What It Was Like When My Child Was Interrogated by Police

Alongside our friends at Youth Justice Coalition, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Human Rights Watch, Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and National Center for Youth Law, we are co-sponsoring SB 1052 — a bill that would make sure a person under the age of 18 gets to talk to an attorney before giving up his or her constitutional rights. To help illustrate how urgent California youth and families need these protections, here are five families recounting a youth’s interrogation. These families drove from San Jose to Sacramento recently to urge legislators to support our youth. In the drive up, each person told us the hours of interrogation, and what that time felt like. To help us pass SB1052, go to: Miranda Rights for Youth! (And share this page!)



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Race, Privilege, and Recall: Why the misleading campaign against the judge who sentenced Brock Turner will only make our system less fair

A piece by recent Stanford Law grads Akiva Friedlin and Emi Young as they point out how the recall campaign of Judge Persky has been constructed by distortions of the law and misleading arguments. For example, the current critique of Persky by the campaign is that immigration consequences of a defendant was considered in how the case was resolved in a plea deal. Yet the consideration of immigration consequences has been codified by law, legislation, policies of District Attorney offices, and of course the immigrant rights movement.

As recent graduates of Stanford Law School who work on behalf of low-income people affected by our criminal justice system, we have been closely attuned to the Brock Turner sexual assault case. We recognize the urgency of feminist-led reforms to rape law, and of efforts to address and prevent sexual violence, but the misguided campaign to recall Judge Aaron Persky advances neither goal. Instead, the recall proponents have used misleading arguments to inflame the perception that Judge Persky imposes unfair sentences depending on a defendant’s race and class. These distortions misdirect long-overdue public outrage over the state of America’s criminal justice system to support Persky’s recall, while threatening to make the system less fair for indigent defendants and people of color.

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Launch of Almostahashtag.org : From the Streets to the Courts

People of color killed by police are often known, remembered, and honored through their names connected to a hashtag. There are also those who survive the shooting, tasing, or beating by law enforcement; we just don’t know their names simply because they survived. They face the added insult of then being charged with a false crime such as resisting arrest or assault on a police officer. Henry Sires, pictured below, was almost killed. Henry Sires was almost a hashtag.

We are sitting with Henry’s family during his trial, and through a new site called almostahashtag.org, are reporting updates from the courthouse. Check out the site and follow our social media posts using the hashtag #almostahashtag and #freeHenrySires. Henry is the first case we are sharing through this new site to bring attention to those who almost became a hashtag. If you have a case that you want profiled, email us. We are trying to bring the movement on the streets that is calling to an end to police violence to also step into the courts, where the violence of the criminal justice system continues.

Don’t Judge Persky Decision, or Any Sentence, in a Vacuum — by Aram James

Before retiring as a public defender, Aram James handled thousands of probation violations. In his essay, he writes that to fully evaluate Judge Persky’s sentence of Brock Turner, the public needs to account for what being on probation really means to those convicted of a crime.

(Graphic by Quynh Nguyen)

(Graphic by Quynh Nguyen)

Former Stanford student and potential Olympic swimmer Brock Turner, a 19-year-old freshman at the time of this incident, was convicted in March of three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person. The victim was a 22-year-old female college graduate, from another university, who attended the same alcohol-fueled Stanford fraternity party as Turner. Continue reading

Highlight Reel: 4 Social Biography Videos // 4 Families // 4 Court Systems // 1 Goal — Reunite the Family

Through the Washington Defender Association and the Incarcerated Parents Project, we had the honor to spend a week in Washington state to work with four very different families who had one thing in common — they were each fighting a court system that was trying to keep their families separated, and the most powerful weapon they had to win reunification was the power of their own story. Through their courage they were challenging the criminal court system (Daniel), immigration court system (Gladys), Dependency Court (Brian), and trying to secure a federal prison transfer (Derina and Gina). We spent time with Daniel at the Chehalis Detention Facility, as he tries to win clemency from his sentence which will have him spend the rest of his term in adult prison and away from his young daughter. We sat in the family home of Gladys who is in a immigration detention center facing deportation and being a nation away from her children. We worked with Brian to tell his remarkable story of how he has turned his life around so he can reunite with his two boys that the dependency system is trying to take from him permanently. And we got the opportunity to sit with Darina, a wonderful 7-year-old who is doing everything in her power to get the federal prison system transfer her father from Texas to Oregon, so she could build a stronger relationship with him.

