Building Trust in Order to Break Racism

The following article was written by District Attorney Herb Cranford and published in the January/February 2021 issue of Newnan-Coweta Magazine.

Addressing race relations in a word limited column is a difficult task, and I know what I say here does not adequately address the depth and complexity of this topic. Newnan-Coweta magazine asked me to share my perspective, and I have chosen to use my limited space to explain how we conduct business at the District Attorney’s Office to ensure that we are positively contributing to our community rather than causing racial injustice. At the outset, I acknowledge I have not walked in the shoes of minority members of our community, and I understand that many have experienced racism. I write here as the District Attorney of the Coweta Judicial Circuit; the local elected official most responsible for seeking justice for violations of the laws of the State of Georgia. What I explain below is meant to help the public understand the character of our office.

It is the sacred duty of the District Attorney to enforce the law equally for all members of our community. Because some crimes are motivated by prejudice, which deserve an increased level of punishment in my view, I supported passage of Georgia’s new Hates Crimes Bill. To prevent disparities based on race in our cases, we review each case on its merits to determine what justice is for the specific case, regardless of any victim or defendant’s race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, etc. We also abide by general guidelines meant to ensure that the resolutions we pursue for each case are consistent when considering the nature of the crime committed, the prior record of the accused, and the strength of the evidence we have to prove the crime.

In order to get as close as humanly possible to perfect justice, we make conscientious effort to treat every victim and defendant as individuals with inherent dignity. We honor the constitutional rights of the accused and we only pursue cases where we believe we can prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt. To do otherwise in my view is to risk a wrongful conviction. We have an open case file policy, which means we make available to the defendant the entire contents of our case file, except for legally privileged material. We do this to ensure that the adversarial process works as intended to achieve a just and fair outcome, and to ensure transparency in the process.

In order to treat all parties as human beings and in order to make decisions based on the facts and the law, our office endeavors to receive all of the information relevant to the case and the parties involved. We meet with victims and their families to try to understand what they have experienced and what we can do to make them safe and whole. We communicate with law enforcement about their thoughts on how to resolve the case appropriately. We try to understand why the accused did what they did, and to what extent they are a danger to do it again. I, and all of the prosecutors in our office, will take any meeting with any member of the public, including family and friends of the accused, who want to share their thoughts about how any particular case should be resolved.

In addition to all of these measures, which are meant to ensure that justice is done without regard to irrelevant factors such as race, as an office we emphasize transparency with the public. Part of our mission as an office is “to maintain the trust of the people we serve.” This means every member of our community.

Engaging with the public and being as transparent as possible are necessary to build trust in our criminal justice system, and public trust is necessary for the functioning of the criminal justice system. Victims must have such trust in order to call for help; witnesses must have such trust to being willing and unafraid to tell the truth; and defendants must have such trust to be able to take responsibility for their crimes and choose a different path in life.
From speaking with members of our community, I know that some have experienced racism in some form and are suspicious that the criminal justice system and its participants are prejudiced. To dispel the wrong beliefs some may have about the Coweta Circuit DA’s Office, I try to speak to the public as much as I can and any time I am invited to do so. I understand I must be proactive in helping the community understand my heart and motivations. If we continue to operate this way, I am confident that the public will increasingly trust that justice for all, not prejudice, motivates the District Attorney’s Office of the Coweta Judicial Circuit.

Herb Cranford
District Attorney
Coweta Judicial Circuit