Less than six months into her tenure as Suffolk County district attorney in Boston, Rachael Rollins is making good on her promise not to prosecute certain “low-level” nonviolent offenses. But she’s now getting strong pushback, as fellow prosecutors as well as police officials fear she is compromising public safety by letting criminals off the hook, the Boston Globe reports.
Rollins, the first African-American woman in the job, listed 15 “low-level” nonviolent offenses her office would no longer prosecute as part of a mission she described as stopping a “freight train moving toward mass incarceration of poor people and black and brown people.”
But some judges have scolded her assistants for letting repeat offenders go and sometimes not requesting bail in serious cases. Rollins’s policies have supporters as well, including some who are pushing her to go even further in dismissing cases and setting lower bail.
“I represent not just the victim, but the defendant and the community,” Rollins said. She said her focus is not only on what the victim wants, but on whether the defendant may need help more than prosecution.
A Globe review finds that not only is Rollins dropping more cases than before, but some don’t seem “low-level,” involving serious bodily injury, major thefts, and career criminals. In April, a trooper found bags of heroin, pills, and a young child in the back seat when he stopped a married couple driving in the breakdown lane. A prosecutor dropped all charges, although the man was convicted of selling heroin and methamphetamine last year.
The Globe reviewed 1,000 cases, of which nearly 300 were dismissed under Rollins. Most involved vehicle offenses, but she also dismissed 18 drug cases and 11 assault or assault and battery charges, including one alleging assault and battery on a police officer.
Rollins is one of a number of so-called “progressive” prosecutors swept into office over the past two years under a banner of justice reform. But as many of them work to fulfill their pledges to change the system, they have run into a backswell of opposition from traditional forces in the system, including police unions and judges.
For additional reading: Prosecutors on the Firing Line