It was a remarkable week. Check out this highlight reel to meet some of the amazing families!

Public Defenders Join Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones to Police Violence at San Jose #FreedomNow Action

On July 21st, San Jose joined a #FreedomNow national day of action with the Black Lives Matter movement. The rally held at City Hall was lead by families who had lost loved ones to police violence. Joining the action were Santa Clara County Public Defenders Jennifer Redding and Sajid Khan, who both spoke about racial injustices they say daily in the court system. Below are Khan’s remarks to the crowd.


Santa Clara County Public Defender gives a speech at the San Jose #FreedomNow Black Lives Matter rally.

My name is Sajid Khan and I’m a public defender here in San Jose.  I grew up and live here in San Jose and went to San Jose High School 20 blocks from here, the same high school that the late Phillip Watkins went to and played football at. His murder by police shook me because I am him and he is me.

As a public defender, the stories we’re here remembering are all too familiar: police intruding in the lives of minorities for no legitimate or necessary reason or not peacefully and appropriately responding to calls for intervention.

I, and we as public defenders, will keep fighting in our county courthouses to ensure that these deaths we’re mourning do not go in vain. Continue reading

How Our Limited Options for “Justice” Around the Brock Turner Sentence Only Punishes Communities of Color (By Charisse Domingo)

As a community organizer who works with families whose loved ones are facing the criminal court system, Charisse Domingo has sat through many sentencing hearings in Santa Clara County — the same court system that housed Brock Turner’s trial and sentence. But unlike the Turner case, the outrage at the court system she has repeatedly witnessed was about how punitive sentences tore apart the lives of families of color. In her essay, she writes while she understands the impulse to recall Judge Persky as an effort to challenge white privilege in the courts, it will ironically only further increase incarceration rates in communities of color.


(Graphic by Adrian Avila)

Like many people, I read Brock Turner’s victim’s statement with lumps in my throat. I teared up at the vivid descriptions of her painful experience. Every word was demanding. I wish I could turn back time for her – back to the Saturday night dinner she enjoyed with her family, pick up the remote and put on the show she was going to watch on tv, open the book to the page she probably dog-eared from the night before, return her to the last moment she remembered feeling safe.  In this future going forward where their fates are forever linked, my hope for her is that one day, her thoughts allow her to float back to a carefree and peaceful place, free from his name. Continue reading

Stanford Law School Graduates Submit Letter to Reconsider Recall Effort of Judge Persky


The following letter was sent to Stanford University’s Professor Michelle Dauber — the law professor leading the recall campaign to remove Judge Aaron Persky. The letter was from 53 graduating Stanford Law students, representing nearly a third of the total class of 180 students.

Dear Professor Dauber,

We are members of the graduating Class of 2016, and we were inspired to write this letter because of your leadership in responding to the Brock Turner rape case. As we bid farewell to the Stanford community we’ve been privileged to be a part of over the last three years, we can’t help but take note of those events and the discussion surrounding it, and we feel compelled to apply what we’ve learned at SLS to weigh in on an aspect of that discourse we find troubling.

First, we are proud of your leading role in advocating for reform of how society responds to sexual violence. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are urgent problems that are too often neglected or obscured by euphemisms, silence, and shame. The best scholars use their expertise to shine light on pressing civic issues like these: they articulate their visions of a more just society, and they engage with policymakers and the public to spur and shape reform. We’ve been privileged to learn at a place where faculty like you take up that mantle.

