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Counterbalancing needed for prosecutorial maneuvering

At first blush, a media report discussing a criminal law topic centrally relevant to St. Paul, Minnesota, might not seem even remotely germane to the workings of criminal justice in Arkansas or any other state. The matter is not national in scope. Nor is it possessed of subject matter that would seem to capture the widespread attention of readers across the country.

Again, though, that is only at first blush. We believe that many of our readers who take a moment to peruse the material details of what police officers and prosecutors are doing in St. Paul might reasonably find the media piece to be both provocative and quite relevant across the country.

Here’s what is happening. Because law enforcement officials were not too happy with the results of theft charges typically brought against chronic shoplifters in the area, they changed their charging strategy in a manner termed “outside the box” by one local police officer.

First, stores where theft allegedly occurred were advised to issue trespass orders to accused persons that barred them from returning for one year. When they returned within that time and allegedly reoffended, prosecutors were waiting with a new tactic, namely, a charge of felony burglary.

That charge allows for meatier prison terms, as well as hefty fines, following conviction.

We believe that is also points out the impressive arsenal of tools at the ready disposal of government whenever state or federal officials seek to target and punish an alleged offender with the most stringent criminal penalties possible.

“Outside the box” prosecutorial charging can unquestionably bring desired results for enforcers that they might not otherwise be able to obtain. In some instances, it is arguably unobjectionable and promotes public objectives.

On principle, though, so-called “creative” prosecutorial charging also highlights the need for strong counterbalancing required for fundamental fairness that is largely supplied through the strong and knowledgeable intervention of a proven criminal defense attorney.

True equity in the criminal justice system demands nothing less, with every person who faces the formidable power of the government having a fundamental right to strong legal representation.

That right protects all Americans.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, "St. Paul's 'outside-the-box' charges nail organized retail thieves," Mara H. Gottfried, March 29, 2014

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