Chesa Boudin

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Chesa Boudin
Chesa Boudin, San Francisco Elections candidate video (October 2019) (cropped).png
29th District Attorney of San Francisco
Assumed office
January 8, 2020
Preceded bySuzy Loftus (interim)
Personal details
Born (1980-08-21) August 21, 1980 (age 40)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Valerie Block
MotherKathy Boudin
FatherDavid Gilbert
EducationYale University (BA, JD)
St Antony's College, Oxford (MS, MPhil)

Chesa Boudin (born August 21, 1980) is an American lawyer. He has served as the 29th district attorney of San Francisco since January 8, 2020.

He has previously served as Deputy Public Defender of San Francisco.

Early life and education[edit]

Boudin was born in New York City to Jewish parents.[4] His parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were Weather Underground members.[5]

When Boudin was 14 months old, his parents were arrested for murder in their role as getaway car drivers in the Brink's robbery of 1981 in Rockland County, New York.[4][6] His mother was sentenced to 20 years to life[7] and his father to 75 years to life for the felony murders of two police officers and a security guard.[8] After his parents were incarcerated, Boudin was raised in Chicago by adoptive parents Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who, like his parents, had been members of the Weather Underground.[9] Boudin reports that he did not learn to read until age 9.[10] Kathy Boudin was released under parole supervision in 2003.[6][11]

Boudin descends from a long left-wing lineage. His great-great-grand-uncle, Louis B. Boudin,[12] was a Marxist theoretician and author of a two-volume history of the Supreme Court's influence on American government, and his grandfather Leonard Boudin was an attorney who represented controversial clients such as Fidel Castro and Paul Robeson.[13] His uncle Michael Boudin[12] is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Michael Boudin's uncle Isidor Feinstein Stone was an independent journalist.[12][14]

Boudin entered St Antony's College, Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship in 2003.[5] At Oxford, he earned two master's degrees, one in forced migration and the other in public policy in Latin America. He earned his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 2011[15] and began work for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office as a post-doctoral fellow in 2012.[6]

Early career[edit]

Before law school, Boudin traveled to Venezuela and served as a translator in the Venezuelan Presidential Palace during the administration of Hugo Chavez.[16]

After law school, from 2011 to 2012, Boudin served as a law clerk to M. Margaret McKeown on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[17] He was a 2012–2013 Liman Fellow at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office,[18] and in 2013 and 2014, he served as a clerk to Charles Breyer on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.[19] In 2015, Boudin began working full time at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office as a deputy public defender.[20] While there, he argued on behalf of the office's clients that California's bail system is unconstitutional, leading to the published case In re Kenneth Humphrey, in which the state's First District Court of Appeals held that judges must give consideration to a defendant's ability to pay before setting bail.[21]

Boudin also serves on the board of the Civil Rights Corps,[22] a national non-profit organization, and is on the board of Restore Justice, a non-profit based in California.[23]

Boudin translated Understanding the Bolivarian Revolution: Hugo Chávez Speaks with Marta Harnecker into English,[24][25] co-edited Letters from Young Activists: Today's Young Rebels Speak Out,[26] and co-wrote The Venezuelan Revolution: 100 Questions – 100 Answers.[27] His latest book, Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America, was released in April 2009 by Charles Scribner's Sons.[16] The book received mixed reviews.[28][29][16]

District Attorney of San Francisco[edit]

2019 election[edit]

Boudin was elected San Francisco District Attorney in the 2019 election, defeating interim district attorney Suzy Loftus.[30][31] Boudin campaigned for the office on a decarceration platform of eliminating cash bail, establishing a unit to re-evaluate wrongful convictions and refusing to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with raids and arrests.[32] The San Francisco Police Officers Association (SFPOA) and other law enforcement groups spent $650,000 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Boudin.[33] Attorney General William Barr criticized Boudin and like-minded DAs, accusing them of undermining the police, letting criminals off the hook and endangering public safety.[34] In an interview during the COVID-19 pandemic, Boudin questioned whether the nation "can safely continue the national system of mass incarceration. Why do we need to take people to jail for non-violent offenses if what they really need is drug treatment or mental health services?"[32]


Boudin was sworn in as San Francisco district attorney by San Francisco mayor London Breed on January 8, 2020.[35][36] Shortly afterward, Boudin restructured the management team by firing seven prosecutors.[37][38]