We’d also like to emphasize our agreement with your goals. We, like you, believe that members of the Stanford community — indeed, of every community — should be doing all we can to confront the problem head on, by preventing sexual violence in the first place, ensuring that those who experience it receive support and healing, and insisting that those responsible face consequences that reflect the seriousness of their actions. We, like you, are disturbed by the six-month jail sentence that Turner received, which appears lenient when measured against the relevant sentencing guidelines, the much-longer sentences many thousands of Americans are serving for less-serious crimes, and the trauma that the target of his assault so bravely described at Turner’s sentencing hearing. And we, like you, are especially troubled by our suspicion that race and privilege explain those discrepancies. Accountability means little when we demand it only from the already-disenfranchised, and the transformative power of mercy is diminished when we reserve it only for the privileged.

At the same time, one aspect of your recent advocacy troubles us: the nascent campaign you have championed to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner. We have deep reservations about the idea of a judge — any judge — being fired over sentencing decisions that the public perceives as too lenient.

As we’ve learned during our time at the law school, judicial independence is a cornerstone of due process and an essential prerequisite of a fair criminal justice system. Judges are entrusted with immense power over the life and liberty of criminal defendants from all walks of life, and they need latitude to exercise that power judiciously. After decades of mass incarceration driven by mandatory minimums and other punitive sentencing regimes, we believe that judicial leniency is already too scarce, even though we strongly disagree with how it was applied to Turner. And in a world where judges believe they are one unpopular sentencing decision away from an abrupt pink slip, it will only grow scarcer. A high-profile campaign to recall Judge Persky because he showed too much solicitude for a defendant convicted of odious crimes would evoke an ugly chapter of California’s history: when three justices of our state’s highest court were recalled from the bench because they voted to oppose the death penalty, in accordance with the dictates of justice and the constitution as they understood them. Though the values underlying that effort were different from the ones animating the current recall debate, the chilling effect on judicial independence would be the same.

To be clear, our hesitation about a recall campaign does not stem from a belief that Judge Persky’s decision to give Turner a below-guidelines sentence was correct or that his stated justifications for doing so were sound. Many of us, like you, believe that justice called for a stiffer sentence in his case. But we think humility requires us to recognize that we won’t always be able to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate exercises of judicial mercy. If you or we claim the power to make that decision, how can we credibly deny it to anyone else? If we demand that Judge Persky immediately hand over his gavel for acting on his empathy for this defendant, how we can we credibly assure any other judge that her hand need not waver when the human circumstances of a case seem to call for compassion?

This is not an abstract concern: many of us count our work with Stanford’s Three Strikes Project as one of the most powerful experiences we had at SLS. Through the project, we represented clients serving life sentences for non-violent felonies as they petitioned for early release under Propositions 36 and 47 — transformative ballot measures championed by your Stanford colleagues, which have begun to roll back the worst excesses of California’s punitive sentencing laws. In that role, we had to ask county judges like Aaron Persky to grant early release to men and women serving life in prison because the people of California once believed that our clients’ mistakes made them irredeemable. Even when an inmate has made great strides in prison, and even though statistics show that people resentenced under Propositions 36 and 47 pose little danger of recidivism, granting that second chance is a delicate decision that requires courage on the part of judges: they have to bear the risk, however remote, that the petitioner will abuse that mercy in ways that provoke public backlash against their decision.

We believe it would send a powerful message to these judges and others making similar decisions around the country if, while continuing to critique Judge Persky’s sentencing decisions and calling for a different approach in future cases, you abstained from your effort to recall him from the bench and instead focused on other avenues of response and reform. These might include educating future judges and jurors about the realities of sexual assault, or pressing for systemic changes in how these cases are handled. We simply ask that you withhold your support for a recall campaign that would set a dangerous precedent against the exercise of merciful discretion in our criminal justice system.


Akiva Freidlin, Emi Young, Ginny Halden, Jeannie Lieder, Madeleine McKenna, Michael Skocpol, Nick Rosellini, and Vina Seelam (Drafters)


(This letter was also signed by 48 other members of the graduating class.)