Progressives are Overreacting to a Startling Crime Study

Sunday, April 18, 2021
  • “We prosecute misdemeanors because, among other things, we want there to be fewer of them, and we believe prosecution deters reoffending.” 
  • “(W)e can cautiously conclude that the best evidence says the marginal misdemeanant should be prosecuted less often. But if ADAs are bad at judging the effects of their prosecution, then we shouldn’t assume they’re good at telling the marginal misdemeanant from the future serial offender. . . We can instead offer a rule of thumb: When in doubt, err on the side of not prosecuting first-time misdemeanants. Diverting these offenders, with the threat of more serious punishment if they reoffend, could help clear dockets while minimizing crime. It would also free ADAs to focus on repeat misdemeanants.” 
  • “Targeting repeat offenders would mitigate the risk of abuse of first-time diversion, by making clear that a “second chance” won’t be followed by a third, a fourth, a fifth, and so on. Research on California’s “three-strikes law,” for example, indicates that increasing punishment for repeat offenders can have a powerful deterrent effect.” 
  • “(D)eterrence is not the only reason to prosecute an offender. Advocates of not prosecuting misdemeanors tend to invoke “victimless” crimes such as drug possession and prostitution. But misdemeanors can also include offenses such as simple assault and auto theft crimes that harm others. Such crimes reasonably elicit a demand for retributive justice. It offends our moral sensibilities to think that a person who commits a serious but not felonious assault could get off scot-free.” 
  • “Blanket policy changes can induce increases in offending. California’s 2014 increase to the threshold for felony theft, for example, predictably led to an increase in theft at the city level, indicating that offenders change their behavior in response to such shifts.”