Defendants are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in America’s court system, but some in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office seem to think otherwise.
In a series of court cases heard Monday morning in San Francisco Superior Court, defendants were listed on a sign-in sheet as “bad guys.”
The handwritten witness list, believed to have originated in the District Attorney’s Office, was obtained by the San Francisco Examiner from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
The list could prove to many already distrustful of the court system that defendants are seen as guilty before they’re convicted.
“One of the fundamental precepts of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “You don’t refer to people as the ‘bad guy.’ It creates a bias against the person that is accused. That person’s guilt or innocence has not been determined. This sort of practice destroys the credibility of a system that is supposed to be fair.”
The District Attorney’s Office, which claims it is uncertain who created the sign-in sheet, said the incident is troubling.
“This is very concerning behavior and this is not how we train our employees,” said District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Alex Bastian. “We have been looking into this matter and have no reason to believe this was created by our assistant district attorney. We do not know who created this sign in sheet, as typically our sign in sheets are typewritten. We are looking into this personnel matter.”
The handwritten witness list was passed around by an intern with the District Attorney’s Office in Judge Raymond Arata’s courtroom Monday morning, according to Adachi. It went to police officers and civilians who had come to testify in a number of cases. Each witness signed beside the case associated with the defendant.
When the list reached a witness who was scheduled to testify, she was shocked to see the defendant was listed as a “bad guy,” Adachi said.
Deputy Public Defender Ilona Solomon saw the list beside a court clerk, took a photo of the list and told Adachi, who was also present in court for another case.
“[The clerk] said she had gotten it from the audience,” said Solomon, who noted the clerk said she destroyed the list.
“I was just appalled,” Solomon said, adding such hand-written lists are always passed out by prosecutors, but she’s never seen one up close.
When Adachi notified the judge, Arata did not immediately take any known action in the matter, said Adachi. Adachi asked whether the intern created the list and was told the intern could not speak on the matter.
“I do think it is indicative of an attitude within the criminal justice system that people who are accused are automatically guilty,” Adachi said.
A representative from the San Francisco Superior Court has not not commented on the matter.
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