Guest Commentary: The Current DA Consistently Overcharges Cases

DA Jeff Reisig

By Lisa Lance

Please join me in voting for Dean Johannson for Yolo County District Attorney to help relieve taxpayers while bringing back true justice to Yolo County.

There are many reasons I urge you to vote for Dean, but I believe overcharging is the most important one I have seen while being involved in the criminal justice system since 1998. Overcharging is perhaps the most devastating policy our current district attorney (DA), Jeff Reisig, has brought upon our community.

In deciding which persons to charge and what charges to bring, the DA represents “The People of the State of California.” Over the last ten plus years, Jeff Reisig has consistently sought lengthy prison sentences for possession of even .01 gram of drugs or shoplifting small amounts of food, offenses which were typically charged as misdemeanors in surrounding counties.

Time and again, Yolo County defendants were faced with the possibility of decades in prison when the surrounding counties resolved similar matters for local jail sentences. This led to one of the highest rates of per capita imprisonment in the state, as well as the greatest number of jury trials in the state as people accused of the most minor of crimes literally fought for their lives at a great cost to the county, the state, and the community.

Reisig’s refusal to exercise his discretion to treat some drug offenses as misdemeanors is part of what led to the passage of Proposition 47, which mandated that almost all drug possession offenses be treated as misdemeanors. In the meantime, hundreds of Yolo County residents served lengthy prison sentences for activities that most of California considered to be relatively minor. This has had an extremely destructive impact on families throughout the county who lost family members to imprisonment. In addition, it took resources away from prosecution of more serious crimes in the county, and even civil cases, as courtrooms were regularly clogged with cases for minuscule amounts of drugs, thefts of cheese or bottles of liquor, or, in the case of a homeless man, a tent. Lives have been ruined at taxpayer expense.

Overcharging has become such a mainstay of life in the Yolo County criminal justice system it is hard to select one particular example. One case I remember concerned a 40-yr-old mother a few years ago who faced two almost identical shoplifting incidents at the same time; one in Sacramento County and one in Yolo County. The Sacramento DA, using its discretion, charged her with 1 misdemeanor for shoplifting, so the mother faced up to a year in jail. The Yolo DA charged the most they could: 2 felonies with some enhancements, for which she faced 50 years to life.

Since that time, the voters wisely took the discretion away from the district attorneys when we voted to reform sentencing laws and reduce mass incarceration by a margin of 60 percent or more. Our current DA opposed both of those propositions, as well as the proposition to legalize adult marijuana use, which the voters also recently passed. He has even remained neutral on the three strikes reform proposition the voters enacted that took away DA discretion to insist on exposing people to a life sentence for possessing a tiny amount of drugs or stealing a bottle of alcohol or a pack of cheese.

Jeff Reisig does not share Yolo County values, and continues to work against these propositions that were supported by the majority of the voters.

In his recent mailer, in addition to revealing unproven juvenile police reports to the public and his appalling comments demonstrating his true character of complete antipathy toward our basic constitutional rights, including the right to remain innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the right to have counsel at all stages of a criminal proceeding, Reisig complains that he can’t file felony charges for those possessing date rape drugs any longer.

I would ask Mr. Reisig to advise how many of these cases he has charged a misdemeanor when he would have preferred to use his discretion to charge a felony. My guess is there have been none. Mr. Reisig also complains that he can no longer charge theft of firearm as a felony. These can almost always also be charged as first degree burglaries, which are not only felonies but strikes. So again, Mr. Reisig, how many of these have you had to charge as misdemeanors?

It appears that during this hotly contested election Mr. Reisig has successfully persuaded the local newspapers and some political figures to believe he has been a leader in progressive projects affecting our local criminal justice system.

He has, in fact, initiated Neighborhood Court and has worked with a team (not by himself, as has been reported) from the court, probation, public defender and mental health to enact Mental Health Court (MHC) and Addiction Intervention Court (AIC). These programs could be wonderful, but in fact are very limited in actual use.

MHC has spots for only 15 Yolo residents for its 18-month program. More importantly, our current DA, Jeff Reisig, almost always insists that a person selected for MHC or AIC be convicted of a felony before entering either of these programs.

