District Attorney Larry Krasner in Philadelphia on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via AP
Pennsylvania lawmakers accused Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner of causing a crime “crisis.”
November 29 2022, 3:00 a.m. (TheIntercept.com)
EARLIER THIS MONTH, the Pennsylvania state House voted to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, citing the “catastrophic consequences” of his reform-minded approach to the office. The Intercept’s Akela Lacy spoke with Krasner about the impeachment, the state of crime and criminal justice in the city, and his record as district attorney.
[Deconstructed intro music]
Akela Lacy: Hi and welcome to Deconstructed. I’m your host today, Akela Lacy, politics reporter at The Intercept.
For much of the last year, with a midterm election looming, Republicans talked non stop about crime.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn: The American people know that there is rising crime across this country. And it is coming because you have DAs and prosecutors, you have judges that are weak on crime.
Jeanine Pirro: And unless we get rid of these progressive DAs then we’ve got no hope. Then you just better hope that if you get shot or stabbed that you don’t die because justice ain’t coming, the cavalry ain’t coming, and you’re never going to get any kind of retribution.
AL: There was an unprecedented crimewave, they said, and Democrats were to blame. Liberals were soft on crime and wanted to defund police, though of course police budgets continued to balloon. Republicans have had success pushing the crime narrative: They rolled back criminal justice reforms in even the most progressive states, like New York and California.
But at the polls last month, voters seemed not to care about those attacks. Fear mongering didn’t deliver the GOP its red wave. Instead, Democrats beat the narrative and, to the the surprise of many observers, held onto the Senate. They won close governors’ races in swing states like Arizona. And candidates who support a range of criminal justice reforms won races across the country.
In Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, Republicans lost races up and down the ballot, unable to take the governor’s mansion and losing a U.S. Senate seat. Democrats even took control of the state House. But Republicans in the state house are still trying to make their message on crime stick: in the final weeks of the legislative session, Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to remove a reform-minded prosecutor in Philadelphia from office.
On November 16, the lame duck Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Martina White: I want to thank my colleagues for their vote today to impeach District Attorney Larry Krasner. Impeachment is a very serious matter and we look forward to bringing all of the evidence during trial in the senate and having District Attorney Larry Krasner answer for his misbehavior in office.
AL: Krasner, who was overwhelmingly reelected by voters last year, now faces a trial in the state’s senate. Krasner joins me now to discuss his recent impeachment, the impact of crime on elections earlier this month, and lessons for the Democratic Party.
I started off by asking District Attorney Krasner about what has changed between his reelection and now.
Larry Krasner: What has changed and what hasn’t is that progressive or reform prosecutors keep winning elections — not every single one, but a remarkable number. We continue to increase the number of U.S. residents who live in a jurisdiction where there is a progressive prosecutor. And the other side figured it out. So, therefore, since they cannot win elections, they need to win in between elections. The most notorious example, of course, is Chesa Boudin, and the recall, which resulted in a very, very low turnout, billionaire-funded loss for Chesa.
But what they’re not talking about is the reality that Pamela Price is now the to-be progressive district attorney right across the water in Oakland, the DA for Alameda County. And that’s a position she was unable to win four years ago. I know this because I tried to help with both of those races. And she had a nice win, despite the fact that we are all facing the headwinds of high levels of crime and a certain amount of irrational thinking about high levels of crime, in particular, gun violence and homicide by gun.
LK: So I guess it’s all changed. And I guess it all hasn’t. There are people in this country, there are MAGA people who do not believe in democracy; they consider it an obstacle to their hanging on to power.
This is, in fact, an effort at minority rule. Part of it is taking over by the Supreme Court, by every illegitimate means to make sure that its viewpoints don’t resemble the rest of the United States. And another part of it is understanding the almost unique significance of progressive prosecutors in terms of MAGA’s efforts to take power away from people.
AL: It’s funny, you mentioned the Price race. I hadn’t seen that. And there were actually a number of other similar wins on election day, even as we’re seeing gun violence growing across the country. We had another mass shooting in Colorado over the weekend. And obviously, this has been a growing statewide issue in Pennsylvania, too.