On January 26, Boudin suspended the process of prosecuting Jamaica Hampton, a man who was shot and seriously injured in an altercation with police, during which he was captured in body camera footage striking an officer with a liquor bottle in San Francisco's Mission District. The charges were pulled without prejudice, which allowed them to be refiled at a later date. Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the office, stated that this was to avoid a conflict between the prosecution of Hampton and the investigation and potential prosecution of the officer, who could potentially be charged for the shooting. The police union criticized the decision as "giving criminals a green light" to attack police officers.[39]

Boudin announced on February 28 that his office would no longer seek charges for contraband found during “pretextual” traffic stops and would not charge status enhancements that increase jail sentences, such as those imposed for gang membership or for having three strikes, with the intent of diminishing racial disparities in policing and sentencing.[40]

In March 2020, Boudin charged 20-year-old Dwayne Grayson with elder abuse after he filmed 56-year old Jonathan Amerson in February 2020 swinging a metal bar at an elderly Asian man in Bayview–Hunters Point, San Francisco and stealing his aluminum cans. Amerson was charged with elder abuse and robbery.[41] The video later went viral online. Boudin dropped charges against Dwayne Grayson after the victim expressed his intent to pursue restorative justice.[42][43]

On April 9, Boudin, Mayor London Breed, and San Francisco's Human Services Agency announced that they had acquired 20 temporary housing units for survivors of domestic violence from the city's largest landlord, Veritas Investments, during the 2020 stay-at-home orders in San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco.[44][45]

Boudin's office launched the Economic Crimes Against Workers Unit, which is led by Assistant District Attorney Scott Stillman, in April 2020.[46] In June 2020, Boudin and the unit filed a motion against DoorDash, alleging the company illegally classifies its delivery workers as independent contractors. DoorDash claimed that the suit would "disrupt the essential services Dashers provide" and threaten their "flexible earning opportunities". This follows similar suits against gig companies Uber and Lyft by other public attorneys in California such as Xavier Becerra and Dennis Herrera.[47][48][49]


His first policy as district attorney was the implementation of a diversion program for primary caregiver parents of minor children who were charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies, in accordance with SB394. The bill, which was authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner, was signed into law by Gavin Newsom in October 2019. If accepted into the program, the police would suspend criminal proceedings for up to 24 months, allowing the defendant to undergo various classes and training. After completing the program, the court would drop their charges. It is similar to the mental health and drug diversion program in San Francisco. It is supposed to reduce trauma for children would have otherwise had a parent incarcerated. Critics have raised concerns about potential loopholes for abusers and sexual offenders.[50]

On January 22, he eliminated cash bail and replacing it with a "risk-based system," in which prosecutors evaluate whether or not a defendant poses a threat to public safety as a condition for their pretrial release. John Raphling, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, praised the decision, stating that bail and pretrial incarceration has been used "as leverage to pressure people to plead guilty regardless of actual guilt." Conversely, Tony Montoya, president of the SFPOA, condemned the decision by claiming that the risk-based system is an "arbitrary math equation" and that the change would create a "criminal justice revolving door".[51]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Boudin reduced the San Francisco's jail population by 25%, from around 1100 to 840, in March 2020 following outbreaks in other American cities such as New York City. Older inmates or those with medical conditions were prioritized, while those almost done with their sentences or were charged with misdemeanors were considered for home detention or probation.[52] This was increased to approximately 40% in April 2020.[53][54]

Police accountability policies following George Floyd protests[edit]

In the month following the ongoing George Floyd protests in May 2020 that demanded more police accountability, Boudin and other prosecutors across the country implemented new policies meant to address police accountability.[55][56][57]

On June 1, 2020, a group of active and retired district attorneys in California—including Boudin, Diana Becton, and George Gascón—called on the State Bar of California to prohibit elected prosecutors from accepting campaign contributions from police unions. They cite potential conflict of interests between the police's financial backing and the prosecutors who potentially have to file charges against them.[58] Robert Stern, a former attorney who worked the California Fair Political Practices Commission, doubted that the ban would have any major effects as most unions donate through political action committees, which are not subject to contribution limits, and cited potential First Amendment concerns. The request also faced backlash from police unions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, who called the effort politically opportunistic.[59]

On June 2, 2020, Boudin partnered with Supervisor Shamann Walton to announce a resolution prohibiting the hiring of law enforcement officers with prior findings of misconduct or those who quit while under active investigation for misconduct.[60][61] The resolution was later adopted by the board but was returned unsigned by the mayor.[62][non-primary source needed]

