In America, we have a lot of laws. And we have a lot of people breaking those laws. But we have only so many jail cells and only so many prosecuting attorneys. Since the district attorney cannot arrest and prosecute every lawbreaker, he or she must make choices about which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.
Over the last 19 years, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully decided to prioritize enforcing public-safety laws over fighting white-collar crime. A person who broke into a car and stole a car stereo would be prosecuted, but a person who embezzled $250,000 from a local business might not. A mentally ill person creating a public disturbance would be thrown in jail, but Scully routinely canceled investigations of police shootings, citing lack of resources.
Scully has announced she will not seek re-election in 2014. So we will be choosing a new district attorney. Scully has endorsed her longtime deputy, Anne Marie Schubert, for the position. Schubert has been endorsed by “Every Living Sacramento County Sheriff,” according to a campaign press release. Schubert sent me her résumé, but when asked how her positions would be different from Scully, she did not reply.
But the other candidate, Maggy Krell, certainly did.
Currently working for the California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Krell has experience in prosecuting murderers and gang members as well as white-collar criminals. She also has a new vision for how the district attorney’s office should be run. Krell believes that there are “smarter ways to solve low-level and drug-related crime than the outdated lock-them-up approach that has made Sacramento County notorious. And regardless of the merits of the incarceration-only based approach, we cannot afford it.”
Rather than focusing on a high conviction rate of low-level offenders, especially those who are getting into trouble due to drug problems or mental illness, Krell believes that we need to “hold offenders accountable before the criminal behavior becomes so serious that incarceration is the only solution.” She suggests we look at long-term outcomes.
She also intends to put a greater focus on white-collar crime, largely ignored by Scully. White-collar crimes such as embezzlement and mortgage fraud are tough cases to prosecute. The accused can often afford to spend quite a bit on his or her legal defense, so a district attorney that wishes to maintain a high conviction rate will often focus on petty crimes that are easier to convict. But clearly, this is not just. White-collar crime is not victimless. It should be prosecuted, even if it is a challenge. And Krell, unlike Scully, intends to investigate police shootings. Having the DA investigate police shootings, rather than allowing the police to conduct the investigations themselves, is the normal procedure for the rest of the state.
So this election, we will have a clear choice for district attorney. I look forward to it.