And in Philadelphia, gun crimes and armed robberies have spiked. And there’s been so much theorizing about why this is happening. I mean, this has been what’s been taking a lot of air in the state legislature for the past couple of weeks leading up to your impeachment last week. And even in other places, the theories point to and place blame on prosecutors like you. So what do you see as the cause of this violence?
LK: The cause of the spike in gun violence? I think there’s actually pretty general agreement.
As I speak to you, we have been through two years of sharp increases in homicides in Philadelphia, and across the country. But we are, right now, 31 fewer homicides than last year on the same day last year. We’re looking at a 6 percent decline — almost all of it coming in the last few months. It is actually a remarkably steep decline in the last several weeks.
Now, I don’t say that because it is a certainty that it will continue. But it is pretty obvious that this is coinciding with a period of time when the public schools have been open for classes. It’s pretty obvious that we’re getting a little farther away from these enormous gun buys that occurred through gun shops over the last two years. I mean, these insane levels of gun purchases — it was something like 21 million guns — you can almost mark the sharp increase in homicides nationwide with the exact same unique sharp increase in gun sales, which were a direct consequence of the pandemic and, according to some, a consequence of unrest just after the killing of George Floyd.
So we’re seeing these connections. But, to come back to the other point, we’re also seeing Mary Moriarity elected as the new reform prosecutor in Hennepin County which is Minneapolis; Pamela Price we talked about; Kim Graham in Des Moines, Iowa, Polk County, Iowa. We’re seeing real elections in really big jurisdictions: Joe Gonzales, San Antonio; John Creuzot, Dallas; Wesley Bell, elected again in St. Louis County where Ferguson was; Leesa Manion, elected in King County, that’s Seattle where there was a progressive prosecutor for many years, but he retired and is now being replaced by a new progressive prosecutor. It’s not to say we are winning every single one. But oh, my goodness, are we winning! And that is not the public perception.
I will say this, I think that one thing that my party — and I’m a Democrat —
LK: — that my party needs to look at very closely and very carefully, is, yes, they were able to get John Fetterman — who was the national candidate from Pennsylvania, a candidate of national dimension anyway — who was associated with criminal justice reform, they were able to get him to win a Senate race against the wild and wonderful Dr. Oz — what a jerk — they were able to get him to do that. But if you actually look at the voter turnout in Philly, it was not very good, and particularly not very good with Black and Latino voters. And I have to say that it seems to me there’s a pretty clear lesson that when the Democratic party goes Republican-lite, they’re losing far more reluctant votes than they’re gaining with their centrist votes. This is a recipe for disaster.
LK: What is going on? I mean, how is that possible when you have a governor and a senator on the ballot? And I think it is partly possible because rather than the Democratic Party answering directly this Willie Horton-style attack on big cities that are diverse and attack on big city prosecutors who are reform prosecutors, rather than the Democratic Party attacking it head on, they did that dumb thing that, sadly, they sometimes do, which is go Republican-lite, get off in the corner, try not to talk about it.
We should talk about it. We should say the red states have a 40 percent higher murder rate than the blue states. We should say, Republicans, especially MAGA Republicans, are terrible at crime — because they are terrible at crime! They encourage everybody to have a gun. They invest all this money in mass incarceration and mass supervision. And then they don’t fund their public schools, and economic opportunity, and treatment, and everything else that works. It’s there. It’s real. When you look at all 50 states, and you have this insane difference of 40 percent higher rates of murder in the red states, as opposed to the blue states, what more do you need?
AL: I want to come back to the Fetterman race. And, actually, I haven’t seen that on the turnout in Philly. I’m interested to look more into that. So I’ll come back to that.
I asked you about the causes of gun violence, but I wanted to ask you what you see as plausible solutions. And you’ve talked about gun sales. But, I mean, in Pennsylvania, particularly, this has been an intractable issue, you know, for a long time; the issue of gun control. So that, obviously, is something that most Democrats can agree on. But what are some other plausible solutions to reducing and preventing violence in your vision? And what are the challenges to redirecting resources to violence prevention?
