In some criminal incidents, charges
aren't filed because of so-called "missing complaints," meaning that law
enforcement hasn't submitted a police report to the District Attorney's Office,
which reviews the report, weighs the facts and circumstances surrounding an
Prosecutors then make a decision on
whether to file a criminal complaint against a defendant.
Other reasons for the delays in
filing criminal complaints by the District Attorney's Office include waiting to
get a blood-alcohol analysis from the Sheriff's laboratory or prosecutors
sending back police reports that are incomplete or need more information about
the alleged crime that was committed to make a decision on the case.
The result is that defendants - some
who live in other counties - have to return to Ventura County Superior Court
sometimes as much as four or more times just to find out whether the District
Attorney's Office has decided to file charges.
Thousands of misdemeanor complaints
were filed last year -- 19,112.
In DUI cases alone, the District
Attorney's Office handled 5,457 in 2009; in 2010, 4,493 DUI cases were filed
and in 2011, there were 3,976 DUI cases.
Critics say that the delays in making
decisions on whether to file cases takes up a lot of court time, adds to the
court's already crowded calendar and uses up court resources at a time when
California courts are operating with limited resources because of budget cuts.
Also people have to take time off
work just to learn whether charges will be filed against him or her.
There are also the costs in taking
time off work to go to court along with paying for gasoline to get there, which
is often near $4 or more a gallon. This can get more costly if people are
driving to the Hall of Justice in Ventura from other counties, critics note.
During these court appearances,
defendants can tell the judges that they'd rather be notified by mail instead of
repeatedly returning to court to learn whether charges were filed.
But if criminal charges are filed and
the notice gets lost in the mail or if a defendant moves to another residence
or the notice goes to the wrong address by mistake, the result is that the defendant
will never know.
Here, Chief Deputy District Attorneys
- Mr. W. Charles "Chuck" Hughes and Mr.
Michael Frawley - talk about "missing complaints" and how the District Attorney
handles this issue.
Are missing complaints a problem?
say missing complaints are a problem but sometimes, there is no way to speed up
want to make the decision as quickly as possible," said Hughes. "But the way it works, the police agency
submits a case to us that they think 'hey, there may be sufficient evidence here.'
We look at that. Sometimes, there is not enough information to make that decision,
and that's when we then ask for more investigation. And, that becomes a missing
complaint. That's one of the ways."
"There are a variety of ways that it happens. A person can be arrested and
cited, and the (law enforcement) agency doesn't get the filing request to us
because they are doing more investigating."
"We are not
going to reject the case where we think 'you know what, if they take these two
other investigative steps there may be sufficient evidence,'" said Hughes.
a further investigation by a police department could result in charges being
said some defendants agree to return to court instead of being notified by mail
so they won't lose the bail they posted and would have to post it again if the
case is filed.
"So in some
instances it is in the defendant's interest to just agree to come back (to
court)," Frawley said.
said that as of Jan.1, the district attorney isn't going to ask the judges not
to order the defendants who have missing complaints to return to court.
Q: How is the person going to be
notified if the District Attorney's Office files criminal charges against him
said this is going to be done by a courtesy letter or people will be arrested.
"If it's a misdemeanor it will probably be a
letter, generally a felony, it's not going to be a letter," he said.
Q: What happens if a person is
driving down the street and he is stopped because of a traffic violation. The officer then checks and says that criminal
charges were filed against this person in Ventura Superior Court last week.
Will the person be arrested because he has an arrest warrant and taken to jail?
will just be arrested and given a date to appear. No one will take you to jail
on a misdemeanor. You would just be given a court date to appear," said Hughes.
Jan. 1, Ventura County Superior Court judges will no longer put on the court
calendar any future appearances by defendants who have missing complaints,
according to prosecutors.
If a defendant,
for example, who didn't receive the notice to appear in court runs a red light
and he gets pulled over by a police officer," he said. "The officer then runs
the person's driver's license and finds out that this person has a misdemeanor warrant
for a DUI, said Hughes.
their traffic ticket. They get another citation saying, 'show up to court'" on
a specific date for the misdemeanor warrant. The defendant shows up to court
and it is considered a first appearance, according to Hughes.
case moves on," said Hughes. "They are not in any trouble for what's happened
before because there was no case filed. They didn't fail to appear or anything.
They get a new citation. They show up and the case begins at that point."
Q: You agree that missing complaints
are a problem?
in the sense that it creates inefficiencies in the system, yes," said Hughes.
"We work hard to emphasis with our folks that we need to make decisions correctly
and as quickly as possible."
have to be the right decisions. We don't want folks just sitting on cases and
waiting and waiting and waiting. It doesn't help the case. It doesn't help the
justice system. It doesn't help anything."
Q: Has your office tried to pinpoint
the sources of why decisions aren't made quicker to file criminal complaints
and try to address these specific problems?
It might be, for example, that the
Sheriff's laboratory needs another lab technician to do blood-alcohol analysis
or a police agency is overwhelmed with
paperwork , and there is not enough administrative help.
see consistent trends, we try to address them where we can," said Hughes. "We
don't control, obviously, other agencies. They don't control our staffing, and
we don't control theirs. But we have discussions and dialogues."
we see that there is a particular long delay or turn-around time from a particular
agency or particular detective, we address those kinds of things."
said this is done on an informal basis.
always working together to try to make it more effective," he said.