Progressive Prosecution Goes on Trial in Pennsylvania

A vote next month in the Keystone State could be a bellwether for the fate of a progressive stalwart.

AP/Matt Rourke
The Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner, speaks during a news conference at Philadelphia, January 31, 2022. AP/Matt Rourke

A vote next month in the Pennsylvania state senate will determine whether an impeached district attorney, Lawrence “Larry” Krasner, gets to keep his job. Regardless of the outcome, this will not end the debate over progressive prosecutors who are roiling big cities across America. 

Mr. Krasner’s trial comes after San Franciscans recalled their district attorney, Chesa Boudin, in June. Nearly six in ten residents thought that the progressive stalwart no longer deserved to lead the city’s law enforcement. In August, a similar effort to recall Los Angeles’s district attorney, George Gascón, failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. 

Mr. Krasner, a product of the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School, arrives at this crossroads five years after first being elected to office and after securing re-election last year. His tenure has been marked by reductions in the number of prosecutors, a refusal to pursue criminal charges against those caught possessing marijuana, and other policies deemed by the state’s house of representatives as derelictions.

The impeachment resolutions passed on a party-line vote, 107 to 85, in the Pennsylvania house. The resolutions include seven articles, though Mr. Krasner would have to be impeached on just one to lose his job. The Pennsylvania senate features 28 Republicans and 32 Democrats. A two-thirds vote is required for conviction and removal.  

The most far-reaching article accuses Mr. Krasner of “dereliction of duty” in managing his office. It points out that the conviction rate in gun possession cases is at 49 percent, compared to 63 percent when Mr. Krasner took office. Last year, more than two-thirds of all charges ended in dismissal or withdrawal. That number was 30 percent in 2016. 

Republicans argue that Mr. Krasner’s policies, which include not charging sex workers and altering plea bargain procedures in order to reduce the average length of probation and supervision, “substantially contributed” to a surge in crime. 

According to Axios, Philadelphia is this year set to break its own record for homicides, which was set last year. Axios also reports that “violent crime is surging, and robberies have more than doubled compared to this time in 2021.”

The articles of impeachment quote Philadelphia’s police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, to the effect that “we are tired of arresting the same suspects over and over again, only to see them right back out on the street to continue and sometimes escalate their criminal ways.”

The case for impeachment quotes liberally from judges who have lambasted how Mr. Krasner’s office conducts its business. In reference to the prosecution of a police officer, one jurist thundered that “this is the antithesis of what the law expects of a prosecutor.” 

In an interview with the Nation, Mr. Krasner struck a defiant pose. He described the impeachment push as a “direct effort to erase the votes of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Black and brown and young and broke people.” He called the impeachment a “gut punch to democracy.” 

Even as Mr. Krasner decried the movement against him as at odds with the will of the Keystone State voters, he acknowledged that “we have achieved, sadly, all-time high homicides in Philadelphia” and that the City of Brotherly Love is “chronically violent.” 

Representative Craig Williams, a Republican who is chairman of the managers of the impeachment case, sees things differently. A veteran of the Marine Corps and a longtime federal prosecutor, he read the articles of impeachment aloud in the house and hand-delivered them to the president of the senate.

Mr. Williams draws a distinction in respect of the impeachment. He tells the Sun that while “crime is out of control,” rampant lawlessness is “not the basis” for impeachment. He instead notes that Pennsylvania’s standard for removal from office is “misbehavior in office.” 

That standard, Mr. Williams says he concluded, is met by Mr. Krasner’s office’s alleged misrepresentations to judges, failure to notify victims of plea deals and case developments as required by law, and the district attorney’s being held in contempt for refusing to engage with the impeachment proceedings. 

When asked about the strength of the evidence against Mr. Krasner and his likelihood of success, Mr. Williams maintained that he “had a strong case” and that as the man leading the prosecution, he “didn’t intend to lose.” 

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use