By Tom Aldred, Executive Director August 2, 2022
GIACOMO MORINI / Shutterstock.com
In a recent The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, billionaire political activist George Soros defended his financial support of what he terms “reform-minded prosecutors” around the country, arguing that “[t]he idea that we need to choose between justice and safety is false. They reinforce each other: If people trust the justice system, it will work. And if the system works, public safety will improve.”
Mr. Soros is wrong. The false premise is not that we have to choose between safety and justice, but rather that anyone is saying that that is the choice on the table. The justice system does not or will not work because people “trust” it. The system will only work if each person in the system does what they are supposed to do in order to investigate and prosecute crime. And justice flows from prosecutors playing their role alongside lawmakers, law enforcement, judges, and juries.
Mr. Soros claims that his agenda “includes prioritizing the resources of the criminal-justice system to protect people against violent crime. It urges that we treat drug addiction as a disease, not a crime. And it seeks to end the criminalization of poverty and mental illness.” These are all euphemisms. Prioritizing violent crime means letting lesser offenses go unpunished. Treating drug addiction as a disease means letting low level drug and related offenses go unpunished. And ending the criminalization of poverty means letting lower value property theft and similar offenses go unpunished. Spot the theme?
When prosecutors decline to prosecute entire categories of offenses, trust in the criminal justice system is lost. And it is lost not because of the merits of whether and how severely certain offenses should be prosecuted, but because the decision of whether to prosecute that type of offense is being made by someone who does not and should not hold that power. Legislators, not prosecutors, make the law. The job of prosecutors is to enforce it: in Texas they take an oath “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.” They do not get to pick and choose which laws to uphold. When someone’s home or business is burglarized, people expect lawmakers to have already made that a crime so that the perpetrator may be prosecuted. They do not expect to discover that the person whose responsibility it is to prosecute that crime declines to prosecute any and all burglaries. That is how trust is lost in the system.
As Andrew McCarthy writing in National Review put it, “we find that progressive prosecutors are not applying the laws enacted by the people’s representatives … Executive officials are not elected to make the laws but to enforce them.”
In Texas, for example, the Legislature writes the law. The Governor can veto those laws, but he cannot make up criminal offenses all by himself. The members of the Texas Legislature are elected by the people of Texas and they determine the laws of the land and penalties for breaking those laws. The Texas Constitution gives prosecutors – district and county attorneys – the exclusive jurisdiction over the prosecution of offenses in the districts and counties they serve.
Prosecutorial discretion is supposed to give prosecutors the ability to reasonably do their jobs (e.g. declining to prosecute someone to save resources because they think the evidence is unlikely to secure a conviction), not to decide which laws they will and won’t enforce en masse. That’s the Legislature’s job.
Yet in some of Texas’ largest cities, prosecutors are ignoring their responsibilities. Dallas County DA John Creuzot declines to prosecute theft of personal items valued at less than $750 unless the alleged theft was for economic gain. His office also dismisses all criminal trespassing charges that do not involve a residence or intrusion into a property and declines to prosecute most first-time misdemeanor marijuana cases. In 2020, Creuzot’s office rejected 3,331 marijuana possession cases out of 3,612 filed. These were all cases in which a law enforcement officer deemed an arrest to be appropriate.
In San Antonio, Bexar County DA Joe Gonzalez declines to prosecute possession of hard drugs under 0.25 grams and of marijuana under one ounce, unless the defendant is a danger to public safety, and declines to prosecute criminal trespass of homeless people if certain criteria are met. He has also altered an existing “cite-and-release” program to minimize arrests of people charged with certain offenses, including possession of small amounts of marijuana, driving with an invalid license, and misdemeanor theft.
In Austin, the Travis County DA José Garza in March through June of 2021 rejected 142 felony cases, a 735 percent increase for the same months in 2020. Of these 142 rejected cases, 93 were state jail felony charges for drugs. Other rejected felony charges included aggravated robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
All three of the above Texas district attorneys have reportedly received donations from George Soros or groups affiliated with him.
Mr. Soros acknowledges a “recent increase in crime” but contends that serious scholars looking for the cause “have pointed to other factors: a disturbing rise in mental illness among young people due to the isolation imposed by Covid lockdowns, a pullback in policing in the wake of public criminal-justice reform protests, and increases in gun trafficking.” Setting aside for a moment his own involvement in the movement that called for defunding of local police departments and how that may have caused what he euphemistically calls “a pullback in policing,” perhaps the answer to rising crime rates could be as simple as the notion that criminals having lost their trust in the justice system. They do not trust that they will be held accountable for their actions and so they behave accordingly.
Mr. Soros concludes asserting that “[j]udging by the results, the public likes what it’s hearing.” No, it doesn’t, Mr. Soros. San Francisco voters recalled DA Chesa Boudin in June by a wide margin with city Supervisor Rafael Mandelman noting that “voters have risen up and expressed tremendous frustration with the state of the city and a feeling that leaders are not taking us in the direction the people want to go.” Los Angeles DA George Gascon will likely face a recall election in November after concerned citizens gathered over 700,000 signatures requesting the recall. It is just a matter of time until voters in other jurisdictions follow suit.