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Rachel Rossi – The Power of Plea Bargaining: Prosecutorial Discretion Can be Good in the Right Hands

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Rachel Rossi
Rachel Rossi

Rachel Rossi

*A common misconception of the criminal justice system is that it is as simple as guilty people admitting their guilt and innocent people going free.

The truth in our courtrooms is rarely so clear. Instead, there are layers of issues beyond guilt, including systemic injustice, rushed proceedings, undue pressure, and broad prosecutorial discretion on what charges are filed and the length of sentence that will result.

Plea bargaining — an imperfect and often coercive process — usually dictates criminal justice system outcomes, and it can be a tool to either fuel over-criminalization or to obtain restorative and just outcomes, depending on how it is wielded. In the United States, more than 90 % of criminal cases end in guilty pleas. Our criminal justice system rarely produces the exciting jury trial scenes from our favorite movies and TV shows; it instead produces the rote theater of back-to-back guilty pleas.

The plea bargaining process that yields the great majority of these guilty pleas is riddled with risks of coercion. This is especially the case when an accused person is behind bars. When a person is locked up pretrial, they risk losing their job, losing their home, and even losing custody of their children. Under these circumstances, there is a strong incentive to plead guilty if it comes with a promise to go home soon. It is not surprising, then, that studies have shown pretrial detention increases a person’s likelihood of pleading guilty by 46 %.

In Los Angeles, on any given day, approximately 44 % of people in County Jail – around 7,500 people – are locked up pre-trial and deciding whether to plead guilty.

The plea bargaining process is also a byproduct of over-burdensome caseloads combined with the time and stress of jury trials. When there are hundreds of cases to get through in a day in court, the prosecutor, judge, and sometimes even the defense attorney, are all incentivized to resolve cases. There is precious little time to determine what result will adequately ensure public safety, respect the interests and wishes of victims, and be consistent with the facts. Every actor in the criminal justice system is faced with incredible pressure to keep the cases moving and get them resolved. Indeed, it is a truism in the criminal justice world that if every defendant exercised his or her right to trial, the system as it currently operates would cease to function.

Often, these structural problems in the plea bargaining process result in innocent people pleading guilty. In nearly 11 % of the nation’s DNA exoneration cases, innocent people entered guilty pleas. And these are just the cases where DNA made it possible to overturn a conviction; researchers do not know how many innocent people have in fact pleaded guilty.

Plea bargaining also takes place within the broader systemic racism entrenched in the justice system. When the plea offer that is made is decided by any person, conscious and unconscious biases create disadvantage and inequality across race, ethnicity, gender, and age. While research shows that increasing the diversity of prosecutors decreases racial sentencing disparities, 95 % of elected prosecutors in the U.S. are white. These disparate results are clear when the odds of receiving a plea offer that includes incarceration are almost seventy percent greater for Black people than white people.

But before you decide it is time to do away with plea bargaining entirely, realize that it can also be used to bring humanity into a justice system that is not built to understand or fix societal problems. The plea bargaining process can potentially provide a mechanism for reformative and decarcerative efforts to succeed. It can allow a prosecutor to look at a person and a situation and decide whether treatment, programs, employment or other outcomes would better ensure public safety than jail.

For example, a person experiencing a significant mental health crisis who yells out a threat could be charged with a felony “strike” offense and face years of prison time. By virtue of the plea bargaining process, a prosecutor has the power to charge a misdemeanor instead, to pursue alternatives to incarceration as a sentence, or to charge no criminal offense at all and instead refer the person to mental health treatment.

Our justice system is far from perfect. And plea bargaining has many flaws that reflect the larger problems within the system, and society at large. But in the right hands, prosecutorial discretion provides the power to scale back on mass incarceration, promote public safety, and ensure restorative and just outcomes.

About the Author
Rachel Rossi is a former candidate for Los Angeles District Attorney and former federal and county public defender in Los Angeles.

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Education

Using Vernon Jones As An Example: How Much Should We Let Party Affiliation Define Us?

