Every act, criminal or otherwise, requires motive, means, and opportunity. In the John Caudle case, for instance, the prosecutor has surmised that 14-year-old Caudle killed his parents because he didn’t want to do his chores. This is the motive we are expected to accept despite strong evidence that Caudle was a victim of abuse. He had access to a gun (means) and he confronted his mother after coming home from school (opportunity).
In a recent debate between defense attorney Kim Dvorchak and District Attorney Don Quick, Mr. Quick flat denied any political motive in filing adult charges against kids. I would submit that his own words in that debate betray him. I’m not usually one to parse words, but in this instance the specific request was for empirical evidence. So here it is:
Question: “What empirical evidence do you have that DAs use direct file for political gain?”
Answer from Ms. Dvorchak: “…There are concerns with placing the decision to file charges in the hands of an elected prosecutor particularly in a high profile homicide case. Those cases are going to generate a lot of community attention, a lot of community feelings and there will be tremendous pressure upon that elected official to prosecute a child in adult court that might not be prevalent for the judge… I would raise concerns that a prosecutor who is an elected official isn’t the best person to be making the decision about the circumstances of that individual child.
Response from Mr. Quick: ” …I do get offended when I’m told not only am I not making the right decision, but I’m doing it because I’m racist or I’m doing it for political gain. That’s outside the boundary of being questioned…There isn’t any evidence that we do this for political gain…If I went out and advertised that I choose to direct file less than half of the cases that are brought before me and certainly less than half that are eligible for direct file, that would be my political liability… The reason there is no evidence is because we don’t do that.”
Recognizing that the rate at which he direct files is a political liability is, essentially, an admission that the number times a DA direct files adult charges against children has political implications. So let’s review motive, means and opportunity.
Motive: District Attorneys are elected officials and therefore have political motives. They are subject to election and reelection in order to keep their jobs. According to Mr. Quick, there is a direct link between the number of direct files he does and his potential for reelection.
Means: District Attorneys have the power to direct file adult charges against children with no review or hearing by a juvenile court judge. This means that they will never be questioned inside the judicial system and the power rests solely with them. If they don’t use their power to direct file, a political opponent might accuse them of being “soft on crime.” Not using direct file, as Mr. Quick points out, is a political risk.
Opportunity: If only filing adult charges in half of juvenile cases that are eligible is a political risk then it stands to reason that the other 50% are a political opportunity. Mr. Quick defends against this point by saying that he doesn’t advertise the rate at which he direct files (the equivalent of having an opportunity, but not taking it). However, as an elected official Mr. Quick is well aware that he doesn’t have to advertise in order to get the community’s attention in a high profile case. Coverage of the Caudle case is evidence enough of that.
So here’s the deal: StopDirectFile.org will not apologize for ascribing political motives when DAs are making political calculations based on the number of direct files they do. Political motives clearly exist for DAs and they are clearly a factor that introduces bias in deciding in what court to charge a juvenile. We have separation of powers for a reason: to ensure a fair and impartial trial. If DAs are truly interested in “pursuing justice,” (as is their ethical obligation) they will give up their power to file adult charges to an impartial judiciary. If not, they will continue to use that power for political gain.