By David M. Greenwald
The Alameda County District Attorney candidates met on Wednesday in a candidates’ forum hosted by the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County and Urban Peace. Nancy O’Malley declined to seek reelection and there are four candidates vying to replace her.
Running are: Pamela Price, a civil rights attorney who ran in 2018; Terry Wiley, the Chief Assistant DA in Alameda County who has the backing of O’Malley; Seth Steward, who worked in San Francisco as a DA under both Kamala Harris and George Gascón; and Jimmy Wilson, who is also a DA under Nancy O’Malley.
See part one:
The next question asked was about implementing a number of resentencing laws.
Jimmy Wilson said, “I believe when it comes to resentencing, that we need to have a department to review those cases, to find out if we have been egregious in how we sentence defendants in the past.
“I also believe that when we look at what’s going on right now, we are going through a period of reimagining how we do criminal justice. We have to understand that using sentencing enhancements over enhancements have caused mass incarceration.”
Seth Steward, responding to Terry Wiley from the previous question noted, “If you take a tour of juvenile hall now, all you’ll see is Black and brown kids. If you think that’s okay, and the system is fine and the status quo is working for you, then you should vote for him.
“The system needs to change. The status quo needs to change with regards to this issue,” he said. “There are tools existing today, right under our noses in Alameda County that we’re not using.”
He called for a resentencing unit. He said, “You know where else it happens, where it’s not happening in Alameda County—it’s happening in Riverside. It’s happening in Yolo County. It’s happening all over the state in nine different counties. We don’t use it here.”
He said, “If Riverside can do it, if Yolo county can do it, why aren’t we doing it? We need to do it.”
Terry Wiley, after the candidates were warned to “keep it fair and cordial,” responded to Seth Steward. He said, “His comments that he just made shows his inexperience.”
He said in 2013, juvenile hall was averaging 300 juveniles in custody. “We’re now down to the juveniles that have only committed the most serious offenses,” he said. “Now, does that mean that because the kid is African American or Hispanic, and they’ve committed they’re charged with murder, we should let them out so that we don’t have black kids in custody? We’ve only got the most serious kids in custody in juvenile.”
He pointed out that Seth Steward said he wants to create a new unit “that considers previous convictions.” Wiley responded, “Well, we have a unit, we have three of our top attorneys in the DA’s office that make up our post-conviction unit, that analyzes all of the cases that have been previously that have previously come through the system.”
He added, “It does not matter whether the DA agrees or not for those cases to be considered, it’s the law of California. So you have no choice, but to have lawyers looking at those cases and considering those cases. And we have lawyers every day who are agreeing resentencing on, some of those cases that would be a more fair disposition, the case.”
Wiley stated, “You have to understand that in the DA’s office, Alameda County is not perfect. We do need new leadership. We need to reset our priorities, but we’ve also been an office that has tried to be a leader in many areas.”
Pamela Price noted that in her 10-point platform from December 2020, “it includes a commitment to create a conviction integrity unit to look back at the harm that has been caused by this district attorney’s office, to look at convictions that have been based on unfair prosecutions, biased prosecutions, excessive sentencing, with a special focus on racially biased prosecutions and to take remedial steps where they a warranted.”
She noted that, while the DA’s office does have a PC § 1170(d) unit, “they are not aggressive.” She said, “San Francisco is doing a much better job than we are and we can do much better.”
She noted when “the public defendant’s office filed a motion to recuse the entire DA’s office and cited a whole list of cases where the DA’s office had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. And the conviction integrity unit is not looking at those cases.”
The final question in this section was whether they would stop petitioning to transfer youth into the adult criminal legal system.
Seth Steward said, “So I would develop and implement a policy to no longer charge children as adults. Juvenile justice is changing here in California, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
He said that “we need to stop this policy because historically and today we treat Black kids and brown kids differently than other kids. Again, the numbers are just astounding. This also affects in particular immigrants because they are vulnerable communities.”
Terry Wiley said he was opposed to just have “a strict policy that we would not file as an adult.” He explained that “here’s what we’re doing in the district attorney’s office. When I took over in 2013, there was direct filing going on prior to my arrival, and what stopped once I got there was no direct filing of juveniles to adult.
“In the four-year period that I ran our juvenile division, there were only two kids that were direct filed on; one was 17 years and eight months who had a serious, serious prior record and the crime in which he was charged with. He walked up to an elderly person at an ATM, pulled out a gun and shot him in the face and robbed him. And I thought that that went over the line.
“The second one was a juvenile that, um, lit another kid on fire while he was sleeping on the AC transit bus. The only reason that kid got filed on as an adult is because juvenile said that we could, they could not provide service for the juvenile.”
He acknowledged, “I think the reason they changed the law in California is because the direct files by district attorney’s offices were being abused. And that’s why you can no longer do a direct.”
He said “the DA’s office no longer has the sole discretion to send a juvenile to adult on their own. And I agree with that policy.”
Pamela Price said that she “definitely would oppose and have opposed the ability of the district attorney’s office to transfer youth into adult court.” She noted that, on her platform, it “clearly says that we will not charge juveniles as adults. We also will establish age appropriate system or programs for juveniles, young people between the ages of 18 and 25.”
Jimmy Wilson said, “I want to pull back the curtain on what’s been going on in Alameda County.” He said, “First of all, I want to say that there is not an absolute rule for me that I would never charge a juvenile as an adult, but it would be rare. It would have to be one of those rare cases.
“What I can tell you is that I will stop the practices of using sentencing enhancements against juveniles. I think that is wrong. I think it’s archaic. I think it goes against the science, the things that we know about the juvenile brain,” Wilson stated.
He added that he was involved in four transfer hearings of juvenile offenders that took place between 2015 to 16. He said, “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s aware of what the practices are of our office. That was the norm in the junior in our juvenile justice system for a very long time, it took our state legislatures to pass Prop. 57 in order to, to cease that practice.
He said, “So when we hear someone say that we never direct filed juveniles into the system and that there were only two cases, that is absolutely not true because I’ve dealt with at least four of them myself.”