Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, tapped Monday to serve as the next US attorney for Massachusetts, has long been considered a front-runner for the post.
In April, the Globe reported that Rollins was undergoing FBI background checks, the final step prior to nomination, which is subject to US Senate confirmation.
Here’s a look at a few highlights from her tenure as the top state prosecutor in Suffolk County.
Rollins has championed reforms that would effectively decriminalize many nonviolent, low-level crimes, arguing that they lead to needless incarcerations, especially for people of color. She has also shown a willingness to vacate wrongful convictions as well as thousands of convictions based on the lab testing of disgraced former state chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak.
If Rollins is confirmed to the US attorney post, Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, would name her acting successor, who would serve until her term ends in 2022.
Also in the US attorney post, she would join a Justice Department led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has prioritized civil rights enforcement, police reform, addressing domestic terrorism including white supremacy, and combating gun violence — all causes that Rollins has similarly embraced.
From the outset, her reform efforts have triggered blowback from some judges, police officials, and prosecutors. But in the years since, her message has begun to resonate. In March, an independent review published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the practice of not prosecuting low-level crimes in Suffolk County was successful in directing nonviolent offenders away from the criminal justice system; defendants whose misdemeanor charges were dropped before arraignment were 58 percent less likely to return to the criminal justice system for a subsequent offense within the next two years, and were more likely to avoid charges for any serious violent crimes, than if prosecutors had continued to press minor charges.
Only 24 percent returned to court for another offense within two years, compared with 57 percent of defendants whose misdemeanor charges were fully prosecuted.
Rollins saw the data as validation of her reforms.
She’s also proven to be willing to dismiss charges in high-profile cases in which the integrity of the original prosecution was in question, including the dismissal of gun charges in the case of Sean Ellis, who was recently released from prison after a murder conviction tainted by police corruption close to three decades ago was overturned.
Her hard-charging reforms have often put her at odds with police commanders and other district attorneys in the state, as well as public safety officials in Baker’s administration, who argue their work should be enforcing laws, not serving as social justice advocates.
And her bluntness has occasionally resulted in controversy, as when she criticized public defenders as mostly white, privileged lawyers who don’t return their clients’ calls. Earlier this year, she was investigated and cleared by the state attorney general and ethics commission for an encounter with another driver in a mall parking lot.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
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