One Victim Too Many

The current reform regime for local prosecutors who have chosen to use their offices to supersede legislatures and decide which duly-enacted criminal laws are worthy of their efforts and which they shall veto has strong support from the progressive reformers. And with some reason, given the inability of divided and overly-partisan legislatures to address laws that few seriously question to be bad, grossly excessive failures.

If the states can’t do their job of fixing bad laws, isn’t it better that someone does? Sure, it may lack a certain adherence to principle, a violation of separation of powers when far too much power is put into the hands of executive branch officials exercising super-legislative authority.

It’s ironic, in a bad way, that these are the same officials who were accused of abusing their power when it was used harshly, but are now applauded for their even greater exercise of unchecked power when exercised in the way that favors reform. But reform is the outcome demanded by progressives, so principle is a distant second to outcome. In fairness, that was the case before as well, so it’s not as if this progressive view is less principled than its conservative predecessor. It’s just not any better.

Elected in November, 2018, Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot has joined the gang, like Suffolk County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Rachel Rollins. He has announced the crimes that he will no longer prosecute.

He’s already dismissed more than 1,000 drug possession cases during his first three months in office.

In a letter to the people of Dallas County, Creuzot said his office will no longer prosecute many first-time marijuana offenses or any drug possession cases involving less than .01 grams of a drug.

There’s room for debate whether drug crimes are inherently victimless. When a person snatches a purse to get the money to buy drugs, there’s a victim. Whether they are a victim of drugs or purse snatching is debatable, but there isn’t always a secondary crime attached to drug use. On the backend, there’s the overdose, the neglected child, the violent actions of the person on drugs and the street-corner gunfights for turf and money. These aren’t always the case, but it’s folly to deny they ever happen either.

Shortly after being elected in November 2018, Creuzot said, “On my agenda is to not ask judges to send people to the penitentiary for technical violations of their probation – for instance not doing community service, not paying fines and fees.”

It gets dicier when the punishments imposed by courts are ignored by prosecutors. For the most part, these consequences are meted out at the request of the prosecution, so it’s not as if the judge knows or cares one way or the other, but still this is a prosecutor overruling the court. And there are reasons to do so, when people don’t pay fines because they have no job, no money. Court fees are a sham, even if they’re the law, shifting the putative costs onto defendants because there is no one to call out legislatures for sucking the hated poor as dry as possible.

Community service has its problems as well, despite its warm-sounding name. We’re awash in people being ordered to do it, but the opportunities to do so are thin. And if there are hungry children at home, someone still has to care for them, earn the money to feed them. While 100 hours of community service doesn’t sound like much punishment, that’s 2½ weeks without child care, without even minimum wage income. Kids get hungry every night. Somebody has to change those diapers. And the landlord still wants his rent. Like every other aspect of the system, even this seemingly benign consequence can be a huge problem for some.

But these debatable reforms pale in the face of a crime that has, by definition, a victim.

He also said his office will no longer prosecute theft cases involving personal items worth less than $750, unless evidence shows it was for economic gain.

But Andrew Arterburn, the owner of One Stop Express in Uptown said a shoplifter just stole $120 worth of laundry detergent on Thursday and he’s not happy to find out cases like this could be dismissed.

“It’s a slap on the wrist. They go to jail, get a meal, get let go. And they’re not going to be prosecuted at all for it,” said Arterburn.

This is tantamount to a free ride for theft under $750, which may not be grand theft auto level money, but isn’t chump change either. If you’re a grocery store owner, trying to make a living by collecting the nickel profit per tomato, every stolen item hurts. Multiply that by 100 and it could spell the demise of a business.

But if there’s no prosecution, then why not? Sure, there are people who believe the biblical prohibition against theft, but there are a lot more who don’t, whether because they’re hungry and rationalize their entitlement to other people’s stuff, or just care more for themselves than others.

Creuzot throws in a qualification, “unless evidence shows it was for economic gain.” Everyone, except maybe the store owner, can agree that stealing a loaf of bread to feed the children isn’t for economic gain, but what of a 50-inch flat screen TV because the thief is a huge Cowboys fan? That’s not for economic gain, but for hometown pride. Even if he steals the TV to fence so he can buy food for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, is that economic gain? Does the woman whose purse was snatched care, as it contained her minimum wage earnings for the past two weeks and she’s got hungry kids too?