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Vernon Jones1

*Vernon Jones, a Democratic member of the Georgia House of Representatives has quickly become a household name.

Jones rose to the national spotlight in April 2020 after publicly criticizing his own Party and endorsed Trump for reelection. He later spoke at the Republican National Convention, garnering both criticism and adulation from amongst his peers and the public.

Now once again Jones is catching the eyes of the public as his actions in recent weeks have left many people in repudiation or admiration of him. Jones has busied himself with peddling the false narrative of the U.S Presidential Election being hijacked by those on the “left.”

Speaking to a crowd of Trump supporters in Georgia a few days after the election, the state representative shared his false and misguided view of the election being manipulated, specifically focusing on ballots cast and counted in the state which he believed to be illegitimate.

However, wide consensus states that no voter fraud took place and that the allegations currently being pushed by Mr. Jones and even the White House are simply unsubstantiated. But I digress, the point of me writing this piece is to say that Jones’ actions are an enigma to Democratic leaders and to everyday affiliates of the party.

Nikema Williams, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia called him: “An embarrassment” who fails at representing the values of the party.

MORE NEWS: Still A Must Have After 5 Years: Patti LaBelle Sells 36,000 Pies EVERYDAY!

Vernon Jones Pic

Vernon Jones

Jones has frequently stated in interviews and public speeches that his advocacy on the part of Trump stems from what he views as the President’s championing of Black issues. Arguing that Trump’s work in the areas of education and criminal justice reform is admirable and should incentivize Blacks to vote Republican. Such work includes permanent annual funding for HBCUs and school choice, along with the First Step Act.

Like Mrs. Williams, I also do not agree with Jones’ political views or his support for Trump, but I challenge her (and others) when it comes to a party-by-ideology characterization of him. I believe the displeasure Democrats hold towards Jones lies solely not in his misguided support of an incompetent President and conspiracy theories, but rather in that he identifies as a Democrat while heavily advocating for Republicans and their platform along with him possibly being Black. However, people need to realize that political affiliation and race do not always coincide with beliefs and opinions.

It is possible to be both a Democrat and a pro-life supporter just as much as it is to be a Republican and a pro-choice defender. It’s also possible to be Black and anti-police reform or White and for police-reform. You cannot attach expectations onto people due to a label.  Left, Right, Liberal, and Conservative are just pointless classifications used to categorize people in order to simplify their sometimes-unique beliefs and opinions. While, people’s association with Democrats and Republicans is merely based on what party they feel at a point in time is more closely aligned with their personal beliefs and doctrines. In other words, people’s connection to such labels can change at a moment’s whim.

Vernon Jones

Vernon Jones

In any case, Jones has done nothing of significance to earn widespread attention. Frankly, he would not even be a topic of conversation if he was registered as a Republican supporting Donald Trump or White. Therefore, it’s hard not to assume that Jones has largely only been given media attention due to his labels: Democrat, Black, and a Trump supporter. With the latter two labels possibly playing a substantial role in his given attention due to: 1) There not being a high volume of Black Trump supporters and 2) Confusion as to why a Black politician would back a President who repeatedly indulges White Supremacists.

Jones is an example of why Democrats and Republicans need to accept the fact that ideologies differ amongst their members because if they do not, they risk a lifetime of alienating people based on assumption.

So, do not take this piece as me saying, “You can’t be mad at Jones for his political views and the policies he supports.” After all, if you voted him into office and he changed his agenda after elected you have every right to be angry with him. But, if you strictly dislike him because he is a registered Democrat and or a Black guy siding with Republicans, then you need to rethink how you approach politics because something tells me Jones did not just start leaning to the “right.” He was probably always there, and you simply voted for him with the assumption that his associated party affiliation or race would determine his thinking on political matters.

