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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The President Should Not Stand Alone in the Call for Criminal Justice Reform

It’s time for Sheriffs also to use their executive authority to address criminal justice reform where it begins, at the county level.

By Charles Rambo

Fulton County Jail

Atlanta, GA — In a passionate speech by President Barack Obama at the NAACP Convention, he stated that criminal justice is an issue America can’t afford to ignore. With the sovereign authority that County Sheriffs enjoy in the United States, every Sheriff and even those seeking offices in upcoming elections should also make the clarion call for criminal justice reform. Whether they share party affiliation with the president or not, constitutional law and justice is a non-partisan issue.

As a retired lieutenant commander from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, I know first-hand what can be done from 27 years of law enforcement, judicial process, corrections, academy instruction, and investigative experience. At the beginning of my career in 1989, I was highly considered for loan-out to the Drug Enforcement (DEA) Task Force. A crucial time when the war on drugs, particularly crack cocaine, was at its pinnacle in Atlanta and surrounding communities. Instead, I continued to work within the scope of the Sheriff’s Office law enforcement, corrections, training academy, and judicial process functions. Observing and interacting with offenders as they navigated through the complex Fulton County criminal justice system, I share a balanced view with President Obama on criminal justice reform to police in communities with respect to a person’s civil liberties.

Last week when President Obama visited a federal correctional facility to talk with inmates, I reflected back on my own interactions with inmates during the crucial era of government being tough on crime. First hand, I observed the unanticipated consequences of drug sentencing laws on mass incarceration from working in one of the most notorious holding facilities in the southeast region of the United States, the Fulton County Jail. Built in 1989 initially for 1,975 inmates, it reached a boiling point of overcrowding in a relative short time to over 3,900 inmates. I was one of the first Sheriff Deputies to open the facility supervising 300+ inmates in some of the most dangerous housing units consisting of hardcore murderers, drug lords, and notorious street gang leaders.

After their day in court, they had no qualms in being held accountable and responsible for their actions. But, the most resounding complaint I heard from inmates returning to their cells from court hearings, “I don’t mind doing the time for what I did, but most of what they (The State) are presenting against me in evidence, statements and witnesses have nothing to do with my case!“ This statement has been etched in my mind as I continued my career working in patrol and academy instructor.

Certainly, I make no excuse for offenders who commit crimes. However, the burden of proof is upon the state to prove each element of the offense. In my professional observation, a great number of cases in state courts lack probable cause. The result of hasty efforts at the local level to control crime and influence public opinion. This is why I squarely agrees with President Obama’s assessment that criminal justice is an issue America can’t afford to ignore. After all, the majority of cases that flow through the criminal justice system originate from the State Courts placing a burden on the state’s criminal justice system and taxpayers. And, it’s not just for the federal level to resolve, but also actors of state government, particular at the county level.

For that reason, the Constitutions of each state, namely the State of Georgia, have created the Sheriff’s Office as an elected constitutional office in a state’s governmental hierarchy. The State delegates the discrete functions to Sheriffs that are germane to criminal justice reform: law enforcement, state courts, and corrections. While a Sheriff might share the responsibility of law enforcement with other local agencies, he exercises the most control over persons who are arrested, incarcerated, sentenced and delivered to the state penal system.

Sheriffs, like the United States President, represent the most independent authority as constitutional officers to facilitate real criminal justice reform at the county level. Illustrating the executive authority and power as a constitutional officer, the United States Supreme Court and Georgia Supreme Court rely upon the authority of a Sheriff in A Treatise on the Law of Sheriffs, Coroners and Constables:  “… in vindicating the law, and preserving the rights of government, he (the Sheriff) represents the sovereignty of the State, and he has no superior in his county.” The most compelling reason for Sheriffs as chief law enforcement officers, now more than ever, to exercise autonomy and influence for reform according to the rule of law. His sovereign authority to speak and act on criminal justice reform should be just as actionable as nationwide Sheriffs who wield their authority on illegal immigration enforcement and protecting the Second Amendment rights of their constituents to bear arms.

As a retired Sheriff’s commander, I continue to educate the law enforcement profession and communities as a Senior Instructor certified by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council. Thought provoking lectures on criminal justice issues at local law enforcement academies to include: constitutional law, racial profiling prevention, correctional and community oriented policing, media relations, advanced report writing, use of force, courtroom testimony, criminal investigations, etc.. All for the purpose of developing the next generation of law enforcement leaders to enforce the rule of law with competent character in the 21st century.

While the demand for reform is justly placed upon the federal or state government, the real work begins with the quality of governance in homes giving the next generation a pathway to success, outside the criminal justice system.

Charles Rambo is currently a registered candidate for Fulton County Sheriff with the Georgia Secretary State. His expert knowledge of Sheriff public and political policy has been presented before the Georgia General Assembly and mass media interviews. To learn more, please visit www.mysherifframbo.com. He can be reached by cell at 678-438-1195 or email committee@mysherifframbo.com

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