LK: I think your point is an excellent one because we can rail about reasonable gun regulations all day long, we can talk about the fact that Germany has one-ninth the level of homicide and one-ninth the level of incarceration; that Japan will have only one fatal shooting this year and 12 shootings. Because these are places that have embraced gun control, gun regulation. We can talk all about that. But we live in a country that is drunk on having more guns than people, and you can’t reverse that easily.
So it is important to talk about what you can do right now. I think that there are modern enforcement things we can do right now. And there are modern preventative things that we can do right now. And it doesn’t necessarily require agreement from Sen. Mitch McConnell or McCarthy or even worse, because it can be done locally or in states where there’s at least hope that you can do this.
So, for example, let’s look at the enforcement side first: One thing that we can do — and absolutely should do — is there should be a massive improvement in forensics. There are so few shooting cases, fatal or non-fatal that are solved in the United States. And this is a 40-plus-year trend that Jeff Asher and others have talked about that we need to look at how we can solve more of these crimes. They can be solved with DNA that can do things it couldn’t even do two years ago; they can be solved with phone technology in ways that we never could have solved them years and years ago. But there’s been no investment in that! What has been happening with the fund of the police movement, which is what’s actually going on, is that the money is going mostly for overtime, and it’s going for enhanced pay, it’s going for compensation; the effort is going to reduce accountability on the part of police officers.
And look what’s happening in Philly, for example: We used to have 2 to 4 percent of the police who were listed as injured on duty and therefore unavailable to testify, unavailable to be on the street; we now have 13 percent. Because there’s just no accountability when it comes to some of these types of compensation and benefits that various FOP leadership has invented across the country.
LK: What’s happening right now in Pennsylvania, and it’s been a four-year struggle on my part, with the help of some people, but boy, did it take a while to get some help, is that we are looking at the real possibility of a $50 million state-of-the-art crime lab in Philadelphia, where there has been no real investment in forensics and the capacity to solve crimes will go up enormously when you are only solving — and this is recent data, from a full year — you’re only solving 17 percent of non-fatal shootings; you’re only solving 28 percent of fatal shootings. Then let’s get real: What kind of deterrence is that? To what extent do people believe they will actually be caught when 72 out of 100 killers by gun get away with it, and 83 out of 100 shooters get away with it? I mean, it’s crazy. And it’s something that is remediable. So much of this can get solved.
In terms of other aspects of enforcement, I’ll just give you an important example from Philly. We lose a ton of cases on motions to suppress because there’s been an illegal search of a car. Why?
LK: Because even though you can rent a car from Avis or Hertz, and you can go through that entire process electronically — you can get in and out of an airport in minutes, dropping off a car or getting a car — you cannot go through the process of getting a warrant to search a car — in Philadelphia, a warrant is almost always required — unless you’re willing to do things like get in a police car, drive to a police station, get out a typewriter or a word processor, fill this out, then get back into your car, then drive downtown, then wait for a bail commissioner or a judge to be available, then get them to sign it, then go back to the street. I mean, it’s a ridiculous process that could take 4 to 12 hours, when it’s something that could probably be expedited down to less than an hour. What happens? What happens is a lot of police don’t do it. They will go into the car without a warrant. They’re under pressure to get that gun, they’re under pressure to search that car, they feel like they can’t hold it very long, and we’re all holding the bag, six months or a year later when the judge reluctantly says: Well, you needed a warrant, you didn’t have a warrant, we’re suppressing it. We see a lot of that.
LK: I mean, it is arguable that a very, very high percent of the searches that are done in Philadelphia of cars are illegal. And it’s completely unnecessary. For 20 years, they’ve been doing electronic warrants in Philly, for people, but they have not been doing warrants to search places.
On the prevention side, I mean, we all know what needs to be done.
