Kamala Harris attacked over record as prosecutor in Democratic debate

DETROIT -- Sen. Kamala Harris was forced to defend her record as a prosecutor during Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debates in Detroit.

When asked about her defense of former Vice President Joe Biden, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard directed her criticisms at Harris, saying: "I want to bring the conversation back to the criminal justice system that is disproportionately affecting black and brown people."

"I'm concerned about this record of Senator Harris. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way."

Harris, again on defense, pushed back: "I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of the state of 40 million people which became a national model for the work that needs to be done. And I am proud of that work."

But Gabbard continued to slam Harris' record, saying, "When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people's lives, you did not and worse yet in the case of those who are on death row, you blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. There's no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor, you owe them an apology."

Harris then replied, "I think you can judge people by when they are under fire and it's not about some fancy opinion on a stage but when they're in the position to actually make a decision what do they do, when I was in the position of having to decide whether or not to seek a death penalty on cases I prosecuted, I made a very difficult decision that was not popular to not seek the death penalty. History shows that and I am proud of those decisions."

ABC News contributed to this report.
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