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.