Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot announced earlier this month he no longer plans to prosecute low-level crimes, including theft cases involving personal items less than $750 in value in many instances.
In a letter to the people of Dallas County dated April 11, Cruezot, a Democrat who was elected in November, explained, “When I ran to become your District Attorney, I promised you that I would bring changes to our criminal justice system.
“The changes that I promised will be a step forward in ending mass incarceration in Dallas County, and will make our community safer by ensuring that our limited resources are spent where they can do the most good.”
Regarding the issue of theft, Cruezot contended when people steal out of need, they should not be prosecuted.
Democrat Dallas County Criminal District Attorney John Creuzot announces that his office will no longer prosecute theft cases involving personal items worth less than $750 as long as the person needed whatever they stole and it wasn’t for economic gainhttps://t.co/iwzwfi4pFO
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 20, 2019
“Study after study shows that when we arrest, jail, and convict people for non-violent crimes committed out of necessity, we only prevent that person from gaining the stability necessary to lead a law-abiding life,” he wrote.
“Criminalizing poverty is counter-productive for our community’s health and safety. For that reason, this office will not prosecute theft of personal items less than $750 unless the evidence shows that the alleged theft was for economic gain.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opposes the move, telling Dallas NBC affiliate KXAS in an interview published April 16 that it is “reckless and irresponsible.”
“That is legalizing stealing for property less than $750. What kind of message does that send, for one. But for another, listen if your district attorney wants to change the law he is in the wrong job. He needs to run for the legislature and come here to try and change the law,” Abbott said.
“His job, his oath, is to enforce the law that exists and he should prosecute anybody for stealing anything.”
Cruezot also argued in the letter that African-Americans were being disproportionately impacted by prosecutions involving first-time marijuana offenses.
“Although African-Americans and people of other races use marijuana at similar rates, in Dallas County, African-Americans are three times more likely to be prosecuted for misdemeanor marijuana possession than are people of other races,” Cruezot wrote.
“After arrest, African-Americans are assessed money bond at a higher rate for marijuana possession, and are assessed higher bond amounts than other races. African-Americans are more likely to be convicted of marijuana possession once charged and are more likely to serve a jail sentence.”
The prosecutor said he has already dismissed 1,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases since taking office three months ago.
Further, Cruezot said he does not plan to prosecute trespassing cases, stating that most instances involve the homeless or mentally ill.
“I have instructed my intake prosecutors to dismiss all misdemeanor criminal trespass cases that do not involve a residence or physical intrusion into property,” he wrote in the letter.
“All pending criminal trespass cases meeting these guidelines will be dismissed, and, where appropriate, will be referred for outpatient mental health services.”
Additionally, Cruezot’s office is adopting changes to the bail system.
“I am proposing an approach that makes public safety, not wealth, the determining factor in bail decisions,” he wrote.
The official is giving his prosecutors latitude to recommend bail be required only for defendants who are considered a flight risk or who have made threats against the victim or have prior convictions for violence against the victim.
The president of the National Black Police Association, Dallas police Sgt. Sheldon Smith, told Dallas CBS affiliate KTVT he is worried some of the changes being adopted by Creuzot will lead to more crime.
“It opens the door for some people to think they can commit crimes,” Smith said.
Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown said her office will continue to enforce the laws as mandated by state legislation, KTVT reported.
Cruezot’s reforms are part of a broader push to liberalize law enforcement practices.
The Texas Organizing Project PAC backed Cruezot’s election last fall.
“We are part of a national social justice movement that is rooted in realizing racial and economic justice for communities of color, in part by reimagining our criminal justice system. We believe that Dallas County deserves a district attorney that shares our counties’ values of building solidarity across difference and an insatiable commitment to the pursuit of justice,” Brianna Brown, Texas Organizing Project deputy director, said in a news release.
According to the Los Angeles Times, billionaire George Soros dropped over $2.7 million in California DA races during the 2018 election cycle, and since 2014 has spent more than $16 million in 17 county races in other states.
“Wealthy donors are spending millions of dollars to back would-be prosecutors who want to reduce incarceration, crack down on police misconduct and revamp a bail system they contend unfairly imprisons poor people before trial,” the Times reported.
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