I saw this article originally on the opinionated Cassy Fiano’s blog. Blogger The Electric Lawyer also commented on the story.
In perhaps the most questionable public relations move of the week, Contra Costa (CA) County District Attorney told members of the media this about policy changes in his office:
Misdemeanors such as assaults, thefts and burglaries will no longer be prosecuted in Contra Costa County because of budget cuts, the county's top prosecutor said Tuesday.Say what?
District Attorney Robert Kochly also said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won't be charged.
People who are suspected of misdemeanor drug crimes, break minor traffic laws, shoplift, trespass or commit misdemeanor vandalism will also be in the clear. Those crimes won't be prosecuted, either.
"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do…"
I can understand having to alter prosecution strategies to address budget shortfalls, but providing a list to the public of the offenses that will no longer be criminally prosecuted—yikes!
A better strategy would have been to provide a more generalized statement to media (if asked). He could then meet with other managers in the criminal justice system and let them know that due to funding problems, the DA’s office will not be able to prosecute “every” misdemeanor and leave each case open for review.
From a policing perspectives, I have a feeling innovative officers will find charges that the DA’s office still pursues and make sure that defendant still gets cited appropriately—like a guy who is living in an abandoned building may not be prosecuted for trespassing or burglary, but he may be charged with an equivalent littering charge (he damaged the environment—it is California you know).
For retail shop owners, I would suggest just moving to another county or perhaps following the hoards of people exiting the Golden State and setup in a new community—as allowing shoplifters to proceed without any possibility of prosecution would lead to lots of closed retail businesses.