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Thursday, May 22, 2008

What was Dale DuTremble thinking?

I recently received a copy of a letter from a prosecutor -- Dale L. DuTremble, the City Prosecutor for North Charleston, South Carolina -- addressed to the victim of an alleged crime. The allegations involved an assault, and DuTremble sent the letter to both of the women involved, explaining why he would not prosecute the case.

Some of his reasons are pretty straightforward and we see these all the time:  "there are no independent witnesses to this alleged assault" and "there are no reported injuries." But then the letter takes a bizarre -- I would even say petty and abusive -- turn. 

I also have learned that neither of you have a green card and are in this country illegally. I further have been advised that it will cost the City of North Charleston a great deal of money to hire an interpreter whose qualifications meet the requirements of both sides in this dispute. I have no intention of asking the City of North Charleston to spend any money at all for two grown women who, despite being in this country illegally, cannot observe the basic courtesy expected of both citizens and guests of this country. This includes the courtesy of obeying the law. I have decided to refer both of your names to ICE; more specifically, to the office of Detention and Removal, in Atlanta, Georgia, with a request that they begin deportation proceedings immediately. Once deported to your country, you will be free to fight with each other on a daily basis, and since you both speak Spanish, you will be right at home in the court system of your native land.

A copy of the letter appears at this link: Download sc_prosecutor_letter_immigration_2008.pdf . I have to wonder if language this insulting and inappropriate from a public official is genuine. I have no reason to believe the document is a hoax, but I suppose that is possible.

Assuming this is an authentic document, however, I'm part scandalized and part curious. I will not rehearse for you all the familiar arguments about the value of strong and cooperative relationships between a community and the police and prosecutors that serve them, and how that might apply in communities with large Latino populations, where a number of residents arrived in the country illegally. My curiosity focuses on this question: What did the prosecutor believe he was accomplishing by sending this letter? Was this letter just the result of a barroom dare among attorneys socializing after work? Did he anticipate that a copy of the letter would circulate to create predictable effects in the community, or did he say it just to make himself feel better?  How often does he write insulting letters to the victims of alleged crimes?

It's enough to drive a law professor to write about prosecutorial accountability.

Posted by Ronald Wright on May 22, 2008 at 05:50 PM in Criminal Law | Permalink


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Dan, I agree that the prosecutor's action here was imprudent but probably within the bounds of law. And yes, Fred Zacharias' work on bar disciplinary authorities suggests that the South Carolina bar is not likely to take action against DuTremble. So the only realistic responses are political and managerial. Perhaps voters learn about this and react negatively (or maybe the voters are happy about this, for all I know). Or perhaps another official of local government -- perhaps someone with budget authority over the City Prosecutor's office -- insists that DuTremble tone down the language and re-examine his priorities.

Posted by: Ron | May 23, 2008 11:08:40 AM

This guy is brilliant. Is it really his policy that he won't prosecute criminals if their victims are undocumented aliens? He'll just leave them free to roam the streets, hoping that their next victims are also here illegally? What happens when their next victim is a murrican citizen?

Posted by: anonymous | May 23, 2008 10:51:20 AM

*shrugs* What, exactly, do you expect a prosecutor to do? He's charged with upholding the law. That includes US law. Should he just have sent in the goon squad to arrest them? Or do you advocate that he shouldn't have them deported? He should pick and choose the laws to enforce?

And how do we know these two are serial offenders? Perhaps he's pretty familiar with them, and they constantly complain. You are condemning him on the basis of "Gasp! Look at the bigot!!!! Those poor, illegal souls!"

Perhaps he's giving them warning of an impending ICE raid--ever thought of that? Why bother telling them at all--just have them hauled off.

I believe you are jumping to conclusions and condemning without knowing the full story.

Posted by: Vanceone | May 22, 2008 7:57:21 PM

Ron, do you have any sense whether recourse is possible other than through political channels? My sense is that the decision is probably just imprudent on various grounds but probably not illegal. I can also imagine that a complaint to the SC bar might be warranted based on the inappropriate language (usually there's some language about acting dishonorably) but it's unlikely, in my view, to have too much traction at disbarring the guy.

Posted by: Dan Markel | May 22, 2008 7:38:22 PM

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