Police chief reveals courthouse issues

At last Wednesday’s Susanville Council meeting police chief John King released his quarterly crime report to the council. Nothing unusual there.

But then King shared a statistic that should gravely concern every resident in Lassen County — only 6 percent of the crime reports filed and the arrests made by the Susanville Police Department result in convictions in the Lassen County Superior Court.

King cited several reasons for the conviction rate he reported, first and foremost changes in California state law — Proposition 47 (a law approved by the voters in November 2012 that changed certain low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors. State savings resulting from the measure would be used to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail) and Prop. 64 (The Adult Use of Marijuana Act). He probably meant to cite Prop. 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, an initiative statute frequently cited by law enforcement that permanently changed state law to allow qualifying defendants convicted of non-violent drug possession offenses to receive a probationary sentence in lieu of incarceration.

“Unfortunately, that’s the reality of those things,” King told the council. “I think the statistics will show that.”

Many in law enforcement have expressed their concerns about these changes in state laws that hamper their ability to fight crime, send criminals to jail or prison and keep them there.

King also said the district attorney’s office is overwhelmed by two new deputies in the public defender’s office who ask for excessive discovery materials in every single case, and they’re supported in their efforts by a judge who allows all of this to happen According to King, Lassen County Superior Court Judge Tony Mallery grants these requests by the public defender’s office, “so the DA’s office has no time or ability to deal with even significant cases.”

Despite King’s assertions that such discovery is unusual, excessive and improperly allowed by Mallery, criminal defendants have a crystal clear constitutional right to see all the evidence law enforcement and the district attorney’s office have gathered against them.

But most disturbing, according to King’s presentation to the council, the SPD generated 517 police reports and made 143 arrests that were submitted to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

“The stat that’s not on here” King said, “out of those 143 arrests made and the 517 criminal reports filed, the actual filing and conviction rate from the district attorney’s office is probably going to be somewhere in the range of the sixth percentile.”

While Lassen County District Attorney Stacey Montgomery disputed the chief ’s numbers and disagreed with his assessment — as did several other local attorneys — she acknowledged her office is responding to increased discovery demands from the public defender’s office. In light of those demands, she said her office has delayed filing some cases because she’s waiting for more evidence from law enforcement agencies she believes the public defenders office eventually will request. Mallery declined to comment.

Clearly our community deserves to be better served by our criminal justice system. The judge, the district attorney and the public defender need to find a way to balance the needs of the court, the prosecution and the defense to ensure the wheels of justice turn more smoothly and eliminate this apparent bottleneck in adjudication.