District attorneys refuse to prosecute some GOP-led laws

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — When Republican lawmakers in Tennessee blocked a policy that facilitated low-level marijuana cases, Nashville’s attorney general decided on a workaround: He didn’t charge anyone with the crime.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a Gwinnett County attorney has sworn not to punish anyone for the crime of handing out food or water to voters in turns. Tampa’s attorney general says a law allowing law enforcement to detain protesters pending trial is an ‘attack on our democracy’. A district attorney in Douglas County, Kansas has pledged not to enforce a new state law that makes it harder for nonpartisan groups, neighbors and candidates to collect and return missing ballots for voters.

Progressive prosecutors across the country are increasingly declaring that they will not enforce some GOP-backed state laws, a strategy that has been at work in response to some of the most controversial new changes in recent years – almost total abortion bans, voting restrictions, restrictions. restrictions on certain protest activities, laws against LGBTQ people, and mask requirements.

Elected law enforcement leaders say they are doing the right thing as support grows to change a system they believe relies too heavily on locking people out, especially for low-level, nonviolent crime.

But politics is also involved here. These lawyers live in deep blue areas where their decisions are popular with voters and must be reelected.

“The real limit to this is political,” said Jeffrey Bellin, a professor at the William & Mary School of Law. ‘These prosecutors have to stand for election in almost every part of the country. After all, the limit is popularity.’

Prosecutors have wide discretion in who to charge for crimes, and they can delay it depending on factors including the strength of an individual case, the seriousness of the crime, and sometimes the prosecutor’s views on the constitutionality of a law.

Last October, more than 70 prosecutors in blue zones across the country announced that they would not be prosecuting charges for failing to “make and punish” health care decisions, even with landmark abortion rights, under increasingly stringent laws against abortion by states. the case Roe v. Wade worn or overturned.

And in June, more than 70 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders signed a similar letter pledging not to blame doctors or parents who could face criminal penalties under state laws banning certain medical treatments for transgender youth.

“We know that our country has seen a history of some where interracial marriages or individuals of different races choose to sit at the dinner table together, ride the bus together, or use certain bathrooms and certain drinking fountains,” he said. Miriam Krinsky, managing director of Fair and Just Prosecution, which released the statements. ‘Change usually starts on the ground and moves upwards.’

In Nashville, Glenn Funk has made it a habit to resist laws passed by the GOP, saying that people in his city ‘really want to take a common sense approach to the criminal justice system that keeps us safe and doesn’t imprison people without good reason. His stand comes as the 2022 Nashville re-election bid approaches, and a tougher challenge awaits for an eight-year term.

Funk turned down Republican Governor Bill Lee this summer and said he would not prosecute teachers and school officials who enforced mask requirements against an executive order that allows parents to remove their students from mask duties.

Funk said he would “not prosecute school officials or teachers for keeping children safe.”

It also refused to enforce a 2020 law requiring medical professionals to inform women who have had drug-induced abortions that the procedure can be reversed, saying medical professionals are not supported by science. He considered the law ‘unconstitutional’ and said that ‘criminal law should not be used by the State to exercise control over a woman’s body’.

Tennessee passed a first-of-its-kind law this year that requires a notification outside of public restrooms at businesses that effectively say transgender people can be inside. Funk said his office would not “encourage hatred” and would not force it either.

Judges halted statewide policies on bathroom signs and abortion revocation, and blocked school mask revocation in three major counties.

Funk said prosecutors should use ‘power levers’ to maintain ‘a check and balance on excessive access’ by other branches of government.

“Furthermore, it’s up to public officials who disagree to stand up and say it,” Funk told the Associated Press. ‘Because if elected officials remain silent in the face of the enactment of unconstitutional laws, a public debate that could truly dehumanize a large part of our population, then if no one speaks out, then it gives the impression that this is just another side of the argument and there really is no argument at all.’

A Vermont state attorney does not prosecute for possession of addiction treatment drugs, including buprenorphine. The Seattle county attorney’s office stopped petty personal drug possession charges, and one prosecutor in Washtenaw County, Michigan, and several prosecutors in New York City stopped indicting prostitution crimes as long as it was consensual. In Philadelphia, before federal courts blocked the opening of overdose prevention sites, the district attorney said he would not charge anyone who opened and operated them.

In Florida, 13th Judicial District Attorney Andrew Warren called a new state law covering the Tampa district an “attack on our democracy.” It stiffens the penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest and was passed in the wake of the protests following the death of George Floyd. He’s on hold by a federal judge.

But prosecution’s discretion can cut both ways – especially in COVID-19 duties. In Pennsylvania, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, a Republican, told police not to make criminal references to the Democratic Government.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, conservative district attorney Craig Northcott in Coffee County, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville, argued that such laws were designed to protect the “sanctity of marriage”, saying gays should not receive domestic violence protection.

Republican lawmakers have filed many complaints about Funk, but efforts to rein in him so far have been unsuccessful. John Ragan, who sponsored the job bathroom signage law, asked the state’s attorney for an opinion on whether Funk’s refusal to enforce the job bathrooms law was grounds for firing him. Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office refused to weigh in, citing ongoing litigation over the law.

The governor mistreated himself on social media: ‘A district attorney’s willful disregard for laws duly enacted by the legislature is a serious issue with serious consequences and threatening our justice system,’ he tweeted.


Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


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