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David Anthony EURweb 20201006_231339

David Anthony is new on the EURweb team. Contact David: [email protected]

David Anthony is a new graduate of Grand Canyon University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government.  A self-designated history buff and random fact finder, David could rattle your ear for hours with information. Born and raised in the City of Angels he is a huge fan of the city’s culture and hometown NBA team, the L.A. Clippers. A future attorney, businessman, and civil servant, he hopes to be an impactful individual in life.  Contact David: [email protected]

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EUR Commentary

The Crenshaw Mall Battle is Far More Than A Battle Over One Mall

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Baldwin Hills - Crenshaw

Baldwin Hills - Crenshaw

*The instant that a major outside development company announced that it would bid to buy the Crenshaw Mall, the battle was on. Here are the familiar charges. It is a naked money-making grab by outsiders. It will jack up rents for struggling small Black-owned businesses. It will usher in a rash of chic, high priced, new housing for mostly young upscale whites. It will drive even more lower-income, working-class out of their community. It will continue to send the wrong signal that inner-city Black neighborhoods are ripe for major outside development dollar pickings.

Outside Developers say just the opposite. They claim that their purchase of the Crenshaw Mall will boost minority-owned businesses, spur economic growth, and provide quality retail outlets and restaurants for the Crenshaw community

The developer who toyed with putting that bid in for the mall got the message and backed out. Now there’s another developer who reportedly has put up the cash for the Mall.  The same pro and con arguments on both sides are being shouted. The battle to send this developer packing by some community activists is even fiercer. Whether it’s the fight over ownership of the Crenshaw Mall or any other inner major business and residential area, the watchword that rings on all lips is this word: gentrification.

Like any other controversial, hotly debated, and divisive issue that bursts on the public policy scene, there’s a history. Gentrification is no different. It didn’t start in the late 1990s with young whites pouring into mostly Black and poor neighborhoods in America’s central cities and buying up rundown houses and apartment buildings. Then soaring the rents and home prices thereby driving the Blacks out. Or developers hungrily eyeing prime commercial space and land in neighborhoods such as the Crenshaw district.

Crenshaw Mall remodel

Artist rendering of remodeled Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall

The Urban Land Institute in the first major study in 1976 on gentrification that year found that a rising number of big cities experienced some form of gentrification. There were lots of new rehabbed housing and apartments in almost all cases occupied by affluent, educated young professionals. The report noted that the newcomers were “establishing a new investment climate.”

This was not lost on investors and developers who see bigger profits to be made selling to the young affluent whites interested in moving back into these areas.  It didn’t take long for the first rumblings of protest to be heard. The rumblings came from residents and community activists. They demanded to know, what about the folk who live in these neighborhoods, what happens to those who can no longer afford homes and apartments there? There were warnings that the transformation had consequences, mostly dire for those residents and for cities. There would be even more distinct areas carved out for the rich and poor, this time not out of the city, but within the cities.

A decade later the ante jumped on inner-city real estate. The influx of young affluent whites snapping up distressed properties in inner-city neighborhoods turned gentrification into a major growth industry. The properties bought often at fire-sale prices in distressed areas became solid financial investments for the present and future for investors and speculators. The ramp-up in tax revenue and fees was a windfall for municipal and county governments. The sweetener for investors and developers was to offer an even greater goodie bag of tax breaks and incentives to spur them to gobble up even more land in these areas.

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

There was scant if any attention paid to the effect of the make-over of these areas on the increasingly displaced Blacks and Hispanics, and the poor in what were fast becoming nouveau rich neighborhoods. Instead, there were countless articles and stories and features on the lifestyles and habits of the new urban elite in these neighborhoods. The words” increased poverty,” “displacement,” “racial disparity” was nearly totally absent from the gentrification conversation.

With gentrification now becoming a buzzword for seismic urban change, the battle lines were now tightly drawn in the debate over whether gentrification and development or at least the types of development it brought were a good or bad thing for poor Black and Hispanic communities. Developers, a slew of government officials, and real estate moguls are solidly on one side repeatedly citing the supposed benefits: more jobs, a spur to businesses, more and better housing, schools, and services, and spruced up public space. Community activists, legions of residents, counter with their checklist of bad things it purportedly will bring: homelessness, displacement, unaffordability, racial tensions, and erosion of the decades of racial and cultural cohesion that ironically forced confinement to racially segregated neighborhoods engendered.

