Candidate profile: DA hopeful Sajid Khan is proudly progressive

Sajid Khan is a public defender who is running for district attorney in Santa Clara County. Post photo by Dave Price.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Candidate Sajid Khan says his progressive politics align with the voters of Santa Clara County, while his opponent, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, is to the right of the electorate.

As a public defender for 14 years, Khan said he has watched Rosen ignore why crimes are occurring and instead focus on punishment. Khan said he would address the root causes of crime and pursue healthy outcomes.

“I would cultivate a DA’s office that is actually curious about why harm is occurring in our community,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Khan, 39, is a “proud son of Muslim immigrants.” He grew up in San Jose and attended San Jose High School, and he now is raising his own kids.

Khan lobbied for Senate Bill 1391, which says people 15 and younger can’t be tried as adults. He said he went to Sacramento after defending a 14 year old boy who was being tried as an adult by Rosen. Khan argued that the boy — shackled at his hands and feet — had trauma, an undeveloped brain and a potential for rehabilitation. He wanted Rosen to “see a boy as a boy,” and now he wants SB 1391 to extend to 16 and 17 year olds.

Rosen files more charges than necessary so when they’re reduced in court, the prosecution gets their desired outcome, Kahn said. This approach is about coercing pleas and securing convictions, and it hasn’t created a safer county, Kahn said.

Opposes death penalty

Khan wants to change the status quo. He said he wouldn’t pursue the death penalty, ask judges to set cash bail or prosecute children as adults. He said he would prosecute cases that can be tried as either a misdemeanor or felony — called “wobblers” — at the lower charge.

Khan said death penalty cases are a waste of resources, both to defend and prosecute, and Santa Clara County voters supported abolishing the death penalty in 2016, though the measure failed statewide.

If someone is arrested for a crime like auto burglary, Khan said he wants his team to figure out why the crime was committed, and pursue the desired outcome.

Right now, prosecutors just look at a police report and a list of prior crimes. Khan said he would have his deputies call the defense lawyer before the charges are filed to understand who the defendant is. They are often better served with treatment for substance abuse or mental health rather than jail time, Khan said.

No more gang enhancements

When people are found guilty of a crime and also of being in a gang, their sentences can be harsher. Khan said he would end this practice of gang enhancements, because sending people to prison is “literally feeding the machine.” A lot of gang activity stems from jails and prisons, and 88% of Rosen’s gang enhancements were against people of color in 2017, Khan said. The harsher sentences haven’t led to a reduction in gang violence, he said.

Khan said he also wouldn’t count previous strikes against defendants.

Khan said he would have a “healthy skepticism” of reports and testimony from police officers, like he does with suspects, victims and witnesses. Rosen has “abdicated” his role of police oversight so officers feel like they can get away with lying, Khan said.

Khan said his perspectives on racial and social justice align with voters. He said he has raised nearly $300,000 and received endorsements from local council members, Democratic clubs, unions and retired Palo Alto judge LaDoris Cordell. Khan is confident in his chances.

Three-way race

Khan is running against Rosen and Daniel Chung, a former deputy district attorney who wants to make the DA’s office more professional and efficient.

The three candidates will face off in the June 7 primary. If nobody gets more than 50% of the vote, then the top two vote-getters will run against each other in November.

The Post is running profiles of all three candidates in the DA’s race. Keep an eye on future editions of the paper for those stories.