Vote For Your DA

Monday, October 7, 2019

For the first time in over 100 years the seat for the San Francisco district attorney (DA) is open, and on November 5 voters will decided which newcomer will fill this seat.

“This election is incredibly important because it’s the first opportunity in a century to make substantial changes to a system [the criminal justice system] that touches on so many issues -- mass incarceration, mental health, police accountability, police violence as a health issue, social determinants of health, homelessness, conservatorship, harm reduction, drug policy, and immigration,” said Elina Kostyanovskayaa third-year graduate student in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program and an organizer of the Last District Attorney Debate.

This vote can hugely impact how the criminal justice system functions because of the role DAs play in this system.

A DA’s job is to manage a team of prosecutors responsible for bringing charges against individuals accused of breaking the law. While this is their main duty, DAs play powerful role throughout the whole judicial process.

DAs decide whether to pursue a case and what kind of crime an individual is charged with. Whether to downgrade charges or drop charges is at their discretion.

Bail determinations are also in the prevue of DAs. They can make recommendations as to what amount of money the bail should be set at or determine whether or not an individual will be forced to pay this amount. Importantly, if a person does not have enough money to pay bail they will remain incarcerated while awaiting trial when they are presumed innocent.

DAs also have the ability to offer individuals plea bargains.

According to John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, of the cases that result in a guilty verdict 95 percent of the cases resulting in a guilty verdict come not from a decision handed down by an impartial jury of your peers but rather from plea bargains.

The power DAs yield not only impact the justice system and the individuals in that system, but also impact the larger community.

“I think most people are not aware of the role the criminal justice system plays in exacerbating the [mental health] crisis and ways that the system can be changed to alleviate the crisis,” Kostyanovskayasaid.

“Similarly, I think people feel helpless when they hear about ICE raids or about Isabel Bueso, the UCSF patient at risk of deportation, but the district attorney has a potential role to play in protecting our communities from harmful federal policy.”

As a member of the Science Policy Group at UCSF Kostyanovskaya workedalongside the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies to organize a non-partisan debate to help inform students about where these DA candidates stand on issues like mass incarceration, mental health, police accountability, homelessness, and immigration.

This is the last district attorney debate in San Francisco and it will be held on Monday October 21 at 6:00 in Genentech Hall’s Byers Auditorium.

Four candidates are participating in the 2019 district attorney race: Chesa Boudin, a San Francisco public defender; Leif Dautch, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California; Nancy Tung, Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County; and Suzy Loftus former San Francisco Police Commission president.

Of these candidates Boudin, Dautch and Tung have confirmed they will be in attendance.

The debate will be moderated by the director of the Criminal Justice and Health Program at UCSF Dr. Brie Williams, who collaborates often with professionals in the fields of criminal justice, public safety, and law.

“I hope that from attending the debate people learn about the way the criminal justice system affects not just us, but our communities,” Kostyanovskaya said.

“I don’t want people to just learn--I want people to voice their perspective, both at the debate and at the ballot box. As scientists, educators, healthcare workers and staff, their critical perspective is essential for informing and challenging policymakers.”

For more information and event registration visit the event website here. To register to vote go to

You can also request a paper voter registration application from your county elections officeor pick one up from any Department of Motor Vehicles office as well as many post offices, public libraries, and government offices.

City Hall also offers election day voter registration.