SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's fentanyl epidemic continues to devastate the city. Law enforcement says it's so difficult to convict drug dealers. Who's ultimately responsible for allowing them to go back on the streets?
It takes more than just police and it's supporting cast like the DEA and the sheriff's office to make a dent in San Francisco's drug trade.
The role played by judges inside the Superior Court is now coming under scrutiny by city hall and the district attorney.
"Even though we have been advocating for repeat offenders to stay in, they're still being released," explained San Francisco D.A. Brooke Jenkins.
Jenkins took office nearly 15 months ago and only last week was her office, for the first time, able to convict a drug dealer who claimed that he was a victim of human trafficking and forced to sell drugs.
"For fear of his safety as well as others and, the jury was not persuaded by his story and did find him guilty," revealed Jenkins.
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Twenty year-old Eduardo Rosales-Silva had been arrested in May 2022 for possession to sell cocaine, fentanyl and meth, but was released by a judge.
Less than a month later, he was arrested a second time for selling drugs and again was released by the court.
He was arrested two more times and finally kept in jail after the fourth arrest. He will finally be sentenced on October 6 for that arrest.
According to Jenkins, so far this year, there were 511 individuals with open bench warrants who failed to appear in court after they were released by the judge.
We wanted to get some context and asked if this kind of leniency is followed in other Bay Area counties.
"I mean if somebody has no record what-so-ever and they have a stable address, most of the time they may not be kept in custody but if there is a second time, not three or four, a second time, they're going to occupy the San Mateo County jail," insisted San Mateo County District Attorney, Steve Wagstaffe.
But before San Francisco's DA was able to convict Rosales-Silva, three similar drug dealing cases resulted in a hung jury.
It may not come as a surprise that San Francisco jurors tend to be more liberal and sympathetic.
In a recent newspaper editorial someone who served on a jury explained why they decided to vote to acquit a drug dealer from Honduras. Here's part of what that person wrote:
"I believe the evidence showed that the accused, who I'll called 'Esteban' to protect his identity, was coerced into selling drugs against his will. I hope that he will now have the opportunity to rebuild his life and separate himself from the coercion and violence that have gotten him here."
A few months ago, we went to the Tenderloin to ask those who weren't using drugs, in Spanish, if it was true that some drug dealers were being coerced and threatened.
They chose not to answer.
Last May, a survey of 500 potential San Francisco voters conducted by EMC Research found that 70% of them said sanctuary city policies should not be extended to those undocumented people selling drugs.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen has been a staunched supporter of San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies.
"I think this is a distraction. I don't think that low level drug dealers from Honduras are the real cause of this drug crisis," said Ronen.
Instead, she blamed the makers of oxycontin for the current opioid crisis in San Francisco.
"And that combined with poverty is what led to the crisis on the streets today, not immigrants," she added.
Still, even the former Speaker of the House, had to concede that one way out of this crisis was to bring in the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA. Nancy Pelosi writing to Attorney General Merrick Garland:
"People are dying from fentanyl and violence. We hope to hear soon about a designation of Operation Overdrive for San Francisco to combat the cartels."
"We've got critics who are hand-wringers and enable gazers and defenders of the status quo without even having the courage to admit they're defending the status quo. We need to try new approaches," stated Supervisor Matt Dorsey.
So we turned to Sacramento to see if the state is taking harsher action and found that lawmakers there are still taking a lukewarm approach to the fentanyl crisis.
For example, three bills introduced in the California legislature did not advance.
AB 367 to add sentencing enhancement for those who seriously injure or kill through fentanyl poisoning was rejected.
AB 955 to increase penalties for dealers who sell fentanyl over social media-rejected, rejected.
AB 1058 to increase penalties for those possessing a large amount of fentanyl-also rejected.
Prosecutors worry what will happen if courts aren't given the tools to convict drug dealers.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the crack cocaine epidemic led to harsh sentences, mainly against African Americans.
But in 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47 making simple drug possession for first-time users a misdemeanor rather than a felony. That eliminated jail sentences and made offenders eligible for drug diversion programs.
"They have adopted an approach that to do that would shove us back into the 1990s. That is their attitude, that attitude to me, is a sorely mistaken attitude that is costing human lives," said Wagstaffe.
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