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BRANKO MARCETIC: Which I think was a very obvious kind of play, I think, for her later Senate run, was her showing, feeding something to the Democratic base, which at that time was I think a lot more occupied with something like Proposition 8 and gay rights, as they rightly should have been. But I think there was less talk about criminal justice reform.
The fact that she refused to seek out the death penalty when she was under a lot of political pressure when she first came in as DA, I think, is is definitely a good thing. But the fact that she continued to defend it after, I think, shows the limits of how far someone like her can reallyespecially if they want to get ahead politicallyhow far they can really buck the system. I suspect, I should say, that perhaps that could have been a sort of a learning experience for her, where she got this tremendous amount of criticism for refusing to put this man to death, and so she then later had to sort of prove that she, you know, she's not going to be someone who follows through on her anti-death penalty principles, and how she's saying she's going to hold to what the law is.
THOMAS HEDGES: After the death penalty controversy in 2004, Kamala Harris becomes much more conservative. In the following years she would help pass legislation that reported arrested, undocumented juveniles to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
SPEAKER: It's been called the toughest law in America.
THOMAS HEDGES: She would not only defend the three strikes law, which is a highly punitive law that puts someone behind bars for life if he or she simply commits both one violent felony and has two previous convictions, but Harris would also make her support for the law a centerpiece of her 2009 campaign for re-election.
BRANKO MARCETIC: She ran to the right of her Republican opponent on that, who actually wanted to get rid of the three strikes law.
THOMAS HEDGES: She would fight to protect the practice of civil asset forfeiture, and more specifically the ability for police to seize profits before charges were even filed. She also famously fought to keep Daniel Larson, a man who was wrongfully convicted of burglary in 1999, in jail even after a judge reversed his conviction due to a lack of evidence.
BRANKO MARCETIC: The Daniel Larson case is basically someone who was arrested and convicted for saying that he didn't domostly his offence was he had a weapon. He was on probation, and he had a knife on him. And the police found that. He had incompetent, kind of, legal representation. He was in jail for a number of years, and he ended up being freed by a judge who decided that what had happened to him was manifestly unjust. And Harris appealed that.
THOMAS HEDGES: There was also the case of Kevin Cooper, a black man who was imprisoned in 1983 for a horrific mass murder incident in California.
SPEAKER: New DNA evidence could impact the future of an inmate who has been on death row for more than 35 years.
THOMAS HEDGES: After his trial and sentencing, however, new evidence came out suggesting the police had maybe framed Cooper. But despite Cooper's petitions for a revisitation of the case, Kamala Harris's office objected. Cooper is still in prison today, but with renewed pressure, California Governor Gavin Newsom has finally ordered new DNA tests.
SPEAKER: Newsom wants current DNA tests done on hair, blood, and fingernail scrapings.
THOMAS HEDGES: It was only after an explosive New York Times investigative report that Harris publicly supported the new DNA testing in a Facebook post, but failing to acknowledge that she'd been a barrier to the testing in the past.
BRANKO MARCETIC: There's also, I think, something that's kind of come onto the fore a little more in recent months is her policy of prosecuting truantwell, the parents of truant kidsas a sort of back-to-school encouragement policy. Except, you know, instead of using a carrot, it's using a very punitive stick.
KAMALA HARRIS: A friend of mine actually called me and he said "Kamala, my wife got the letter. She freaked out. She brought all the kids into the living room, held up the letter. Said 'If you don't go to school, Kamala's going to put you and me in jail.'"
BRANKO MARCETIC: Basically, she wanted to threaten parents with jail if their kids didn't turn up to school, which obviously is a policy that is going to disproportionately affect minority communities; the same minority communities that she is, I think, trying to now appeal to and present itself as something of a champion for.