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Stories From


Stories from Prosecutors

Alpana Samant

San Mateo County DDA

Growing up in a tough neighborhood in SF, I remember how it felt to constantly look over your shoulder when just trying to live life.  I remember the uneasiness that set in when a loved one was a bit late getting home and the relief when he or she finally arrived.  I remember the anger I felt when my brother and I were jumped and robbed while walking home from the bus stop in middle school.  And I remember that it really meant a lot when the LEO community took those concerns seriously and invested time, energy and people into my neighborhood and community and we stopped feeling invisible and felt like people cared.


In law school, I had the chance to intern at the Alameda County District Attorney's office.  One day I sat in on a victim interview with a DV sex assault survivor.  She was a middle-aged Latina woman who was clearly uncomfortable talking to the white male DA that was asking her questions about the assault in preparation for a hearing.  After each question he asked, she would turn to me to give her an answer.  Though we were from different communities, different places in life, different generations, she felt more comfortable talking to me about a deeply personal and sensitive issue than to him.  I realized then that I too wanted to take on the responsibility of helping people feel safe and heard and visible in my community.  I too wanted to invest my time and energy into doing work that mattered to people who sometimes felt like they didn't matter to anyone. 


Tereza Guzman

San Diego County DDA

I became a prosecutor to give voices to people that otherwise can’t speak. In college, I was the victim of a crime, and I felt completely alone and voiceless. I did not report the crime or seek help because I did not know where to go. I had never been involved with law enforcement other than receiving a traffic ticket, and I didn’t think that prosecutors existed outside of “Law and Order.” It wasn’t until I took political science courses that I learned that there are people in the justice system fighting for victims and holding perpetrators accountable. At that point, I realized if I didn’t know anything about our justice system, neither did my parents. If my parents were ever victims of crime, they would not know that there are resources out there to help them. The thought of people like my parents feeling as alone as I did when I was a victim broke my heart. Thus, I decided to become a prosecutor so I could take an active part in fighting for victims and giving them a voice.  


Diversity in the legal community is essential. My experiences as a first generation American and as a victim make me a better prosecutor every day. I understand that many victims don’t completely understand what a prosecutor is and are skeptical that anyone is willing to help them. I relate to the fear of talking about the worst moments of your life over and over again in front of strangers. Because of my experiences, I don’t get angry when victims don’t feel like talking. I don’t give up when families feel like they are better off handling things on their own rather than get the government involved. Instead, I am patient. I speak to victims and families as I would want someone to speak to my parents, and explain that no one deserves to be a victim of a crime, no matter where that person comes from. I explain that my job as a prosecutor is to fight for justice and make sure that everyone in the community feels safe. 


The communities that we represent are becoming more diverse each day, and the District Attorney’s Office should reflect that diversity. Prosecutors that can understand the languages, the fear, the hesitation of victims, can better relate to those individuals. A diverse District Attorney’s office can better relate to the community it represents, thus creating more trust and achieving more justice for that community.


Olivia Mendoza

Santa Clara County DDA

I became a prosecutor to ensure that everyone who comes in contact with the criminal justice system, whether as a victim of crime or perpetrator, has a voice and is treated fairly. I grew up as a daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico who worked in labor and agriculture to pursue a better future. As a Latina with immigrant parents, I often encountered members of my family and community that believed because of their background they were less deserving of the protections of the law. This world view was often reflected in a mistrust of law enforcement and a reluctance to speak up in the face of injustice.

This experience ignited my passion for public service and the decision to become a prosecutor. I began my career as a prosecutor in Monterey County and had the opportunity early on in my career to work with victims of domestic violence. In Monterey County, many of my cases involved families and individuals who came from an agricultural and migrant farm worker community. My diverse background helped me find ways to help build trust with victims of violence, guide them through the criminal justice system, and create fair dispositions to assist families to move forward in a positive way.

Now, a prosecutor in the Family Violence Unit with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, I continue to use my diverse perspective to strengthen ties between members of the community and law enforcement in order to achieve equality and justice in my daily work.

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Margaret Buitrago

San Francisco County Assistant DA

I was raised by a single mother in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Growing up in an urban environment with a blue-collar, working-class family led me to develop an interest in public service.  I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to help my community.  After graduation, I returned to the Bay Area to pursue a career as a prosecutor.  I chose to become a prosecutor for many reasons.  I knew the profession could benefit from more Latino prosecutors as it provides a diversity of perspective and experiences.  Growing up in a high-crime area, I saw its effects in the community.  Not only was I surrounded by victims of crime and their families, but also had members of my own family incarcerated.  Therefore, I wanted to help victims of crime receive justice, but also contribute to a system that operated fairly and ethically.  I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a prosecutor in my hometown for over five years.  I continue to serve with pride and gratitude.  Ultimately, I hope that my contributions increase public safety and restore faith in the criminal justice system.


Stefanie Zamora

Monterey  County DDA

My passion for prosecution and my desire to be a prosecutor began at a very early age. As a child, I lived with my mother, uncles, and grandparents in a high-crime area. The community in my neighborhood was primarily of Hispanic descent and heavily impacted by gang violence. Growing up in that area, I observed crime destroy the lives of many people and negatively impact the whole neighborhood. I watched as families were ripped apart by drugs and violence. Many of our neighbors, most of whom could not speak English, did not know where to turn for help. I knew then that I wanted to help people and make an impact in any way I could. 


It was while I was in grade school that my mother began her career in law enforcement as a police officer. She would come home every night and tell stories of her adventures on the street. She had a passion to help people, especially the most vulnerable, and used her experiences to guide her. She explained to me the prosecutorial system and how it ensures a safer community. It was at that point I knew I wanted to be part of that system so I could have the same impact. As a prosecutor, I get to use my own life experiences to connect with members of the community so that I can better serve and help them.  

