Commentary: Given Budget Considerations, Time For DA’s Office To Re-Think Prosecution Policies

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courtroom.jpgYolo County is facing fiscal crisis on a scale that boggles the mind.  Last year, the county was able to cushion a 20 million dollar blow using reserves and concessions, this year, there will be no cushion for a 21 million dollar deficit.  Vital services that people rely on to survey are going to be slashed.  We’re talking health services, mental health services, and public safety.

In that context, last week, the Sheriff’s Department talked about the release of inmates.  Indeed, across the state, there have been the release of prisoners, essentially people who have committed less dangerous felonies.  Likewise Yolo County under a worst case scenario would immediately release 140 convicts with the closure of the Walter J. Leinberger Minimum Security Facility.

The Sheriff’s Department placed the number of felons at 5,457 that would have to be released throughout the course of the year from the Monroe Detention Center.  Sheriff Ed Prieto last week called this scenario drastic but accurate if 47 employees are terminated.

The District Attorney’s office needs to address a $2 million deficit too.  It appears that DA Jeff Reisig is unwilling to part with his deputy DA’s so instead they may lay off a felony prosecutor handling financial loss, a juvenile prosecutor, and four misdemeanor prosecutors.  The suggestions was made that if this occurred, the DA could not prosecute crimes such as trespassing, misdemeanor assaults, and petty theft, about 4000 crimes per year.

Obviously this scenario is not going to happen.  For one thing the Board of Supervisors will not let it occur, as they will focus on far less drastic measures and my guess is cut services to the poor and the elderly before they cut money for prosecution.  A lot of this is scare tactics from law enforcement as they know the politicians historically will buckle to this pressure and fully fund law enforcement.

But what I wonder about is if right now we are utilizing our resources as well as we should.  Last week, under the Yolo Judicial Watch project, the Vanguard was able to report on a couple of interesting cases.

The first involved a three-strikes case.  It involves a lifetime offender who has been in the system pretty much consistently since the early 80s when he was in his early 20s.  From all reports, the guy has mental health problems and is not a good person.  But the crimes he committed were rather minor.  In the first case, he stole a wallet that was lying out in plain view unsecured.  Certainly not a nice thing to do and definitely a crime, but a rather minor one.  Even less malicious was the incident where he stuck a $3.99 package of shredded cheese into his pants and attempted to walk out of the store after purchasing other items.

The DA could have gotten a plea agreement, put the guy in jail for a little while, made its point, and saved a huge amount of money in a system that is trying to survive.  Instead he pushed for a lifetime sentence and only when the Vanguard and then the Sacramento Bee covered the case, did they drop pursuing life imprisonment.  But even now, the guy is facing 11 years in prison for very minor crimes.  This would be excessive in times of budget surpluses but perhaps forgivable.  Given our current restraints, with prisoners being released statewide and those to be released locally due to the county’s cuts, why is the DA pushing for eleven years for a guy who stole a wallet and a package of cheese?

At least in the cheese case there was a crime that occurred, but the Galvan case to me is far more troubling because it involves a clear case of police brutality.  We will be discussing this case at greater length later in the week, but after watching a portion of the trial myself and getting a complete report on the full trial, the fact that 11 of the 12 jurors voted for conviction is stunning.

We have a case where the two Galvan brothers were out late at night, but there were no weapons or drugs found on them nor any drugs or alcohol discovered in their systems.  Some how the officers made the determination that Ernesto Galvan was such a threat that they were justified in beating him within an inch of his life.  He is now permanently disfigured, he has clear brain damage, and permanent physical disabilities.  I think under the law, it is questionable as to whether he really resisted arrest (for what crime I am unsure) and battered a police officer.

But even that point aside, there have already been two trials and two hung juries.  What is the interest of justice that is served by trying him a third time at taxpayer expense?  From the strict perspective of the law his injuries are not commensurate with punishment, and from a strict application of commonsense, there is no sentence is that is going to be more severe than the lifetime of problems this man is going to live with.  Even if convicted, he is facing a minor felony charge and a misdemeanor charge, that simply does not seem to warrant a third trial.

At the same time, the county is facing huge deficits and yet no one is willing to scrutinize the kinds of cases that are prosecuted.  The DA’s office would argue that they have prosecuted far less cases than their predecessor who had a policy to prosecute every case.  Perhaps that is true, but we also know that they lose a greater than expected number of cases that go to trial.  The county will not completely fix this budget problem by using better common sense in prosecution, but at least it would be a start in the right direction.

