Mar. 23—Prosecutors have a duty to enforce and uphold the law, but some, like Washtenaw County’s Eli Savit, are effectively writing their own by refusing to enforce laws on the books as part of a personal political agenda.
Subverting law enforcement to activism, however, is ultimately harmful for residents who expect democratically enacted laws to be followed. If Savit wanted to make or change the laws, he should have run for a seat in the Legislature or county commission.
Claiming prosecutorial discretion, Savit has said that his office will not prosecute consensual sex work; low-level offenses for juveniles; the possession of psychedelic drugs; and the discovery of illegal drugs or weapons found in traffic stops. His office will also not request cash bail for most criminal defendants.
While some of those laws and penalties could benefit from reform, it’s not up to Savit to decide what’s legal. The effects of ignoring current mandates could be damaging for Washtenaw County.
For example, not charging for the possession of an illegal firearm in a traffic stop could incentivize criminals to carry firearms unlawfully without fear of prosecution, which could drive up crime.
“I’ve prosecuted hundreds of cases where an illegal gun was found in a routine traffic stop,” says Matthew Schneider, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “I cannot even imagine leaving that gun on the streets so it could be used to commit deadly crimes in the future.”
Similarly, ignoring low-level juvenile offenses like drinking or stealing could encourage escalating bad behavior.
Also harmful is Savit’s policy to no longer prosecute “consensual” prostitution because it oversimplifies the complexities of the sex-trafficking industry.
“Very often, a person who is a ‘consensual sex worker’ is actually a trafficking victim,” Schneider says. “Prosecutors with experience bringing trafficking cases know this.”
In addition to the harmful effects of the policies themselves, Savit’s decisions threaten the rule of law and the will of the people. He is usurping the the role of lawmaking bodies by effectively changing the laws he opposes.
Prosecutors have wide discretion when it comes to enforcing the law, but Savit’s blanket statements concerning what will not be enforced may constitute negligence.
“A prosecutor’s job is to protect the community, not to abandon it,” Schneider says.
Savit has said that the law should treat people fairly, no matter who they are. We agree, and that means equally applying the laws to everyone in the state.