A new vanguard of prosecutors has jettisoned the traditional lock-’em-up approach, embracing alternatives to harsh punishment. In their eagerness to enact changes, some are facing a backlash from law enforcement groups and conservative politicians, reports the New York Times. Tampa’s top prosecutor says too many children are charged as adults. Houston’s district attorney will no longer press charges in low-level marijuana cases. Chicago prosecutors will no longer oppose the release of many nonviolent offenders who cannot afford to post bond. Newly elected prosecutors in Denver and Orlando have vowed not to seek the death penalty, even for the most egregious killers.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, warned that failing to punish drug crimes would make Houston akin to a “sanctuary city” for illegal enterprise. In Chicago, a suburban police chief called a move to classify more shoplifting cases as misdemeanors “a slippery slope.” In Florida, a battle over the death penalty shows just how volatile an issue capital punishment remains, especially when the death of a police officer is involved. Aramis Ayala, the new chief prosecutor in Orlando, announced March 16 that she would no longer seek the death penalty. Gov. Rick Scott moved to replace her in the case of Markeith Loyd, who is charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando policewoman. “Every citizen should be outraged,” Scott said of Ayala’s decision. This week, state legislative committees proposed cutting her budget by more than $1 million to cover the costs of other jurisdictions that are assigned her capital cases. Some lawmakers are calling for her suspension. Yesterday, Ayala supporters from across the state traveled to Tallahassee for a rally, while her opposition protested in Orlando.