Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris' New Book Tries to Massage Her Record as a Prosecutor, But the Facts Aren't Pretty

The book neglects to mention all the times Harris' office appealed cases that were thrown out for gross prosecutor misconduct.


Senate/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Likely 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) released a new memoir this week. In The Truths We Hold, Harris touts her record as a "progressive prosecutor," but the book glosses over numerous instances where her office defended prosecutorial misconduct.

Harris recounts her career as a line prosecutor in San Francisco, up through her tenure as California Attorney General and her election to the U.S. Senate. The book is a rather clear attempt by Harris to preemptively defend her record on criminal justice, which has emerged as an important issue, especially on the left flank of the Democratic Party.

"The job of a progressive prosecutor is to look out for the overlooked, to speak up for those whose voices aren't being heard, to see and address the causes of crime, not just their consequences, and to shine a light on the inequality and unfairness that lead to injustice," Harris writes.

She also addresses police brutality. "I know how difficult and dangerous the job is, day in and day out, and I know how hard it is for the officers' families, who have to wonder if the person they love will be coming home at the end of each shift," she writes. "I also know this: It is a false choice to suggest you must either be for the police or for police accountability. I am for both. Most people I know are for both. Let's speak some truth about that, too."

Of one of her first cases as a prosecutor, Harris writes that she begged a judge to hear the case of an innocent person arrested during a drug raid, so that the woman wouldn't have to spend the weekend in jail. It was "a defining moment" in her life, she writes. "It was revelatory, a moment that proved how much it mattered to have compassionate people working as prosecutors."

Harris explicitly acknowledges the immense power of prosecutors in the criminal justice system and the myriad misconduct issues it has created.

"America has a deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice," she writes. "I know this history well—of innocent men framed, of charges brought against people of color without sufficient evidence, of prosecutors hiding information that would exonerate defendants, of the disproportionate application of the law."

What her book doesn't address, however, is the many times her own office contributed to that dark history.

As I wrote last year, the California Attorney General's office under Harris defended egregious prosecutor misconduct in several cases:

As California Attorney General, Harris' office continued to display indifference toward concerns of misconduct. In March 2015, the California A.G. appealed the dismissal of a child molestation case after a Kern County prosecutor falsified an interview transcript to add an incriminating confession.

Harris' office, citing state court precedent, tried to argue that the prosecutor's action "was certainly conscience shocking in the sense that it involved false testimony by a prosecutor in a formal criminal proceeding. But it did not involve 'brutal and … offensive' conduct employed to obtain a conviction." In other words, the defendant's false confession wasn't beaten out of him, and therefore didn't violate his constitutional rights. The appeals court disagreed and threw out the conviction.

In another 2015 case, Baca v. Adams, Harris' office opposed a post-conviction appeal by a defendant who was sentenced after the prosecutor in his case lied to the jury about whether an informant received compensation for his testimony. A state court found the prosecutor's testimony was "sheer fantasy," but declined to overturn the conviction.

In Baca, Harris' office only withdrew its opposition after an embarrassing (and filmed) hearing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges pointedly asked why such prosecutors weren't being charged with perjury and threatened to release an opinion naming names if Harris' office continued in its folly.

In 2015, Harris' office also appealed the removal of the entire Orange County District Attorney's office from a high-profile death penalty case after a bombshell report revealed a long-running and unconstitutional jailhouse snitch program.

In 2014, the California Attorney General's Office opposed releasing nonviolent California inmates—part of the state's compliance with a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that found its prison system was unconstitutionally overcrowded—arguing that "if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool." Harris said she was unaware of her office's work and was "shocked" to read about it in the newspaper.

Those weren't the only times that Harris' office appeared somewhat less than progressive. As Reason wrote in a separate article about Harris' record on criminal justice reform:

As attorney general of California, Harris challenged the release of a man who had been exonerated by the Innocence Project and had his conviction overturned. Harris argued that Daniel Larsen, who spent 13 years in prison for the crime of possessing a concealed knife, had not produced evidence of his innocence fast enough. A federal judge overturned his conviction after finding that Larsen had shown he was innocent, that the cops testifying at his trial weren't credible, and that his attorney, since disbarred, was constitutionally ineffective because he had failed to call any witnesses.

When the Supreme Court decided that California's overcrowded prisons represented cruel and unusual punishment, Attorney General Harris fought a ruling ordering California to release some of its prisoners. Harris claims she had to fight the ruling for Gov. Jerry Brown. "I have a client, and I don't get to choose my client," she said. But the attorney general in California is an independent, elected position, not an appointee serving at the governor's pleasure.

