America’s Progressive Prosecutor Problem
In June of this year, San Francisco voted to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin by a landslide margin . Despite the overwhelming support among voters in San Francisco for the Democratic Party– in 2020, they voted for Joe Biden by nearly seventy-three points --even the overwhelmingly blue voters of San Francisco were disillusioned by Boudin’s approach to crime.
What was Boudin’s approach to the criminal justice system? The progressive approach emphasizes restorative methods of tackling crime instead of punitive measures. The problem is that it de-emphasizes the punitive nature of criminal justice so much that it fails to adequately punish criminals, inviting a plethora of problems. A notable example from Boudin’s tenure was Troy McAlister. McAlister had a long rap sheet involving robbery and theft. After committing armed robbery in 2015, prosecutors could have sent McAlister to prison for 25 years but instead, Boudin’s office decided to negotiate a plea deal. After McAlister was released on parole, he was further arrested five times within a year for property crimes. Each time, Boudin’s office refused to press charges. After being released for the fifth time, McAlister robbed a bakery store. As he attempted to flee the scene, McAlister sped his car into 27-year-old Hanako Abe and 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt, killing them both . This, along with many other cases of lax prosecution, led to Boudin’s downfall. The results of the recall were a good day for opponents of progressive criminal justice reform, but a troubling fact remains-- there are still DAs across the country who share Boudin’s misguided approach to the criminal justice system.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF), a group that advocates for “the law enforcement profession and law enforcement officers,” recently released a report  detailing the way financial resources have been utilized for the purpose of reshaping the American criminal justice system. Specifically, they point out George Soros, a billionaire investor who has dumped millions of dollars into the campaigns of progressive prosecutors. In the last decade, Soros has spent $40 million on 75 progressive candidates across the country, many of who lack prosecutorial experience. This $40 million is funneled into a dense ecosystem of various criminal justice groups, including more than 500 PACs, dark money groups, and nonprofit organizations. Prosecutors backed by Soros currently represent over one-fifth, or 72 million, Americans. In less than a decade, progressive activists have been successful in actualizing their vision for the criminal justice system through the election of these prosecutors.
Once these prosecutors took power, they put into place their ineffective policies. Another key figure in the criminal justice reform movement is George Gascón, Los Angeles County’s current district attorney. Gascon is looked up to by other progressive criminal justice advocates because he was one of the first district attorneys in the US to start putting into place a progressive agenda. Before taking power in Los Angeles, Gascón served as the District Attorney of San Francisco for over eight years . Gascón’s tenure was, by all means, a failure. During his time in office, San Francisco ranked third in violent crime and first in property crime in California . Despite his poor track record, Gascón was able to narrowly beat then-incumbent Jackie Lacey in the November 2020 election for LA County DA, capitalizing on the increased fervor for progressive reform in the wake of the George Floyd protests . When he took office, Gascón immediately put into a place a litany of progressive policies, such as banning prosecutors from seeking the death penalty or life without parole, severely limiting sentencing enhancements, ending the practice of trying juveniles as adults, and more. . The results? An increase in crime across nearly every metric. Between 2020 and 2021, deadly shootings involving LAPD officers rose by 142.9%, homicides increased by 11.8%, motor vehicle thefts rose 13.3%, robberies increased by 5.5%, aggravated assaults rose by 7.2%, and shootings increased by 9.1%, . The increase in crime associated with Gascon’s policies led to a movement to recall him, but advocates for ousting Gascón fell short of the signature threshold for triggering a recall election . Even in heavily progressive Los Angeles County , voters seem to be tiring of Gascón’s “reimagining”  of criminal justice.
Prosecutors with soft-on-crime views hold power beyond the state of California. Another notable example is State Attorney Kim Fox, Cook County’s top prosecutor . Foxx’s playbook is like that of many of the other progressive prosecutors and includes refusing to prosecute low-level offenses, restricting cash bail, and decarcerating criminals. Under her watch, Chicago has seen its largest amount of homicides in over 30 years , while her office has simultaneously dropped charges against nearly 30% of felony defendants .