In June 2020, Boudin announced a new policy requiring prosecutors to review all available evidence before charging any cases involving allegations of resisting or obstructing police officers or committing an assault on officers.[57]

On June 15, 2020, Boudin introduced a new policy wherein cases would not be charged or prosecuted based on the sole evidence of officers with a history of misconduct, such as excessive force or discrimination, without prior approval of the district attorney.[56]

In June 2020, Boudin announced that victims of police violence would be able to file for medical compensation regardless if the officer was prosecuted for assault or found to have used excessive force. Boudin stated that the policy is meant to supplement a gap in the state's compensation laws, which excluded victims of police assaults and shootings if police reports suggest that the victim contributed to their own injury or death. Compensation would be processed via a partnership between the district attorney's office and the University of California, San Francisco's Trauma Recovery Center.[63] A budget was not determined at the time of announcement.[64]


Boudin has received criticism for the increase in specific crimes, particularly burglaries and murders, during his tenure.[65][66][67]

From 2019 to 2020, the San Francisco Police Department saw a clearance rate for burglary crimes of less than 12% compared to 16% the year prior,[66] with reported burglary counts rising from 4,715 to 7,248.[68] However, this was in line with the 12% clearance rate nationally for cities of similar sizes.[66] While crime rates were down overall compared to the year prior,[69] San Francisco Police Chief William Scott attributed the rise of burglaries to the March 2020 shelter-in-place orders in San Francisco and "prolific" serial burglars who were released from custody. According to a spokesperson for Boudin, prosecutors have filed charges in about 66% of the cases and filed motions to revoke probation in about 82% of cases.[66] Boudin theorized that the rise of burglaries in neighborhoods such as Bernal Heights is due to "economic desperation" from the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift of targeting from tourists to residents and small businesses.[70]

After being burglarized by a parolee, Cyan Banister became is a vocal critic of Boudin and is a supporter of the recall campaign against him.[71] Kerry Jackson, a fellow at the free-market think tank Pacific Research Institute, was pessimistic about Boudin's ability to handle the rise in smash and grab crimes in residential districts of San Francisco in 2019. He characterized Boudin's declination to prosecute quality-of-life crimes[72] and support to end cash bail as incentives for further crimes.[73]

In October 2020, Boudin's office sent out a survey to 10,500 crime victims, asking them to rank their experience with his office. The survey offered raffle prizes for participation. Responses to the survey were mixed. And some respondents, including sexual assault survivors whose cases were dismissed by Boudin's office, found the questions to be insensitive. In response, Rachel Marshall, a spokeswoman for Boudin's office, issued a statement citing a statistic indicating that the office has prosecuted 35 of 61 sexual assault cases requested for prosecution by police. Marshall called that a high percentage and said that proving sexual assault in court is difficult.[65]

When asked about the killing of Vicha Ratanapakdee, Boudin called the crime "heinous" but did not think that the attack was racially motivated, stating that "the defendant was in some sort of a temper tantrum."[74] The family of Ratanapakdee expressed outrage over the characterization of the attack as a "temper tantrum", finding the comments to be disheartening and inappropriate for the severity of the crime.[75][76][77] Boudin later clarified his comments, stating that he was referring to the perpetrator's conduct before the crime.[76][78] According to ABC7, the family said that Boudin had planned to participate in a vigil for Ratanapakdee, but did not show up after the family told him they were not interested in taking pictures or videos with him.[79]

Boudin is the target of a recall campaign,[80] with social media pages calling for his recall appearing as early as December 2020.[81] Efforts increased after the vehicular manslaughter of two pedestrians by Troy McAlister, a repeat offender, on New Year's Eve.[82][83] Maxwell Meyer at the The Stanford Review opined his support for any potential recall elections.[84] On March 9, 2021, the San Francisco Department of Elections cleared the campaign led by former mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, which would require the organizers to collect 51,325 signatures—roughly 10% of the registered voters in San Francisco— by August 2021 to trigger a recall vote.[85][67] Boudin responded the recall effort with a statement saying, "I am not surprised that the same people who opposed my election, and the reforms that came with it".[86]

Release of repeat offenders[edit]

Boudin has been criticized in a number of instances for releasing suspects with a history of previous convictions who then went on to commit further crimes.[87][88][53][89]

