New Commission in Georgia Will Discipline and Remove Prosecutors Who Are Seen as Not Tough Enough on Crime
by Jo Ellen Nott
Republican Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed into law Senate Bill 92 (“SB 92”) on May 5, 2023, creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (“PAQC”). The new oversight group is tasked with discipling and removing “far-left prosecutors” who make Georgia communities “less safe,” according to the Peach State governor.
Senate Bill 92 also requires that prosecutors review every case for which probable cause exists and make a prosecutorial decision for each one. Under the new mandate, prosecutors will not be permitted to exclude categories of cases from prosecution such as low-level drug offenses or access to reproductive health care.
It is widely held by legal experts that considering every case individually is unrealistic because prosecutors decline to prosecute much more often than they decide to charge. It remains to be seen if the new legislation will change prosecutors’ behavior or prompt them to avoid publicizing charging decisions.
The PAQC will launch on July 1 and begin taking complaints on October 1. The commission will include six current or former prosecutors and two other lawyers. It will oversee district attorneys and solicitors general — elected prosecutors who handle lower-level crimes in some counties, according to Governor Kemp’s press secretary.
Georgia’s SB 92 joins a nationwide legislative movement to remove prosecutors in various states and dispute how certain criminal offenses should be charged. Colorado, California, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania have instituted measures to remove prosecutors for misconduct in recent years.
Deborah Gonzalez, Democratic district attorney for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, and extremely controversial in Kemp’s hometown of Athens, is a top target of SB 92. Gonzalez chooses not to prosecute cases of minor drug possession, truancy, and other low-level offenses. She is widely criticized for her management style, her staffing issues, and her progressive politics which are critical of the criminal justice system.
Measures to limit or remove prosecutors nationwide have had varying degrees of success. In Missouri, Republicans maneuvered to limit Democrat Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner until she announced she would resign on June 1, 2023. In Indiana, a bill to allow an oversight board to appoint a special prosecutor to replace a “noncompliant” prosecutor who refused to charge certain crimes has not gained traction. In Pennsylvania, Republican efforts to impeach Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner are stalled on appeal. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren for his stance on abortion and transgender rights. A federal judge found that DeSantis illegally targeted Warren because of his politics. That suspension is now under appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Sources: Courthouse News, Governor Brian P. Kemp, Office of the Governor
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