A city’s District Attorney wields an incredible amount of unchecked power. “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America,” Former U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson said.
SF is about to elect our next DA. The stakes are high. A good DA will follow in former SF DA Terence Hallinan’s footsteps, keeping cops accountable, investigating corruption and graft between City Hall officials and developers, keeping plea deals fair, and offering non-violent offenders help instead of incarceration. A bad DA will model after former SF DA Kamala Harris, who abused her position to illegally charge Backpage.com executives with pimping and conspiracy, support police raids of sex workers, defend the death penalty, fight an anti- prison overcrowding ruling to ensure sufficient slave labor, and cover up sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
District Attorneys decide who gets arrested and who is offered a plea bargain and on what terms. More than 90% of criminal cases end with a plea, which generally favor white defendants.
Coercive plea bargaining is rampant. Just two percent of the roughly 80,000 federal prosecutions prosecutors initiated in 2018 went to trial. It’s extremely unlikely that more than 95% of all Americans faced with prosecution are guilty of the crimes they’re accused of.
Especially considering that somewhere between 11 percent and 20 percent of people definitively exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989 had pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.
What’s more likely is they’re terrified to fight because if they lose they face significantly longer sentences than if they had taken a plea. Prosecutors have an array of tools at their disposal to force a plea, including charge-stacking, where they inflate the charges to add up to a longer sentence, mandatory-minimums, long pretrial detention and unaffordable bail. And if all that doesn’t work the prosecutor can threaten to investigate and indict the accused’s friends and family.
And closed-door plea-bargain negotiations offer little or no public accountability.
If a case does go to trial, prosecutors decide which charges to pursue. Prosecutors give the defense information that might prove their client’s innocence (exculpatory evidence). Prosecutors help decide the racial composition of juries. The prosecutor chooses which expert witnesses to call. And prosecutors provide sentencing recommendations to judges.
Prosecutors also decide whether to investigate wrongdoing by cops and City Hall officials.
Whether people support “tough on crime” prosecutors often comes down to how likely they are to find themselves victimized by a corrupt cop or prosecutor. Many people don’t know how rampant prosecutorial misconduct is in the US.
While prosecutors can commit all kinds of ethical violations, according to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity the most common types include:
- Hiding exculpatory evidence
- Using inadmissible or false evidence
- Plea bargain misconduct
- Witness harassment and intimidation
- Using false and misleading evidence
San Francisco is hardly immune from police and prosecutorial misconduct. Four out of the five wrongful conviction cases since 1990 involved prosecutors lying to juries and hiding exculpatory evidence.
The SFPD is out of control, and its union fights accountability and reform at every turn. That’s why they supported Harris, who promised to repair the strained relationship between the prosecutor’s office and police. The city’s conservative donor class, former SF Mayor Willie Brown, and the San Francisco Chronicle also endorsed Harris.
Harris preyed on San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents, jailing mothers whose children didn’t show up for school. Meanwhile she let San Francisco Bay Area police officers who sex trafficked an underage girl off the hook.
Low voter turnout will give conservative West Side voters an advantage in the DA race. Don’t let them elect another Harris.
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