David Stringer’s False Arrest Drives Empathy For Those Trapped In Unjust System

Arizona State Rep. David Stringer (R-Prescott) with fellow criminal justice reform advocate Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson).

Back in 1983, David Stringer was 35 years old and well along in a promising career with the federal government.  He had already achieved the civil service rank of GS14 and was named a branch chief in the Office of Human Resources.

He had worked a full-time job while attending law school and had been admitted to the Washington, D.C ., bar in 1978. Stringer was planning on eventually opening his own law practice with a focus on tax law.

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He worked in D.C., but lived in Baltimore because it was much cheaper and he could use his extra income to buy and rent out apartments.  Suffice it to say that by the summer of 1983, life was pretty good for this financially independent 35-year old.

But one night in September, a knock in the night brought it all crashing down.  The police were at his door with a warrant to search his home and arrest him.  The charges were salacious – he was being accused of possession of pornography and patronizing prostitutes.

Stringer didn’t have pornography of any kind in his home and those charges were later dropped.  But two prostitutes who had been arrested earlier were offering up names in exchange for leniency from prosecutors, and one of the people they claimed was a client was David Stringer.

The claims were false, but the immediate effect on Stringer’s personal life was predictable.  Some friends disappeared or stopped answering their phones.  Others shied away.

The allegations also presented a threat to his career and financial future.  The fact that they were unfounded was beside the point.  He was an attorney, he had a top security clearance with the government, and a conviction would be career ending and personally ruinous.

Fortunately for Stringer, his hard work gave him the resources he needed to defend himself.  He pled not guilty and prepared to fight the case, and the case against him slowly crumbled.  On the day of the trial Stringer prepared to do battle, but one of the state’s witnesses failed to show up and the state offered Stringer a deal.

If he accepted Probation Before Judgment for two misdemeanors, which would not be a conviction, the state would dismiss the case and the matter would be expunged after the probationary period ended.  Stringer describes it as the hardest decision he has ever faced.

His attorney felt he had an 85-90% chance of winning the case outright, but that still meant that there was a 10-15% chance that a judge or jury would rule against him.  Lose, and life as he knew it would end.  No more government job, no more legal career, and a conviction for a crime he did not commit that would follow him wherever he went.

On the other hand, the state clearly wanted to end the matter that day, and taking the deal meant Stringer would be allowed to maintain his plea of not guilty, there would be no conviction on his record, and the matter would be expunged.  Weighing the litigation risk against a sure thing, he accepted the deal, completed his community service / probation, and the matter was later expunged.

That wasn’t the end of the matter, because as a member of the D.C. Bar he was subject to attorney discipline.  But the D.C. Bar reviewed the case and determined that his alleged conduct did not constitute an offense and dismissed the matter without any form of attorney discipline.

Stringer recognized that in spite of the outcome, the allegation had fatally compromised his career with the federal government and further advancement was unlikely, so at the end of 1984 Stringer left his government job and turned his full-time attention to his legal career.  Only instead of tax law, he had found his passion, and that was practicing criminal law.

For the next quarter century, Stringer practiced a lot of criminal law, and thanks to his real estate smarts and financial independence, he was able to sign up for court-appointed cases, often working for reduced fees or working pro bono (no cost to the clients).

Over the years he represented thousands of criminal defendants in the D.C. courts, including juvenile cases and serving as Guardian ad litem for wards of the state.  His clients represented the entire racial and ethnic spectrum of the population.  As Stringer points out, D.C. was always an international city, so he was able to defend the constitutional rights of clients of all races, creeds and colors.

The events of 1983 changed David Stringer’s life, but he recognizes that while they hurt him in some ways, they also opened his eyes and his heart to a world and a cause that he likely would not have paid attention to otherwise.  He has performed thousands of hours of pro bono legal work on behalf of those he believed to be wrongfully accused and each life he has saved or protected has given him rewards he considers immeasurable.

He says some close friends know his full story, although it is not something that he has ever publicized.  He came to us with the story because his higher profile (thanks to comments made regarding immigration) has made him a favorite target of the media, and at least one newspaper was trying to dig into his past in the hopes of sensationalizing his ancient history.  Questions he received from a reporter made it pretty obvious they were preparing a hatchet job on him.

Stringer points out that the matter also came up from time to time as a result of his law and CPA licenses.  In 1991 he was licensed to practice law in Maryland and in 1992 he was licensed as a CPA, also in Maryland.  In 2002, he was admitted to practice law in Arizona.  Those admissions required not just technical competence but police clearances and character and fitness investigations, which meant disclosing not just convictions, but arrests themselves.