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Nikesh Patel

San Francisco County Assistant DA

Prosecutors sit squarely at the intersection of enforcing criminal law and changing it. We are tasked with the awesome responsibility of thinking critically about fairly promoting public safety. This necessarily means making the difficult decisions, on a daily basis, to decide who poses a risk significant enough to warrant incarceration. And, in the same breath, it means humbly evaluating the efforts to date that have worked and those that have further entrenched systems of injustice. Tackling this goal is the work of a lifetime, and it is one that has fueled my career. My path to a prosecutor’s office began in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, where I grew up. Confronting the daily reality of crime and violence, on the one hand, and seeing and experiencing the frustration of my community’s strained relationship with law enforcement, on the other, framed my desire to become a prosecutor. Today, I am encouraged and humbled by my ability to do something about both.

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Carlos Barba

Santa Cruz County DDA

Prosecutors my personal experiences growing up in a predominately immigrant and under-resourced community gave me a deeper understanding of how these circumstances can lead to underreporting of crimes out of mistrust or fear. I witnessed how language barriers and lack of resources also prevent offenses from coming to the attention of our legal system. Similar to many others in my community, my mother migrated from Mexico to escape violence and to give our family a better life. When our family settled in Watsonville I quickly observed how the aforementioned barriers still kept individuals like my mother from seeking justice and other resources when necessary.


Throughout my personal and professional career, I have seen how many families in my community have been threatened due to their undocumented legal or socioeconomic status. Although hesitant to report these injustices, I have worked closely with many of these families and empowered them to assert their rights. My ability to empathize with and relate to others from similar communities has allowed for deeper levels of appreciation and trust. These first-hand experiences have motivated me to become a prosecutor and make our district attorney offices more representative of the communities they serve. I am committed to helping solve complex issues of crime, help build bridges with all communities and work with others to arrive at fair results.


Irene Williams

Santa Clara County DDA

Entering law school, I never imagined I’d be, or even considered becoming, a prosecutor. Instead, I was drawn to the private sector. My goal? To make money and never be poor again.


For a lawyer, I have a somewhat unusual background. I am 1 of 13 children; my parents 10th born child, and I grew up in the projects. More times than I care to recall, my 12 siblings and I were forced to do without electricity, forced to do without running water, and even sometimes forced to do without food. Sometimes, those things were luxuries we simply couldn’t afford. Neither of my parents finished high school and coming from where I was from, you were considered a success if you graduated high school.


Growing up, I didn’t know or have access to any lawyers (or any other real professionals). But fortunately for me, what I did have was a mother who cared, and who raised me to be better and to do better. I was also blessed with a drive and determination to succeed. That combination is how I made it to law school.


My 1L Summer I had the opportunity to work at a mid-sized law firm and quickly discovered that the private sector just wasn’t for me, no matter how much they were willing to pay. Shortly after that experience, I discovered my interest in criminal law. I then made it a point to get to know and speak with lawyers who worked on both sides of the criminal isle. After exploring both sides of criminal law, I knew being a prosecutor was the only and right choice for me.


Like many others who have chosen to practice criminal law, for me it came down to me being able to do what I perceived as justice. Where I grew up, I saw what happens when crime goes unpunished, when the bad guys win. My mother was a pastor. It was my mom that was calling police on the kids on the corner selling drugs, and the gang bangers. My mom was the “snitch”. And, as her kids, we took a lot of backlash and paid a price for that.


However, my decision to become a prosecutor is not some attempt on my part to dish “payback” to current defendants because of my personal experiences with crime growing up. Instead, I decided to become a prosecutor because I wanted to be in the best position to do justice by all involved, both victims and defendants.


Statistically speaking, people of color are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be prosecuted for minor criminal violations, and more likely to receive lengthy prison sentences. I have great, great respect for the defense attorneys who work to defend the accused, but my goal was to someday be able to decide whether or not to even press charges. My goal was to someday be in a position to decide what constitutes justice in a particular case and how best to achieve that justice for all involved. And as cheesy as it sounds, being a prosecutor allows me to work toward accomplishing those goals every day.

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Tom Phan

Orange County DDA

A prosecutor’s office should reflect the community in which it serves. Diversity in a prosecutor’s office helps foster a culture of diverse perspectives, which becomes crucial when exercising discretion. It has been long established that jury pools are more effective when they are a true representation of the community and it should be no different from the prosecutor’s office. Diverse ideas and experiences lead to more equitable outcomes, which is what being a prosecutor are all about. It’s a big part of why I’m proud to be a prosecutor, as I’m able to do my part in sharing my perspectives and doing justice for the community.


Nicholas Honda

Sacramento County DDA

California ranks as the most diverse state in the nation. As representatives of The People of the State of California in our criminal justice system, it is important for prosecutors to respect, understand, and embody the increasing diversity of those we serve. Growing up in Sacramento, one of California’s most diverse cities, showed me how people with diverse social-economic, political, spiritual, occupational, and ethnic backgrounds and beliefs can come together to build a rich, beautiful, and strong community.
The calling to do justice attracts individuals from all backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. To the extent we draw upon these factors in serving justice, each of us contributes uniquely to that cause. Similarly, each venire of prospective jurors called to decide our trials is a microcosm of the community and will include jurors with diverse experiences, perspectives, and values. Additionally, as our communities become more diverse, the victims and witnesses of the crimes we prosecute increasing hail from a multitude of backgrounds. Prosecutors who respect, understand, and embody diversity are essential to building trust with these jurors, witnesses, victims, as well as the larger community. Our individual distinctness as prosecutors makes our profession stronger as a whole.

Nichelle Holmes
Nichelle Holmes Contra Costa County

Nichelle Holmes Contra Costa County

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