The phrase "law and order" has been thrown around by all political sides in recent weeks. More recently, from the left as a reminder to conservatives who preached it all summer during BLM protests yet failed The US Capital on Jan 6th. This week, we take a look into the law with our guest, New York City defense attorney, Eliza Orlins. She sits down with Xander to talk about the legal system and her run to bring new order to New York with her bid for Manhattan DA.
Orlins clarifies that judges are not the powerhouses that they appear to be on television; it's all about the District Attorneys. "DAs are the most powerful people in our criminal legal system," she states. When a person is tried, the District Attorney determines what that crime is, and what the conviction will be. It’s the prosecutor who decides the type and amount of bail. Orlins explains, "What cash bail has done throughout history is really just incarcerate people who are too poor to buy their freedom."
Orlins explains that people who cannot afford bail will often settle to be free to continue their life, i.e., work, school, or taking care of their family. In her experience, Eliza states that defendants risk losing their homes, jobs, and children if they refuse to take a plea bargain. "It's a practice that just mistreats human beings who are not wealthy."
Eliza explains the issues with the types of charges start with 'mandatory minimums.' These minimums yield the DA's power as it is the conviction time they set, which cannot be reduced by a judge. This statutorily mandated sentence is a tool used by many attorneys. "If the minimum is five years in prison," Eliza says, "the DA can offer something less and basically use it as a tactic to extract a plea."
Other manipulative strategies used are called a "bump up"; Orlins gives the example of a shoplifter who is charged and gets "trespassing" tagged on the charge. If the shoplifter returns and commits that same misdemeanor, it's then "bumped up" to a class D felony.
Eliza says these overcharging and coercions schemes aren't keeping people safe, either. "Jail is not the way to answer our problems. The DAs don't have to do this; there's a better way." Orlins wants alternatives to incarceration and says, "We have to elect DAs who are committed to this."
She shares a success story about a teenage girl who was charged with gun possession. "She has remained out of jail, not in trouble, gainfully employed and expecting a baby," Orlins says. Orlins argues that punitive justice shouldn't be our only recourse if we really want to help people reform.
Orlins hopes to join the other DAs who have started making changes, such as Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and George Gascon in Los Angeles, who ended cash bail. She hopes to show people that "retribution is not the reality" and focuses on the real issues of mental health, poverty, and substance abuse.
What I'm fueled by is rage at injustice. That's what enables me to wake up every day and continue fighting because injustice exists and has for (an) eternity, and it's just something I want to fight back against."