Larry Krasner, Philadelphia County’s DA, has been a disaster for Philly residents. Immediately after taking office, he dismissed 31 career prosecutors in an attempt to reform the office during a time of record case backlog in the court system . He also ordered prosecutors to decline pursuing charges against four categories of crimes, request shorter parole times, make plea offers at the bottom of state guidelines, and more . These ill-fated policies came at a cost as the City of Brotherly Love failed to live up to its name and became the murder capital of the United States, hitting the highest murder rate per capita among the ten largest American cities . It’s been so bad that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to impeach Krasner for dereliction of duty amidst the rising crime rates . These prosecutors have made their communities less safe, forcing their law-abiding citizens to face the dangerous consequences of their soft-on-crime policies.
But what exactly is the connection between progressive criminal justice policies and the increase in crimes that we have seen? Generally speaking, the progressive approach fails to incorporate two crucial tenets of combating crime: deterrence and incapacitation.
Deterrence is the idea that the threat of being prosecuted and given a tough sentence will prevent individuals from committing crimes in the first place. The idea is simple– if a district attorney has a policy of prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of the law when it comes to serious criminal offenses, then a meaningful number of people won’t commit that crime. This is supported by the data - an analysis of the effects of California’s Proposition 8, which increased sentences for repeat offenders in cases of willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault with a firearm, and burglary of a residence was done. What was found? Three years after the proposition’s success, crimes covered by the new law fell by eight percent. Twenty years after, those crimes had declined by 20% . Given that prosecutors have wide discretion in the sentences they can pursue, the effects of deterrence can be even greater. But of course, a meaningful amount of crimes will still be committed. What then?
This is where incapacitation comes into play. Incapacitation refers to the idea that criminals cannot commit crimes when they are physically unable to by being placed in prison or jail. Tough sentencing places dangerous criminals in an area isolated from society where they age and may even lose touch with their criminal contacts. This line of reasoning applies to bail as well. Incapacitation is particularly potent because it directly targets the repeat offenders who commit a majority of crimes in the United States . In the status quo, many of these offenders are given light sentences or let out because of prosecutorial leniency on bail. In Fairfax County, top prosecutor Steve Descano was able to cruise to the DA’s office with special interest money . In October of 2021, Descano charged Chante Jones with assault and battery - two very serious offenses. What did Descano’s office do? Instead of attempting to physically alienate a dangerous criminal, they released Jones on recognizance, fining him a measly $212 and giving him a year of probation. Not even a year later, Jones was arrested for beating an elderly woman to death at a bus stop . Had Jones been given a long and tough sentence, something totally appropriate based on his crimes and past history of larceny, public intoxication, and indecent exposure, he would not have been able to brutally murder an innocent woman.
In some egregious cases, jail time isn’t even attached. In March of 2019, Johnny Charles Ebbs violently assaulted his pregnant girlfriend, LaShonda Lemons. At the hospital, Lemons discovered that her unborn child was killed by the attack. Ebbs was arrested and charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, assault impeding breath/circulation, and continuous violence against family. In October of 2022, after years of negotiation, the Travis County District Attorney’s office reached a plea deal, resulting in no jail time. Ebbs only received eight years of deferred adjudication . Travis County’s DA is Jose Garza, who was elected in 2020 on a platform of “reimagining justice” . The idea that someone can commit the terrible crime of domestic abuse culminating in the murder of an unborn child and not see the inside of a prison cell is horrific. District attorneys who attach sentencing enhancements, oppose misguided bail reform, and go for tough sentences on dangerous criminals will ensure the safety of the public.
With so many rogue DAs at the helm of power, what should be done to remove them from office and ensure crime can be properly addressed? The recall of Boudin and successful placement of Gascón on the recall ballot proves that grassroots efforts led by voters are necessary to remove these prosecutors. Organization, fundraising, and coordination between different groups with a common goal of sensible prosecutorial conduct is crucial to form an effective coalition against the network of criminal justice groups backed by millions of dollars. Many citizens simply do not know what is going on in their prosecutor’s office. Informing them of the maliciousness of progressive prosecutors is a good first step to fight back against the progressive criminal justice apparatus. Certain localities have mechanisms in place that allow them to recall district attorneys if a certain amount of signatures are required. In some states, a district attorney can be impeached and removed by the state legislature, as seen with the impeachment of Krasner in Pennsylvania. Even a credible threat of recall can cause a DA to make changes, as proven by Gascón’s backtracking on certain policies  And for those localities which do not have a mechanism for recalling or removing their elected officials, they must ensure that any soft on crime DA does not win re-election.
