Add one more policy shift to District Attorney Larry Krasner’s reform agenda: a less uniformly aggressive approach to deciding the appropriate charge to file in homicide cases.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has begun a policy shift at his office about how to properly and fairly prosecute defendants who kill, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In the past, Krasner said, “It was essentially, ‘How high a charge can we get away with?'” His approach — which he believes is long overdue — is to use the spectrum of possible homicide charges, and proceed on what he thinks the evidence supports. That can range from involuntary manslaughter (reckless or negligent killing) to voluntary manslaughter (unjustified killing in self-defense or in response to an extreme provocation) to third-degree murder (unpremeditated killing), all the way up to first-degree (malicious and intentional killing).
Since the reform-minded Krasner was sworn in Jan. 1, his office has reduced charges to third-degree murder or manslaughter in at least six cases initially filed as “murder generally” — an umbrella that encompasses first-, second-, and third-degree. In other cases, it sought lesser charges from the start. The new strategy aligns with Krasner’s oft-expressed belief that former prosecutors were out for wins — in the form of excessive prison sentences — rather than for justice. The way Krasner sees it, what looks like a radical shift is merely restoring balance — moving away from overcharging, which he called a “gutless” abdication of responsibility. “Part of the motivation for always charging the highest charge was the political management of victims. It became very easy to always say what aggrieved, traumatized victims want to hear,” Krasner said. That meant charging first-degree in every case, he said: “Then, when a jury or judge a year or two later has to straighten that out and knock it down to size, you just raise your fist and shake it at the judge or jury.”