A person convicted of a felony may never be able to secure a job, housing, or financial aid and will likely lose access to other services needed to succeed and avoid re-offending. Many other California counties do not require people to plead guilty to a felony first, allowing them to enter true diversion programs and avoid a criminal conviction if they successfully complete the program.

Unfortunately, Mr. Reisig has fought tooth and nail against such TRUE DIVERSION programs except as to Neighborhood Court. Neighborhood Court generally only accepts cases that in many counties would not be prosecuted at all–such as noise complaints and drinking or urinating in public.

Jeff Reisig touts the local Addiction Intervention Court as one of his greatest accomplishments. What he fails to mention is that for almost ten years he and his office fought against the successful Drug Intervention Court which already existed in the county.

This intensive and highly supervised program led to the successful rehabilitation of many long term addicts over the objection of Jeff Reisig, who in almost every single case advocated instead for those defendants to go to prison rather than to be given an opportunity in the structured collaborative rehabilitation program. Reisig’s pride in Addiction Intervention Court suggests that he has finally recognized that Yolo County voters support drug treatment over imprisonment and now he wants to take credit for helping the people whom for ten years he tried to bury in state prison.

Dean Johannson will work to greatly expand and truly utilize these programs to divert community members, especially youth and first time and minor offenders, to educate, rehabilitate and assist them to avoid re-offending in the future. He will do so in a manner that will not destroy lives and families, but actually restore communities. Dean’s truly progressive platform would allow Yolo families and the government to avoid wasting vast amounts of money to the courts, jails, prisons, bail bond companies, and instead use resources where they can help the most: in the community for treatment and services.

Families are truly harmed by Jeff Reisig’s system of insisting on felony convictions for vast numbers of our community members, including the seriously mentally ill, that preclude housing, employment and loan options and do not keep our communities safe.

Education and rehabilitation keep our communities safe.

The DA has more impact on our community and our lives than does any other law enforcement official and it is a rare opportunity that we have a choice to vote for someone who will dedicate himself to promoting education instead of incarceration.

Dean will practice transparency and accountability, not secrecy and sensationalism. Please vote for Dean on June 5.

Lisa Lance has been a Deputy Public Defender in Yolo County since 2001.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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27 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: The Current DA Consistently Overcharges Cases”

  1. Jeff M

    This is a manufactured criticism of a DA that has done a tremendous job balancing the primary need to keep Yolo County residents safe from crime and criminals, including our large population of violent gang members… and implementing progressive restorative justice processes to help prevent more crime and to give minor offenders a chance to recover from mistakes in behavior that can be their leaning opportunities.

    Johansson is nothing but a anti-law enforcement activist plant.  Don’t be fooled by this dishonest and irrelevant claim that Reisig over-charges.   First, it is not in any DA’s best interest for their career to try more cases and see his winning rate fall.  Most DAs over-plea bargain… forcing suspects that may be innocent or guilty of lesser crimes to accept punishment only because they fear playing the odds with a judge and jury.   This is the real corruption of judicial process that we see from many DAs… noting that their cases are weak, but instead of giving those charged with crime their opportunity to be tried in a court with a jury of peers, the DA uses fear tactics to extract a “win” and thus also preserving his prosecution trial record.

    The supporters of Johansson have noting good to offer here.  He will either be softer on crime… supporting the anti-law enforcement crowd that is frankly dysfunctional in their advocacy for criminals over the victims of crime, or he will push more plea bargains to keep his trial record pristine.

    In either case this would be bad for the residents of Yolo County.

    Vote for Johansson if you welcome more crime in Yolo County.

    Vote for Jeff Reisig if you want to keep Yolo County safe from criminals, but also with progressive mechanisms of restorative justice.

    1. David Greenwald

      How is this a manufactured criticism?

      This is a criticism from people who work in the courts every day (something that you don’t do) and telling you what they have seen.  And by the way, they didn’t just start saying this.  I’ve known Lisa for a long time, and what she wrote about today, she was saying ten years ago.

        1. Tia Will


          So is it your practice to decide the truth of a comment based on the identity of the source rather than verifying for yourself whether or not they are correct?

