BERKELEY, Calif.—Crime victims don’t have rights under the Constitution, former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled by voters in 2022 amid an escalation of crime, said during a conference here at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Boudin’s surprising comment came as part of a larger debate between the Left and Right on criminal justice issues at the March 8 gathering, called “Justice Unveiled: Debating Crime and Public Safety Conference.”

The ousted San Francisco prosecutor led a discussion with California district attorneys that also included Cully Stimson, a Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow who is a crime expert and former prosecutor. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news and commentary outlet.)

Stimson, coauthor of the book “Rogue Prosecutors: How Radical Soros Lawyers Are Destroying America’s Communities,” pressed the district attorneys about the so-called progressive prosecutor movement.

Stimson includes Boudin, now executive director of the Criminal Law & Justice Center at Berkeley School of Law, as a member of that movement. Crime increased dramatically during the progressive Democrat’s two years in office, and it continues to be a major problem for San Francisco.

“There’s nothing progressive about the progressive prosecutor movement, at least as you define the word ‘progressive,’” Stimson said.

The Heritage scholar said the movement is dangerous because it does nothing to cultivate public safety or protect victims, but instead focuses entirely on criminal defendants.

Violent crime rates fell in the 1990s for two reasons, Stimson said. The first reason is that states passed laws to keep repeat and violent offenders in prison longer. The second reason is the creation of various courts and alternatives to prison programs.

“Longer [prison] sentences lower recidivism rates,” Stimson said, adding later: “The U.S. Sentencing Commission has seven separate studies that show just that.”

Unfortunately, Stimson said, the progressive prosecutor movement, inspired by those who would abolish prisons, has worked ingeniously to put ideological sympathizers in district attorney’s offices around the country.

Their election gives each prosecutor the ability to reduce the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences, he said.

Stimson then posed a question to the district attorneys about their philosophy.

“An offender-oriented approach to prosecution rests on the unstated and therefore unsubstantiated assumption that the perpetrators of crime stand on the same moral plane as their victims,” he said.

Protecting the vast majority of residents of a community who don’t commit crimes from those who do is a cornerstone of the social contract, Stimson explained.

“How do you, in your role as the [district attorney], uphold your end of the social contract?” he asked.

In his answer, Boudin said that putting more people in prison “of course” reduces the number of crimes. Putting everyone in prison would end crime, he added.

The former San Francisco district attorney then said that those people who have spent the most time in prison are the least likely to recidivate and that we keep convicted criminals locked up for far too long in America.

“That’s a decision we make that separates us from every other civilized country in the world,” Boudin said. “It’s a policy choice, and it really doesn’t have to do with safety so much as a desire for vengeance and retribution, with the history of racism in this country.”

He said the progressive prosecutor movement isn’t about putting defendants over victims.

The Constitution created rights for criminal defendants, Boudin said, but it “does not create rights for victims of crime.” 

He then pointed to various services that some states have created for crime victims, such as providing access to therapy and paying for medical expenses.

“Suggesting that because progressive prosecutors seek to comply with constitutional rights, seek to avoid having cases dismissed because of discovery violations, because of racial bias, is somehow tantamount to disregarding victims’ rights is simply not true,” Boudin said.

He then said that prosecutors are not asked to represent victims of crime, but “all of the people of our jurisdictions,” and that focusing on victims disregards the Constitution.

While the national focus of rising crime has been on progressive prosecutors, Boudin said, the “highest murder rates” are in red states and counties. What’s happening in large parts of the country, he added, is the prosecution of poverty.

Stimson disputed Boudin’s claim that red states are driving crime. He mentioned his related research indicating that Democrat-run cities for the most part are producing the crime numbers in red states and counties.

Boudin countered that most cities in America are run by Democrats, so that’s why most high-crime cities are blue. Stimson replied that, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, most crime is concentrated in the “inner city” and has been for a long time.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan, a independent, later weighed in. Stephan said she doesn’t focus on politics, but believes that safety is a human right “and everyone deserves that.”

Although she respects Boudin’s viewpoint, Stephan said,  she wanted to point out that he “never dealt as a prosecutor for the victims of crime, never looked at the 5-year-old that was shot and had the job of bringing that victim justice.”

“He cares about a lot of things,” Sephan said. “But the lens that’s missing is the victim’s lens; it’s completely missing.”

If you go to a doctor for a heart problem, the San Diego district attorney added, you want the doctor to understand hearts. It’s a problem, she said, when those who occupy positions of power, such as district attorneys, “never had the passion to protect somebody who has been victimized.”

Stephan wondered aloud how someone who says the Constitution doesn’t recognize crime victims could become a DA.

Justice is not a “theory” or an experiment, she said, it’s about people’s lives.

Boudin answered that he did care about victims and expanded resources to care for them, including court interpreters. He also said, raising his voice, that conservative prosecutors treat victims only as “pieces of evidence” just to send more criminals to prison.

Crime victims don’t just want money as government services, Stephan said, they want “justice” and “they want to know there is justice.”

It’s the duty of the district attorney to give them that, she said.

This article has been updated to correctly name District Attorney Summer Stephan of San Diego.

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