Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen has premised his bid to be appointed Attorney General of California on the false notion that he is a progressive prosecutor. What’s true is that Rosen would be the wrong person for the job.
Governor Gavin Newsom will appoint a new attorney general soon, following Xavier Becerra’s expected confirmation to join the Biden administration. The governor should choose someone truly progressive to lead our state and reverse the effects of decades of systemic racism in the criminal legal system.
Californians need an attorney general who will end mass incarceration, abolish the death penalty and hold police accountable when they violate people’s lives and dignity. Rosen doesn’t qualify.
Rosen embraces the failed policies of an earlier era. His practices have fueled mass incarceration and driven the racist outcomes of our county’s criminal legal system.
After a decade in power, Rosen oversees a prosecution regime in which Latinx people, just 26% of the county population, account for 52% of felony prosecutions. His office prosecuted none of the San Jose police officers who killed 18 people in the past five years. He continues to seek lengthy prison commitments under the “Three Strikes” law. And Rosen’s office continues to charge gang enhancements that disproportionately target the Latinx and Black communities.
Even worse, Rosen, in conjunction with the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), has opposed many necessary, decarceral reforms in recent years.
In 2018, Rosen and CDAA opposed a law, passed by the Legislature, that prohibits prosecuting 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Rosen’s office routinely prosecutes and punishes children, mostly Black and brown boys, in adult court. His deputies prosecuted 177 children as adults between 2010 and 2014 — 35% more than Los Angeles County, which has five times the population.
In 2019 Rosen and CDAA opposed reforming a draconian rule prosecutors exploited to charge an accomplice with murder even when the person didn’t actually kill anyone, didn’t intend to kill and wasn’t a major participant in an underlying felony. The Legislature approved this reform, but Rosen’s deputies argued the new law was unconstitutional. Higher courts have rejected their claims.
Rosen and CDAA also fought the Racial Justice Act which the Legislature passed in 2020 to help eliminate racial bias from California’s criminal legal system.
Rosen’s record on the death penalty is particularly disturbing. His office has tried to kill multiple people during his tenure. Most recently, he sought the death penalty against a Latinx man, Manuel Lopez, acquitted of all charges in June.
A month after jurors rejected his attempt to kill Lopez, Rosen announced he would no longer seek to execute people. The reason? A claimed change of heart after the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day in 2020 and Rosen’s 2019 visit to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.
But far from experiencing a change of heart, Rosen doggedly pursued a death sentence against Lopez even as he knew the “tragic but real risk of wrongful conviction” and that the death penalty has been used disproportionately against people of color.
And despite his supposed awakening on the death penalty, Rosen has not sought to resentence any of the 25 people from Santa Clara County currently on California’s death row.
Taken together, these policies and practices disqualify him from serving as attorney general.
Rosen may aspire to higher office in Sacramento but Gov. Newsom would do well to look elsewhere. Californians deserve a clean break from the failed, discriminatory policies of the past.
Nick Cortez is co-coordinator of South Bay Progressive Alliance and chair of California Progressive Alliance. Jonathan Velasquez is president of the Seven Trees Neighborhood Association. The Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet of Silicon Valley also contributed to this opinion piece.