David Leavitt is the current County Attorney in Utah County. He held lots and lots of Zoom meetings and was willing to take any and all questions. Very accessible.
Want to reform criminal justice system across the state. If we don't reform it in the entire country, we will lose our battle. We are a people at war with each other. We need to change our system dramatically.
Initially, plea bargaining almost 75% of our cases...now 99% settled by plea bargain.
Every time we plea bargain a case, that takes power away from the people and vests the control into the elected prosecutor. That means 99% of the time that elected prosecutor doesn't have to prove those allegations. Prosecutor has almost 100% immunity. We have 2400 legal prosecutors that have the ability to investigate anyone they want, charge anyone they want to charge, and plea bargain anyone they want to, with complete immunity.
Ukranians: 1. Innocent until proven guilty. Came from the Soviets. The presumption of innocence is ONLY as good as the government gives it weight.
- Jury trial. Ukranians have never had a trial by jury.
While we will never get rid of the plea bargain, we need to have fewer of them.
Protect the community, first, and punish someone, second. They should go hand in hand, but they need to have this priority.
We have 29 criminal justice systems in the state of Utah. 29 appointed or elected County Attorneys. AG has supervisory authority over all the county attorneys: so cases should be prosecuted similarly across the counties. in 14 months in office haven't been able to get a call from the AG. This is a Constitutional authority. Standards, but they are suggestions. Elected County attorney has the right to determine the appropriate charge. Using the AG's position to suggest there is somewhat of a consistency. Suggesting that the AG obey the law that already gives him the duty to do this. Doing it not to micro-manage. Officer-involved critical incident: AG's office should investigate.
Opposed to minimum mandatory sentencing laws. Judges should be given discretion, since they know better. Judges should be sentencing to a specific time, not being left to the board of pardons.
AG's office: victims integrity unit, so a defendant can appeal this for review of charges, process, and sentencing. Citizen review board, not judges and lawyers protecting themselves. Retired judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and other citizens.
Juries serve as a natural check against prosecutorial power.
Every day you are making decisions that impact people's lives.
Review board: majority to decide if they should be prosecuted or not. If someone in the screening decision disagrees, they can bring it directly to the AG who decides.
Jury nullification: The people NEVER gave government the power to find someone guilty of a crime. It was a check on both the executive and legislative branches. Jury could decide the fact, but also whether the law was just and whether the law should be decided in that case, in particular. At some point in time, courts and legislatures began telling juries that they didn't have the right to address the law. The power of jury nullification exists because they have no power to stop it, but they are told they don't have the power.
April 14, 2020
Adams: "Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty."
Reduce plea bargains and increase jury trials so that citizens are determining guilt or innocence. Then we need to redefine how we punish people. 85-90% of the people in our jails are not violent offenders. We are too focused on punishing them and we are not looking at what is best for society.
Our current AG is a nice, good decent man. So why are you running? I'm running because I've been the UT County AG and I haven't even had a phone call from him.
It looks like for the US Attorney's office sued the state because money from the feds appears to not have been spent correctly by the state.
Non-violent crime: how to handle it. I'm not suggesting that we not punish non-violent offenders. You get charged in the criminal justice system, it will be 5-7 months before that process has found you guilty, and you've lost 7 months of time. My theory on those kinds of non-violent offenses. The best punishment is swift and early that will burn you hard enough that you never want to do it again, but that you will have a life in the future that won't taint you. UT County : pre-trial diversion: swift punishment, includes full restitution to the victim. But that might not mean putting them in jail, because Jail doesn't teach them what they can do to be a contributing member of society.
1. Wouldn't requiring a jury trial for everyone really slow down the justice system?
Yes. It would. But that's the point. The people are a check on what the executive is doing. Maybe that means, as the executive, we need to be finding different ways of resolving cases. Instead of: what did this person do and let's charge them with everything possible. We say: What do we need this person to do to protect society. The biggest threat isn't the slowness of the system, it's losing the right to a jury trial.
2. How can you change the plea bargain at the State level. Isn't this something that is more of a national issue?
It actually is more of a local issue, because plea bargains are what occurs at the local level. By state law, the AG has supervisory powers over the county attorneys. You give them a set of standards, so you give them enough latitude for local control, but there's a lot that you can do at the state level. If nothing more than educating the population about the evils of plea bargaining.
