Joaquin Ciria knows firsthand the power of the so-called progressive prosecutors movement, which aims to make America’s criminal legal system less harsh and more ethical.
In 1991, he was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting of his friend Felix Bastarica. Despite the flaws in the case against Ciria — including the fact that the jury never heard an alibi witness — the 29-year-old black man was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison.
Ciria was not released until April of this year. His salvation is an investigation by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Innocence Committee, a panel dedicated to revisiting wrongful conviction charges. If the majority votes to vacate the conviction, the panel will submit its findings to the DA, which will make the final decision. DA securing Ciria’s release: Chesa Boudin.
Ciria, 61, has great respect for Boudin, who was ousted in June in a historic, high-profile recall election.
“He’s not afraid,” Ciria told CNN, referring to Boudin. “He doesn’t play politics with people’s lives.”
Fears of crime have prompted intense political scrutiny of Pudding and other progressive prosecutors — last week, Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment against Larry Krasner, claiming that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s The policy poses a threat to public safety — some believe the recall of the former San Francisco district attorney shows the movement is out of touch with voters’ concerns.
But the claim that reform-minded prosecutors fuel violent crime is false, according to recent research. Moreover, some experts say focusing too much on Boudin’s fate is ignoring progressive prosecutors who have successfully pushed ahead with ambitious agendas as the midterm elections loom — and even undercut efforts to reshape a system that is so disproportionately bad for people of color value.
“Less punitive prosecutors are a form of harm reduction, not a solution,” said legal observer Josie Duffy Rice. noted earlier this year“The paradox of prosecutors is — they have the power to create a lot of problems, but not enough power to fix them.”
she Add to“Prosecutors are still prosecutors. But it’s necessary to have someone in the office who exercises some degree of restraint. It’s not going to fix deep-rooted problems in San Francisco or anywhere. That’s not a job. But it’s going to hurt less.”
James Foreman Jr., a Yale law professor and author of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Locking Ourselves: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” echoed some of Rice’s points in an interview with CNN.
“For most of my life, the only way you could be a prosecutor was to say that you would hold more people than your opponents — and for longer and in worse conditions –“, former public defender Foreman said. “A new generation will say, ‘Let’s talk about decriminalizing low-level crime. Let’s talk about restorative justice. Let’s ask ourselves whether long prison sentences are justified in all these circumstances. We look at old beliefs and see if they were acquired using disinformation’ — we need people to ask these questions across the system. One place we need them is in the prosecutor’s office.”
As the country prepares for key DA races — including in San Francisco, Arizona’s Maricopa County (Phoenix) and Minnesota’s Hennepin County (Minneapolis) — reformist prosecutors and Its supporters insist that the movement to rethink the criminal legal system must continue.
The freedom of Ciria et al may depend on this.
While some believe that Bourdain’s recall spells doom for progressive prosecutors elsewhere, such predictions may be taken lightly.
On the one hand, many factors make the election somewhat unique, making it difficult to draw comprehensive conclusions.
“Pudding has clearly struggled as a politician, including at one point saying a man committed murder in what appeared to be a ‘grumpy’. Unlike a normal election, a recall does not pit two candidates against each other, so it could be Reflect what people think of the person rather than their policies,” Fordham University law professor John Pfaff wrote for Slate in July.
He continued, “Not to mention the risks of drawing major conclusions from a low turnout election, even for those pushing the larger narrative. admitSan Francisco voters were wary of Pudding from the start: By the end of the city’s ranked-choice voting process in 2019, he had barely won, beating the more moderate Suzy Loftus 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent. ”
Plus, while some progressive prosecutors have struggled—remember the campaign against Krasner, or the backlash against Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg in some quarters—others are experiencing success.
For example, in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous county, in August, reformer Sarah George won the primary. In Contra Costa, California, progressive DA Diana Becton won re-election in June. A month ago, in Durham, North Carolina, reformer Satana Debury easily won her primary.
Boudin summed up why his memory wasn’t a meaningful bellwether moment.
“As long as I can remember, the criminal law reform movement has had (at least) three major successes,” he told CNN. “First, failed recall of (LA County Attorney) George Gascon. Second, re-election of Sarah George of Vermont. Third, progressive reform Democrat (Steve Mulroy) in Tennessee State (Amy Weirich) ousted an ultra-conservative, reactionary incumbent (Amy Weirich).”
Like the former San Francisco prosecutor, George is “very optimistic” about the future of progressive prosecutions.
“Around the same time that Chesa was successfully recalled, there were other progressive local self-governing groups in California running for re-election against tougher criminals. They won,” she told CNN. “So, I feel really good about the sport. I think it’s definitely growing.”
In the run-up to the midterm elections, it’s important not to lose sight of the fundamental value of reimagining the country’s criminal legal system, experts interviewed by CNN said.
Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, told CNN: “It’s hard to find people right now who haven’t been impacted by our legal system and who haven’t seen it up close. The way it works.” . “They’ve seen it affect relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors, or other members of their circle.”
She is particularly concerned with the fact that traditional hard-fighting approaches to crime place a disproportionate burden on people of color.
“We know that racial disparities exist at every stage of the criminal system: who is stopped, who is arrested, how they are treated after arrest, who is prosecuted, how long they end up in jail, and in the most extreme cases, the death penalty is sought and when the death penalty will be imposed,” Klinsky added.
Lara Bazelon, a University of San Francisco law professor and chair of the Innocence Commission, made some of these points more outspoken.
“Prior to the existence of the committee, no district attorney in San Francisco’s history has agreed to exonerate anyone,” she told CNN. “Instead, they go to great lengths to lock up innocent people – which is absolutely shameful, especially in a city that claims to be progressive.”
Bazelon continued: “I don’t believe that going back to the days of tough crime would make us safe. I think there’s a lot of academic and empirical research to prove it.”
It is worth reiterating that progressive prosecution is not a panacea for crime.
“There is nothing that can take away the harsh environment that has been built up in 50 states and 3,000 counties and every institution in our criminal system for 50 years,” said Foreman, a Yale law professor.
In short, resistance must come from all quarters: judges who won’t imprison them just for the poor, legislatures ready to reconsider long sentences for a variety of crimes, public defenders’ offices getting more funding, prosecutors’ offices. The law takes a progressive approach.
Forman explained that in the future, he would like to see progressive prosecutorial commitments zoom out The size and scope of their offices – because if they’re successful, they’ll find ways to reduce crime without relying on police and prisons.
“I actually think the victory will come when they’re not needed,” he said. “Right now, we know that such a world may never exist because every country in the world in history has committed crimes. But if we make it a goal, as a dream, we can see if we’re moving toward this Orientation takes steps to measure success.”