LK: As I speak to you, I’ve been listening to the wisdom of Mike Pompeo, who has explained to us that we don’t really need to worry about Vladimir Putin or his nuclear resources, what we need to worry about is Randi Weingarten who is the head of the National Teachers Union, the AFT, because she is the greatest threat to democracy we have. Are these people psycho? What is wrong with them? How about this idea: We invest in public education. How about that? How about kids in Philly, instead of having half the investment that they have in the suburbs right outside the city — and I am a product of public schools in the suburbs, I was the lucky beneficiary of their spending more money out there because of how poorly we organize these things in the United States, how about you put that money in schools? How about we walk away from the pandemic with the clear lesson that what has to happen here is a doubling and tripling down on accountable investment in prevention? Organized activities of all types, organized sports, art activities, [and] job programs like the one I was in when I was a kid, because my parents, sadly, were a little bit broke. How about that? How about we put this money over there, instead of putting it into 1968? We all know that 1968 didn’t work. So let’s just not do 1968.
AL: So you talked about how Democrats are responding to the Republican and conservative mainstream messaging against prosecutors like yourself. They made this clearly part of their playbook in races this year. The Republican Study Committee named you and several other prosecutors in their 2022 memo, including George Gascón in Los Angeles, and Kim Gardner in St. Louis, and described you as “rogue prosecutors who intentionally failed to prosecute criminals based on their absurd belief that criminal justice is racist.” The Virginia Republican attorney general urged his colleagues to “highlight every single far-left, special interest prosecutor in their state and make them famous.”
In San Francisco, you mentioned the Chesa Boudin recall earlier this year, we saw similar recall attempts against Gascón in Los Angeles and then with your impeachment earlier this month. How are Democrats overall — nationally, in Pennsylvania, and in Philadelphia — doing in responding to this tactic? What are they doing wrong? And how can they do better? And I know you talked a little bit about this with respect to the Senate race. But I wonder if you could just elaborate on that.
LK: Well, we can do better. As I said, I’m a lifelong Democrat myself. We can do better. It relates to a very fundamental issue with the Democratic Party for a long time, which is that when Republicans come for you, with what is essentially coded racist messaging with fear-based politics, all built around crime, when they just keep replaying 1968 and Willie Horton, and everything since, you come back directly, you respond directly, the fact is that their policies around criminal justice have been a disaster, and they remain a disaster. And reform policies are not only the right thing to do, but they’re actually very, very attractive to the votes that Democrats need.
We should be leaning into that. We should be running toward that. And if we do that, then what we’re going to see is that young voters, and Black voters, and Brown voters, and broke voters, and people of goodwill of all types who understand what a fiasco mass incarceration and the defunding of everything that is prevention have caused, those people are gonna vote, and they’re gonna vote — I mean, I’ll just make up a number. But it’s not a phony number! You might have five-to-one. You might have a five-to-one response, if you actually go in the direction that touches so many people.
AL: So there was so much attention paid to how crime could potentially impact particularly Fetterman and Josh Shapiro’s races for Josh Shapiro for governor. I know you’re talking about the impact of criminal justice reform and how that could or could not have, I guess how that could have potentially dampened turnout in that race. But, on the flip side, how did the issue of crime impact those races?
LK: Well, there’s no question that what the Republicans tried, the MAGA Republicans in particular, was a failed strategy. It should be everyone’s concern that there is public safety. It is my main concern that we have public safety. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the big mistake that is being made, I think, to some extent by both parties, is this: If you ask people if they are worried about public safety, they say yes. And they should say yes. But that doesn’t mean we reflexively go back to things that did not work. Ask the next question!
When I was running in ’17, we did ask the next question. And the question was, here’s a multiple-choice-question, we’ll give you several options: Where would you spend money to fix the murder problem? Or where would you spend money to fix the violent crime problem?
And the answer that we got in Philly was really illuminating. It was only about 15 percent — that’s 1-5 percent — said on policing; 85 percent said something else; and more than 50 percent said to spend the money on community-based organizations that are not connected to law enforcement. Now, that is not a backward-looking, U-turn approach. That is a very creative approach that is looking to build up prevention, support nonprofits, and do things that are partnerships inside and outside of government to invest tens of millions of dollars into community-based organizations that work towards prevention, to build up our public schools. This is where people want to go, at least in Philly at an 85 percent level. And I think, honestly, if we were to look coast to coast, it’s probably more than a 50 percent level of people who want to go there.
