Vanguard Launches Vanguard Courtl Watch Project

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Yolo_Judicial_Watch-400Yesterday, the People’s Vanguard of Davis proudly launched its newest project, Vanguard Court Watch.  Vanguard Court Watch is a focused effort to monitor and track cases that go through the Yolo County Judicial System from arrest to adjudication. 

Yolo Judicial Watch will be located on the Vanguard but available on its own separate page: yolojudicialwatch.org .

The purpose of this project is to expose potential miscarriages of justice in the Yolo County stem.  Over the past three and half years, The Vanguard reported on a number of cases that were marked by the overcharging of defendants by the prosecutor. Also, there were a number of cases that revealed with closer scrutiny that people were likely innocent of the charges altogether.

While we have had success breaking major news stories such as the letter from DA investigator Rick Gore as well as covering in depth cases such Khalid Berny who faced 60 years in prison for allegedly allowing his goats to run free, Ajay Dev who was sentenced to 378 years in prison based solely on a contested pretense call that was recorded by the Davis Police Department, among others.  We have also provided heavy critiques of the District Attorney’s report on the shooting of Luis Gutierrez.

However, we have been limited in what we can report.  Previously the Vanguard had limited ability to track cases of interest that did not emerge into the public light.  At times, the Vanguard was directly tipped off by an interested party, however, for the most part, a large number of cases have gone unreported.

How many cases?  How big a problem is this?  Those are questions that we cannot answer right now because the mass media covers only a few high profile cases and we have never been able to follow and collect data on the overall system.

That changes now with this project.

For the first time, we will be able to track and monitor cases from the beginning to the end of the process.  That means we can we report on a much greater number of cases that may be of interest to the general public, but never reach the light of day.

While this project will have a broad scope, our goal will be to quantify some of the complaints that we have received over the years about the Yolo County justice system.  These complaints include the overcharging of certain defendants and the prosecution that is often alleged to be malicious or racially motivated of individuals who are likely not guilty of any crime.

The Vanguard will look at a whole range of cases, but focus on gang enhancement cases, cases where there a resisting arrest charge without an additional charge, cases where numerous charges have been tacked on by the District Attorney, and all felony cases that go to trial.

The county cites the number of felony cases that go to trial per year to be around 120.  We have heard that of those, 40% end in a victory for the defense.  If that number is anywhere close to accurate, it is alarming.

From a practical standpoint that should never occur.  The District Attorney has a huge advantage in that they determine what cases to take, which cases to accept plea agreements on, and how much to charge.  They hold all of the advantages.  If they are barely breaking even on trial cases, that indicates a huge problem in the system that there are a number of cases that should never have gone to trial.

With Yolo County again facing a $20 million deficit in its general fund, we need to find out if current practices are costing too much in terms of resources and money.

This project will be able to quantify these issues.  This is not merely an academic question.  If the DA is overcharging cases and thus forcing cases to trial that should not go to trial, that is a huge waste of taxpayer money.  If the DA is charging people likely to be innocent, that again is a waste of money.

Again this project will be able to quantify that issue and sort out fact from myth.  This process will also be better able to quantify claims that the DA has a 90% conviction rate.  We will be able to determine what that means and what the ramifications are of it.

To perform this work, the Vanguard will utilize a project director and a number interns from a diverse group of people ranging from undergraduates at UC Davis, to law students, to paralegals and community members.

It is our hope to have an interim report to the public by the end of June on the state of the Judicial System.  In the meantime, Vanguard and Yolo Judicial Watch readers will see an increase in coverage of cases that have go through the legal system in Yolo County.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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4 thoughts on “Vanguard Launches Vanguard Courtl Watch Project”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    “The county cites the number of felony cases that go to trial per year to be around 120. We have heard that of those, 40% end in a victory for the defense. If that number is anywhere close to accurate, it is alarming.”

    I have no problem with following the justice system more closely. It is open to the public, so that the dispensing of justice is seen to be as fair as it can be. However, I cringe at the implication that because “40% [of the trials] end in a victory for the defense”, “it is alarming”. There may be other reasons for that statistic than malfeasance in office by the prosecution/police.

