Prosecutorial discretion is one of the greatest tools in a prosecutor’s toolbox. But the chief prosecutor in Coffee County, Tenn., used that power to impose his moral and religious views onto the people his office was tasked with protecting, according to a video released Monday by Nashville television station News Channel 5.
Craig Northcott was recorded telling participants at a 2018 Bible conference what happens when voters elect a “good Christian man as DA.”
“Y’all need to know who your DA is,” he reminded the crowd. “You give us a lot of authority. … We can choose to prosecute anything. We can choose not to prosecute anything.”
Using what he termed “prosecutorial discretion,” Northcott said, “the social engineers on the Supreme Court now decided we have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them.”
In his jurisdiction, which includes the area that hosts the summer music festival Bonnaroo, Northcott ensured that same-sex partners would not be afforded the protections of domestic violence laws.
In Tennessee, a domestic assault conviction carries enhanced punishments, like permanently forfeiting the right to own a firearm. The prosecutor’s interpretation of the statute was that the sanctions were created to “recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage.”
When reached by phone, Northcott said, “There’s no marriage to protect with homosexual relationships, so I don’t prosecute them as domestic,” and refused to comment further.
It is unclear if Northcott, who took office in 2014, has acted on his statement, though as the chief prosecutor in Coffee County, he has discretion to make charging decisions.