Georgia Legislation Aimed at Prosecutors Who Refuse to Prosecute

Two legislation proposals were introduced Thursday in the Georgia legislature that intend to pressure prosecutors who fail or decline to bring charges for certain misdemeanor crimes. As reported, Georgia’s elected prosecutors could face disciplinary sanctions, removals or easier voter recalls for declining to do their job.

One of the bills would set up an oversight commission to monitor prosecutor actions. As reported, “Republicans have reintroduced it as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp criticizes prosecutors for not doing enough to prosecute all crimes.” The context for the legislation  “sets the stage for GOP majorities to take action in 2023.”

The Fox 5 Atlanta reporting alleges that “Both House Bill 229 and House Bill 231 are aimed at district attorneys or county solicitors general who refuse to prosecute entire categories of crimes.” An example is supplied: “Some Georgia prosecutors are declining to bring any charges for low-level marijuana possession.” Solicitors general prosecute misdemeanors and ordinance violations in lower courts, while district attorneys prosecute both felonies in superior court and misdemeanors.

The legislation, some reintroduced after failing to pass previously, “is part of Kemp’s broader tough-on-crime push, along with Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and others.” The Fox 5 article elaborated: “House Bill 231, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Gullett, a Dallas Republican, would create a Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission…which can investigate misconduct by judges and recommend punishments including removal to the state Supreme Court.”

On Thursday, Gullett stated: “Voters across the state are begging legislators to address corrupt prosecutors.” Gullett added: “While most district attorneys and solicitor generals are hard-working public servants seeking justice for victims, others have sullied and called into question the integrity of our criminal justice system through their unethical behavior.”

Some recent history supported Gullett’s assertion. “Dick Donovan, once district attorney in Gullett’s Paulding County, pleaded guilty to one count of unprofessional conduct and resigned in 2022 after he was indicted for bribery related to sexual harassment claims.”

The standards for enforcing the legislative mandates can be steep. “That bill says a district attorney can’t be disciplined or removed over their decision of whether to charge a crime, unless the decision was based on certain illegitimate factors including a prosecutor who “categorically refuses to prosecute any offense or offenses of which he or she is required by law to prosecute.”

As reported, similarly, House Bill 229, sponsored by Republican Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens, will require a district attorney “to review every individual case for which probable cause for prosecution exists,” adding that “refusing to do so would violate a district attorney’s oath of office.” The Fox 5 report elaborated: “Violating an oath of office is a crime in Georgia, punishable by one to five years in prison.”

Deborah Gonzalez, district attorney for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, is a target of criticism. “Republican Attorney General Chris Carr singled her out in 2021, and Kemp in December tweeted that he looked forward to legislative action to address “Far-left local prosecutors” who “are failing their constituents and making our communities less safe.”

Abortion may become an issue for prosecutorial misconduct. “Rules could also target prosecutors who declared after Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022 that they would not prosecute abortion-related offenses.” Listed are seven current district attorneys that made such pledges.

Finally, as reported, “Gaines’ bill also would make district attorneys and solicitors general the easiest-to-recall elected officials in Georgia. Failing to make case-by-case prosecution decisions would be grounds for recall, and only 2% of registered voters in a county or judicial circuit would be required to force a recall election. Now, 30% of registered voters have to sign a recall petition for prosecutors and other officials not elected statewide.” Gaines stated: “Communities across our state cannot afford to wait; voters deserve a remedy that will allow them to protect their counties, cities and neighborhoods.”

D & B Staff

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Episode 48