State's Attorneys are among the most powerful but least accountable actors in the criminal legal system. S.B. 307, a bill introduced in Connecticut's legislature, could help to change that by holding them to common sense accountability systems. On March 9, 2022, the bill was up for a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. Smart Justice leader Brittany Lamar delivered the following testimony:
Hello Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, and ranking members Senator Kissel, Representative Fishbein, and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee.
My name is Brittany Lamar, and I am a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut. I am also a student at the University of Connecticut studying a master’s degree in public policy, and I will be attending UConn Law in the fall. I am also a mother and homeowner. And I am a formerly incarcerated person. I am here today to testify in support of Senate Bill 307 “An Act Concerning Prosecutorial Accountability and Priority Given to Cases Prosecuted” because I believe that public officials as powerful as State’s Attorneys should be held accountable for the decisions they make that will impact people for the rest of their lives.
Asking prosecutors to follow a standard set of rules for fairness is commonsense and necessary to make sure people are treated fairly across our state no matter what zip code they are in. But right now, there is no real oversight to prevent discrimination, disparities or overly harsh sentencing. State’s Attorneys should be embracing their roles in preventing these things, and it is up to the General Assembly to ensure that the Criminal Justice Commission provides external and public oversight to hold them accountable. I strongly support giving the Criminal Justice Commission more independence and the ability to evaluate State’s Attorneys every two years based on the data being collected by the Office of Policy and Management since the passage of the prosecutorial transparency law in 2019.
SB 307 would work to create a true merit-based system in which State’s Attorneys are held accountable and measured based on how well they do their jobs, not left for eight years without external oversight. The departure in 2020 of the Hartford State’s Attorney after failing to complete multiple investigations into deadly police shootings, and the more recent investigation into the conduct of the Chief State’s Attorney resulting in his resignation, shows symptoms of a system that operates outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Whenever a powerful public official misbehaves, it is imperative for lawmakers, like this committee, to look at the systems that allowed that behavior to happen, and to take steps that will prevent future harm.
SB 307 will begin to establish meaningful ethics and accountability provisions for Connecticut’s State’s Attorneys, establish a task force to create statewide policies to prevent discrimination in prosecutor’s practices, mandate a prosecutorial ethics policy, and expand the Criminal Justice Commission’s disciplinary power to include the Chief State’s Attorney.
It is imperative that this committee pass SB 307 and put an end to the current system in which cronyism among State’s Attorneys can too easily thrive at the expense of not only government ethics, but of fairness across our state. It is long overdue.
Thank you for listening to my testimony.