Since this announcement, Gallegos' office has prosecuted many non-violent misdemeanors. And the 48 hour law (CA Penal Code 825) is not supposed to allow "law enforcement" to jail someone for 48 hours with no expectations of charges. It is required that an arrested person, in jail, is brought in front of a judge or magistrate AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to be charged with the crime for which they are locked up. It is not a given that someone must be in jail for 48 hours (or more, with holidays and weekends) if the DA KNOWS he will not be charging! ~Redwood Curtain CopWatch
Misdemeanor prosecutions may fall prey to budget ax
DA warns law enforcement funding may prevent filing of most non-felony cases
Thadeus Greenson THE TIMES-STANDARD May 31, 2012
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos is warning local law enforcement officials that his office may be unable to prosecute most misdemeanor offenses if his budget doesn’t increase with the coming fiscal year.
“We want to prosecute everything, but what I’ve let the chiefs know is that if we are not staffed adequately, we may have to reduce our cases,” Gallegos said. “We’ve been understaffed for a long time, and we’ve worked 100 ways to make it happen, but what’s progressively happened is we’ve just gotten to the point where there is no more to cut.”
While Gallegos’ proposal to drastically cut down on misdemeanor prosecutions if his budget isn’t increased has been met with concern in law enforcement circles, he said he simply doesn’t see any way around it, explaining that his office’s expenses have been growing — through personnel and supplies costs — while its funding has shrunk.
The proposed 2012-2013 county budget holds the line of funding for the DA’s Office from last year, but Gallegos said his office has seen some of its grants reduced, adding that grant money accounts for 62 percent of his budget.
If things don’t change, Gallegos said, his office will be left with 11 attorneys — including himself and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel, who handles charging of all the office’s cases and, consequently, rarely sees a courtroom.
Gallegos said he has three attorneys that are tied to grants or funding sources — one for environmental and consumer protection, one for worker’s compensation and auto insurance fraud, and another to handle drug task force cases — and the remaining six deputy district attorneys man the county’s six courtrooms, which must be staffed with a prosecutor five days a week. And, Gallegos said, with attorneys spending hours in preparation for every hour in court, his staff is wearing thin.
“I’m breaking people,” Gallegos said. “We are at a critical staffing level, and we’ve gotten there not just in one year, but over years and years. A little reduction is now a big reduction because you get to that tipping point, that threshold.” With thousands of misdemeanor arrests annually in the county — 7,460 in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available from the state Attorney General’s Office — ranging from drug possession and petty theft to indecent exposure and vandalism, local law enforcement officials are not happy to hear that the bulk of those cases may not be prosecuted moving forward.
“I was kind of shocked to hear it,” said Interim Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham, adding that Gallegos broke the news to him and other local chiefs at a recent meeting, saying next year’s budget may only allow him to prosecute misdemeanor DUI and spousal battery offenses, meaning he’ll decline to charge all others.
“I’ve been in law enforcement a long time, and we can’t do that — I can’t allow my officers to go out there and walk away from crime,” Harpham said, noting that his officers made more than 2,000 misdemeanor arrests from November 2011 to April 2012. “That’s a lot of arrests to walk away from.”
Gallegos said he’s not asking police not to arrest offenders — he’s just saying he won’t prosecute them, meaning law enforcement can still pick people up and book them into the jail, but they’ll be released by law after 48 hours without charges being filed against them.
That’s just what the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office will do if misdemeanor prosecutions do see a large drop off, said Lt. Steve Knight.
“We will still continue to do our job and will continue to submit cases and, obviously, the district attorney has to make his own charging decision,” Knight said. “We would still respond to calls and treat everything the same as we do now.” Knight said his department hopes not to be faced with that reality.
Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said Gallegos’ proposal is “pretty drastic” and frustrating, as this is the first year in four years that the county hasn’t had to make budget reductions and is working with a budget proposal that holds the line on county spending. Sundberg said the board is faced with $3 million in supplemental budget requests with only $150,000 in additional revenue to spend. Included in those supplemental requests is one from Gallegos to hire two additional attorneys.
“I wish we had more money, but we don’t,” Sundberg said. [Humboldt County Board of Supervisors has salaried itslef to have the highest pay for Supervisors in the State of CA] “And I hope that we can still prosecute misdemeanors. I hope there’s a creative way (Gallegos) can continue to do that. I know the community expects misdemeanors to be prosecuted.” In some jurisdictions, they still may be. Cities can opt to prosecute their own misdemeanor cases, and Eureka City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson is asking the city council to approve $60,000 in funding for her office in order to do just that. But the county doesn’t have that option, as the law doesn’t allow county counsel to prosecute cases.
For his part, Gallegos said he’s run out of creative solutions, adding that he has six attorneys handling somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 cases a year. Unless the budget pictures changes, Gallegos said his misdemeanor prosecution policy will have to. “We will still prosecute all misdemeanor crimes of violence or things that endanger the public, like battery and DUIs,” he said. “But the low-level stuff — like driving without a license, drunk in public, disturbing the peace — we can’t continue to do it. It’s not that we don’t want to. The fact is that it is completely unsustainable. ... We’re going to do everything we can to minimize the impact on the community but, at some point, you can’t keep cutting, keep cutting and saying, ‘just do more.’ At some point, it becomes a zero-sum equation.”