But if all you ever do is ask the question: Are you worried about public safety? And then reflexively assume that the most incarcerated country in the world needs to be more incarcerated, then you’re missing the point. And it’s one thing for Republicans to miss the point. They have been in love with racist messaging, they have been in love with fear-based politics for as long as I can remember, and I’m 61 years of age. But it’s another thing for Democrats to go in a Republican-lite direction when that is not where their voters want them to go at all.
AL: Just a follow-up to that. So before the election, Fetterman was asked about what was going on with you in Philadelphia. And he said he agreed with you on some issues, but not others. And then said we — the general we — need to develop a better relationship with the police. Shapiro hasn’t commented, even when he was asked after the election. Why do you think that is?
LK: So if I recall correctly, Fetterman said he agreed with me about 85 percent of the time. That’s pretty good. I’ll take that.
And as for Attorney General Shapiro — future Gov. Shapiro, for whom I voted, pressed the button — he seems to have been evolving in a direction that I consider to be very positive. Yes, there have been some differences in the past. But once again, we all have to move together. Change is hard. Not everybody is ready for change right away. And even in a superheated election cycle, when it is pretty clear that the Democratic Party was fearful on this issue, we didn’t see Fetterman turn on criminal justice reform, and even now we are seeing future Gov. Shapiro evolve in a positive direction.
As for the notion of getting along with police, we get along really well with a whole lot of police, and that includes Black police officers, the Black Officers Association, all of those members are also members of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, and endorsed my candidacy in 2017 and then again in 2021. It wasn’t just the ideas in ’17; it was also the reality of what we had done. They are members of the FOP, too, even though they are not reflected in any way in leadership.
A similar pattern is with a lot of the younger officers in Philadelphia who are active and who understand the realities of opioids, and they’ve seen it devastate people in their families and friends of theirs they graduated high school with, that sort of thing. There is a very different attitude among a lot of the current police officers in Philadelphia than among its leadership. In fact, many of them are quite outraged that the leadership of the FOP in Philadelphia — which has always been all-white, all-Republican, [and] all-conservative — endorsed Donald Trump twice without even taking a vote of the membership. Well, they’re not happy about that.
And I’ll tell you something else. There are a lot of Black officers. And there are a lot of officers who are active and current, who support our efforts of police accountability because they know that what has happened in that culture is when there is no police accountability, the bullies become the supervisors. And they find that unacceptable. They find it something that’s holding back their careers when they’re trying to do policing in the right way.
So I must disagree that we’re not getting along with police officers, although I agree that I am not getting along with the MAGA, right-wing leadership of the FOP —
LK: — which stands essentially for itself. It’s a very important fact to remember about these police unions as they are overwhelmingly run by their retired membership. Retired membership is voting in these elections! And so you know, someone like McNesby in Philly can get reelected time and time again, based only — and exclusively — on the votes of a prior generation. He doesn’t need one vote from a current Philadelphia police officer to be reelected. And that prior generation is going to be demographically and politically very different from the officers now.
So I must respectfully disagree with John Fetterman. I like him, but he’s wrong. We get along actually very, very well with all the modern and positive influences within the police department.
AL: Thank you. OK, so I want to go back to the arrest question.
So arrests in Philadelphia have not kept pace with shooting incidents over the last couple of years. And while your office has prosecuted most cases where arrests are made, the data portal from your office shows that the number of cases charged and the conviction rates have dropped. So what is happening there and why?
LK: So I’m gonna have to get nitpicky on this a little bit. There’s been a national phenomenon and a local phenomenon of significant reductions in arrests. It goes back many years, very much exacerbated by the pandemic, and for reasons I think we should all understand and accept: during the pandemic, choices have to be made. You could not have an active police force of between 6,000 and 6,500 people running around and making all kinds of arrests without there even being a vaccine available. And so decisions were made. Things like: Make no narcotics arrests for a limited period of time — by the commissioner. I’m not going to second-guess that.