      1. Jim Hoch

        To summarize:

        People who work in the prosecutor’s office support the candidate who works in the prosecutor’s office.

        People who public defender’s office support the candidate who works in the public defender’s office.

        It’s really not very complex.



        1. Justine Mistry

          Not true. There are people who work in the district attorney’s office who oppose Reisig, Larry Eichele being one of them. There happens to be a problem with publicly speaking out against this prosecutor when he is also your employer: you risk losing your job. Don’t assume you have the full story, and please take this op-ed seriously.

        2. Jim Hoch

          The same is true for people in the public defender’s office. More to the point, people join the prosecutor’s office or public defender’s office based on psychographic self selection.

          “you risk losing your job”

        3. Tia Will


          It is much more complex than what you are suggesting. By your reasoning, I would always have supported the chair of the department I was hired into. This could not be further from the truth. I supported the chair at the time of my hire. The next two chairs, I was completely unable to support, one because of his deliberately divisive & vindictive nature and another because he was both divisive and incompetent. The last chief I served under was competent, inclusive, fair and innovative and had my full support.

          There are many factors determining where one is employed, not simply whether or not you support the boss.

          1. David Greenwald

            Do you think this is a relevant question in an article about DA overcharging? Please keep your comments on topic. And avoid personal posts.

  2. Sharla C.

    I observed juveniles in Yolo County being charged with burglary when caught shoplifting.  This higher charge feeds them into the Juvenile Justice system in Yolo County and into programs that are very difficult to “graduate” from and starts a several years long struggle with the Probation department and Juvenile Court.  A large majority of these kids are Hispanic.

  3. Craig Ross

    Lisa Lance absolutely destroys Reisig’s claims about progressivism.  Jeff M clearly didn’t read or understand her point.  Neighborhood Court – not a true diversion program because it takes people who wouldn’t be in the system in the first place.  Mental Health Court – 15 places.  Geez.

    1. Tia Will


      Not only 15 places. But 15 places limited to those who have already pled or been found guilty as a pre requisite to entry regardless of factual guilt or innocence. This is not a true diversionary program although Reisig wishes to characterize it as one.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Tia, you do realize that this statement makes no sense at all? If someone was factually innocent why would they be under the authority of the court?

        Diversion means divert from punishment. That being said most diversion programs offer some form of legal relief for successful completion. However I am not aware of any diversion programs that someone who maintains “factual innocence” can enter.

        1. David Greenwald

          Her comment makes perfect sense.  We’re not talking about factual innocence.  The Pape case is a perfect example – the DA prosecutes him for a crime, the Public Defender argues that his actions occurred during the thrawls of mental illness and therefore are not a crime.  But the MHC doesn’t have a way to deal with this situation unless he pleads guilty to the crime.  Diversion in this case can mean diverting from the criminal justice process. You should talk to the public defender about this as she can explain how this process would work better.

        2. Jim Hoch

          ” We’re not talking about factual innocence”  Tia’s comment says “15 places limited to those who have already pled or been found guilty as a pre requisite to entry regardless of factual guilt or innocence” 

          The PET team can hold someone for 72 hours without a criminal but a court based program needs a guilty plea or finding. This is the basis for their intervention.  After successful completion the defendant can withdraw their plea in many direction cases and it is not entered into their record but the point of entry is the court.

  4. Johnny Cache

    I would like to say I’m neither Republican nor Democrat.  I’m an independent.  I cast votes based on what I believe the candidate stands for; not their political affiliation.  From my personal experience I will not be supporting Reisig.  At all.  Period.  I was charged with a misdemeanor, told to plead guilty, and about a year later I had the case dismissed because they violated my 8th Amendment.  It’s now officially on record.  I was homeless at the time and Reisig tried to criminalize me for being homeless.  I was also never offered help of any kind from the DA’s office.  Reisig claims to be making Yolo safer, I disagree: he tried to lock me up for a year and wasted tax payer money in doing so.

  5. Tia Will


    Thank you for speaking out on your experience. When I write, it is based on my perception of what is happening to others. How much stronger a statement is when it comes from someone who actually experienced it.

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