A former employee of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has been making the rounds on local media, saying her former workplace and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office are “essentially functioning as one.” As a former public defender here in San Francisco and a current prosecutor under District Attorney Boudin, let me tell why that’s not true.
First and foremost, let me introduce myself. In law school, I was an intern with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. When I graduated and took the bar exam, I was a post-bar fellow with the Public Defender’s Office. When I passed the bar, I became a trial attorney with the Public Defender’s Office. My formative legal experiences have been with that office.
Do I consider my former colleagues as mentors and friends? Yes. Did I learn to become a fierce litigator while at that office? Yes. Do I respect the work that public defenders do? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that I bow down to their requests.
Shortly after District Attorney Boudin was sworn in, I joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office where I am now an assistant district attorney. My current assignment, as of January 2022, is in the General Felonies Unit. As a felony prosecutor, I handle a large swath of cases. My caseload includes every type of crime except for homicides and sex cases. I prosecute attempted murders, robberies, carjackings, commercial and residential burglaries, arson, assaults, and narcotics transactions—to name a few. I handle my cases with integrity and I treat serious cases seriously.
The very first plea deal I offered in my current assignment was state prison. I have argued against every single PC 17(b) motion made by defense lawyers (a request for a judge to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor). I have asked for judges to hold defendants in custody pre-trial because they pose a risk to public safety. I have asked judges to remand defendants into custody (remand: when a defendant is out of custody and the request is made to bring them back into custody). I have successfully litigated dozens of preliminary hearings against my former colleagues where their clients were held to answer on multiple felonies. I have brought in victims as witnesses with the assistance and support of our victim services division so they could have their day in court. I have added charges and enhancements to complaints when I deemed it appropriate. And lastly, after seeing an attempted murder case languishing in our courts pre-hearing for five years, I took it to a grand jury where an indictment was issued for two serious and violent felony counts.
Is this the work of a public defender disguised as an Assistant District Attorney? Is this me succumbing to the demands of defense attorneys? Have I upset my former colleagues and friends? Of course. But that’s my job. My responsibility is to the people of San Francisco and the oath that I took to protect public safety.
Proponents of the “Yes on H” campaign have labeled us prosecutors under District Attorney Boudin as soft on crime. The recall campaign yearns for the era of tough on crime policies. I’d like for us to step back from the tough on crime vs. soft on crime (or “progressive”) dichotomy. The work we do is much more nuanced than that. I’d like to introduce a different term—and what I personally subscribe to—into the political discourse. And that is: fair and balanced. I am a fair and balanced prosecutor.
What does that mean? The job of a prosecutor is to balance all the competing interests within the system. We have to balance the need to protect the public and do right by the harm done in the community with the rehabilitative goals of the defendant. It’s not an easy job and there isn’t a one size fits all approach. It’s a case-by-case review of a lot of information—from the victim, from our partners in law enforcement, and from the defense attorney. This is a heavy responsibility and we need to have the right people in these roles making these decisions.
Have I granted second chances? Yes. Have I utilized my discretion to refer defendants to collaborative courts (Young Adult Court, Drug Court, Community Justice Court, Veteran’s Court)? Yes. Have I diverted cases (diversion: an alternative to traditional prosecution whereby a defendant can follow through with services and programming and earn a dismissal)? Yes. Have I accepted mitigation from defense attorneys (mitigation: information indicating that the defendant is trying to turn their life around by getting a job, going back to school, willing to pay for restitution owed) and agreed to offer a misdemeanor on a felony case? Yes. Have I agreed to well-formed release plans for certain defendants in custody? Yes. Have I agreed to work with defense attorneys on immigration safe plea deals to prevent a possible deportation? Yes.
Have I also argued against the release of defendants from custody? Yes. Have I rejected defense counter-offers on cases? Yes. Have I asked for jail time for repeat narcotics dealers? Yes. Have I collaborated well with the police to get additional evidence to ensure defendants are held accountable? Yes. Have I prosecuted defendants that have attacked and threatened law enforcement officers? Yes.
I am a former public defender with a keen understanding of the brokenness of our criminal justice system. I have considerable empathy for the families of all those affected by this system—victims and defendants. I am also a current assistant district attorney who recognizes the importance of my role. I handle serious cases seriously and I also do my best to give second chances where I deem appropriate under the circumstances. I strive to be fair and balanced with every case I have. We have a hard job to do day in and day out. But we do it, and it is not appropriate to minimize that for political reasons.
Ryan Khojasteh is an Assistant District Attorney under District Attorney Chesa Boudin. He was previously with the Public Defender’s Office under Public Defender Mano Raju.