Yesterday I posted a comment in response to the question “what is wrong with jury trials?” The unfortunate thing is that some seem to have missed the boat on this issue. The problem is not jury trials, the problem is what it means when Yolo County, which ranks in the middle in terms of crime rate, leads the state in jury trials.
In an email, one commenter pointed out: “When a jury pool is called of perhaps 50 people, many of whom are professionals and taking time off work at a great loss in total productivity, for a misdemeanor shoplifting case there is something wrong with the justice system in this county.”
But another commenter continued to miss the boat, asking, “Interesting point. Is the right to a jury trial the only one of our rights you want to eliminate based on convenience or is this the first of many?”
The commenter sent another email: “Not the interesting point I had in mind and seemingly an extreme defense of the Magna Carta without regard to the role prosecutorial discretion, or lack thereof, brings to the criminal justice system. It’s not the question of the right to a jury trial but whether a trial is in order at all.
“My interesting point is the lack of prosecutorial discretion in such a case where justice would be better served by a ride over to the STEAC office or the food bank instead of inconveniencing so many people for a petty offense. In the last twelve years how many jurors were called for cases that called into question the judgment and discretion of the DA more than anyone else? That is why I’m voting for Dean.”
From my perspective, the right to a jury trial is not one that anyone wants to eliminate.
However, the frequency of jury trials is an indicator here. As I noted above, the crime rate in Yolo County is right in the middle of the pack in terms of per capita in other counties. So why would there be a higher trial rate?
You could argue it’s the defense bar or the prosecution. What’s interesting is that at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Tracie Olson presented data showing that the trial rate was about the same for the PD’s office as it was for the conflict panel, and as it was for the private attorneys. So it does not appear to be the defense bar driving the differential.
Instead, what it appears to be is that the DA’s office is overcharging cases and then not giving reasonable offers, forcing the case to trial. What else is interesting is that the acquittal rate for the PD’s office is 41 percent compared to 16 percent statewide – also an indicator that the DA is overcharging.
What I found most fascinating was the person who emailed in had been a longtime supporter of Jeff Reisig.
In the last few days a few people who have told me that they are voting for the challenger have absolutely stunned me, including several longtime Reisig supporters.
Bail Reform Debate
Last week, we noted a letter from Deputy DA Frits Pieter van der Hoek. He said his boss “is an innovative leader in Yolo County.”
The crux of his argument: “Most people agree that California should move away from its cash bail system. There is no quick fix though. because cash bail in included within California’s constitution. To help unstick this clog, Reisig assigned one of his top prosecutors to work with legislators to reform California’s cash bail system, while managing flight risk and keeping dangerous offenders away from the public.”
There has been no evidence of that, and Jeff Reisig’s office has consistently argued for higher bails even in cases where bail didn’t make a lot of sense.
In a letter to the Enterprise, Bennett Reeber writes, “Since Reisig’s election in 2006, his deputies have enforced one of the most draconian bail schedules in California, perhaps surpassed only by the very conservative San Bernardino County.”
He argues: “This results in pre-trial detention for many, which is unconstitutional except in rare circumstances. We are locking people up who are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty! This denial of freedom has drastic consequences: families are torn apart, jobs are lost, and charged persons take plea deals to get out of custody. We also can’t deny that juries perceive defendants who enter courtrooms from custody very differently than those who arrive from home.”
Mr. Reeber points out, “Mr. Reisig’s office was approached in 2012 to scrap it and start over. Their response? “That’s interesting and we’ll get back to you.” No action was taken. This is no surprise because Mr. Reisig has been against every single criminal justice reform measure.”
But Mr. van der Hoek responds: “Bail is set by judges, which is based on a bail schedule, which is created by judges. How is that you have concluded that this is the DA’s fault, especially when Reisig is actively working with legislators to reform bail and is working to help make Yolo’s OR program more robust in the meantime?”
Last year, I watched a case where a man was arrested on possession but also had some violations of probation. Probation recommended against OR, but the defense argued that the man had a job, family and ties to the area, was not a flight risk and never had a history of violence. He had also never missed a court appearance.
But the DA opposed OR and Commissioner Kent O’Mara told the defense he was not going to go against probation’s recommendation, so he put a $55,000 bail on a man with a job, family and no history of violence.
It is easy to claim you are in favor of reform in the abstract, but DAs do have the discretion to ask for OR or supervised OR. They have the ability to agree with the defense in a case where the man is neither a flight risk nor a risk of violence. However, time and time again, the DA’s office under Jeff Reisig doesn’t do that.
That’s certainly their right, but let us not then try to argue that they are on the forefront of reform, when there is no evidence of that – certainly not in practice.
—David M. Greenwald reporting