The Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal prosecutors will have a larger role in investigating violent shootings and murders in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to curb a spike in homicides — but critics of the plan say it undermines the city's efforts in criminal justice reform and could create problems for the courts.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu stood with Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Peter Newsham Wednesday to announce that federal courts would take on hundreds of cases.
"Particularly, the recent increase in homicides, which is, quite frankly, completely unacceptable," Liu said.
The plan includes prosecuting some gun charges known as "felon in possession" cases in federal court rather than D.C. Superior Court.
Federal prosecutors will target cases where convicted felons who have been released from prison are again caught using illegal guns.
In addition, federal agencies such as the FBI will help investigating gun crimes.
While there will be more resources to investigate gun cases, shifting them to federal courts puts a heavy burden on The Office of the Federal Public Defender.
There are only about 10 attorneys and three investigators handling federal cases compared to the 62 attorneys and 24 investigators assigned to local cases.
The American Civil Liberties Union calls the move a "slap in the face to D.C. residents, who have no representation in Congress, by ignoring their representatives' criminal-justice policy choices in favor of a federal system that D.C. residents had no voice in crafting."
“Mayor Bowser and USAO Liu insist the change is not to increase sentences, but rather to focus federal investigative and prosecutorial resources. This is both misleading and disingenuous. The USAO can bring all those resources to bear and still try these cases in Superior Court, under DC law - the very laws passed by the DC Council," the ACLU said in its statement.
Some D.C. councilmembers also don't believe the change will be beneficial.
"I think that it’s a lot of drama with little effect," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.
Liu said the number of D.C. cases the federal courts will investigate will likely jump to more than 300 this year.