Saturday, May 15, 2021
Uncategorized Politics on Tuesday: The guv and criminal justice

Politics on Tuesday: The guv and criminal justice


Guv, what's up with the weird decisions on criminal justice bills?
Guv, what’s up with the weird decisions on criminal justice bills?

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 — Governor Brown has a strange thing with criminal justice. They guy was a Jesuit (you know, forgiveness and redemption and all that) but he’s been fighting to keep the feds from making him release even prisoners who don’t belong behind bars. He’s not personally a fan of the death penalty but he’s trying to find better ways to kill people.

He signed a bill by Senator Mark Leno, SB 1058, that would allow a judge to overturn a conviction if key evidence at the trial turned out later to be scientifically inaccurate. That means if some expert witness depended on a type of forensic test that has since be disproven (or has been replaced by more accurate testing), and an innocent person has been behind bars, a judge can consider that in ordering a new trial.

And yet, just days later, he vetoed a bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano that would allow a judge to tell a jury that the prosecution had improperly withheld evidence in the case.

“A court may instruct the jury that the intentional or knowing failure to disclose the materials and information occurred and that the jury shall consider the intentional or knowing failure to disclose in determining whether reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt exists,” the bill states.

That’s it – nothing complicated, nothing radical, just one new sentence in the criminal code. Everyone knows that the prosecution is supposed to turn over to the defense any evidence that might show the innocence of the person on trial – but a lot of times, that doesn’t happen. And then you get bad outcomes.

So why did the guv veto the Ammiano bill? Here’s his statement. Can you make any sense of it? This would be a departure from allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed?” Uh, no – all the law would do is give a judge more discretion; the law says “may” instruct the jury.

Ammiano’s response:

I’m beyond disappointed at the Governor’s veto of this bill. This was really a simple, modest bill to start balancing the justice system. When prosecutors are honorable, there’s no problem, but we’ve seen too many cases where DA’s don’t play fair – hiding evidence or releasing it at the last minute. People – mostly men of color – are spending decades in prison because of withheld evidence. We need more dramatic reform to hold the few rogue prosecutors accountable. Keeping the innocent out of prison is far more important than legislation letting dogs onto restaurant patios, but the Governor doesn’t seem to see it that way.



What happens when all the new arrivals to San Francisco start to vote? Does that change the politics of the city? Is there a way for progressives to find common cause with tech workers?

Those are fundamental questions for local politics – and you can hear a discussion of them at an Urban IDEA forum – cosponsored by 48 hills – tomorrow (Wednesday) at 5:30 pm at the LGBT Center.

Here’s the summary:

Join us Wednesday at UrbanIDEA as we tackle the BIG QUESTIONS of San Francisco (it’s free!): How is gentrification impacting the SF electorate?  Is the tech industry a monolithic enemy in this housing crisis?  What are the possibilities for alignment between existing residents and new arrivals as they both struggle to afford living in SF?  With the changing demographics, what are the opportunities for organizing across old political lines, and what are some of the values and policies around which we can build these alliances? And, what would it take for working class residents of color to play a leadership role in a broader multi-class, multi-racial alliance?

See you there.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. You are confusing two different things, i.e. the commission of a crime and the ability to be able to present sufficient evidence to prove it. I’ve given several examples of cases where it is known for sure that the defendant is guilty regardless of what evidence can be presented. If you’ve ever gotten off a ticket or charge when you know you did the deed, you should understand the distinction.

    It’s a double standard to require the prosecutor to present exculpatory evidence if the defense counsel does not have to produce evidence of guilt.

    Interestingly, some other western nations allow the presentation of evidence acquired during an illegal search if it proves guilt. In return the defendant is free to sue.

    I guess it all ultimately depends on what you regard as justice, and reasonable people can disagree on that. But I think Brown got this one right.

  2. “Where the defendant is known to be guilty”

    Isn’t that the problem?

    (Or are you just trying to be provocative?)

  3. Dan, why are you misquoting me so egregiously? I restricted my example to cases where it is known for sure that the perp is guilty.

    Here’s another example. A kills B and both C and D see him do it. A then gets his buddies to intimidate (or even kill) C and D.

    And in that case I am simply explaining to you why most law-abiding voters and citizens aren’t going to be too upset if the prosecution makes sure that A goes away for his crime, because what really matters is that justice is served.

  4. There are a number of ways that a cop or prosecutor can know for certain someone did the crime. I already gave an example – where there exists clear evidence for the act which is inadmissable for some reason.

    A common example is where a search reveals conclusive evidence of guilt but the search is ruled illegal on some technicality.

    Or a confession, say where the suspect says “Yeah, I killed him” (and gives details that only the murderer could have known) “but you’ll never be able to prove it”

    Or are you seriously suggesting that every single defendant is acquitted is completely innocent of the crime? In fact, juries never rule on innocence – they only rule that a charge is not proven.

  5. errr, if there is exculpatory evidence in the DA’s possession, how can “they know” the defendant did the crime? that’s for the jury to decide, not a prosecutor. THAT how the game is played, my friend

  6. Jack, you’ll notice that I specified cases where the defendant is known to be guilty by virtue of other information and evidence that cannot be admitted at trial for whatever reason.

    Justice is not served when felons get off a conviction because of technicalities, or because the rules of evidence are skewed in favor of criminals.

    And where is the good faith of liberals who hate the police and, for some bizarre reason, love it when criminals get away with things?

  7. So, Sam, what do you think? Should we entirely abolish the use of the exclusionary rule? Rely on the good faith of the police and prosecutors?

  8. Perhaps someone who’s a lawyer can chime in here, but I believe you just argued in favor of prosecutorial misconduct that is (per the Supreme Court, Brady v. Maryland, 1963) grounds for overturning a conviction. This proposed California legislation would not have created any new standards of disclosure, it would have just made juries more likely to understand what the law already requires.

    Being in favor of law and order does not mean “always trust the cops and the DA, if they broke the rules then they probably had a good reason.”

  9. If exculpatory evidence is suppressed by the DA but they know the defendant did the crime (for example, from other evidence that also cannot be presented at trial) and otherwise the defendant would have walked, has justice been served?

    Jurors rarely hear all the evidence anyway. Both sides file motions to suppress evidence. It’s how the game is played. So why treat exculpatory evidence differently?

Comments are closed.

More by this author

Can people paying rent for a parking space be evicted for living in cars?

Caltrans is about to try to remove people from a lot under I-80.

Boudin allies speak out at a rally against ‘recall madness’

Elected officials, labor, and community leaders say that the DA has kept his campaign promises.

State Legislature moving to give telecom companies immense power

Bills would block any local control over placement of cell towers and antennas -- and it's passing with almost no opposition.

Is San Francisco a ‘conservative’ city? That’s what the Chron thinks.

But is opposing the Big Business and Big Tech Agenda really 'conservative?' Plus: Free Muni --and a complex new Muni yard. That's The Agenda for May 10-18.

Fate of Bayview facility threatens City College funding chances

The school promised $35 million to the community. Now, a battle over an obscure legal concept has the supes and the College Board at odds.

Most read

Boudin allies speak out at a rally against ‘recall madness’

Elected officials, labor, and community leaders say that the DA has kept his campaign promises.

What happened to Halston? New doc dives deep into designer’s story

In Halston, the new biopic about the visionary American fashion designer, director Frédéric Tcheng makes every effort to remain objective when portraying the contentious...

Can people paying rent for a parking space be evicted for living in cars?

Caltrans is about to try to remove people from a lot under I-80.

Not one dollar of state rent-relief money has arrived in SF

Hundreds of millions in federal funding is available -- but tenants aren't getting it.

You might also likeRELATED