Boston, MA– Yesterday, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office released a 65-page policy memo outlining her approach to criminal justice in the district which includes Boston.
Two main takeaways from the memo: first, it ruffled feathers at federal immigration authorities, as Rollins outlined her intent to shield persons attending court hearings from immigration officers. Second, the memo outlined a plan to follow through on her campaign promise not to prosecute 15 low-level, non-violent crimes.
The memo stated that if employees at the DA’s office see officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) around the Suffolk County courthouse, the employee should notify District Attorney Rollins’s office directly.
The policy memo elaborated that the presence of federal immigration authorities may inhibit persons from seeking justice in the Suffolk County District Court. “All persons who are harmed, regardless of national origin, must receive full, equal, unfettered access to justice. Local criminal matters always supersede federal civil matters, and this office is committed to making sure all parties with civil or criminal business before our courts in Suffolk County can arrive to and from each and every one of their court hearings without fear of, or interference from, civil immigration authorities.”
ICE’s acting field office director in Boston, Todd M. Lyons, responded to Rollins’s memo in a statement, reports the Boston Globe: “Attempts to promote an overall fear or suspicion of law enforcement officers is a counterproductive and very misguided approach to criminal justice....One would hope the District Attorney would focus her attention more on allegations of those accused of criminal activity than on the men and women of law enforcement who courageously protect our communities every day.”
Rollins was elected in November 2018 and took office at the beginning of January 2019. During her campaign, she said that as DA she would decline to prosecute certain low-level nonviolent crimes, using jail time sparingly and only for more serious crimes.
Some of the low-level crimes that Rollins has pointed to include trespassing, shoplifting, larceny under $250, driving with a suspended license, receiving stolen property, minor in possession of alcohol, and drug possession. Her website states that such nonviolent crimes should be treated as a “...civil infraction for which community service is satisfactory, restitution is satisfactory…, job training or schooling is satisfactory.”
In her detailed policy memo, Rollins makes good on that promise, stating that the 15 misdemeanors, “...[i]n addition to being low-level, non-violent offenses with minimal long-term impact...are most commonly driven by poverty, substance use disorder, mental health issues, trauma histories, housing or food insecurity, and other social problems rather than specific malicious intent.” Such persons, she has argued, would be best served by programs other than the criminal justice system.
(The DA’s office does allow for several exceptions where they may choose to pursue such charges on a case-by-case basis. The full list of 15 misdemeanors can be found in Appendix C of the memo.)
Image via Wikimedia Commons