3. Is there anything the Governor is doing now with Covid-19 that is illegal?
Not aware of what the governor has been doing because I've been recovering from it. I know the governor is one of the only governors in the nation that hasn't enforced a statewide order.
How have you reduced plea bargains in Utah County:
Worked with the legislature so I could charge what we want to charge at trial.
What is the role of the AG in a state of emergency? Would the AG advise the governor? Are there any concerns with the geo-tracking at the state borders that the governor has just ordered? Everyone says it's voluntary, but the order doesn't appear to state it's voluntary.
Role is similar. The County Health department can make an order but they can't enforce it without the county attorney. So, as AG, my obligation to the constitution would prevent me from enforcing the law, if it's unconstitutional.
Biggest thing we need to change in our criminal justice system is the mindset of the people in it. we need to understand the humanity of every one of the people in the criminal justice system.
Aren't diversion agreements upfront, take the constitutional system of justice out of the equation? Isn't it taking all power out of the hands of the judge and jury and give the prosecutor all power as to a consequence? Don't an abundance of diversion (i.e., pre-charge) agreements just create a new administrative level of the executive branch?
2 kinds of diversion agreements: 1. in court, with the court's regulation, 2. pre-filing diversion, which is the kind i've done more. This is where the prosecutor uses prosecutorial discretion to determine what to charge, etc. It's not taking any more power than what the prosecutor already has. It's like a food court at the mall. The role of the county attorney is not to send everyone into the food court, but to realize there are limits. So, you send in those that require the most from the system. And you give sack lunches to those who are not as bad.
It seems to make something of a difference if the victim of the crime is “society” or if the victim is an individual or business. The victim of multiple crimes probably wants all of the crimes to be prosecuted, does she?
Yes, a victim is devasted by being a victim of a crime. Those are the crimes that matter most. Right now, if you prioritize the crimes by murder, abuse...crimes against people vs crimes against "society." Most of our crimes are against society not against people, and that needs to change.
Recently, Utah County Commissioners raised their portion of our property taxes by 66%. There excuse was that the county departments had to have more money based on the budgets and demands of the county heads. As county attorney, did your department ask for more money like so many other departments?
Yes, I asked for a lot more money because I wanted and asked for and will defend that I wanted 15 new prosecutors because I want to stop plea bargaining so many cases. 275 felony cases each per year, most having victims. There's just no way to give the kind of attention to the kind of cases. I'm trying to give my lawyers more bandwidth. But I'm also looking at filing fewer cases, that don't need to be filed: we can handle them other ways.
How can you stop the exodus of talented attorneys from the Utah Attorney General's Office (an issue that your current office has also suffered from)?
when we began hiring for new lawyers, we're not suffering for lack of talent. There has been an exodus from the state AG's office. People don't work for just money, but they work for job satisfaction, etc.
Your explanation for pre-filing diversions, and court approved diversions, appears to also justify plea bargains. It seems like just another selection in the "food court", a selection other than a jury trial. Diversion agreements (as part of your platform) seems the antithesis of your argument against plea bargaining. How do you reconcile that?
You have to build an airport while planes are landing and taking off. Trying to do both at the same time. The two seem to not be in harmony with one another, but I'm trying to do it as responsibly as I can.
What has AG Reyes done right? What did AG Swallow do right?
Not here to tell you they are not good people or good lawyers. AG Reyes' work with OUR is laudable. But you don't have to be the AG to volunteer and I think it has diverted him. Quite frankly, AG Swallow was in office for such a short amount of time and I wasn't living in Utah.
If you are elected as Attorney General, what happens to our county attorney? Will someone take over from you with your mindset? Does a special election have to be called for Utah County Attorney?
Not seeking higher office, but want to speak out and change the direction. There will be an appointment made, if I'm elected, until the next election in 2022. I won't leave until they select someone with my mindset.
Other than criminal justice reform, what else do you want to accomplish?
The role of AG is not to be the office attorney for all the state agencies. I believe that my job as AG is to be the people's attorney. I would also like to see some serious work done on public lands issue. I think we've missed an opportunity with Pres. Trump in office to really get some agreements with the feds.
Day One: I'll start meeting with county attorneys. They are on the front lines.
I'll love being able to interact with delegates on a deep level.
Do you know how the PILT payments Utah receives compare to the grazing fees and other payments the federal government receives for the same lands? Is Utah better off receiving those fees, and paying the administration costs of the lands, than it is getting the PILT?
I don't know the dollar for dollar number. I'd much rather have the land than the money, quite frankly.