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Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen Will No Longer Seek Death Sentences

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced Wednesday several enforcement changes within his department including no longer seeking the death sentence in capital murder cases and undertaking "robust investigation and prosecution of criminal (police) officer misconduct."

Rosen said he once believed in the death penalty.

"In the past, I supported the death penalty when I viewed the heinous murders through the eyes of the victims whose lives had been taken and from their families that might never find peace," he said. "But I also trusted that as a society we could ensure the fundamental fairness of the legal process for all people. With every exoneration, with every story of racial injustice, it becomes clearer to me that this is not the world we live in."

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"These cases use up massive public resources and cruelly drag on for years with endless appeals giving no finality to the victims' families. There is the tragic but real risk of wrongful conviction. And shamefully our society's most drastic and devastating law enforcement punishment has been used disproportionately against defendants of color."

Rosen said the other charging reforms were the result of a policy review in the wake of the national outcry over policing following the death of George Floyd.

"His name (Floyd) was cried out by a country in national pain and it was followed by a burning question that cannot be ignored -- What will you do now?" the prosecutor said. "Two months ago I pledged I would listen carefully, think deeply and then act boldly."

After eliciting responses from criminal law experts, community leaders and attorneys in his office, Rosen said he heard a common refrains -- less incarcaration, more rehabilitation, more drug treatment, more mental health services, more diversion, more sentencing alternatives, and less prison.

He also heard demands for police reform.

"Change is hard," he said. "However, not changing in the face of a community that is truly wondering if the criminal justice system is fundamentally fair is not an option."

Included among the reforms Rosen proposed on Wednesday was "robust investigation and prosecution of criminal (police) officer misconduct" and a system to distribute funds seized in criminal investigations to community groups addressing racial inequities to "reinvest what these crooks have stolen from the community."

The DA's Office will also launch a workers exploitation task force and bolster the department's victim services programs.

When it comes to police reform, Rosen didn't mince words.

"Who will police the police?" he asked. "It's one of today's most urgent questions."

To tougher his department's standards when it comes to cases of police misconduct, Rosen said he was creating a Public Enforcement Integrity Team of 2-3 assistant district attorneys and two DA investigators to look into claims of criminal conduct of officers.

Among the other reforms were:

  • The DA will work to end cash bail in California
  • The DA will stop requesting fines and fees from indigent defendants
  • The DA will immediately cease filing thousands of charges of Driving on a Suspended License for Failure to Pay Fines and Fees in Superior Court. The cases will be filed in Traffic Court as infractions.
  • The DA will automatically expunge the criminal record of those who are eligible and have successfully completed probation
  • The DA will create a Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team to investigate criminal misconduct of police officers including excessive use of force.

In anticipation of the announcement, the San Jose Police Officers' Association issued a statement strongly critical of Rosen's proposed changes.

"Jeff Rosen has just issued an open invitation to every drunk driver, criminal and violent gang member to resist arrest, impede investigations and openly challenge every police officer in our county," said Paul Kelly, President of the SJPOA, in a prepared statement. "While the rest of the country is working to de-escalate dangerous interactions between police and the community, Jeff Rosen is purposely escalating confrontations that will only lead to increased uses of force and injuries or worse to police officers."

When it comes to the death penalty, Santa Clara County has been among the most aggressive in the state in seeking capital punishment. Currently, there are 25 inmates on San Quentin's Death Row who were sentenced to die from Santa Clara County courts and juries. A handful of those were cases tried by other counties on change of venue motions, including Richard Allen Davis, the convicted killer of Polly Klaas and Yosemite multiple murder Cary Stayner.

Among the inmates sent to death row by Santa Clara County prosecutors is Richard Farley, a former employee of ESL Incorporated in Sunnyvale who his co-worker Laura Black for four years. On February 16, 1988, Farley walked into ESL and opened fire, killing seven people and wounding four others including Black.

The last man sentenced to death row was Rodrigo Paniagua Jr. in 2010 for killing his girlfriend Leticia Chavez, the couple's two young daughter and a 5-month-old fetus the pregnant Chavez was carrying.

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