Today, I had a case that perfectly illustrates the guilty-til-proven-wealthy mindset that I've been talking about while on the campaign trail during this race.
In the 2017 race for Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner faced off against six other Democrats in the primary running as the most progressive candidate, by far. All of the other candidates campaigned directly against the progressive initiatives that Krasner championed.
Krasner won that primary earning more votes than the next top two candidates combined. Clearly, his progressive message resonated with the voters.
Running in a district that was 7:1 Democratic, Krasner easily won the general election, and was sworn in as DA in January 2018. Since then, he has hit the ground running, immediately honoring campaign promises to reform the way criminal justice is administered in Philadelphia.
One of his more sweeping reforms has been in the area of plea bargains, which is how over 90% of criminal cases are resolved nationwide. Rather than push for harsh sentences and large fines, Krasner has instructed his assistants to offer plea deals at or below the bottom of the sentencing guidelines. If an assistant believes that a particular defendant warrants a lengthier sentence, Krasner must personally sign off on the more severe plea offer.
As DA I would adopt a similar policy. A good plea offer is one that is difficult for a defendant to reject. If a defendant faces the same sentence, whether he accepts a plea or goes to trial, he has little incentive to accept the deal, which forces a costly (and risky) trial. Rational and effective plea bargaining is essential to the efficient administration of justice.
Other reforms instituted by Krasner mirror proposals I've been making for years. For example, Krasner has instructed his office to decline prosecution for marijuana possession, regardless of weight. Similarly, I would not waste our limited resources prosecuting normal, otherwise law-abiding adults, who’ve chosen to consume cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes. In my practice, I’ve traveled all over North Carolina and seen the devastating effect the cannabis prohibition has had on the lives of the ordinary citizens I represent and their families. And to what end? What good has come from the cannabis prohibition? Has the prohibition actually prevented anyone from access? Has it curtailed usage rates? Has it protected our children?
The answer to those questions is simple: No. The cannabis prohibition has not served its intended purpose. Cannabis is widely available throughout this state and county. Our teenagers find it easier to obtain cannabis than cough syrup.
I believe how we regulate the cannabis plant will be an integral part of how we respond to the new economies that will develop from the end of the prohibition. I believe I am uniquely qualified to oversee the transition from prohibition to regulation in a way that minimizes the risks and maximizes the benefits.
One of Krasner's initiatives of which I'm particularly fond is his office’s Conviction Review Unit, which acts as a sort of in-house innocence commission. Our current DA campaigned against wrongful convictions, but he's done little to keep his promises in that regard. When I'm DA, I will create and staff a department within my office to review claims of wrongful convictions, as well as cases where the sentences imposed, were disproportionate to the harm done by the defendant. I will proactively follow through on the recommendations of that department to see that the appropriate measure of justice is applied.
Furthermore, I respect Krasner and his “do not call” list of suspect officers. I’ll ensure that defendants and their lawyers are informed of any information that reflects on the credibility of all officers who testify in those defendants’ cases.
For Immediate Release
March 9, 2018
Ben Scales to Hold Press Conference on Police Beating Case
Local Lawyer and Activist Plans to Address District Attorney’s Misconduct
Asheville, NC–Ben Scales, local lawyer and activist, will address the public directly to evaluate the response of District Attorney, Todd Williams, concerning the case of former Officer Christopher Hickman beating Johnnie Jermaine Rush in August 2017, under allegations of jaywalking and trespassing. Scales will hold a press conference outside of the Buncombe County Courthouse at 1pm on Friday, March 9, to discuss his stance on how the case has been mishandled in its entirety. He will be joined by Asheville City Councilperson, Sheneika Smith, as well.
“Given the information I have, I can’t find fault with APD’s official response to this incident,” said Scales. “The Chief immediately alerted the DA and the City Attorney to the situation, so the Chief did her job. But the DA had to be shamed into doing his job. If someone hadn’t broken the law and released that video, Johnnie Jermaine Rush’s story would’ve never been heard.”
The DA office charged Officer Hickman on March 8, 2018, with charges for assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury, and communicating threats. While Williams’ office had previously dismissed the case in September 2017, leaked camera footage in February 2018 revealed further disturbing details about misconduct in the case. National news headlines had been released on Wednesday morning about the Rush incident, creating increased public dialogue.
“The DA office’s handling of this case comes at too extreme of a delay to give merit, once the story gained enough public traction to no longer be silenced,” Scales commented. “I hope the city continues to pursue its petition to have all of the officer's body camera footage from that night released. This is not over by a long shot; justice will be served.”
WHO: Ben Scales, Democratic candidate for Buncombe County District Attorney
WHAT: Press conference
WHERE: Outside of Buncombe County Courthouse, 60 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801
WHEN: Friday, March 9, at 1pm
WHY: To address the misconduct of District Attorney Todd Williams in handling the case of the police beating of Johnnie Jermaine Rush in August 2017.
Ben Scales is a Democratic candidate for North Carolina District Attorney 40. As a lawyer, activist, and musician, he has devoted his personal and professional life to service to his community for the past 15 years. He will transform a broken District Attorney’s Office into one that focuses on the offenders who commit the most serious crimes in Buncombe County. He will lead the fight for a fair and effective criminal justice system. For more information, please visit his website at www.scalesforda.com and Facebook at facebook.com/scalesforda.
For Immediate Release
March 2, 2018
Two incidents have recently been in the news that perfectly illustrates why we need change in the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office.
On February 13, the District Attorney allowed a career criminal, who had repeatedly assaulted a police officer with a stun gun, to walk out of jail on a plea deal. To get the judge to accept the plea, the Chief Assistant DA misled the court stating that “officers are OK with the plea arrangement,” when in fact, the officers had not even been consulted.
Then, yesterday, we learned that over the summer, a different police officer beat and tazed a man for allegedly jaywalking late at night across a deserted street. (It’s only jaywalking if he failed to yield the right of way to a “vehicle upon the roadway.”) The officer then taunted the man for having a sweaty and bloody face and for bleeding on the officer. This incident only came to light because an anonymous whistleblower leaked the officer’s body cam video to the press. Despite having access to this video since at least last September, the District Attorney has taken no action against anyone involved in the assault.
In both of these the cases, the District Attorney failed to stand up for the victims of malicious assaults. One victim was a police officer. The other victim was an African-American man walking home after working a 13-hour shift at a restaurant.
Whether to prosecute violent crime shouldn’t be a hard decision to make, regardless of who the victim or the perpetrator are. The public should demand to know who knew what and when in each of these cases.
Who signed off on these actions, and who’s responsible for the inactions?
What other cases are out there, where the victim was not a cop, or where the body cam video has not been leaked, and the rights of the victim have been ignored or trampled?
Buncombe County deserves better. That’s why I’m running for DA. Early voting starts April 19.
I pledge to work with the police and the courts, with honesty and transparency, to achieve real justice for victims and others caught up in the criminal justice system.
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