Prosecutors are the “most powerful actors in the criminal justice system” proclaims Hawaii House Bill 2749. That bill would follow the lead of Florida, Colorado, and Arizona in increasing transparency into court proceedings.
A Texas A&M Law Review article highlighted the need to increase transparency in plea bargaining. (See July 2019 CLN, p.41) This bill does that and more. It would require a prosecutor’s office to collect and publish data about a defendant’s race, gender, disability status, where they were arrested, whether diversion was offered, bail or bond information, pleas offered, and substance abuse screening.
In all, the bill requires 11 data points to be collected and publicized online by a newly created criminal justice research institute. It also requires the governor to establish a prosecutorial transparency advisory board.
“The intent of the bill is generally to bring more transparency to the process in prosecutor’s offices to make sure the public can have faith and confidence that the right people are being prosecuted,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Lee.
The bill is not popular with prosecutors. Maui County Prosecutor Son Guzman said it was in “strong opposition” to it. “This bill creates an unfunded state mandate with an effective date of July 1, 2020, without any significant consultation with the effected agencies,” he wrote in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
“As taxpayers, we have a right to know what’s going on. We should know the rationale behind their decision-making,” said Mandy Fernandes, policy director at the ACLU of Hawaii. “To make good policy first we need to start with information. We can’t have information if the prosecutors are operating in secrecy.”
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