Let’s start off with the new state prosecutors who have been elected around the country. They haven’t gotten a ton of press but they are making lots of important changes. Here’s a story from St. Louis:
On his second day in office, St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell fired the veteran assistant prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh, who was primarily responsible for presenting evidence to the grand jury that declined to indict a Ferguson police officer in the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown.
Bell also issued new policies, such as no longer prosecuting marijuana possession and failure to pay child support cases.
The policy changes issued Wednesday included:
• No longer prosecuting marijuana possession cases of fewer than 100 grams. Prosecution of more than 100 grams will be pursued only if evidence suggests the sale or distribution of marijuana. (St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced in June that possession of fewer than 100 grams would not be prosecuted unless there are aggravating circumstances.)
• Not prosecuting people who fail to pay child support. Current cases will not be dropped, however; they will be on hold. Not seeking to revoke probation solely on the basis of failure to pay child support.
• Not seeking charges against those who fail to pay restitution without a court order establishing someone’s “willful nonpayment” of child support.
• Not requesting cash bail on misdemeanor cases; issuing summonses instead of warrants on class D and E felony cases.
• Not seeking to “overcharge” defendants “to pressure the accused to admit guilt.” Prosecutors are barred from adding more counts to increase the range of punishment or threatening to route cases back to a grand jury if a defendant has exercised his or her pretrial constitutional rights.
• Evaluating a defendant’s “prior conditions of release when there has been a failure to appear on an open case” and not asking for cash bail if there is no evidence someone has tried to elude police or used an alias “in a police encounter.”
• Requiring prosecutors to share “the entire contents” of a criminal case file to the defense except for work product to fulfill Supreme Court rules for disclosing evidence.
• Barring prosecutors from threatening witnesses “in an effort to force them to participate in prosecutions.”
Some really important and positive changes here. Kudos to Bell and the other new District Attorneys around the country implementing change. Here’s to 2019.