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District Attorney Boudin Pioneers First In the Nation Policy Directives

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Alex Bastian / (415) 314-4848 / Alex.Bastian@sfgov.org

The office will end the practice of using status based sentencing enhancements except in extraordinary circumstances, will no longer charge contraband crimes stemming from pretextual searches

San Francisco, CA –Prosecutors in San Francisco will no longer charge people with possession of contraband resulting from stop-and-frisk style “pretextual” searches or make use of status based sentencing enhancements, such as prior strikes, except in extraordinary circumstances, District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced today.

The reforms were among a slate of new, evidence-based public safety policies to reduce documented racial disparities in San Francisco’s criminal justice system and address mass incarceration. San Francisco is the first jurisdiction in the country to implement this collection of policy directives.

They include:

  • Declining to file possession of contraband charges in cases where an officer uses a minor traffic infraction to pull over and search a motorist, also known as a “pretextual” stop.
  • Ending the use of California’s Three Strikes law and related provisions.
  • Ending the use of sentence enhancements that are based on alleged gang affiliation status.
  • Seeking sentences based on a person’s present conduct, such as weapons used or injury to victims, rather than the person’s past history.

In the event extraordinary circumstances present grave risks to public safety or crime victims, exceptions to this policy may be made with the approval of the District Attorney or his designee.

“Pretextual stops and sentencing enhancements based on who you know rather than what you did are relics of the tough-on-crime era that failed to make us safer,” said District Attorney Boudin. “Instead, they led to mass incarceration, targeted innocent black and brown drivers, and increased recidivism. They stand in the way of fairness and justice.”  

Decades of research show that pretextual stops alienate our communities and erode their trust in police, leading to less cooperation in solving crimes, particularly in communities of color. These traffic stops also lead to disproportionate arrests and convictions, which stand in the way of employment and higher education. In San Francisco, black drivers are stopped at five times their representation in the city’s population and searched three times more often than white drivers despite these searches of being less likely to yield results according to the 2020 Racial Identity and Profiling Advisory Board Report. The study, which analyzed 1.8 million traffic stops statewide, found that drugs were only present in 1.3 percent of traffic stops, and firearms or ammunition seized in just 0.6 percent.

The changes were welcomed by a broad coalition of legal experts, legislators, and criminal justice reformers.

“From racially-targeted traffic stops to stop-and-frisk policies, this country has wrongfully accused millions of people – entangling generations of Black and brown people in the criminal justice system,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). “We need a transformative, bold, radical reimagining of what the criminal legal system can be, and that starts with prioritizing decarceration. I applaud District Attorney Boudin’s decision to uproot racial bias, end draconian sentencing practices, and reverse the failed tough-on-crime policies that have led to mass incarceration. It is time for bold reform.”

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton also applauded Boudin’s decision.

“Pretextual stops, just like stop and frisk, overwhelmingly target communities of color.  These policies, along with gang enhancements and other status enhancements, have contributed to abhorrent racial disparities in this city’s criminal system, resulted in excessive sentences, and have not made us any safer. The constitutionality of these stops has always been in question and it is time to end them,” Walton said.

Gang enhancements, which created mandatory minimums for both children and adults, have been widely criticized for being racially biased and overly broad. They have been struck down as unconstitutional and abolished in Tennessee. In 2019, more than 90 percent of adults with a gang enhancement in state prison were either black or Latinx, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data.

“Status sentencing enhancements have directly contributed to mass incarceration, worsened racial disparities in the criminal system, separated families, devastated communities of color, and yielded little to no public safety benefit. Gang enhancements in particular have been disproportionately used on black and brown communities and have been ineffective at deterring crime. It is time to end these practices,” said University of California, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading constitutional scholar.

Changes in the District Attorney’s policy are effective immediately.