Following Krasner's Lead as a Progressive District Attorney

 Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Maura Ewing and Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Maura Ewing and Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

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.