Troy Ramon McAlister, a repeat offender who had three federal felony convictions before 2015, was released on parole from state prison on April 10, 2020 under a plea appeal with Boudin's office and was arrested by police in November and December 2020 for vehicle and drug crimes. Boudin's office declined to file new charges against McAllister, stating that the state's parole officials had more leverage to keep individuals in custody for nonviolent crimes. On December 31, 2020, McAlister struck and killed pedestrians Hanako Abe and Elizabeth Platt while driving a stolen vehicle. While Boudin noted that the parole officers did not hold McAllister after his arrest on December 20, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and district attorneys from Sacramento and Alameda have criticized Boudin's office for the lack of prosecutions against McAllister and other "alleged serial offenders".[90][91][92] Following the arrest, Jason Calacanis began raising money to hire an independent investigative journalist to cover the district attorney's office to hold him "accountable to the people of San Francisco".[81]

In February 2021, Jerry Lyons ran a red light in a stolen Ford Explorer and slammed into a group of cars, killing pedestrian Sheria Musyoka near Lake Merced. Lyons had an arrest record dating back more than a decade and was on probation in both San Francisco and San Mateo County at the time, having been arrested several times in 2020 for driving a stolen car while intoxicated. After his December 2020 arrest, Boudin requested a blood toxicology report before pressing charges. Lyons was detained for 27 days for violating his probation in connection with a previous grand theft conviction and later released on community supervision. In January 2021, he was requested to report back to the police after the report confirmed his inebriation.[93][94][95] The death of Musyoka led to a petition by former San Francisco mayoral candidate, Richie Greenberg, demanding Boudin resign immediately. The petition gathered 10,000 signatures in four days.[95] The SFPOA has criticized Boudin for releasing Lyons and for being too lenient on repeat offenders.[94] Conversely, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, who has charged Lyons for unrelated misdemeanors, did not see a viable alternative and opined that, "Lyons most likely would not have been in custody anyway because of the pandemic and legal requirements."[96]

Personal life[edit]

Boudin lives in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with his wife Valerie Block, a post-doctoral researcher at University of California, San Francisco.[6]

In November 2020, Boudin lobbied New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to commute the 75-year-to-life prison sentence of his father David Gilbert, the last member of Weather Underground still incarcerated for their involvement in the 1981 Brink's robbery. The effort is led by CUNY School of Law professor Steve Zeidman and supported by 45 faith leaders: including Ela Gandhi, Bernice King, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They cite Gilbert's clean prison record and increased risk towards COVID-19 within the prison population as arguments for his clemency. Relatives of the victims contested the appeal, questioning why Gilbert deserves attention when inmates with lesser convictions do not.[97][98]



  • "Chapter 1: Letters to Our Parents," In: Berger, Dan; Boudin, Chesa; Farrow, Kenyon (eds.). Letters from Young Activists. Today's Rebels Speak Out. Nation Books, 2005, pp. 3–8. ISBN 978-1-56025-747-9.
  • The Venezuelan Revolution: 100 Questions-100 Answers. Chesa Boudin (ed.), Gabriel González (ed.), Wilmer Rumbos (ed.). Basic Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-5602-5773-8
  • Gringo. A Coming-of-Age in Latin America. Chesa Boudin; paperback ed. Scribner, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4165-5912-2


  • "Steps to Family Forgiveness." Chesa Boudin. Fellowship 70 (2004): 18.
  • "Strategic Options for Development of a Worker Center." Chesa Boudin and Rebecca Scholtz. Harvard Latino Law Review 13 (2010): 91-126.
  • "Institutional Design and International Electoral Observers: Kicking the Habit." Northwestern Interdisciplinary Law Review 39 (2010): 39.
  • "Publius and the Petition: Doe v. Reed and the History of Anonymous Speech." Chesa Boudin. The Yale Law Review 120 (2011): 2140-2181.
  • "Children of Incarcerated Parents: The Child's Constitutional Right to the Family Relationship." Chesa Boudin. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 101 (2011): 77-118.
  • "Prison visitation policies: A fifty-state survey." Chesa Boudin, Trevor Stutz, Aaron Littman. Yale Law & Policy Review 32 (2013): 149-189.
  • "The impact of overbooking on a pre-trial risk assessment tool." Kristian Lum, Chesa Boudin, Megan Price (2020).


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Legal offices
Preceded by
Suzy Loftus
District Attorney of San Francisco
since January 8, 2020