Then there was Harris' crusade against Backpage, an online classified ad service popular with sex workers. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote on the "performative feminism" of Harris:

In October of 2016, just before she faced voters in her Senate bid, Harris spearheaded the arrest of current and former Backpage executives on charges of pimping and conspiracy, under the (ultimately unsuccessful) theory that providing an open online platform for user-generated content made them responsible for any illegal activity committed by users who connected through the site. Federal law explicitly says otherwise—something Harris certainly knew, as she had petitioned Congress a few years earlier to change the law so that she and other prosecutors could target Backpage (and its deep assets) through state criminal justice systems. What's more, myriad federal courts have affirmed that prosecutions like the one Harris attempted are illegal.

A Sacramento County Superior Court rejected Harris' case against Backpage, ruling that "Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third party speech and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit." Undeterred, Harris—as one of her final acts as California's top prosecutor—filed nearly identical charges against Backpage in another California court, a move the First Amendment Lawyers' Association called "a gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion" and part of Harris' pattern of disrespecting due process and constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, an actual underage sex-trafficking scandal implicated dozens of police officers and other local authorities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland went through two police chiefs trying to address it, with a third doing only questionably better. People were pleading for the state to step in and oversee an independent investigation, since local governments seemed more motivated to quash a PR nightmare than punish public officials. Harris and her office refused to intervene.

None of this is unusual for state attorneys general, who most often reflexively defend prosecutors and the state's position, but it is a far cry from being a check on abusive government and injustice.

Harris is now one of the most vocal advocates for criminal justice reform in the Senate and has sponsored several important bills. She has plenty to draw on from her Senate record to present herself as a progressive candidate, but if she wants to talk about her record as a prosecutor, well, we should speak some truth about that, too.

NEXT: The Feds Are Using a Gag Order To Censor a Critique of Its Prosecutions. Bring on the Lawsuits.

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  1. She was in an impossible position. For an ambitious – er, I mean progressive prosecutor to ascend the ladder she has to rack up easy convictions and also make powerful political allies. You don’t do either of those things by looking into law enforcement conduct or waste a lot of time slowing down the criminal justice conveyor belt. It’s hardly her fault that the party moved away so swiftly from the super-predator-eradication platform.

    1. “”It’s hardly her fault that the party moved away so swiftly from the super-predator-eradication platform.””

      What makes you think they have? A lot of progressives have, but the party itself and the progressives in its power structure have not. At least not that I can see.

    2. “She was in an impossible position. For an ambitious – er, I mean progressive prosecutor to ascend the ladder she has to rack up easy convictions and also make powerful political allies.”

      Damn straight. Nobody should be expected to do the right thing if it’ll harm their political career.

      1. There’s no connection between doing the right thing and a political career.

    3. Harris rose to where she is not so much by ascending any ladders, but by crawling into bed with former SFrancisco Mayor and CA Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. I don’t blame him so much – it’s par for many politicians’ courses – but if she were so smart she’d have risen on merit, not meretriciousness.
      This article only scratches the surface of Harris’s many faults. Consider her presiding over a colossal loss of evidence while SF’s DA, which led to hundreds of criminal prosecutions being abandoned or dismissed, and her failure to enforce the CA AG’s zero tolerance policy when she misruled that office and refused to accept the findings of her own staff in a case of woman-on-woman sexual harassment in its SDiego branch. Worse, she may well have scrubbed coverage of that matter from search engines, including Google and the SD Union-Tribune’s site. Then, there’s the matter of her violating her oath of office to uphold the laws of CA and the US by embracing the Holder Doctrine – the Obama-era revival of the dispensing power – which essentially holds that AGs and other public and law enforcement officials needn’t enforce laws they personally disagree with.
      The facts are out there, waiting to be uncovered and told. Look to it, journalists and pundits: Harris’s pretensions to the presidency need to be exposed and publicized NOW, before she wastes any more of the taxpayers’ time and money in her process of posing and presenting herself as the distaff Obama.

  2. It sounds like she’s trying to rewrite her history as prosecutor to make it sounds like she was a public defender standing up for the little guy, to sway progressive votes over to her. “I’m a big game hunter who looked out for the good of the baby lions!”

    Sure, a prosecutor could choose not to prosecute based on the lack of evidence, but the idea that a prosecutor would beg a judge not to take a case because the defendant was poor or minority is absolute bullshit.

