A. G. Moore 2/8/2-14
Carolyn McCarthy, a staunch proponent for gun control in the U. S. Congress, is retiring. I received with dismay news that Ms. McCarthy has endorsed Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice to succeed her. This candidacy should not go forward because Ms. Rice has not shown herself to be a guardian of the Constitutional provisions she is sworn to protect.
During her nine years as DA, Ms. Rice has managed to garner wide support with a get-tough-on crime agenda. In the process of pursuing this agenda, she has often been the target of criticism that she is more interested in grabbing headlines than in achieving justice. I believe the record supports this charge, and I submit that this is precisely the wrong time to seat a Congressional representative who is tone deaf to Constitutional issues.
Rice’s disregard for basic Constitutional protections was illustrated in a case that was adjudicated in Nassau County Criminal Court this week. A gentleman was acquitted at this trial; he had been swept up in a highly publicized sting operation in June of 2013. The man was one of 140 indicted in the sting, which was carried out, according to Rice, in an effort to curb prostitution. The operation involved placing an ad in a newspaper; the ad offered escort services in exchange for money. Men who called the number listed in the ad were directed to a motel for a meeting.
Ms. Rice described this sting, after it became public, as “Flush the Johns“. All the men arrested in the operation had their names and pictures published–the point of this being that they would be punished for their transgression even before they had the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law.
As it turned out, procedures during the ensnarement and arrest of the “Johns” were sloppy. For example, the gentleman acquitted yesterday was not recorded when he spoke to the “escort” on the telephone, so there was no way to know what kind of service he agreed to. During his negotiation with the “escort” in the motel room, the only activity mentioned was a massage. Sex was never discussed. While money did change hands, at no point was it agreed that this money was offered in exchange for sexual favors.
The gentleman was spared, by his acquittal, the one-year prison term with which he had been threatened. However, his name had been plastered all over various media outlets. His picture has been displayed repeatedly over the months since his arrest. He has had to endure the cost of defending himself against the DA’s charges.
These pre-trial penalties are not trivial.
Despite the man’s acquittal–and the acquittals of others caught up in the sting—Rice remains unapologetic. She asserts her intention to pursue as yet unadjudicated cases arising from last spring’s sting.
The “Flush the John” campaign was obviously an attempt to curry public favor; it was also a very revealing demonstration of just how DA Rice views her Constitutional obligations. Unfortunately, Flush the John is just one example of Rice’s inclination toward prosecutorial abuse.
Perhaps more damning is her policy of overriding judicial discretion in the imposition of sentences. One of her first reforms as Nassau County DA was the institution of an office-wide procedure that mandated charging all defendants with as severe a penalty as the law would allow. Not only did she instruct DAs working in her office to charge severely, but she also established a no plea deal policy–unless she could dictate the sentence that would be imposed before the deal went before a judge. One retired Nassau County judge, Richard a LaPera, said that she was hard to get along with.
“She would offer a plea,” Judge LaPera said, “and then she would tell us what the sentence would be. We would not go along with it, and that was a problem.
At first blush, Ms Rice’s non-negotiation policy might seem to some like the best way to get criminals behind bars. However, a recent rash of exonerations across the country reveals that behind a guilty plea exacted through tough negotiations there often can be found an innocent party. Faced with the threat of draconian jail sentences and the prospect of a ruinously expensive trial, defendants may submit to prosecutorial pressure, regardless of guilt .
In her ambition to achieve a high conviction rate, Ms. Rice has apparently lost sight of the true purpose of her office: to see that justice is served. A District Attorney represents the people in court. The people want a safe community– a community that is safe from criminals and also safe from government overreach. An overzealous prosecutor is as dangerous to the public good as any larcenous criminal.
Even with an awareness of Rice’s poor record on Constitutional issues, some voters might regard her actions as acceptable because she is a good crime fighter. Unfortunately, even this boast must be denied the Nassau County DA. As Eric Schneiderman pointed in the 2010 campaign for Attorney General of New York State, the crime rate actually rose under Rice’s watch. This is a fact that Rice reluctantly conceded.
Kathleen Rice has been an aggressive prosecutor and no doubt she would be an equally aggressive advocate for gun control if she were to win Carolyn McCarthy’s Congressional seat. However, this single issue is not sufficiently compelling to warrant giving Ms. Rice the kind of power a Congressional representative has.
Over the last year the people of the United States have learned a lot about government overreach. Many of us are alarmed. We don’t want to be subject to preventative detention. We don’t want to be monitored, to have our computers bugged. We want the civil liberty guarantees we once believed we had–all the rights, every one of them, enumerated in the Constitution. Ms. Rice has shown that she has no regard for the particulars or spirit of our Constitution.
We need a better candidate.