Hennepin County attorney explains vision forward after judges reject plea deals
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said she plans to continue pushing forward to bring about criminal justice reform that she campaigned on — even after community criticism surrounding recent plea deals that were rejected by judges.
“I promised people when I ran, and I will continue to say this: I ran saying that I would not let the political winds impact our decisions, which I have discovered is very difficult to do,” Moriarty said. “In talking about changes to a system that has functioned the same way for decades, I knew that there was going to be pushback.”’
In a recent case, a Hennepin County Judge rejected a negotiated plea deal between prosecutors and the defense involving one of two defendants charged in a deadly 2019 carjacking case over concerns about the proposed punishment for the crime.
In August, Husayn Braveheart, now 20 years old, took a plea deal from Hennepin County prosecutors that called for no jail time if he continued the treatment he had received for the past four years for trauma and abuse. If he didn’t follow the rules, he would then face a prison sentence of up to 21 years.
Prosecutors felt the defendant was amenable to probation, which is why they asked the judge for a downward sentencing departure from the guidelines set for the crime.
“How do we keep people safe, how do we rehabilitate that person? And so we are trying to do that in every single case,” Moriarty explained. “We think about public safety all the time, thinking about what’s best for the community.”
The family of the victim, 39-year-old Steven Markey, spoke out against the plea deal in court in late October.
“I can’t understand why someone would do this to our family. As a lawyer, it’s an embarrassment to the legal system,” the victim’s sister, Susan Markey told the judge.
“It’s important for any person who’s been harmed or grieving family that’s it’s never going to be the right case probably for them, and we have to respect that,” Moriarty said.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association wrote in a statement afterward that some plea deals from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office were “radical” and could make the community less safe.
Moriarty also explained during the interview that she doesn’t make all the decisions involving the nearly 1,000 cases that are currently in the system for trial this fall.
Instead, Moriarty said she asks the prosecution team to weigh a variety of factors when deciding how to move forward with a case.
That includes looking at a defendant’s age, history of rehabilitation, past trauma and the crime itself to see what possible sentence should be pursued — which could include pursuing prison time or another possible avenue for supervised rehabilitation.
“What we are trying to do is bring true public safety to the system, and public safety requires us to look at the individual that we are dealing with in a particular case and what is most likely to make the community safer,” Moriarty said.
Moriarty also addressed the reactions she’s heard since trying to implement criminal justice reform.
“There’s a certain segment of people who just think people should be sent to prison as long as possible, period,” Moriarty said. “There are other people who will say, ‘Reform, that’s great!’ But when it comes right down to seeing what that actually means, then they tend to fall back on the things we’ve done before.”