    1. All the prosecutor has to do at arraignment is say “your Honor, based on our review of the evidence we do not believe X to be guilty of any of the charges and are therefore dismissing the information against her”. Now, it is possible that Kamala’s superiors in the DA’s office (could be anybody from her secretary on up) didn’t want the charges dismissed at that early stage (they could always be reinstated because jeopardy had not yet attached), but that would not prevent the DA from agreeing to OR release pending the next hearing. So this story is just complete BS and, if true, is only testimony to Kamala’s complete incompetence as a prosecutor.

  3. if she wants to talk about her record as a prosecutor, well, we should speak some truth about that, too.

    Or, we can whitewash history so that Kamala can become the woman president.

    1. There’s no proof the release of her book and a potential run for president are in any way connected.

    2. Is it her turn?

    3. Well they did that with Obama. Electing a black woman this time ought to be worth that.

      /sarc off.

  4. Just show how only words matter to leftists, and not action. So when Obama deports millions of illegals, tear gasses them, and separates kids at the boarder, that’s ok, because he ‘said’ the right things about immigrants.

    Same with Kamala — that she was a slimy prosecutor is totally overlooked because she whistled the right way to her base. All is forgiven.

    1. Not only that, but the “fourth estate” is there is parrot and support them at every opportunity. It’s like having a Ministry of Propaganda you neither have to pay or be responsible for.

  5. I would have respect for her if she were honest and apologetic about her history as a prosecutor. It’s not even hard, just be like “I, like all prosecutors, had pressures and incentives to be excessively harsh etc but I am disturbed looking back at it and intend to reform the system.” It could be true, too. I can’t take the insufferable pandering though. And I also doubt she wants to reform the justice system based on what she thinks “justice” and “due process” is for someone like Brett Kavanaugh…

    1. I’m trying to think of what that would look like in real life. For instance, the first question a hard-hitting reporter might ask is, what specific cases can she name where she was excessively harsh. My understanding is prosecutors don’t like to put microscopes or even discuss old cases that might call into question whether the defendant got a fair trial.

    2. This should be used as an opportunity to destroy her. These people are at war with us, and want desperately to eliminate our individual freedoms. Enslaving us into their collective. They’ve already are a lot of headway in this direction.

      Taking out a rising star like Harris would be a real plus.

  6. These Lefties cannot win outside their region.

    Against other candidates, Lefties cannot hide their actual records of being for the War on Drugs, against Black Americans and their rights, and pro-mass incarceration of Blacks.

    The Democratic Party is just going down in flames as we see everyday.

    Once the majority of Blacks leave the Democratic Party for being the Party of slavery, it will be all over for the Donkeys.

    1. So you think people who realize the Democrats are for those things are instead voting for the party that’s currently way more for them? Not that the Democrats have relented on any of that, but they’re not keen on exacerbating the problem even more like Republicans are.

      I’m very concerned about the number of people here who don’t seem to realize that while both parties continually shit all over civil rights, the Republicans are by far the worst on it with everything besides god and guns.

      1. They are?

      2. “Republicans are by far the worst on it with everything besides god and guns.”
        D claims never seem to have citations. I wonder why.

      3. I despise both, but at least Republicans aren’t banning straws.

        1. R=dumb

      4. Yeah. I mean it really pisses me off the way republicans want to criminalize hate speech and debase the 1A.

        Oh, wait…

        1. Yep. Really, opposing so many liberties is. . .problematic. The GOP is bad for the country, but the Democrats are cataclysmic.

          1. Or, “It’s not like I am a Republican, I just really hate Democrats”

      5. Republicans are pretty good overall. The RINOs running congress are not. They need to go too. But make no mistake, the progressives are a thousand times worse, and their supporters believe al,the same evil things as their masters.

  7. Not sure I really care about Kamala Harris. I mean, I guess it’s important since there’s a decent chance she will be the D nominee, but there’s virtually no chance I’ll vote for her anyway, so whatevs.

  8. “The Two Faces of Kamala Harris”
    “Kamala Harris has matched every one of her progressive achievements with conservative ones.”

  9. Of one of her first cases as a prosecutor, Harris writes that she begged a judge to hear the case of an innocent person arrested during a drug raid, so that the woman wouldn’t have to spend the weekend in jail.

    That’s very noble of Kamala Harris, prosecuting someone she knew to be innocent.

    1. UA-
      I’m pretty sure a prosecutor can simply drop charges if they believe those charges are correct, but who knows how it works in Cali?

