Prosecutor, Brooklyn, Emily Basilan discussed on Brian Lehrer
Carefully. Either. The asking yourselves. Every sensor of proceedings. Plus is what we actually times. What is best for this? Brooklyn attorney district attorney Eric on Hollis about thirty million Americans live in a city or county with a district attorney who could be referred to as a reformer, and that's new most of the so-called progressive prosecutors, meaning they look for creative ways to offer less jail. Time have been in office for less than one or two years. But it's a movement that's growing and becoming more popular with voters a lot of the as like on dollars or elected. So with me now, Emily Basilan who has written a whole book on the subject, Emily, as you may know is a staff writer for the New York Times magazine. Call host of slates political gabfest podcast and the Truman Capote fellow for creative writing and law at the AL law school, her new book is charged the new movement to transform American prosecution and end mass incarceration. Hanley welcome back to WNYC. Thank you so much for having me what exactly is a progressive prosecutor. And where did the term come from? That's a great question. In a progressive. Prosecutor right now if someone who is really working to reduce mass incarceration and trying to compensate for forty years in which prosecutors have been a driving engine of putting more and more people in prison. So it's really reversing that dynamic and their whole host of interventions that go along with this like treating kids kids making sure we're not prosecuting juveniles teenagers, I should say in adult court unless that's absolutely necessary trying to spare immigrants from deportation by reducing charges against them. If possible dealing with substance abuse problems and mental illness not through the criminal Justice system, which is not a good place for addressing those kinds of issues than you right in the last thirty years the role of the judge and the prosecutor have switched places in terms of who has power. That's fascinating. What change? Yeah. So I think we all imagine a American Justice system in which you have the prosecutor and the defense lawyer on an even playing field. Imagine them. Like the bottom two points of a triangle, and then at the top of the triangle, you have a judge, and that's the neutral referee, and that's the way it's supposed to be. But in fact, starting in the eighties. When lawmakers were concerned about a rise in crime, we had this real turn toward mandatory sentences, and when you have mandatory sentences the decision at charging and it plea bargaining which are prosecutors decisions. Those are the key elements that determine the outcome of a case. And so it without recognizing it or talking about it. We changed the system to give prosecutors much more thority and really to put them at the top of this trying. He'll mandatory minimum sentencing gives prosecutors more discretion than judges. When in the public's mind. It's the judges who really have discretion. Yeah. Absolutely. So I was reporting in Brooklyn one day, I was in this specialized gun court that's just for gun possession charges and in New York, if you get caught with a gun, it can be a serious felony or can go all the way down to a misty. Meaner? So the prosecutor has an enormous discretion. And I was watching this young defendant name's Amir. He was nineteen the gun the cops had found a gun in his grandmother's apartment. It was. Unloaded. So it wasn't the most serious charge. But he was still facing a felony charge now in the year since he'd been charged because the main tactic defense lawyers having cases like this is delay. So in that year that had passed he had gone to a pipe fitting, and plumbing course, you've gotten certified he was doing other diversion educational programs to kind of prove he didn't need need to go to jail or prison. So he shows up for the end of the case. And the judge turns the prosecutor and says basically, I don't want to send this guy to jail or prison. Can you drop the charge? The prosecutor said no and Zamira went to prison went to jail for thirty days and said to me, you know, I can't do the trade I've trained for now. My life is really ruined. So a prosecutor with more discretion than a judge you describe two types of innovative DA's, and you compare them the consent. Sus builder in Brooklyn of Eric on solace and the barn burner in Philadelphia of Larry Kramer. What's the difference? Yeah. Crasner said, Larry, Kramer, he somebody else. He is someone else. So crasner Gonzalez are very different in their backgrounds and their style. Eric Zala career prosecutor born and bred in Brooklyn, Puerto Rican single mom comes into the DA's office because he sees the discretionary power of prosecutors kind of crazy thing about Arkansas the thing that inspired him to become an assistant DA was reading bonfire of the vanities, which is a book in which prosecutors abused their power. I would argue, but Eric Gonzalez saw all this power that they had he wasn't attracted by the corruption part of it. So he comes into office, and then rises through the ranks Larry crasner spent his whole career suing the Philadelphia police department. He was a civil rights attorney. But Philadelphia had a kind of vacancy for DA because the previous day was indicted, and then convicted on corruption on bribery charges and so- crasner becomes part of this movement. Really local organizers build up his campaign. They put him in. Office exactly to transform the district attorney's office. And