MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The candidates vying to replace outgoing Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich both vow to target violent crime, but they have starkly different philosophies about how to go about it.
Republican Keith Blackwood said that if elected, he would aim to move cases through the courts faster. He said he would reorganize the office, creating some new positions and putting experienced prosecutors in District Court, where felony cases begin. That way, he said, those prosecutors will be in a position to make cases stronger at the early stage and identify weak cases that might be resolved earlier.
Junior prosecutors who currently start their careers in District Court would be paired with more experienced lawyers in Circuit Court, where they quickly could gain experience with jury trials.
“I intend to address the backlog, you know, at every part of our justice system,” Blackwood said.
His Democratic opponent, Moshae Donald, said the case backlog is partially the result of a “one-size-fits-all approach to every crime” that shifts focus away from the most important cases.
“My priority is to prioritize violent crime,” she said.
The candidates offer an insider-outsider contrast. Blackwood has been at the District Attorney’s Office since shortly after getting his law degree in 2007 from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham. He has been chief assistant district attorney for about two years. He has the support of Rich and outgoing Sheriff Sam Cochran.
Donald’s private practice includes family law, criminal defense, special education and juvenile advocacy. She also is the Prichard city attorney and represents the Mobile Housing Authority. She has been endorsed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery-based advocacy organization.
Donald said she was studying to be a teacher when she participated in a counter-demonstration at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Athens, Alabama. A Klansman confronted her, she said, leaving her at something of a loss as to how to respond. She said the experience got her thinking of pursuing a career in the law, and she got a law degree in 2011 from Vanderbilt University.
Perhaps because of their differing backgrounds, the candidates take a different approach to crime. Donald said she would de-emphasizing low-level drug offenders.
“People want to see change,” she said. “They want to see rehabilitative support; they want to see community engagement. They’re tired of the blame game, and they want to see people who hurt folks go to prison faster.”
Added Donald: “Because I would have the power of prosecutorial discretion, I would be able to fully implement the programs that I would like to see that the people of Mobile County would like to see.”
Blackwood said prosecutorial discretion is important and that he has exercised it throughout his career. But he added that does not amount to a veto of Legislature.
“Prosecutorial discretion means that you take things on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that you willfully disobey the law by not enforcing whole swaths of the law that you disagree with.”
Blackwood said marijuana decriminalization advocates operate from a false premise.
“They put forth, you know, this myth that the prisons are filled up with people, you know, for simple marijuana possession, which cannot be further from the truth,” he said.
Marijuana is intertwined with other illegal drugs, Blackwood said.
“They use marijuana to fund their operations,” he said. “We know that. We’re targeting that, and we will continue to prosecute those types of offenses.”
Blackwood takes the same approach to Alabama’s abortion ban, which took effect after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. It’s now a Class A felony to perform an abortion.
“I’m gonna prosecute under Alabama law,” he said. “You know, whatever Alabama law tells me to prosecute, that’s what I’m gonna do, because I’m a law-and-order district attorney.”
Donald said how she might prosecute offenders under Alabama’s abortion law would depend on the specific circumstances.
“As district attorney, I would have the power of prosecutorial discretion, as the DA does currently,” she said. “And when it comes to abortions, I stand with women.”
The candidates do not disagree on everything. Both agree prosecutors should respond aggressively to fentanyl. Both support Aniah’s law, a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot and that would give judges discretion to deny bail in certain classes of violent crimes. And they both say they would apply the death penalty but that it should be used only in the most heinous cases.
The election is Nov. 8.
Download the FOX10 Weather App. Get life-saving severe weather warnings and alerts for your location no matter where you are. Available free in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Copyright 2022 WALA. All rights reserved.