  10. She’s an opportunist and a hypocrite. Now she takes her act where she can nurture it further: Politics.

    News at 10pm. Or is it 11? I forget. Who watches cable news anyway anymore?

  11. Her “record” as a prosecutor should have her disbarred and in prison.

    1. Scary thing – still looks good when compared to the record of Janet Reno.

      1. They can’t all be William Barrs, Ed Meeses, or the one-and-only Jeff Sessions.

        1. Hi, Gecko. How ya clingin?

          1. He’s a Tokay Gecko, described by US forces from WW II and Vietnam as the “Fuck You Lizard”

        2. “They can’t all be William Barrs, Ed Meeses, or the one-and-only Jeff Sessions.”

          Asshole, you’ve been gone so long I hoped you’d died. Sorry you haven’t.

        3. Arty is an example of what has to go.

  12. I am from California and I want to apologize that we put Ms. Harris into a federal office. On the other hand I did not vote for her, but that non-vote was akin to blowing into a hurricane in order to slow it down.

    Hopefully she goes by the way, but then there’s Nancy and Dianne who keep on going and going and going…Energizer Bunnies are they…

    1. Maybe it’s their diet. I hear DiFi starts every morning with a meal of Moscone and Milk.

  13. She’s a piece of shit. Her office always let everyone who vandalized or broke into our business go scott free. Always excuses like “he hasn’t stolen it yet” (when the crook hasn’t made it off your property yet) or “lack of evidence” when we find the undocumented, drugged out crook hiding in the attic. Serial crimes against taxpayers in SF go/went unpunished. She’s a hipocrate who would be answering phones for a living if she hadn’t had Willies’ willie to hang onto.

    1. Of course she is. “Progressives” are anarchists when it comes to “the poor” and fascists when it comes to “the rich”, (where the money is for their idiotic schemes). .

  14. OBL’s silence on this article is deafening.
    I hope xe’s okay.
    I know Kamala was a favorite of xis.

  15. “The book neglects to mention all the times Harris’ office appealed cases that were thrown out for gross prosecutor misconduct.”

    She’s never ever leaving, you know. One Party State.

    Thanks mass immigration!

    1. CA needs martial law.

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  17. “Progressives” are amoral lunatics who should not have power over anyone in a free country.

  18. There is no such thing as prosecutorial misconduct.
    Everyone put on trial is guilty and should face the hangman, especially those miscreants who engage in nefarious misdemeanor crimes.
    This way, these vicious animals won’t graduate to violent behavior such as spitting on the sidewalk, chew gun in theaters, park illegally, etc.
    Preventative punishment is the key.
    Just ask Hitler or Stalin.

  19. Possession of a concealed knife brings 13 years in jail?

    (discards concealed knife)

  20. “Of one of her first cases as a prosecutor, Harris writes that she begged a judge to hear the case of an innocent person arrested during a drug raid, so that the woman wouldn’t have to spend the weekend in jail. It was “a defining moment” in her life, she writes. ‘It was revelatory, a moment that proved how much it mattered to have compassionate people working as prosecutors.'”

    This is total BS. This apparently was at an arraignment, so the prosecution had total discretion prior to the hearing to decide that an OR release was appropriate, and at the hearing to make that recommendation (the court could and may well have ordered house arrest pending the next hearing). Absent highly exigent circumstances it would have been highly unusual for the court to have gone against the prosecutor’s recommendation in such a case. In fact, since Harris admits that the woman was innocent (not merely “not guilty”), she or her office could have dismissed the charges against her prior to or at arraignment and resolved the problem altogether.

  21. I’ve watched Sen. K Harris question various people at Senate hearings. One thing I’ve noticed is…SHE NEVER STOPS TALKING…!
    Sen. K Harris asks a question….demands an answer….but…SHE NEVER STOPS TALKING…!!!! YAK…YAK…YAK..!!!

    “I’d like to answer your question Sen Harris…..BUT YOU’VE GOT TO STOP FUCKIN’ YAKIN’…!!!!

    So I imagine when Ms Harris was a prosecutor after listening to her YAK, YAK, YAK non stop the Judge would go….
    “Alright….what ever you want Ms Harris…..Just…..Stop…FUCKIN’ TALKING…..!!!!!!!!!!”

  22. Why doesn’t a defense attorney ever run? Fuck these asshole prosecutors.

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  24. Anyone who has ever been a prosecutor at the county, state, or federal level is unethical by ordinary standards (lawyer ethics are themselves a joke!), morality, and criminal.

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