    To bring a case to trial requires probable cause; to find a defendent guilty requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In between, witnesses forget or change/shade their testimony as memory fades; evidence doesn’t materialize; a defense attorney builds a theory of the case as does the prosecution, when neither may really know what actually happened; and the list goes on when it comes to the complexities of a trial.

    Prosecution of a case by its very nature is an inexact science, where the seekers of the truth (police, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, jury) are not perfect. Is there room for improvement? Of course! No one, including the prosecution or police, should want to see an innocent person go to prison. But it bothers me that the implication here is the prosecution is somehow corrupt, BEFORE the investigation begins. I would hope this “justice project” will begin with a completely open mind, with no overarching bias one way or the other. Seek the truth, and nothing but the truth…rather than presupposing the truth is malfeasance and dare the prosecution to prove otherwise.

    I, myself am not comfortable w the outcome of the Gutierrez case, and would like further independent investigation. But I also remember a case in Washington, D.C. An innocent man went to prison for a rape he did not commit, throught witness misidentification. Years later, when he was set free, the newspaper ran a picture of the actual perpetrator right next to the innocent accused who was finally set free. The pair looked like two peas in a pod, both African-American with goatees and facial features that could have made them twins. It was uncanny. The innocent victim lost his marriage, his livelihood as a scientific engineer, and five years of his life spent in a maximum security prison branded a rapist. When he was released, he blamed no one – not the victim for misidentifying him, not the prosecutor, not the jury. But a DNA test would have exonerated him – but it was not yet invented at the time.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    All good points.

    I would not use and did not use the word corrupt, wasteful perhaps, non-discriminating, perhaps even overzealous as possible explanations. But as you rightly suggest, at this time, we don’t know and we intend to follow this to wherever it leads us. Just because we have suspicions at the beginning does not mean that we will cook the data. I remember working on my dissertation way back moons ago and I had suspicions about what I would find, but ended up being surprised. That’s part of the reason for this project, to quantify and measure as much to report and expose.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    DPD, thanks for the reassurance. It is important, when starting an investigation, not to make a presumption and then cook the evidence to bolster the premise. This would hold true of assuming someone guilty, and then search only for evidence that bolsters the assumption of guilt, throwing out any exculpatory evidence.

    I will be very interested to learn what you find out – and see if you can include some comparisons to other jurisdictions to see how Yolo County compares to other county criminal justice systems. I would be curious to know how we are doing compared to other counties, especially those with more funding. Prosecuting criminals is a tricky and inexact science, and certainly could always use improvement, but lack of funding can contribute to problems.

    I would also be curious to know if Rosenberg’s “improvements” in streamlining the Yolo Court system is resulting in true efficiencies without endangering the process of truth finding. Additionally, there is a cohesive synergy between police and prosecutor that is very important. One cannot do the job without the other. All very complex, inexact, and tough to pick apart for analysis.

    Looking forward to the intellectual exercise, and admire you for taking this tough task on. I would advise treading carefully – you will be walking a fine line…

  4. Alphonso

    “It is important, when starting an investigation, not to make a presumption and then cook the evidence to bolster the premise. This would hold true of assuming someone guilty, and then search only for evidence that bolsters the assumption of guilt, throwing out any exculpatory evidence. “

    That describes a perfect world and if it was true there would be no reason to “watch” the judicial system. I keep hearing the Yolo DA’s overriding focus is on WINS and wins are defined as CONVICTIONS. If that is the case it is easy to assume there is a “win at all cost” attitude and if that trail is followed it is easy to understand how investigations could become tainted by focusing on the wrong goal. To me a “win” should be all about getting it right, regardless of the outcome.

    The concept of Judicial Watch is a great idea mostly because it provides the possibility of broadcasting more and balanced information about the System in Yolo County. The DA will not admit mistakes yet mistakes are made. This will help people evaluate the performance of the judicial system – right or wrong. Perhaps the oversight will encourage the DA to search for better processes and change goals slightly. Additionally, potential jurors should have a balanced view before being selected for trial – this information might help.

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