Legal Review: D.C. Lawyers Will Be Able to Try Misdemeanors in Federal Court
Koria Stanton is an attorney with the Maryland Criminal Defense Group, with experience representing clients on a variety of criminal offenses.
As of this fall, local D.C. lawyers will be permitted to prosecute cases of misdemeanors in federal court in order to help the federal prosecutors of the Justice Department focus their attention on cases of serious and violent crimes in an effort to lower the growing homicide rate in the District.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser helped to develop the plan with the Justice Department to ensure that violent offenders are convicted by experienced prosecutors who will now be able to dedicate the time necessary to handle these cases rather than being bogged down by a heavy case load.
A federal prosecutor dealing with street crime may take on about 150 misdemeanor cases at a time in addition to felony cases, which leaves them little time and energy to prepare and fight each case properly.
Criticism of the current justice system in D.C. has come from both Mayor Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier who believe that it was not doing enough to help prosecutors adequately try cases for street crime.
Several proposals to address the high murder rate in D.C. were rejected before reaching this compromise, including a mentorship program for troubled youths and a more robust law enforcement plan that Bowser declined to support.
Under the current plan, the city will give $1.2 million to the D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine each year to pay for eight lawyers from his office to join the U.S. Attorney and try adults accused of crimes for the first time in Washington, D.C.
As of now, Racine’s office is only permitted to prosecute cases of juveniles, leaving the heavy load of adult criminal cases to the federal prosecutors who handle local and federal misdemeanors and felonies.
The District had its prosecutors divided between local and federal branches for years, but for more than two decades has put the brunt of the workload and decision-making on the federal branch after a financial crisis under the office of Mayor Marion Barry Jr. in the ’90s.
The control of criminal convictions and sentencing was largely left up to federal authorities rather than the local officials since then.
The plan to integrate more local attorneys into federal courts to handle the misdemeanor cases was agreed upon by Bowser, Racine and U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips and was announced in a video that was live-streamed online.
All three officials seem positive about the outcome that they believe will be a solution to stopping repeat offenders of violent crimes in D.C. in order to tackle the problem of high homicide rates in the U.S. capital.
The D.C. Attorney General’s office feels that this is a step in the right direction to begin allowing the local attorneys to deal with local crimes while leaving the federal prosecutors to try the felonies and federal crimes that often require more intensive investigations.
The ongoing balance between local and federal authorities in the District continues to require adjustments in order to ensure that justice is served appropriately and that the city is able to manage itself as local authorities see fit.
Borderstan contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author — our contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP — and do not necessarily reflect the views of Borderstan.