vision of society.
Take New Orleans, for example. According to the city’s violent crime tracking database, there were 1,286 car thefts in Orleans Parish between New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a 138 percent increase over last year. Burglaries are up 30 percent. Rapes and sexual assaults are up 23 percent. Some other crimes are down; carjackings, for example, are half what they were at this time last year. But of course, that’s because the DA’s office in Orleans, led by accused (but not convicted) tax cheat and criminal-coddler Jason Williams has begun prosecuting carjackers after four of those animals killed Linda Frickey in a horrifying, gruesome way.
Left to their own devices they don’t seem willing to prosecute property crimes. And property crimes are skyrocketing. Go figure.
The DA lobby is very strong in the Louisiana state capital and they fight vigorously to defend discretion. But the safety of society must trump the political power of the few. If we as a society expect peace and security we must find a legislative path to override rogue DAs without ending the practically of legitimately applied discretion.
It does not go too far to suggest that if we don’t reel in the unintended use of discretion by politically motivated District Attorneys we may see a time when, in order to protect our cities and their citizens, state government will have to circumvent the powers of local government and institute state control of local criminal justice. We have already heard the desperate cries of citizens to send in the National Guard to buck up the police that have been decimated by the political decisions of local leaders. A state takeover of local justice could be the ultimate reaction to the anarchy of crime.
Take the example of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who last year fired the state’s attorney in Tampa for flouting state law on a number of political hot buttons. Perhaps Louisiana might need to create such a check in our own law.
The actions of activist DAs in using their discretion to bypass the collective will of the legislature is a clear affront to democracy. Worse, the ramifications of ignoring the stability of democracy found in our nation of laws poses danger to the very existence of our cities. How long can we tolerate the decline that follow the breakdown of law?
My appeal to our legislature is to work with, or if necessary without, the DA lobby to pass laws placing a straight jacket on rogue DAs who use discretion to foster their own political agenda. When used as intended discretion is a valuable tool, when used for political ends it is a danger to democracy and worse, a curse on the safety and security of citizens of our cities and state.