This is a bit of follow-up to this situation, although the question is different and things got much worse.

According to a recent poll, 40% of San Francisco residents are considering moving out of the city. Many attribute this in part to the SF DA, who even before COVID publicly announced that he won't prosecute quality of life crimes, as well as shoplifting under $950.

If harmed, what can SF residents legally do to reintroduce such prosecutions?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Pat W.
    Jul 5, 2021 at 16:17
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    Some U.S. jurisdictions permit private prosecutions, but they are rare, and in any case not allowed in California. Jul 5, 2021 at 18:16
  • Maybe they could hold London Breed to account when the whole of the Board decided to save lives in employ commercial accommodations during the worst of COVID, and Breed proceeded to veto a unanimous Board. Disgusting. That’s disgusting. Pennies. It’s pennies that makes the difference. Would you expect a pack of hungry wolves to be handy? Tax laws were f* in the ‘30’s and the U.S. became a country of the privilege wealth and not commonwealth. That simple. Fix that, give people something to lose, give them meaning for a penny, and see how tame they become.
    – kisspuska
    Jul 6, 2021 at 3:07
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    If you want all the money, then don’t be surprised they will eat you alive.
    – kisspuska
    Jul 6, 2021 at 3:08
  • Just to extend the idea here, if you were to have a recourse for this, it would then logically follow that a police officer could not let someone off the hook for any reason, ever, without risking being punished for it. I could file a complaint because someone did not get a ticket and I did, e.g. if I'm being written a ticket for speeding and another speeder drives past while this is happening. That makes little sense (barring institutionalized inequality but this is not the primary focus here)
    – Flater
    Jul 6, 2021 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


A lawsuit would be unsuccessful. Prosecutors have discretion to prioritize whichever offenses they think are most important, and they are generally immune from civil liability.

This is a political grievance, and it comes with a political remedy; voters can recall the DA or vote for a new one when his term ends.

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    In the UK we have a principle that a public entity cannot fetter its powers. So e.g. while it is ok for the entity to say "In this particular case, we are not going to use our power to do X because of Y reasons", they cannot say "We will never use our power to do X". Such a statement effectively circumvents the will of Parliament which presumably granted the power in the expectation that it would be used. A citizen can seek a remedy in the courts via judicial review. Does this principle not exist in the USA?
    – JBentley
    Jul 4, 2021 at 12:01
  • @JBentley, thank you! You comment points to another problem with SF DA announcement about not prosecuting crime: he effectively circumvented legislature and courts.
    – Michael
    Jul 4, 2021 at 16:40
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    @JBentley Also this has been used historically to counter unjust laws. For example before the Civil War nothern states were supposed to help southern states recapture escaped slaves. However most nothern states refused to do so. In at least a few states this non-enforcement was done always, not on a case-by-case basis.
    – slebetman
    Jul 4, 2021 at 17:28
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    @JBentley: In the UK, Parliament represents a unity of legislative and executive power. In the US, the executive and legislative powers were very deliberately separated; for example, in the US it is illegal to serve in the cabinet and in Congress simultaneously, whereas in the UK, serving in the House of Commons is generally considered a prerequisite to being a cabinet minister. By preventing any one branch of government from having too much power, the founders hoped to prevent the abuses which led to the Revolution from reoccurring.
    – Kevin
    Jul 5, 2021 at 1:04
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    @Michael if a legislature establishes a law enforcement body with the discretion to enforce laws according to its own judgement, a body that exercises such discretion isn't circumventing legislature, it's fulfilling its legislated role. If the model is unsatisfactory it falls to the legislature to establish a preferable one.
    – Will
    Jul 5, 2021 at 13:58

Almost every crime has a civil counterpart for the victim to sue for a judgement, and certainly any private property or personal violence related crime does. Victims of crimes can sue the perpetrator on their own if they have the resources to do so. As a practical reality, suing a homeless person to get back damages is a waste of money since the defendant won't have any money to pay, but a declaratory judgement against stealing or a restraining order could be used to keep the defendant away in the future, or give a victim more recourse if the defendant attacks them or their property again because they are now violating a court order. Judges can incarcerate a person in contempt of court independent of the District Attorney, though this again relies on the willingness of the government to enforce its own laws.

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    It's worth making it clear that you can only sue when you, personally, have been harmed. Jul 6, 2021 at 0:43
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    @DJClayworth Is "Victims of crimes" not clear enough? Jul 6, 2021 at 12:07

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