Focusing Jury Trials on Serious & Violent Felonies

Only 2% of all criminal charges end up being decided by a jury. We would expect those to be the most serious and complicated cases. But in San Francisco today, two-thirds of the cases that are taken to trial by prosecutors are actually for misdemeanors.  This is the highest proportion of any county in the state. 

Worse, of the misdemeanor charges that go to trial, only half result in a conviction, resulting in no accountability for the person being charged.  As District Attorney, Chesa Boudin will correct this imbalance, dedicate more resources to the most serious and violent felonies, and strive to hold every person guilty of offenses such as first-offense DUI accountable.

Fixing San Francisco’s broken Jury trials system 

Jury trials are by far the most resource intensive part of any criminal case.  They require a judge, a courtroom, a court reporter, a bailiff, a court clerk, at least two lawyers, and at least 12 members of the community to all dedicate their full time and energy to just one case for a week or more. 

Over 98 percent of all criminal cases, in San Francisco and across the country, settle before trial, usually for a guilty plea to at least one charge. If many more cases went to trial, the system would collapse.

In many cases, the guilty plea triggers effective participation in diversion and rehabilitation programs which hold the defendant accountable for their actions while also providing necessary services such as mental health or drug addiction treatment. 

In most jurisdictions, the cases that go to trial are the most important -- for serious and violent felonies, public corruption, or complex corporate crime. In San Francisco, unfortunately, the opposite is the case.  Our courts are clogged with misdemeanor trials -- two-thirds of all trials -- which are ineffective at holding defendants accountable and drain resources from more serious and violent crimes. 

We can fix this if we have a District Attorney with a plan to provide a new approach for misdemeanor crimes. 

As District Attorney, Chesa Boudin will make it a priority to fix our broken jury trial system and ensure that defendants in misdemeanor cases,  such as first offense DUI’s with no property damage or victim, are actually held accountable for their actions.

Under Boudin, the goal will be to hold 100% of people arrested for drunk driving accountable for their actions, rather than the way it is today where half of these charges when taken to trial are lost -- resulting in no consequences for the driver. 

Prioritizing serious and violent crimes

San Francisco PreTrial Diversion, Neighborhood Courts, Community Justice Court, and other diversion programs and collaborative courts do an excellent job diverting low level cases to treatment and services. But they aren’t doing enough to unclog the courts. 

To ensure less serious cases do not go to trial while still holding those who have done wrong accountable, Boudin will do the following:

  • Expand Neighborhood Courts (a pre-charging restorative justice diversion)
  • Expand access to PreTrial Diversion (a post-charging rehabilitative and restitution-based diversion)
  • Expand use of Deferred Entry of Judgement as a tool to accept waivers of trial rights and early admissions of responsibility while creating a path for defendants to earn dismissals or reduction of charges over time after success with relevant terms and conditions.
  • Foster a culture of collaboration at the Hall of Justice where all parties are focused on accountability, restitution, and treatment to reduce recidivism. 

To prioritize serious and violent crimes, Boudin will do the following:

  • Cut caseloads of felony attorneys in half by recruiting more staff attorneys, implement more efficient rebooking policies, and reallocate resources currently being used on low-level cases;
  • Provide all lead felony attorneys a “second chair” attorney to assist with trials, as is common practice across the country;
  • Expand trainings for trial attorneys on forensic science, social media, and other emerging areas in law and technology;
  • Require that DA staff contact the victim within 48 hours of filing a new case; and 
  • Expedite forensic analysis in all cases involving sex, loss of life, or firearms.