There’s Still Hope for Prosecutorial Reform After Recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin
Economists sometimes say that when the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold. With that in mind, given that famously left-wing San Francisco has booted a prosecutor accused of being “soft on crime” from office, many might assume the rest of the nation will reflexively reject prosecutors who don’t define their job as seeking the maximum punishment for every defendant. The reality is much more complicated, but the recall of San Francisco District Attorney (D.A.) Chesa Boudin does demand a rethinking of the “progressive prosecutor” brand.
First, let’s unpack the popular claim that this recall is a harbinger of an anti-reformist tsunami poised to sweep across the nation. For one thing, most elected prosecutors do not have nearly $7 million working against them, as Boudin did, and most jurisdictions do not have recall elections, which create unique electoral dynamics. Specifically, these plebiscites tend to generate lower turnout, with about a third fewer people voting this time than in 2019 when Boudin was elected, and attract the segment of voters most dissatisfied with the status quo.
Unlike the attempted recall of Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom, replacements for Boudin were not on the ballot, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed is now set to appoint his successor. In an age when the public is skeptical of most elected officials and candidates, an election without an opponent to criticize creates a referendum on the status quo—a setup far more perilous for an incumbent than a choice between flawed options.
Boudin was also more vulnerable because San Francisco adopted some of the nation’s strictest COVID-19 restrictions. This affected both perceived and actual levels of public safety, as well as Boudin’s ability to prosecute crime. With more people holed up in their homes instead of commuting to work or going out to eat, those seeking to perpetrate crimes constituted a greater share of the total number of people on the street. Thus, even though the number of reported crimes in San Francisco was lower in 2021 than in 2019, there is evidence that in dense urban environments where the denominator of total people on the street went down precipitously, those that did go out had a greater chance of becoming a victim of street crime.
While the pandemic and related restrictions challenged the work of prosecutors nationwide, including through mandated closure of their own offices and courts, San Francisco’s halls of justice were particularly slow to reopen.This created a backlog of 441 felony defendants who, as of May 2022, had gone beyond their last legal date for trial. As Boudin acknowledged, this outcome not only delays the delivery of justice, but also frustrates crime victims seeking accountability and closure.
Finally, although Boudin never expressly called for “defunding the police,” comments he made during his initial campaign led some to believe that he was sympathetic to the idea, a perception promoted by his critics. The defund slogan has rightly become toxic over the last two years as homicides have spiked, though the rise in killings has occurred in all jurisdictions, regardless of the D.A.’s ideological orientation.
To be clear, San Francisco police unions also attacked Boudin’s predecessors, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and would have probably continued opposing him anyway, in part because he has discharged his duty to prosecute nine officers for alleged misconduct.. But other district attorneys who campaigned as “progressive prosecutors” smartly avoided quips that could leave them carrying the “defunding” bagga
Article from Reason.com