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Many States Move To Limit Prosecutors' Powers

Even before word leaked about the indictment of former President Trump, Republicans were complaining that prosecutors were out of control. Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a bill to create a new state panel with the power to punish or remove “rogue” prosecutors at the local level, Governing reports. Some viewed this step as revenge against Fani Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, who may seek charges against Trump for election interference. The stated motivation behind the bill was to hold prosecutors accountable for failing to pursue cases involving certain categories of crime, such as low-level drug offenses. "Far-left local prosecutors are failing their constituents and making our communities less safe,” GOP Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted last year. Lawmakers in other states are looking at ways to punish or clip the wings of local prosecutors, including Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania. In Texas, no fewer than 30 bills would take away authority from prosecutors. On Wednesday, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would deem a prosecutor's refusal to pursue a category of crime "official misconduct," clearing the way for potential removal from office. A government reorganization bill passed last month in Iowa gives the sole power to prosecute election-related crimes to the state attorney general, while also allowing that office to come in and prosecute crimes of any nature without the county attorney requesting assistance.

There have always been arguments about which cases prosecutors decide to charge, and why. That tension has become acute in recent years, with "progressive" prosecutors announcing there are laws they simply won’t enforce, such as marijuana possession, or vowing not to seek the death penalty. “It’s always been true that prosecutors’ offices have had things they’d move to the back of the line,” says Ronald Wright, a law professor at Wake Forest University. “The discussion of the practice has become more political.” Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Andrew Warren, the prosecutor in Tampa, for stating he would not enforce restrictions on abortion or gender therapy. The Pennsylvania House voted to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, blaming his non-enforcement of certain crimes for rising rates of violence in that city. In Missouri, the state attorney general is trying to remove St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner for “willful neglect” of her law enforcement duties. The legislation in Georgia and other states moves beyond targeting individual officials in order to limit the power of prosecutors more broadly. It’s easy to view this as political interference. “This has become part of the authoritarian playbook,” said Florida's Warren.


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