But just as important as removing these district attorneys is ensuring that their replacement adheres to an agenda that puts victims over criminals, as such an approach is crucial to reduce the increase in violent crime that is plaguing our nation . What do these prosecutors look like? A good example would be Todd Spitzer, the current District Attorney of Orange County, California. Spitzer represents over three million people, and he has served them well during his three-year tenure. He prosecutes gang and gun enhancements , fights for tough sentences against drug dealers , and has championed a task force that has put hundreds of violent felons, guns, and drugs off the streets . Furthermore, Spitzer has put forth a pre-filing diversion pilot program aimed at low-level offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues, directing resources to those who truly need them . Spitzer’s record speaks for itself - Orange County is the safest major county in California, with five of the ten safest cities in California being in Orange County . Furthermore, Spitzer’s tenure has seen a 16.65% reduction in homelessness across Orange County , proving that a tough approach to criminals is not mutually exclusive with rectifying social ills. Orange County is the sixth largest county in the United States by population and is quite diverse . Of course, other demographic features play a role in determining how much criminal activity takes place in an area. Orange County does have a higher-than-average household income and more college-educated individuals, two things that are not generally indicative of high-crime areas. The problem is that the difference in education and income between Orange County and counties with a progressive DA is not enough to justify the massive differences they have in crime. Furthermore, the general ideas of deterrence and incapacitation have universal success in mitigating crime, but some counties may have a higher floor for criminal activity due to their priced-in demographics. Voters have rewarded Spitzer for his success. Despite the recent blue tint of Orange County , Spitzer, a Republican, easily cruised to re-election in June of this year . It goes to show that partisan affiliation is irrelevant to whether or not a district attorney can perform effectively - it is about how they exercise their power that matters to the voters.
It’s important to understand that district attorneys are not the only individuals responsible for crime in their area. Governmental policies and socioeconomic factors assuredly contribute to an area’s crime rate. Nevertheless, the rogue district attorneys that have abdicated their responsibility to adequately prosecute criminals have absolutely had an effect on the rising crimes they’re seeing in their cities. Given this, it is imperative that citizens fight to remove them from office – as San Franciscans did against Chesa Boudin. The time to act is now.
1. “San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin Recall: Election Results.” San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/live-election-results/chesa-boudin-recall. Accessed 22 November 2022
2. 2020 Presidential General Election Results - California, San Francisco County. US Election Atlas. https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/. Accessed 22 November 2022.
3. Lagos, Marisa. “The Troy McAlister Case Is a Flash Point in the Drive to Recall SF DA Chesa Boudin. Should It Be?” KQED. 18 May 2022. https://www.kqed.org/news/11914457/how-the-troy-mcalister-case-became-a-flashpoint-in-the-drive-to-recall-sf-da-chesa-boudin.
4. “Justice for Sale : How George Soros Put Radical Prosecutors In Power.” Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. 6 June 2022. https://www.scribd.com/document/577258820/Justice-for-Sale-LELDF-Report.
5. “SF District Attorney George Gascón decides not to seek re-election.” San Francisco Chronicle. 2 October 2018. https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/San-Francisco-District-Attorney-George-Gasc-n-13276393.php
6. Lofstrom et. al. “Key Factors in Arrest Trends and Differences in California’s Counties.” California Public Policy Institute. September 2019. https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/key-factors-in-arrest-trends-and-differences-in-californias-counties.pdf.
7. Queally, James. “Protests over police brutality and criminal justice reform intensify race for L.A. district attorney.” Los Angeles Times. 1 July 2020. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-07-01/los-angeles-da-race-could-be-reshaped-national-calls-criminal-justice-reform.
8. Queally, James. “Los Angeles County D.A. Gascón backtracks on policies on juveniles, life sentences.” Los Angeles Times. 18 February 2022. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-02-18/los-angeles-da-gascon-backtracks-juveniles-life-sentences#:~:text=When%20he%20first%20took%20office,of%20trying%20juveniles%20as%20adults.
