Priorities for Santa Clara County District Attorney Candidates

Two Democrats running for Santa Clara County District Attorney are trading spikes as they outline dramatically different visions for Silicon Valley chief prosecutor.

Incumbent District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Deputy Public Defender Sajid Khan shared their priorities for the position during a Friday forum hosted by the 21st Century Democratic Club in San Jose, the oldest Democratic club in Santa Clara County. The third candidate in the race, Daniel Chung, has no party preference and did not participate.

Rosen, who was first elected in 2010, ran without opposition in the last two elections – and his name was presented last year as a possible candidate for the post of attorney general. Khan, the candidate to the left of the Count, attacked his opponent for prosecuting children, using a financial guarantee to keep defendants in jail and securing convictions by coercive methods of plea bargains. He said the district needs a district attorney who will fight against mass incarceration, address the root causes of systemic racism and prevent violent crime by investing in mental health services and prison alternatives.

“We need to reshape the culture of our prosecutor’s office so that it is rooted and focused on healing, justice and safety,” Khan said.

Rosen called the charge of bail in cash false, noting that he helped write the bill that repealed the bail in California. Rosen defended his reputation as a balanced prosecutor, noting that under his supervision, the district attorney’s office enjoyed a high conviction rate and the county experienced a decrease in crime. He also noted that his office has helped reduce the number of people incarcerated in the district jail system by filing fewer cases and using diversion programs like drug treatment to keep low-level offenders out of jail.

He rejected the idea that a public defender would have a broad enough perspective to carry out his work.

“Why should we now have a deputy public defender to be the prosecutor?” Said Rosen. “You need to have a balance in the system, and what I’m practicing is a reform that works.”

Khan described several ideas – general and specific – for changing the culture of the prosecutor’s office. He said he would refocus the ministry’s model from a model he called punitive to a model that focuses on rehabilitation and healing. He said he is also a top priority in the fight against the creation of a new 500-person prison, which the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors recently approved.

Rosen credited his office with helping Santa Clara County achieve the lowest crime rate of any major U.S. county, but stressed that he was constantly trying new ideas. He cited as an example the establishment of a cold-case unit to prosecute unsolved murders.

Rosen noted that his office has also made changes to take account of racial inequality, including not filing more cases for so-called “access detentions,” which are disproportionately brought against African-Americans. Rosen said he wants more community prosecutors running neighborhood programs to reduce disengagement and improve public safety.

Khan said he would also stop the practice of continuing three strikes and strengthening gangs. It will also re-examine the sentencing of the 25 people sentenced to death due to Santa Clara County lawsuits, as well as the dozens of inmates charged as adults with crimes committed as teenagers. Rosen opposed Senate Bill 1391, which prohibits prosecuting children ages 14 and 15 as adults.

“Our commissioner is fighting this law in Sacramento and is fighting this law in the courts,” Khan said. “If it was up to our incumbent DA, that number (of prisoners) would have been much higher.”

Rosen rejected this criticism, saying his office has dealt with more than 10,000 cases involving minors over the past five years, and asked only 15 of those cases to be tried as adults. He noted that these cases were involved in serious violent crimes, using the frightening example of a boy seduced and killed by another boy “just to see how it feels”.

“It’s easy to say don’t prosecute them as adults, treat them like children, let them go out in a year or two,” Rosen said. “You have this conversation with the neighborhood where the crime took place and with the parents who are still mourning.”

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