The fierce battle over the Crenshaw Mall is set hard against the backdrop of class and race, and the rapidly changing demographics of America’s cities. The debate will continue to sharpen over the best use of valued land in and near central cities. Locally, the Crenshaw Mall is simply the flashpoint of this debate; a debate that will only grow fiercer with time.

earl ofari hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Gentrification Wars (Amazon) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network

 

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COVID-19

Shawn V. Branch: My Personal Experience with COVID-19 and the Life Lessons Learned

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Shawn V. Branch - IMG_7609
Shawn V. Branch - IMG_7609

Shawn V. Branch

Changing Our Narrative

*The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on so many of us. Not only have we been dealing with quarantining, wearing masks, and social distancing, but we have also been dealing with all of this with the added pressure of a national reckoning with racial injustice and a nail-biting election. For so many of us, we are looking forward to 2021 and praying it will be much nicer than this crazy year.

My personal experience with COVID began the first week of March. It started with symptoms of a common cold that then turned into what I thought was the flu. I did not feel awful, but I developed a fever that would not go away. I tried everything that I had done in the past to rid myself of the flu, but nothing was working. Having COVID never crossed my mind until two close friends kept asking me if I thought I should get a test. My immediate reaction was to say no. In my mind, I was still thinking it was the flu and I felt sure I could not have COVID.

COVID-19 testing

File Photo: “Now I was starting to get nervous. The next morning, he called and instructed me to come to the office and call him when I parked, and he would meet me outside and bring me a mask. At this time, we were not required to wear masks but he was taking the necessary precautions for himself and the staff. He gave me the test (and thank God, he did the throat swab and not the nose swab).” Shawn V. Branch

A few more days passed, and I was not feeling better. My bestie said, “You need to get tested.” I called my doctor and he said that he was getting his first batch of COVID tests the following day and to text him in the morning. Now I was starting to get nervous. The next morning, he called and instructed me to come to the office and call him when I parked, and he would meet me outside and bring me a mask. At this time, we were not required to wear masks but he was taking the necessary precautions for himself and the staff. He gave me the test (and thank God, he did the throat swab and not the nose swab). He prescribed some medication to help fight what we thought was the flu. The pills worked and a few days later my fever was gone but I was still nervous while waiting for my results. I took the test on a Monday; the following Thursday, I received a call from my doctor that said I tested positive for COVID-19.I was stunned. After I got over the initial shock, I started thinking: how did this happen and why me? That day, I sent a text message to my family and then a few close friends telling them about my result. My mother instantly told me that she was flying to Atlanta to be with me. I told her she absolutely could not do that!! Honestly, I really did want her to come. It had been a while since I saw her and during this time, I did not want to be alone; but I knew it was not safe for her to come and visit. That night as I laid in bed, I started to cry. So many thoughts were running through my mind and now I knew I had to quarantine and be isolated from the very support system I felt I most needed at that very moment.

But in that deep sadness, I was reminded of all I have to be thankful for. I am so blessed to have a loving family and wonderful friends. They checked on me daily, and my friends in Atlanta brought me food and champagne regularly, leaving it at my door. I thank God daily for my circle of friends. Living alone during the pandemic was very hard, and then facing the stress and unknowns of having COVID tested all my strength.

During my time with COVID, I tried to continue with my regular routine. I was up early, working and working out. I hate being sick and I also hate laying around doing nothing. I was alone so I had to cook my own meals, clean and do all the things I do when I am not sick. As I began to get better, I realized my breathing was a little weird. I was not out of breath, but something was different. I also felt that my body was not feeling 100% better after quarantine. I had weird feelings throughout my body and it just made me mad. I started reading articles about the after effects of COVID and I saw several of my symptoms reflected. Again, I started to feel the same stress and panic I felt when I first got my positive COVID results back.

