Both lawyers said the District Attorney's Office is filing cases that
shouldn't be filed and refusing to entertain any offers of a negotiated plea
deal to avoid trial.
The end result, they say, is that bogus cases are moving to trial, and
clients are winning -- either through dismissal of charges by a judge, acquittal by a judge or jury, or a hung jury where the panel is unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
The Fresno County DA's Office responded to the criticism by citing
statistics. Last year, the office received 24,802 misdemeanor cases for review, in addition to 15,660 felony cases and 1,285 other cases. The total is 41,747 cases. Of those, only 77 misdemeanor cases went to trial. During the same time, 167 felony cases went to trial.
"The job of the District Attorney's Office, first and foremost, is to protect
victims and the public and prosecute criminals," spokesman Sonia De La Rosa said
in a statement.
The two attorneys say the DA's Office is not only clogging the courts, it is
wasting taxpayer money and souring those who are called for jury service for bad cases.
A prison realignment law has made the San Joaquin Valley even more dangerous and needs to be amended or repealed outright, advocates told residents Saturday at a public safety meeting in Clovis. The law, which began as Assembly Bill 109, sends "nonserious, nonviolent,
nonsexual" criminals to county jails instead of state prisons to reduce
overcrowding in California's prison system.
But that has just increased pressure on already overcrowded county jails,
opponents said at the meeting held in the American Ambulance Building. They urged that it be amended or repealed, because by sending low-level state inmates to serve time in crowded local jails, counties have had no choice but to release jail inmates into communities already coping with gangs and drug-related violence.
"Every day 30 inmates are released due to overcrowding in Fresno County,"
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said. There must be consequences for
breaking the law, and letting inmates out early because of overcrowding sends the wrong message to them, she said.
It’s a 1994 Federal lawsuit—John B. Cruz vs. County of Fresno—that mandates the release of inmates when the jail reaches capacity. It’s the word “capacity” that is coming under fire; the Fresno Superior Court Judges have filed a motion to intervene in federal mandate. It wants a specified definition.
The Supreme Court justices upheld the federal panel's ruling, noting that the prison system houses almost twice as many inmates as it was designed to hold. According to the ruling, overcrowding has contributed to "grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care."
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that "[n]eedless
suffering and death have been the well-documented result" of prison overcrowding (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/24). In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the ruling is "the
most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history"
(Savage/McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 5/24).
State Plans for Compliance
The injunction allows the state two years to reduce its prison population.
However, the court suggested that California officials seek an extension from the three-judge panel to provide the state with up to five years to comply with the order.State officials hope the majority of the reductions can be achieved through legislation (AB 109) that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed last month. The new law would shift tens of thousands of nonviolent inmates to county jails (Sacramento Bee, 5/24).