The decline in arrests has a lot to do with the failure to solve cases. And I don’t say failure to point the finger of blame, but give some forensics to the police department. Let’s talk about solving crime! Give them some forensics. And then we can have solid cases and we can have solid arrests.
Our rate of charging is extremely high — arguably too high, to be honest — because we have to do so much more quickly than most jurisdictions. And so there are times when we don’t have all the information we would like, but it’s enough to charge. And then we find out later that there are problems with the case: there wasn’t a warrant for the car search that needed to occur, DNA was not taken in a way it should have been taken from an item that was susceptible to that kind of testing, those sorts of things. So the truth is, we can drive up our conviction rate if we can get all the information earlier and we can reject more cases so they don’t go down the road. That is one of the things that we face.
But a lot of what we face really is just a pandemic — and the way statistics are kept. So let me give you an example: Our current rate of conviction when we get a homicide case, or we get a non-fatal shooting case to a trial date is very high. It’s very high because the courts are fully open or almost fully open again. It’s very high because we are well prepared and we do a good job with these cases. But what’s going on is there’s a huge backlog, a bigger backlog than we’ve ever seen, the direct consequence of the pandemic and the courts being largely closed for certain kinds of cases. So statistically, what you see is you see cases that get thrown out of the preliminary hearing. For homicide cases, that’s very, very few. It’s only like 4 percent get thrown out at the preliminary hearing.
But there are other kinds of cases where the rate at which they’re thrown out is higher. A preliminary hearing happens early, and it counts as a loss, early, if it is not held over for trial. So those, let’s say, 5 percent of homicide cases that, for whatever reason, a witness who can never be obtained, or an officer who is listed as injured on duty and cannot come to court, or it’s just a lack of enough evidence in a case, when that’s thrown out, that’s a loss, and we count it right away. But when that case is successful, the 95 percent or so that are successful, and they’re listed for trial, they may not see trial for two years or three years. So you’re counting all the losses early, but you’re not counting the wins until they happen. And it’s taking longer than ever to count those wins. We could be in a situation as we are now where our rate of conviction for a homicide case could be somewhere close to 90 percent. Right? But if we’re only getting a few of those cases to trial because of the backlog, we’re only counting a few wins, and we’re counting them against these much quicker losses.
The best predictor of where we’re actually going to be as we work our way through this caseload over a year or two would indicate that our conviction rates are actually just as good as, if not better than, the notorious DA in Philadelphia Lynne Abraham, who had tactics to win cases that included lying, cheating, and stealing; that included putting innocent people in jail; that included coercing guilty pleas by pursuing the death penalty all the time.
LK: This is, after all, a woman who achieved the death penalty something like 109 times during her administrations — almost every three months, she achieved a death penalty. And they wielded that death penalty as a club to get people to plead guilty all the time — far, far more times than that right? I’m telling you that without lying, cheating, and stealing here, and without using the club of the death penalty to force people to plead guilty. We are looking at conviction rates when by the time we get to trial that are essentially the same. You know, there’s a difference between being the cheating Houston Astros and being the Phillies. When you’re the cheating Houston Astros, it’s easier to win. When you’re the Phillies and you’re not cheating, it’s harder to win. Well, I’d rather be the Phillies than the cheatin’ Houston Astros!
LK: And Lynne Abraham was the cheatin’ Houston Astros! So it is not the case that we have some sort of a failure in what’s going on here. This is partially just the inevitable result of a once-in-a-century pandemic combined with the weird way that we keep statistics. And we are going to continue to do a great job with these cases. But obviously, it’ll get better if we have support in terms of a reduction in the number of crimes.
I mean, look, let me give some credit to the police department. What are they supposed to do when they have X detectives and the number of cases doubles? What are they supposed to do? Are they just supposed to say to their detectives: Thank you for working 24-hour shifts right after a killing? I need you to solve two cases in 24 hours, not one — I mean, that’s not workable. It’s not like the whole system can immediately double the number of qualified homicide detectives or the whole system can gear up with forensics we should have had 10 years ago. They can’t do that. So they face tremendous challenges. We’re trying to face those challenges with them.
