No Need to Police Prosecutors for This Case

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi told The San Francisco Chronicle’s Karen de Sa it was “positively medieval” for District Attorney George Gascon’s office to charge LaSonya Wells for kidnapping after she and two men stole Supervisor Scott Wiener’s iPhone 6 in December and accompanied him to an ATM so he could swap his phone for $200.

If found guilty, Wells could have been sentenced to life in prison — which, to Adachi, makes the kidnapping charge a classic example of prosecutorial overreach. That is, charging defendants for crimes without sufficient probable cause in order to intimidate defendants who are disproportionately poor, African American or Latino, so that they will cut plea bargains to lesser charges.

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D.A. spokesman Max Szabo disagrees. “The kidnapping charge was added because a jury could have reasonably concluded that after the threat of being maced in the face or shot, he (Wiener) was being moved against his will for the purposes of taking his phone or money, or both,” Szabo explained. I think Adachi is right that this kidnapping charge goes too far. Be it noted, that charge was dropped.

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But I disagree with Adachi’s description of Wells as “a low-level nonviolent woman” who deserves a break. Au contraire, she is a great example of an offender who deserves to have the book thrown at her.

As de Sa reported, Wells, 40, has a lengthy criminal history. She served three stints in state prison, which means she graduated from low-level crimes a long time ago. In 2008, she was convicted of non-firearm assault with a deadly weapon. She is a violent and serious offender.

Wells and her co-defendant son, Damian Wells, 20, still face felony and misdemeanor charges for robbery, extortion and grand theft because of allegations that they took Wiener’s phone, then threatened him so that he would pay to get it back.

In the story by the San Francisco Chronicle, retired Santa Clara Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell offered that she would hope “somebody like Wiener” would look at Wells and say, “Redemption is important and rehabilitation is important, and all of that needs to happen.” I suppose Cordell is free to blame Wiener, the victim, for a prosecutor’s decision. Still, Cordell’s approach would be more convincing if the judge understood that people redeem themselves first by taking responsibility for their misdeeds.

Michael Rushford, president of the tough-on-crime Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, doesn’t think the Wiener case amounts to kidnapping. Still Rushford can’t believe critics would accuse Gascon of being too tough on habitual offenders. The D.A. was a high-profile advocate of Proposition 47, which reduced the penalties for property and drug crimes. Because of Prop. 47, thieves can steal a gun and be charged only with a misdemeanor.

While critics may believe Gascon threw the whole book at Wells because Wiener is a City Hall pol, I think a bigger factor may be that Wiener had the smarts to walk his assailants before an ATM camera. He did all the work for the prosecution.

Alas, when Gascon does get tough on career criminals like Wells, it opens him up to charges of favoritism. The answer, of course, would be for Gascon to be tougher on all repeat offenders.

Email Debra J. Saunders at [email protected].

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