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"Mother Jones" featured Pace University's Elisabeth Haub School of Law's Distinguished Criminal Justice Fellow Mimi Rocah in "National Enquirer Investigated by FBI Over Possible Saudi Influence Peddling"

08/16/2019

"Mother Jones" featured Pace University's Elisabeth Haub School of Law's Distinguished Criminal Justice Fellow Mimi Rocah in "National Enquirer Investigated by FBI Over Possible Saudi Influence Peddling"

...If prosecutors discover any wrongdoing, “it would be a pretty clear-cut case that they are in violation of the agreement, which could mean getting charged for the conduct we’re giving you immunity for,” says Mimi Rocah, who from 2001 to 2017 served as an assistant US attorney with the SDNY.

Rocah adds that prosecutors don’t need to bring new charges to nullify the immunity deal. The standard, she notes, is, “Did they do something in violation of the law, with some evidence? But it’s not about whether they can win it in court.”

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"Mother Jones" quoted Law Professor Bennett Gershman in "Philadelphia’s New DA Found an Innovative Way to Legalize Pot—and Other Cities Should Pay Attention"

03/23/2018

"Mother Jones" quoted Law Professor Bennett Gershman in "Philadelphia’s New DA Found an Innovative Way to Legalize Pot—and Other Cities Should Pay Attention"

...Krasner’s office isn’t the first to move away from prosecuting certain marijuana possession cases, particularly in small amounts. For instance, Harris County, Texas, DA Kim Ogg, elected on a reform platform in 2016, announced early last year that her office would stop charging marijuana possession cases involving less than four ounces. And in 2014, Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson announced that his office would stop charging adults with low-level marijuana offenses if they have limited or no criminal record. Like Ogg and Thompson, Krasner isn’t prosecuting crimes “he feels are a waste of his time and resources,” says Ben Gershman, a law professor at Pace University. “From a law enforcement standpoint, that makes a lot of sense.”

Both Ogg and Krasner are part of a new wave of prosecutors elected since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement on progressive criminal justice platforms that reject the tough-on-crime philosophy that has driven mass incarceration. A new focus on the nation’s approximately 2,400 district attorneys—arguably the most influential actors within the criminal justice system—has seen many incumbent DAs, who have frequently run unopposed in the past, facing electoral challenges from opponents with fresh ideas about crime and punishment. In some instances, DAs’ stances on marijuana have become a campaign issue. In California, for example, the ACLU’s Northern California branch is pushing an educational campaign highlighting that none of the state’s incumbent DAs supported the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana, which nearly 60 percent of voters supported. And Arisha Hatch, director of campaigns the Color of Change Political Action Committee, told me her organization is looking to support candidates nationally who pledge to decline to charge certain low level offenses, including marijuana charges. 

Other district attorneys that might follow Krasner’s lead could rattle state politicians still set on bringing the hammer down on even the most minor of criminal offenders. But, even still, it’s unclear if they’d be able to do much about it. A state’s governor or attorney general who was opposed to the decision could in theory have the power to override any moves by the DA, but, as Sklansky notes, it depends on the laws of the state. Florida, for instance, saw a case last year in which the governor booted a state attorney from all the capital cases in her jurisdiction after she refused to pursue the death penalty under any circumstance. She sued, but lost after the courts ruled the governor had discretion over her decisions. “If a similar issue happened with regard to a refusal to take marijuana cases in some other state, it would be litigated under the law of that particular state,” Sklanksy notes.

Then there’s the federal government, specifically Trump’s tough-on-crime Department of Justice and anti-pot crusading Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the DOJ could in theory direct federal prosecutors to charge marijuana possession cases in jurisdictions where local DAs fails to do so. It’s unlikely federal law enforcement would go that route, though, Sklansky told me: “It seems to me a colossal waste of the resources of the Department of Justice.” 

“Would they withhold funding for criminal justice programs from the city if there is federal funding? I suppose they could in the same way that we’re fighting this big debate over sanctuary cities,” Gershman adds.

But just because district attorneys have the authority to not pursue marijuana cases doesn’t mean it will always be easy to do so politically. “If everybody in your district wants marijuana to be prosecuted and you say you’re not going to prosecute it, you may lose your election,” says Sklansky. “But I think that there are probably many jurisdictions where the electorate would be fine with the decision.”

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