*Contra Costa Co. Economy Causes Significant breakdown Of Criminal Justice System DA Anounced No Longer Prosecution Of Misdemeanors
Published by Staff Writer on April 24, 2009
Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla announced today that she is calling a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the district attorney’s announcement earlier this week that his office will no longer prosecute or even review certain misdemeanor cases.In March, supervisors approved $150 million in cuts from the budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and the 2009-2010 fiscal year.The new budget includes $1.9 million in cuts to the district attorney’s office. As a result, District Attorney Robert Kochly said he will have to lay off six prosecutors effective April 30 and 11 more at the end of December.The district attorney’s office currently reviews more than 20,000 potential misdemeanor cases each year and files charges in nearly 11,000 of those cases, according to Kochly.Because of the reduction in staff, Kochly said in a letter dated Monday and sent to the Contra Costa County Police Chiefs’ Association that he would no longer be able to prosecute certain misdemeanor cases and some felony drug possession cases beginning May 4.Included in the list of cases that will no longer be reviewed or prosecuted are misdemeanor cases involving weapons possession unless the weapon is a firearm, misdemeanor drug offenses of any kind, disorderly conduct, being under the influence of a controlled substance, misdemeanor property crimes, simple assault or battery cases and trespassing or loitering.
The district attorney’s office will also no longer accept for review or file charges on felony drug possession cases where the defendant has less than one gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than half a gram of heroine or less than five pills of Vicodin, oxycodone, Valium or other similar medications.The letter stated that the district attorney’s office would, however, continue to review and file charges on misdemeanor drunken driving, domestic violence, restraining order violations, firearm possession, vehicular manslaughter and sex crimes. The office will also review misdemeanor cases in which a police officer is the victim and simple assault cases that involve injury on a case-by-case basis.Kochly’s letter warned police chiefs that if any cases that are no longer being prosecuted in the county are submitted to the district attorney’s office after May 4, “they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your office without review by a deputy district attorney.”Bonilla said she believes that the residents of Contra Costa County have a right to have all cases brought to the district attorney’s office and at least reviewed by a prosecutor.”It is his (Kochly’s) duty as an elected official to find ways to carry out his duty to prosecute crimes in this county,” Bonilla said.She said that department heads throughout the county were having to reduce the levels of services, but were finding ways to continue to provide core services to residents despite budget cuts. Kochly was not immediately available for comment today, but during earlier hearings, he has told supervisors he believes residents have a right to have every crime committed in Contra Costa County prosecuted. But years of budget cuts have left him with no alternative but to lay off attorneys, which will result in a reduction in the number of cases his office will be able to prosecute.Antioch Mayor Jim Davis issued a statement today announcing that he has placed an emergency item on the April 28 agenda to discuss the impacts the decision will have on Antioch. “We cannot view this as anything but a significant breakdown of our criminal justice system,” Davis said in the statement. “If lawbreakers won’t be charged, it creates a whole series of perverse incentives, none of which are positive for Antioch. This is unacceptable to the City of Antioch.”At its meeting Monday, the Lafayette City Council will be voting to authorize Lafayette Mayor Don Tatzin to write a letter to county supervisors opposing the reductions in prosecutions.Bonilla said mayors from throughout the county have been expressing serious concerns about the impacts the decision not to prosecute some crimes will have on their cities.”There should still be some sense of confidence that cases will be looked at and reviewed,” Bonilla said.
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