One of the constant dilemmas of passionate reformers is that they focus on one side of the sad anecdote and ignore, or deny, the other, the side that reveals the fallacy of their tears for the misfortune of some at the expense of the misfortune of others. Will they call it a success when some bodega owner pulls out his gun to stop a thief from taking the food out of his children’s mouth? It’s easy to choose one’s preferred victim of society on paper, but when everyone is a victim, who gets to survive?

17 thoughts on “One Victim Too Many

  1. DaveL

    I disagree that stealing food isn’t “for economic gain”. Probably a solid majority of all economic activity, that is to say profit-generating activity, gainful activity, if for the purpose of securing the necessities of life. Even drug dealers pay rent and buy diapers off their hustle. Naturally, there are varying degrees of need and different levels of survival, but let’s not pretend that making money and getting the things you need are totally different things.

  2. Skink

    This is short-thought on a whole another level. Set aside victims of the less-than $750 theft. After all, Creuzot did. Some thinking went into this. He and some folks around him decided it was good and fair to decide this type of crime should not be punishable because it’s seemingly of a type that people do to just stay alive. That it isn’t true must have been obvious, but doesn’t fit into the calculus, so it gets cast.

    As always, there are more thoughts that didn’t make the cut. Didn’t one of the people combining this plan, during a stop at the gas station, 7-11 or coffee shop they frequent, ask how much is kept in the register? Bet not: they would have discovered there is never that much. This does a disservice to cash register manufacturers, as the clerks in those places might as well leave all the cash on the counter with a sign–“free money.”

      1. Skink

        Seriously, I can’t place this in any camp but willful ignorance. These are lawyers that prosecute these crimes. They aren’t reporters, sociologists or factory workers. They know the pathology of criminals. There is no chance, none, that they don’t know what this will bring.

        1. Matt

          Unless the till is hanging open, taking the cash out would require force or the threat thereof against the cashier — taking this out of the realm of a simple theft offense — or against the register, which would presumably also add a property crime to the mix. In either case, I can’t imagine any prosecutor, no matter how woke her boss, declining to bring charges.

  3. wilbur

    So, if a DA office employee embezzles $700 from the office Xmas fund, no problemo.

    He’ll fire her, but charge her with a crime? No way. She needed to buy a new TV.

    Sorry folks, no DJ this year for the office Xmas party.

    1. SHG Post author

      If he fired her for the theft, would he not be treating her differently than any other person in need? That’s so unfair.

  4. Steve Brecher

    Aha! Just as I suspected: in Texas, $750 is the value dividing line between a Class B (if no prior theft convictions) and Class A misdemeanor.

    D.A. Creuzot perhaps imagines that retailers will be paying for shoplifted laundry detergent, or sacks of beans/rice/potatoes, etc. That would be a failure of imagination, as unintended consequences always are. It is more likely that honest customers will pay most of the freight through higher prices.

    1. SHG Post author

      The degree of consumer pricing flexibility is limited. That $2 box of laundry detergent isn’t nearly as good a deal in a poor neighborhood when it costs $12.

      1. Steve Brecher

        I am thinking the $2 box becomes ~$2.02, and similarly across the store. All paying customers, poor and otherwise, end up paying more.

  5. Curtis

    This is very dangerous. When shop owners are worried they will not get help from the justice system, some will take action on their own.

  6. Sacho

    Virtue signaling is getting in the way of progressive ideals. Creuzot can still decide on a case-by-case basis whether to prosecute or not, without this stupid proclamation. Then he won’t have to twist into a pretzel explaining why thefts are suddenly “for economic gain”, when people start gaming the system. Isn’t the whole point of discretion to allow for nuanced decisions, not sweeping statements?

    Who does this announcement even serve? People desperate enough would already risk prison, and be thankful that the prosecutor saw their circumstances and declined to prosecute. The announcement then only serves to tell those that aren’t as desperate “don’t worry, go ahead and steal”. Is that the image the DA is going for?

  7. Ken Hagler

    There’s an unintended consequence here due to an oddity in Texas law: one of the circumstances in which deadly force is justified is to stop “theft during the nighttime.” By saying that he won’t prosecute thefts under $750 Creuzot is effectively telling Mr. Arterburn that if that shoplifter comes back at night, just shoot him, because he has no other recourse.

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