9. Carpenter, Susan. “City officials: LA homicides, vehicle thefts, officer-involved shootings increased in 2021.” Spectrum News One. 13 January 2022. https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-west/public-safety/2022/01/13/homicides--vehicle-thefts--officer-involved-shootings-increased-in-la-in-2021.
10. Mizella, Shawna and Romine, Taylor. “Effort to recall Los Angeles DA fails to quality for ballot.” CNN. 16 August 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/15/politics/los-angeles-district-attorney-recall-effort-fails-george-gascon/index.html
11. 2020 Presidential General Election Results - California, Los Angeles County. US Election Atlas. https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/. Accessed 22 November 2022.
12. Gascon, George. @GeorgeGascon. “My approach to public safety is shaped by a 40+ yr career in law enforcement, a lifetime of experiences that showed me first-hand that the "punishment first" & "lock ' em up" approach fails to create long term community safety. Together we are reimagining criminal justice in LA.” 9 July 2021. https://twitter.com/georgegascon/status/1413560607014412290
13. Hinton, Rachel. “Another billionaire weighs in on state’s attorney’s race: George Soros gives $2M to group backing Foxx.” Chicago Sun Times. 20 February 2020. https://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/2020/2/20/21146269/george-soros-kim-foxx-bill-conway-states-attorney.
14. Kaste, Martin. “Philadelphia set a homicide record in 2021. Now police hope a new tactic deters crime.” National Public Radio. 1 April 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/04/01/1089406018/philadelphia-set-a-homicide-record-in-2021-now-police-hope-a-new-tactic-deters-c.
15. Jackson et al. “Kim Foxx drops more felony cases as Cook County state’s attorney than her predecessor, Tribune analysis shows.” Chicago Tribune. 10 August 2020. https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/ct-kim-foxx-felony-charges-cook-county-20200810-ldvrmqvv6bd3hpsuqha4duehmu-story.html.
16. MacDonald, Tom. “Jury trials increase in Philadelphia to help eliminate 34,000 case backlog.” WHYY. 14 March 2022. https://whyy.org/articles/jury-trials-increase-in-philadelphia-to-help-eliminate-34000-case-backlog/.
17. Palmer et al. “Krasner dismisses 31 from Philly DA’s office in dramatic first-week shakeup.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 5 January 2018. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/crime/larry-krasner-philly-da-firing-prosecutors-20180105.html-2
18. “Philadelphia Has Highest Murder Rate Per Capita Among Country's 10 Largest Cities.” CBS News. 23 July 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/philadelphia/news/philadelphia-highest-murder-rate-per-capita-countrys-10-largest-cities/
19. Calvert, Scott. “Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Impeached by Pennsylvania House.” The Wall Street Journal. 16 November 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/philadelphia-district-attorney-larry-krasner-faces-impeachment-vote-in-pennsylvania-house-11668604729.
20. “Sentence Enhancements Reduce Crime.” National Bureau of Economic Research. 10 October 1998. https://www.nber.org/digest/oct98/sentence-enhancements-reduce-crime.
21. Sipes, Leonard. “Offender Recidivism and Reentry in the United States.” Crime in America. https://www.crimeinamerica.net/offender-recidivism-and-reentry-in-the-united-states/#:~:text=Within%20five%20years%20of%20release,71%20percent%20of%20violent%20offenders. Accessed 22 November 2022.
22. Johnson, Jason. “Fairfax’s top prosecutor owes his office to special interest money.” Fairfax County Times. 1 July 2022. https://www.fairfaxtimes.com/articles/opinions/fairfax-s-top-prosecutor-owes-his-office-to-special-interest-money/article_2b482c86-f898-11ec-a36c-eb5ca733b4db.html.
23. Christenson, Josh. “Soros Prosecutor Freed Violent Offender Now Charged With Killing Homeless Woman.” The Washington Free Beacon. 30 June 2022. https://freebeacon.com/democrats/soros-prosecutor-freed-violent-offender-now-charged-with-killing-homeless-woman/
24. KVUE News Staff. “Plea deal granted for man accused of beating pregnant girlfriend in 2019.” KVUE ABC News. 20 October 2022. https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/plea-deal-granted-man-accused-beating-pregnant-girlfriend/269-08c5cdec-54ac-40b0-80d2-151b2c1c4b0b.
