Not-Prosecuting Children as Adults is a Favorite Tool of Those Seeking to Prosecute Prosecutors

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #96 | By: Mindy Spatt | September 25, 2023
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In the shadow of the high-profile ballot initiative that bounced Chesa Boudin from his position as San Francisco District Attorney two and a half years after he was elected, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price is staring down a recall based on some of the same concerns Boudin faced.  Price, the first African American to hold the position, made her name as a defense lawyer and ran on a progressive agenda.  A movement to recall her began barely six months after she took office.  Several other prosecutors across the country are also threatened with recall.

Policy Analysis

At a recent forum held by the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, a left-leaning group in Alameda County, Boudin, Price and Christine Soto DeBerry of the Progressive Prosecutors Alliance talked about the myth that prosecutors have a role in preventing crime, a cornerstone of both recall campaigns, which is not supported by any data.  Boudin noted that crime in San Francisco had not decreased since his successor, Brooke Jenkins, who was spokesperson for the recall campaign, took office.

Price defended her progressive policies to the friendly audience, some of which are mandated by state law; others she said were mandated by the wide margin with which she was elected.  Price won 43% of the vote in her June 2022 race against her more conservative opponent Terry Wiley, who only received 27% of the vote despite a large fundraising advantage.  She pledged to never charge children as adults, to expand the use of restorative justice programs and to stop using the office’s influence to prevent people from receiving parole.

Price has labeled the campaign against her as election deniers, led by supporters of Wiley who, she says, won’t accept the will of the voters.  She was adamant on not charging juveniles as adults.  “Charge juveniles as adults?” she commented, “That is not where this community is.”

The juvenile issue is a favorite of recall forces, who often put crime victims front and center in their campaigns.  A website for a recall effort against Los Angeles Attorney General George Gascon that failed to qualify for the ballot screams “George Gascon’s pro-criminal agenda has turned Los Angeles into a NIGHTMARE. Criminals feel emboldened, residents unsafe, and victims abandoned.   Gascon REFUSES to prosecute juveniles as adults under any circumstances, even rape, murder or other heinous crimes, even if days shy of turning 18.”

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida cited state attorney Monique Worrell’s treatment of juveniles when he suspended her in August.  He also claimed Worrell avoided mandatory minimums for serious crimes including drug trafficking.  Worrell is the only black woman in Florida elected to a state attorney position.

“This is absolutely disgusting,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani commented to the Associated Press.  “Her removal is a complete slap in the face to Orange and Osceola County residents and another example of Governor DeSantis eroding our local control and democracy. This politically motivated action by the Governor in a predominantly democratic part of the state should alarm everyone.  Elected officials are being taken out of office for political purposes, and that should never be a thing,” she said.

In Georgia, there are rumblings of the most blatantly political recall of all, one targeting Fani Willis, a Fulton County District Attorney who isn’t soft on crime.  The rumblings started after she indicted Donald Trump and 18 others for conspiracy to interfere with Georgia’s presidential election.  Georgia’s republican-dominated legislature passed a law allowing top elected officials to investigate and remove local district attorneys, and republican Governor Brian Kemp signed it in May. Although Willis may not have been the impetus for the law, which follows the trend of prosecutor recalls around the country, she could become its first casualty.

Engagement Resources:

  •  Prosecutors Alliance Of California, An organization committed to reforming California’s criminal justice system through smart, safe, modern solutions that advance, not just public safety, but human dignity and community well-being.

  • Fair and Just Prosecution, Promoting Justice Through Leadership and Innovation

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