Stanford Fraser would not be your typical prosecutor. He’s just 29-years-old and currently works on the other side of the courtroom as a public defender. Fraser is upset by many of the things that he’s seen on the job and he’s running to become state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“As someone who's in the court every day, I see things that ... make me angry and that I don't think are justice,” Fraser said in an interview with The Uprising last week where he first announced his candidacy.
Fraser, who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and grew up in Prince George’s County, said, as a child, he was drawn to the law after hearing about Thurgood Marshall. As an undergraduate at Howard University in Washington D.C., he got his first taste of the field by being involved in the activist push to get the death penalty repealed in Maryland. He went on to Harvard Law where he graduated in 2016 and became a public defender the following year.
Fraser said his “vision for justice” in the county includes ending the use of mandatory minimum sentences, which he describes as a “tool of mass incarceration,” stopping the prosecution of minors as adults, and curbing misdemeanor prosecutions.
“We can maintain the public safety without ever using the tools of mass incarceration,” Fraser said. “I believe that children are children. The studies tell you about the frontal lobe and how it's not fully developed until 21, 25. I'm not a scientist, but I can read the articles. So I don't believe kids belong in adult court.”
With his background and platform, Fraser fits firmly in the mold of the wave of progressives — many of them former public defenders — who have mounted campaigns to lead local prosecutors’ offices following Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s election in 2017. However, apart from Jason Williams, who became the top prosecutor in Orleans Parish, Louisiana this year, that reform movement has not penetrated the south.
Fraser believes the unique circumstances of Prince George’s County make it ripe for a change. Located just outside DC, the population of Prince George’s County is, according to census data, nearly 65 percent Black. It’s also one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country.
“We're proud of the fact that we’re the richest Black county, but … I don't want us to be replicating the same type of exclusionary policies you see in other wealthy suburbs,” Fraser explained.
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who was the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland in 2018, agrees that “Prince George’s County is absolutely ripe for deeper criminal justice reforms.” As evidence, he alluded to the exceptionally rare conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd.
“Especially after the Chauvin verdict, we have a real opportunity to change our country’s public safety systems from the ground up – starting at the local level. There have been serious problems with police and prosecutors in the county for a long time, including issues of racism and violence,” Jealous told The Uprising.
Jealous said “public defenders certainly bring a very different lens to the justice system” with “a real commitment to ending overincarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline, and police violence.”
“This is exactly the right time to have these issues debated among the candidates for state’s attorney in Prince George’s County,” he added.
Fraser also pointed to Chauvin — and the long history of complaints against him prior to Floyd’s killing — as evidence for another item on his agenda. Earlier this month, the current state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, Aisha Braveboy, revealed that she has maintained a list of 28 local police officers with problematic disciplinary records, 15 of whom she won’t allow to testify. Braveboy said she cannot reveal the names on the list because officer personnel records are protected in Maryland. Advocacy groups including the ACLU have pushed to make these so-called “Brady Lists” public.
Fraser, who said public defenders are often denied police personnel records during cases, believes the state’s attorney has the discretion to release the information and vowed to do so. He also wants a review of prior cases.
“How many people, God forbid, are sitting in a cage right now, based on that officers’ testimony or evidence they gathered in a case,” Fraser said. “So, not only should the list be public, so we know who these officers are, in the community harming us, the list should be public because there needs to be a systematic review of every single case, every single conviction, involving testimony, evidence, or participation from these officers that we don't think are credible.”
The primary in the county, which voted nearly 90 percent Democratic in the last election, is scheduled for June 28, 2022. Braveboy, who was elected in 2018, is rumored to be eyeing a run for higher office. However, she told The Uprising on Monday that she is “running for re-election.”
“I don’t have any problem with people looking at our record because our record is good,” Braveboy said.
She noted that she testified at the state capitol on behalf of Anton’s Law, newly passed legislation that would increase public access to police misconduct records. Braveboy said she will be able to reveal “all available information” when that law goes into effect on Oct. 1.
“The office of the pub defender knows that,” Braveboy said. “If anyone is in there running they should know what their obligations are.”
Braveboy also said her office is “prosecuting less juveniles” and has also stopped prosecuting marijuana possession misdemeanors. She also noted the office has created “diversion programs galore” as an alternative to jail time.
“We have dismissed thousands of warrants,” she said.
Fraser, who believes misdemeanor prosecutions overwhelm the system and take attention away from more pressing issues like violent crime, criticized the diversion program framework. He described having upwards of 30 cases on “drug days” where defendants get offered “drug diversion,” which means the case is dismissed in exchange for classes and a fine. However, he said defendants can still end up in jail in these instances if they miss a court date or can’t pay.
“So even in circumstances where you recognize you don't believe that person should be caged for these actions, you're asking for a warrant for them to be caged because they missed court,” he said.
His frustration with the program is a vivid illustration of the fact that, for Fraser, winning would mean a shift from trying to keep people out of jail to prosecuting crimes.
“It's going to be so hard. My wife's a public defender and it's hard for her to consider it,” Fraser said. “If you look at our founding documents, we talk about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. … Taking away a person's Liberty is one of the most serious things government can do. I know it’s going to be painful for me to do that.”
“You want someone in that position where it is painful for them,” he added.
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