San Francisco recalls DA Chesa Boudin in blow to criminal justice reform

San Francisco residents have voted to recall the district attorney, Chesa Boudin, who was elected on an agenda of criminal justice reform, but faced intensifying backlash from law enforcement, conservatives and residents concerned about crime.

Boudin’s removal as the top prosecutor in the middle of his first term is a major blow to a growing movement across the US to elect progressive DAs dedicated to tackling mass incarceration, police brutality and racism in the legal system.

The race was called by the Associated Press just over an hour after polls closed, with early returns showing the recall had received more than 60% of the vote.

Boudin is a former public defender and the son of two leftist Weather Underground activists who spent decades in prison. He became one of the most prominent prosecutors in the US fighting to undo the damage of harsh punishments in a country that locks up more people per capita than any other nation.

After his election in 2019, Boudin created a wrongful conviction unit that freed a man imprisoned for decades; eliminated cash bail in an effort to ensure people weren’t jailed because they were too poor to pay a fee; stopped prosecuting contraband cases that originated with minor traffic stops; and became the first San Francisco DA to charge an officer for an on-duty manslaughter.

Through resentencing, diversion and other reforms, Boudin has overseen a 35% reduction in the population of San Francisco residents in state prisons, a 37% decline in the adult jail population, and a 57% decline in the juvenile jail.

Boudin’s ousting came on a day of high-stakes primary races up and down the state, with the rising cost of living, policing and the state’s growing homelessness crisis high on voters’ minds.

In Los Angeles, a mayor’s race that pitted a tough-on-crime real estate developer, Rick Caruso, against the former community organizer and Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass will head for a November runoff after neither candidate cleared the necessary 50% vote threshold to win outright.

That election was marked by record spending and a focus on crime and homelessness. Caruso, who has an estimated net worth of $4bn, poured more than $38m of his own fortune into his campaign, with a pledge to “clean up” Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, cruised to an easy victory, advancing to the November general election, where he will be an overwhelming favorite to win a second term barely a year after surviving his own recall attempt.

The state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, a progressive who has backed reform efforts, advanced to the general election on Tuesday night, with early results showing Bonta held a substantial lead ahead of three challengers with more conservative platforms.