Sheriffs And Prosecutors Becoming More Publicly Defiant Of State Laws

Sheriffs and prosecutors in some areas are choosing not to enforce certain state laws like new gun regulations, or prosecute for abortion ban cases.
Posted at 10:07 PM, Nov 05, 2022

With the midterm elections Tuesday, elected officials are increasingly drawing lines in the sand on political issues in their areas.

In New York, sheriffs in at least seven counties have said they will not enforce new gun regulations that went into effect  Sept. 1. The new regulations state that concealed weapons cannot be carried on private property, even though New York allows concealed weapons with a permit.

These sheriffs are in more rural parts of the state where the way of life is a bit different than the state's major cities.

"I think sheriffs occupy unique roles. Oftentimes, they are elected like other public officials, like politicians. In that regard, they do have to think what people in their area want," said Rashawn Ray, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Ray says this public defiance is not something new. Earlier this year, liberal district attorneys in Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all said they would not prosecute abortion ban cases with the reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

These are all states where chief prosecutors are elected and not appointed.

"It's oftentimes, maybe, the way we think of decriminalizing something," said Ray. "Is it still illegal? Yes, but that doesn't mean law enforcement will necessarily pursue it and I think what part of some of these sheriffs are saying is from thinking about guns to thinking about drugs to thinking about some other forms of behavior, is their way of trying to come together and say this is a position we're putting our stake in the sand that we don't agree with."

A few years ago, this happened on a much larger scale with sanctuary cities. In parts of Colorado, New York, and Oregon, municipalities stated they would not enforce tougher immigration laws and it caused a battle between local municipalities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Ray says in these current cases, sheriffs and prosecutors could be held accountable, but it would happen either in the courts or voting booths.

"This could come before the state Supreme Court or the state legislature in different ways to create some sort of legislation or even further enforcement," said Ray. "I could definitely see some of these individuals facing repercussions for this. And then again, I think individuals who are voting could ultimately make the decision."

Ray says this is a calculated decision, usually in places where local support is behind the sheriff or prosecutor's stance, and in that case, he says it likely only bolsters their political position. 

By Dan Grossman, Scripps National Desk.