And in the long run, despite these enormous national problems that we have, and everything that’s happening in Philly — everything that’s happening in Philly — is part of a national phenomenon. Philly actually is kind of average when it comes to the big-city increase in gun violence that we’ve seen. It’s kind of average, when we look at the long-term decline in arrests. We’re kind of average. We’re kind of part of something much bigger, and we can look at these issues nationally and solve them nationally.
AL: So most of what we’ve been talking about has been criticism from your right. But there are some critics on your left, who have said that contrary to the claims from the right that you’re not charging enough, these critics are saying that you’re actually requesting bail in cases that aren’t extreme, which would be like allegations of shooting or rape. And I know that this was part of a change in procedure during the pandemic, which we can get into some of the mechanisms there, but where your office was requesting $999,000 bail in certain cases.
This is from the Philadelphia bail fund, actually after our interview last year, but they wrote me a message and they said: Despite the DA’s frequent implication that his office is only requesting bail in the most extreme cases, such cases only made up 5 percent of those cases that requested that million-dollar bail — I think this was between March and May of 2020.
So I’m wondering if you can respond to that. I know we talked a little bit about this in my last interview, but this was more specific data, I guess.
LK: So what we have been doing in Philadelphia for some time is essentially trying to simulate a no-cash-bail system. And that, of course, means a system where you are either held and no matter how wealthy, if you present a true danger to the community, you’re not getting out until trial; or you are released, no matter how broke you are. And so we’re not going to impose small amounts of bail for the purpose of keeping you in, that will get a working-class or a wealthy person out. That’s what we have been trying to do. I’m not going to tell you that it’s done perfectly. But I’d like to see those statistics. Because the cases where we go in and we ask for what is essentially about $1 million bail — sometimes even more — those cases, to the best of my knowledge, are overwhelmingly homicide cases, they are shooting cases, they are gunpoint robbery cases.
These are really serious violent offenses. Also included in that category would be felons in possession of a weapon. You know, perhaps their argument is that it’s a nonviolent offense to be a felon who is in possession of a weapon. But it is not the case that we are going in for a retail theft, or jumping a turnstile, or for a car theft, that is not the case that we are going in and we are requesting high bails; in fact, we are going in and we are requesting no bail. This policy that we instituted in 2018, shortly after we came into office, of identifying about 20 offenses that were non-violent and not so serious where we would not be seeking any kind of bail ordinarily is a policy that we have been doing now for five years.
So I don’t agree with that. Although if they would like to send us a report that supports the notion that only 5 percent of these cases where we are seeking high bail are serious cases, we’re happy to look at it.
I will tell you there’s one sort of anomalous thing going on, which I believe is justified. But that anomalous thing is that due to quirks in the Philadelphia justice system, we cannot get an enforceable stay-away order in a domestic violence case at the time bail is set —
LK: But we can get it about five days later. So there are instances where we have a domestic violence situation and out of a concern for the possibility of something much worse and very immediate happening, if we have a defendant — usually men who are abusing women — get out and go home, usually out of that kind of a concern we may seek high bail immediately and then five days later, when we have an early bail review hearing, when there has been a short cooling-off period and we’re in a position to get a judge who has the power to impose a stay away order at that time, we often agree that there should not be cash bail, it should be much lower bail. But this has to do with very specific and very troubling dynamics of domestic violence, which are different from some of these other instances. Some people find that to be inconsistent; I don’t find it to be inconsistent at all. What I would love to see is a system in Philadelphia where they can impose a stay-away order immediately. And, in many of these cases, we might be able to proceed without seeking high bail there. But we have to work with the tools that are available and these are the tools that are available.
AL: So thank you for joining us District Attorney Krasner. We appreciate having you on.
LK: Delighted to be here.
AL: That was Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and that’s our show.
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Thanks so much!