25. Garza, Jose. “Together, we will reimagine justice in Travis County.” Jose For DA. https://www.joseforda.com/platform#reimagine-justice. Accessed 17 November 2022.
26. Flanagin, Jake. “D.A. Gascón walks back policy against life sentences, trying juveniles as adults.” KNX News. 19 February 2022. https://www.audacy.com/knxnews/news/local/facing-recall-d-a-gascn-walks-back-controversial-reforms.
27. Pagones, Stephanie. “US murder rate highest it's been in 25 years as big cities shatter records.” Fox News. 18 January 2022. https://www.foxnews.com/us/us-murder-rate-violence-big-cities-records.
28. Spitzer, Todd. @toddspitzeroc. “What a hypocrite you are George! Charge gun and gang enhancements. Remove these shooters from the street. Incentive the police to remove the guns and file those charges. Solve gun crimes? Take the guns from the criminals and the mentally ill! I prosecute enhancements!#NOLAinOC.” 18 May 2022. https://mobile.twitter.com/toddspitzeroc/status/1527008466447257600
29. Edds, Kimberly. “Charges Filed in Largest Orange County Drug Bust in 16 Years – Buena Park pair arrested with enough fentanyl to kill 4.7 Million People; more than 800 pounds of meth and nearly 190 pounds of cocaine taken off the street by the Buena Park Police Department.” Orange County District Attorney. 6 April 2022. https://orangecountyda.org/press/charges-filed-in-largest-orange-county-drug-bust-in-16-years-buena-park-pair-arrested-with-enough-fentanyl-to-kill-4-7-million-people-more-than-800-pounds-of-meth-and-nearly-190-pounds-of-cocaine-t/.
30. Edds, Kimberly. “Hundreds of Violent and Dangerous Felons, Guns and Narcotics off Orange County Streets as a Result of Orange County District Attorney’s AB 109 Crime Impact Task Force Ten Attempted Murder Suspects, Los Angles Burglary Ring Charged with Stealing $1.97 Million in Jewelry, Guns and Designer Items among AB 109 Task Force Arrests over last 3 years; OCDA Todd Spitzer federally deputizes AB 109 investigator to work with ATF Violent Crime Task Force to Investigate, Arrest Suspects in Smash and Grab, Home Invasion Robberies.” Orange County District Attorney. 2 June 2022. https://orangecountyda.org/press/hundreds-of-violent-and-dangerous-felons-guns-and-narcotics-off-orange-county-streets-as-a-result-of-orange-county-district-attorneys-ab-109-crime-impact-task-force-ten-attempted-murder-susp/.
31. Edds, Kimberly. “Orange County District Attorney’s Office Launches County’s First Pre-filing Diversion Pilot Program “FIRST Point” with Law Enforcement, Health Care Partners – Program will focus on connecting low-level offenders with services to address mental health, substance abuse issues to ensure a criminal proceeding does not inhibit future work and education opportunities.” Orange County District Attorney. 13 April 2022. https://orangecountyda.org/press/orange-county-district-attorneys-office-launches-countys-first-pre-filing-diversion-pilot-program-first-point-with-law-enforcement-health-care-partners-program-w/
32. Edwards, Rebecca. “California’s 50 Safest Cities of 2022.” Safewise. 16 May 2022. https://www.safewise.com/blog/safest-cities-california/
33. Edds, Kimberly. “Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer Issues Statement on 16.65% Reduction in Homelessness Since he Took Office in 2019.” Orange County District Attorney. 11 May 2022.
34. United States Census Bureau, QuickFacts, Orange County, California. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/orangecountycalifornia. Accessed 16 June 2022.
35. 2020 Presidential General Election Results - California, Orange County. US Election Atlas. https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/. Accessed 22 November 2022.
36. Gerda, Nick. “Spitzer Dominates in Early Election Results for High-Stakes DA Race.” Voice of Orange County. 7 June 2022. https://voiceofoc.org/2022/06/spitzer-dominates-in-early-election-results-for-high-stakes-da-race/.