—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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6 thoughts on “Commentary: Given Budget Considerations, Time For DA’s Office To Re-Think Prosecution Policies”

  1. The Bull

    Good. Based on what I’ve learned about these officials (e.g.prosecution, police officers)they are indeed setting up a system which makes it very easy for people to conspire against each other by prosecuting weak cases lacking substantial evidence, which in turn serves to fuel more violence and hate. It is time that all the injustice occurring in this particular county come to end. What I don’t quite understand is why all these officials are not held accountable for their wrongs? Do people really see these people in stately positions as impeccable? Not capable of crimes such as exploiting adolescents, conspiring against citizens, or manufacturing their own evidence and cases? Do not taxpayers or citizens have higher standards for the people that are in such positions? I am perplexed.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    “In the first case, he stole a wallet that was lying out in plain view unsecured. Certainly not a nice thing to do and definitely a crime, but a rather minor one.”

    This is a more serious crime than you think. Were there credit cards or personal information in that wallet? Were the credit cards going to be sold to a third party or used to purchase thousands of dollars of goods? Identity theft is a serious crime, and takes years to undo for the victim. Often a victim’s bank accounts are emptied, they can no longer obtain credit to take out loans to buy things like a car or house.

    “But even that point aside, there have already been two trials and two hung juries. What is the interest of justice that is served by trying him a third time at taxpayer expense?”

    My understanding is there is going to be (or already has been) a civil suit filed against the City of West Sacremento and its police department by the two brothers. The civil suit against the city/police is much less likely to succeed if these two are convicted of having committed a crime. If the pair are acquitted, it lends much more credibility to the brothers’ version of events.

  3. David M. Greenwald


    My understanding is there is going to be (or already has been) a civil suit filed against the City of West Sacremento and its police department by the two brothers. The civil suit against the city/police is much less likely to succeed if these two are convicted of having committed a crime. If the pair are acquitted, it lends much more credibility to the brothers’ version of events. “

    It’s not the DA’s job to protect West Sacramento against a civil suit caused by the actions of their police officers.

  4. wesley506

    According to Senator Webb who I believe used the U.S.Burearu of Justice Statistics as his source, the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but houses 25% of the world’s inmates. We currently incarcerate residents at nearly 5 times the worldwide average. As he so succinctly put it…. “Either we are home to the most evil people on earth, or we are doing something different-and vastly counterproductive”

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy in a recent LA times article criticized California Sentencing policies and crowded prisons, calling the influence of the unionized prison guards in getting the three strike law passes “sick.” He went on to say that U.S. sentences are eight times longer than those issued by European courts.

    According to the Calif State Auditor report 2009-107.1 summary – Sept 09:
    “Nearly 25 percent of the inmate population is incarcerated under the three strikes law. The three strikes law
    requires individuals to serve longer prison terms. In addition, our analysis indicates that such inmates as a
    population are older. Research has found that older inmates require more health care, and as a result the
    costs of incarcerating them are higher. By comparing the sentences of inmates incarcerated under the three
    strikes law to the sentences they might otherwise have received, we estimate that the increase in sentence
    length due to the three strikes law will cost the State an additional $19.2 billion over the duration of these
    inmates’ incarceration”.

    I also read in the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that at current trends, a person born today has a 1 n 18 chance of going to state or federal prison during their lifetime. So it looks like soon we will have two types of people in this country, those under some sort of correctional supervision (jail, prison, parole, probation) and those administering the supervision.

    I personally think that you cannot blame the courts because they are only doing what the citizenry demands, and more and more often that seems to be a lock em up and throw away the key attitude.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    DPD: “It’s not the DA’s job to protect West Sacramento against a civil suit caused by the actions of their police officers.”

    Don’t disagree w your point – just explaining possible motivations for why the DA may be pursuing this case even tho it doesn’t seem prudent to an outsider.

  6. jimt

    wesley,

    Yeah, I think most people (including me) would be willing to modify the 3 strikes law so that only violent felony convictions count as strikes. Multiple conviction non-violent felons could get enhanced sentences and required community service, but not necessarily strikes. Would be nice if a modification to the three strikes law could get on the ballot; if its well crafted and clearly described I think it could pass a vote of the people.

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