He said that he has always fully complied with those requirements and is proud that since his first admission to practice law in 1978, over 40 years ago, he has maintained an unblemished record as an attorney.

In describing his story, Stringer said that “Every day of my working life I’ve been aware that my professional standing and ability to represent others is due to my good fortune in having been able to hire good attorneys of my own, and I know that I escaped the worst possible consequences of the criminal justice system only because I had the means to defend myself.  If I was poor in 1983 my life would likely have been ruined, and that is not justice.  Many people caught up in the justice system are not so lucky.  It is a big part of why I have devoted my career to helping them.”

For the last two years, Stringer has been a state representative in the Arizona Legislature.  Arizona has one of the toughest criminal codes in the United States.  We have the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country and we stigmatize a higher percentage of our citizens with felony convictions than any other state.  As a legislator, Stringer has made criminal justice reform his signature issue, and he has been targeted by many in his own Republican party as a result.

It is a safe bet that those who have targeted Stringer because of his outspokenness on criminal justice reform were unaware of the source of his passion.  No doubt they will have a much better understanding after reading this.  Stringer is happy that the United States Congress and President Trump have tackled Criminal Justice Reform and he thinks it is time for Arizona to do so as well.  It is unclear what kind of a role he will be allowed to have in the fight, but he swears “I will not stop fighting for this cause until we get this done.”

6 Comments

  1. From a life of crime — being employed by a government — to helping people accused of other crimes is quite an inspiring story.
    There are several lessons here: If there is to be government, and if there are to be laws, they should serve no other purpose than to protect rights.
    Mr. Stringer got accused of consorting with prostitutes. WHY should that be a crime?
    Yes, it violates many people’s sense of morality and/or of aesthetics, but how, even if it had been true, how did it violate the rights of anyone?
    Most studies say about 70 percent of the millions of people in U.S. prisons and jails are incarcerated because of drug laws, of alleged violations of the Insane War on Some Drugs.
    If our society were to grow up, were to strive for real justice, all such laws would be repealed.
    ALL consensual “crimes” laws would be repealed.
    Let police seek out real criminals, thieves, rapists, burglars, murderers, tax collectors, and not bother people who might well be harming themselves, maybe by using drugs, or visiting unhealthy prostitutes, or going to church on the wrong day of the week, but who are not violating the rights of others.
    Thank you for this story on David Stringer. And thank you to Mr. Stringer for now supporting efforts to bring on justice, something sorely lacking from our system now.

  2. I’ve had this mentality for decades. Our “Laws” should be to protect citizens from harm from others. It shouldn’t matter to others if homosexual’s are living next door.. unless they pervert neighborhood children. It shouldn’t matter if a druggie is smokin next door.. unless he’s pushing it on children. It shouldn’t matter if an alcoholic is drunk as fubar next door.. unless he decides to drive. Laws that should be enforced are legitimate laws that protect people at risk, or are being taken advantage of.

    • Only the lowest of homosexuals will pervert children. Those are more aptly called pedophiles, which include heterosexuals. A man who likes females can pervert a girl. A woman who likes males can pervert boys (ala Goodyear school teacher).

  3. I feel I know David Stringer quite well. With that said I also feel I know what’s in his heart. David is a good man, he cares deeply for this Republic and her people.

    The attacks of recent times against Stringer is laden with motivations within the powerful political types and within this class their vendetta laden hearts they play the ugliest vendettas politics.

    I am so offended by those who engage in the dirtist of political war theatre.Those of our elected and those of the AZ GOP leaders who attempt to damage David Stringer I say “shame on you”.

  4. As a lawyer, and one who worked for the government prosecuting labor cases, I know that what David did in accepting probation with no conviction and maintaining his plea of not guilty was the only wise thing he could have done. You never know how a judge will rule. He might be having a bad day or he might have been criticized at one time for releasing a real criminal. I also know from my time as a government attorney and defending those who have been wrongly accused of violations that being charged does not mean that you’ve done anything wrong. David did nothing wrong and I’d bet the only reason any charge remained is because the prosecutor and/or the State Attorney (Maryland’s equivalent of a District Attorney) wanted to save face, for the office or the police, by not having all the charges dismissed. If the State Attorney had any real evidence, a conviction of some sort would have been sought. This goes beyond “innocent until proven guilty.” The State did not demand a guilty plea or a conviction. Moreover, publishing the incident was irresponsible and a disgrace to both the paper and journalism.

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