Now, eight months after getting over COVID, I am feeling like my old self. I’ve had several COVID tests since then and they have all come back negative. I know the question of immunity has been a topic of discussion. I don’t think that I am safe from re-infection, so I still take all the necessary precautions. There is much that is unknown about COVID, so I always lean on the side of caution.

There are a few things that I’ve learned and a few things that I have started doing since contracting the virus:

Dr. Anthony Fauci

FILE PHOTO: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 31, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

I take a multi-vitamin and Emergen-C (Immune +), every day. Dr. Fauci recommends vitamins C and D to help your immune system help fight off respiratory infections

Emergen-C and Centrum

“I am pretty good about my health, but now I really listen to my body and don’t take my health for granted.” Shawn V. Branch

I am pretty good about my health, but now I really listen to my body and don’t take my health for granted. I make my own smoothies at least five days a week. This serves as just another way to make sure I am getting all the proper nutrients that my body needs. In addition to working out five days a week, I now walk at least three days a week. I started doing this when the lock down in Atlanta first took place, and continued because its healthy and it gives me the opportunity to clear my head and exercise with friends.

Healthy food ingredients for smoothie

“I make my own smoothies at least five days a week. This serves as just another way to make sure I am getting all the proper nutrients that my body needs.” Shawn V. Branch

As much as I love a good happy hour, I realized that small, intimate gatherings with special people were really the way to go. I now have two gatherings that I look forward to: Building Boys Gathering- when I get together with a few guys in the building and we eat, drink and have a great conversation; and Family Time – every Saturday I hang out with my bestie and his husband. We take turns cooking, watching movies and enjoy great conversation. These two events are definitely food for my soul.

I can do without as many material things in my life. I realized that I do not need any more clothes, shoes, etc. One day while putting away laundry I noticed that I still had clothing with tags on them. As much as I love to shop, the pandemic made me realize that I have more than I need.

I need to protect my mental health by any means necessary. While I am lucky to be able to work from home, I have found that my default is to work a lot of hours because there’s nothing else to do. I have to force myself not to fall into that trap. I stop my workday at 5 pm, turn on music, fix myself a cocktail, and just relax. I’ve also decided to disconnect from news and social media one weekend a month. I think it is important more than ever to no longer neglect me and take a break.

alcoholic drink

“I stop my workday at 5 pm, turn on music, fix myself a cocktail, and just relax.” Shawn V. Branch

I really missed not being able to see family and friends. I’ve always considered my relationships most important and that has only become more the case now in the face of this pandemic.

Being alone for countless hours with nothing to do made me think about my life’s purpose and how I am making sure that I am being fulfilled.

I really missed hugging people. The first person I hugged was my bestie and that was not until August.

I am more empathetic to other people. We are all trying to cope with this new way of living and for some it’s been harder than for others. I’ve realized that I need to be more understanding to others and what they may be experiencing.

making a toast with people on Zoom

“I’ve realized that I need to be more understanding to others and what they may be experiencing.“ Shawn V. Branch

Even Zoom happy hours can get on my nerves.

Now, as we move into fall and winter, we’re already seeing an exponential increase in the number of COVID cases and deaths. I often say to myself, What is it that we’ve learned that we will want to carry with us long after the pandemic is behind us —and perhaps for the rest of our lives? I know that as individuals we can make our own choices, and it is individual choices that will make the difference.

I hope and pray that we learn from this pandemic to bring more stillness into our lives, take better care of ourselves, be gentle and loving to ourselves, never take people for granted, and be thankful for what we have!

Shawn V. Branch

Shawn V. Branch, Food, Lifestyle & Travel Editor, ReelUrbanNews.com, with professional imprint ranging from education to executive positioning. Shawn is the curator of the lifestyle blog, SV Branches (www.vanbranchblog.com), which is based on the vision of inspiring and connecting with people who are searching for positivity and motivation. Originally from Baltimore, Shawn now resides in the City of Atlanta.

 

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