Updated 5/17/2019: We took the appendix of this book and showed how it could be a questionnaire that a hypothetical selection committee could put to candidates to gauge how committed they are to prosecutorial reform.
“Prosecutors wield extraordinary power in the criminal legal system. How they exercise their power can be the difference between fairness and inequality, justice and corruption, and a community with faith in its justice system or one that feels betrayed by it.”
We don’t usually do book reviews, but Emily Bazelon’s book “Charged. The new movement to transform American prosecution and end mass incarceration” is a phenomenon we can’t ignore. It is a textbook and a case study of how to replace Amy Weirich.
Local DAs are the officials with the most influence over mass incarceration.
We previously reported on the Fair Punishment Project’s report “The Recidivists: New Report on Rates of Prosecutorial Misconduct“. One of the four DAs profiled in the book was Amy Weirich, with an account of six of her cases which had been reversed by appeals courts. Weirich was nailed for repeat Brady violations and due process violations. Amy Weirich was, in 2017, fast becoming the poster child for prosecutorial misconduct.
“Charged” confirms Amy Weirich as the most corrupt champion of mass incarceration in the country. The book is structured as two case histories, one of Amy’s persecution of Nuora Barnes for murdering her mother, and the other following a young Black man, pseudonymously named Kevin, as he wends its way through a diversion program in the Brooklyn office of DA Eric Gonzales, who has slashed mass incarceration since his election.
This is the most complete account of the Nuora Barnes case, and Weirich doubles down on vicious and illegal tactics throughout the case. Jackson eventually took an alford plea after the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated her conviction. Weirich did not have the grace to release Nuora on bail, and, rather than releasing her after ten years, forced her to accept a plea deal to avoid further incarceration. Bazelon forged a close relationship with Nuora Jackson and paints an intimate portrait of a soul in Amy’s hell.
In the midst of alternating through six chapters each on Kevin and Nuora’s cases, Bazelon adds organizational chapters.
Chapter 5 is an account of a national movement to replace bad prosecutors with reformist DAs. Groups such as the Illinois Safety and Justice PAC, funded by George Soros, helped Kim Foxx get elected in Chicago. The Civic Participation Action Fund, the ACLU campaign for Smart Justice, the Open Society Foundation, Texas Organizing Project and others supported fourteen DA reform candidates in 2016-2018. Most of them won. Even the Koch brothers supported DA reform on the basis of waste. It is a bipartisan issue.
Chapter 8 is a survey of the new reformist DAs, including Kim Foxx in Chicago, Eric Gonzales in Brooklyn, Mark Dupree in Kansas City, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Tori Verber Salazar in San Joaquin Co, CA, Aramis Ayala in Orlando and many others. Organizations like NYC Court Watch and Fair and Just Prosecution weighed in. We have a court watch in Memphis now.
The final chapter is a survey of the issues faced by some of the new reform prosecutors and how they were tackled. It’s a troubleshooting guide for reform DAs.
Possibly the most valuable resource in the book is the appendix, a list of 21 principles for Twenty First Century Prosecutors, grouped under the objectives of reducing mass incarceration and increasing fairness in the system. This is a great starting point for a questionnaire for new DA candidates.
This book is a gift to criminal justice advocated in Memphis. It contains a motivational story, potential national sources of support, accounts of the pioneer reform DAs who are already elected and helpful organizational principles.
Amy Weirich is the Public Enemy Number One for national reform advocates, who are well funded.
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