Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, a Los Altos resident, was sworn in Jan. 23 to serve a third four-year term as the county’s chief prosecutor. Rosen was re-elected outright in the June 5 primary.
Rosen, first elected in 2010, used his swearing-in ceremony to deliver a speech titled “We Bend the Arc of Justice,” referencing a phrase popularized by abolitionist Theodore Parker in the 1850s and later by Martin Luther King Jr. While Parker and King believed the arc bending toward justice was based on faith, Rosen said it is up to everyone to do the bending.
“The arc does not bend itself,” Rosen said. “Justice comes from purposeful action, perseverance and a caring heart. The arc is malleable, like hot metal. It is in our hands, like blacksmiths, to pound it, to shape it. We bend the arc.”
Rosen said society shapes justice with new laws. As an example, he cited Proposition 36, passed in 2012, which reformed the three-strikes law to apply only to “serious and violent criminals.” He also supported Proposition 47, approved in 2014, which reclassified drug possession and low-level thefts from felonies to misdemeanors.
“Bending the arc means holding offenders accountable but allowing most of them a way back into our community,” Rosen said. “This simple reform has made it easier for tens of thousands of Californians to successfully reintegrate back into our society and find jobs, housing and educational opportunities.”
Leveling the playing field
Rosen also touched on the controversial Senate Bill 10, which he supported and worked to pass last year. The bill, which eliminates cash bail, is being challenged by a diverse set of opponents, from the bail bonds industry to the American Civil Liberties Union. A referendum is planned for the 2020 ballot.
The district attorney reasoned that SB 10 evens the playing field so that detention or release is not based on someone’s ability or inability to pay.
“The old system punished poor, nonviolent individuals by unnecessarily holding them in custody, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year,” Rosen said. “At the same time, wealthier violent offenders paid high bail amounts, were released and then terrorized more victims, especially in cases of domestic violence. We were asking the wrong question: How much money does a defendant have? Now, we will ask the right question: Is this person safe to release from jail before trial? If the answer is ‘yes,’ he will be released and supervised, no matter how poor. If the answer is ‘no,’ this person is dangerous; he will be held in jail no matter how rich.”
SB 10 opponents complain the law puts too much power in the hands of judges through “preventive detention,” and opens up inconsistencies in determining low-risk offenders that could vary from county to county.
Rosen also cited police officers playing a major role in bringing justice, lamenting that the city of San Jose has 350 fewer officers than it did in 2010, making it the lowest staffed of any large city in the country.
“To give you an idea of how significant that is, a police department with 350 officers would be the second-largest police department in our county,” he said. “Three-hundred fifty officers is more than the size of the police departments of Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell and Los Altos combined.”
For more information on Rosen and the DA’s Office, visit sccgov.org/sites/da.