if possible the Justice system in Philadelphia, so we're seeing a real experiment in different styles of D here listeners. Mike us is Emily Basilan whose new book is charged the new movement to transform American prosecution and end mass incarceration, and we can take some phone calls for her two one two four three three WNYC dig untolerable. Welcome to call in or anyone else to one two four three three nine six nine two. We'll get some other Legal Affairs issues in the news. And you might even be able to guess what they are with Emily Basilan as we go because on the topic of her book, especially welcome to one two four three three nine six nine two. Here's one that. Actually, I'm going to relate in a follow up question to the Muller investigation. But you're right that there's the mindset of a prosecutor, which is prone to conviction psychology. Use that term conviction psychology, and that becomes more ingrained the longer they're on the job talk about that term in how you're defining. Well, what I mean here is there are a lot of incentives for prosecutors to increase their their numbers their rates of conviction in theory and supposedly practice prosecutors have to responsibilities they're supposed to win convictions. They're also supposed to be ministers of Justice. But that second goal is pretty abstract. And so when it's intention with winning. I think you can see prosecutors driving toward that goal. And in some ways, we're asking a lot of them to have these dual responsibilities that our intention both and on their shoulders. So for you as a critic of prosecutors the world is stood on its head by the Russia investigation. Right. The Trump people are saying the same things that the advocates you write about say in defense of poor people of color in Brooklyn. Prosecutors have too much power to investigate and indict who they want and why they want can we have it both ways. As elevate defense attorneys here, but you know, not for the power of the FBI. That is clinic criticized prosecutors on the ground, but not criticize them, not even ask the question without being called self interested in in the case of the FBI investigating a politician who just one presidency of the United States. I mean, look a lot of my concern about the criminal Justice system is that the people who are subject to it lack power so utterly. They tend to be unfortunate. They tend to be disadvantaged the president of the United States who in fact points, the attorney general runs the Justice department is in a very different position vis-a-vis the system. So in critiquing prosecutors I do not mean to suggest that we don't need rules law or that prosecutors don't have important jobs to do. And I do know that you know, when you see this concern for well off wealthy powerful. Defendants. It can be very selective people can wring their hands over those. People's faith without expressing a lot of concern for poor people, Patty and Princeton junction, you're on WNYC with Emily basil on hi, Patty. Hi, brian. Thanks for taking my call. My question is this about the yardstick assume ably used to measure come ahead as record as a prosecutor questioning whether she's progressive enough in my the New York Times of detail look at the voters versus democratic leaning top on Twitter and social media what the New York Times found is that that is more much more progressivism and yardstick measuring on social media than actual democratic voters. Right. So I get your point on that. The activist community is very present on social media may or may not be reflective of the democratic primary electorate as a whole and this and one of the topics of discussion as you know, Emily on activist. Social media is is comma has progressive enough for this nomination because of her record as a prosecutor, do you have an opinion on her? Well, I wrote a profile of karma hearts a couple of years ago. So I looked at her record as a prosecutor pretty closely. And you know, she predates this euro, we're seeing now so she did some things when she was in San Francisco that four their time were pretty forward thinking the movement has moved along way since then I don't think it's fair to say that to to imagine she should be then where we are now. But I do think that she made a mistake by calling herself up progressive prosecutor because we want that label to mean something. More than what she did at the time. I also think that in this criticism of Harris, it's important to remember. There are other candidates like Joe Biden who of a much shake your record, I suppose by still hasn't announced. But potential candidates like Joe Biden, I mean, you look back at binds record in the eighties nineties with the crime Bill that he backed the stanzas he talk it's much more troubling from a progressive point of view than harasses even have one local activist think tweet at us a few weeks ago. There's no such thing as a progressive prosecutor. Have you heard that? Yeah. Absolutely. You know, people who want to burn presents to the ground think that prosecutors are going to prosecute. And there's no way to salvage that, you know, I think my answer to that would be that if you're a pragmatist, and you see the vitally powerful role. These folks play then you want people in these offices who share at least some of your values and goals, even if they're never gonna live up to all your expectations, but continue in a minute with Emily basil on if your calls from your book is charged the new movement to trans. Form American prosecution and mass incarceration. Stay.