Results tagged “Michael Frawley” from The Court Reporter

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office - Part III - Missing Complaints

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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 alleged crime.

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?

Prosecutors say missing complaints are a problem but sometimes, there is no way to speed up decisions.

"We always 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."

Adding, "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.

Hughes said a further investigation by a police department could result in charges being dismissed.

Frawley 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.

Frawley 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 or her?

Frawley 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?

"No, you 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.

Starting, 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.

"They sign 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.

"And, the 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?

"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."

Adding, "They 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.

"When we 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."

Adding, "If 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."

But Hughes said this is done on an informal basis.

"We are always working together to try to make it more effective," he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office - Part II - Screening Criminal Cases

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There are thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases filed by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office every year.

There are  86 prosecutors who work at the office, and currently, the DA is hiring more attorneys to fill its authorized ranks of 96 authorized positions.

In 2009, the office handled 4,562 felonies and 19,743; in 2010, there were 4,160 felonies filed and 17,331 and in 2011, there were 4,101 felony and 15,011 misdemeanors filed.

Through 2011, the number of both felony and misdemeanor cases has been decreasing in accordance with local and national crimes statistics, according to prosecutors.

The DA's office says the crime decrease is due to many reasons including changing community demographics, improved sophistication in police crime-fighting techniques, improved anti-theft technology in automobiles and increased prison sentences.

Here, Chief Deputy District Attorneys - Mr. W. Charles "Chuck" Hughes and Mr. Michael Frawley  -- answer questions about how these cases are screened and when charges are filed against defendants.

Q: How are misdemeanor and felony cases screened by your office? Take me through the process. Who looks at the reports from law enforcement to determine whether a criminal complaint should be filed against a suspect by the District Attorney's Office?

Frawley explained how the process works: six law enforcement agencies in the county submit incident reports on an alleged crimes, the vast majority  being  general misdemeanors and general felonies.

"We have reviewing (DA)  deputies. That's their job all day long is to look at misdemeanor cases or felony cases and see what's been presented is a provable case, and whether it should be prosecuted," said Frawley.

If it gets filed as a criminal complaint and the defendant doesn't plea  guilty at arraignment --  he noted  that the vast majority of criminal cases do --  then,  the case gets assigned to a prosecutor, according to Frawley.

The prosecutor who is assigned the case reviews it again to make sure it is a provable case, said Frawley.

And if the prosecutor doesn't think he can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, Frawley said, "their job is to go to their supervisor and say, 'I think I've got a case that is not provable.' So at least two sets of eyes would be on every case before it  went to trial."

A supervisor always reviews a case before it goes to trial, said Frawley.

"So that is a third set of eyes that would look and evaluate that case before it ever went to trial," said Frawley.

Hughes added that most felony cases goes through a preliminary hearing and after a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor makes notes about the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing.

"And that's going to be round tabled at a meeting, including the supervisor of that unit and the members of that unit. They are all going to have input, 'hey, is this a case we have sufficient evidence that we should proceed.'"

He said: "Some of the cases don't get filed after a preliminary hearing. Most of them do."

Also Frawley said sometimes after a preliminary hearing and after the round table meetings, some of the criminal charges could be dismissed.

Q: Critics say that once a case is filed by police that prosecutors use a so-called  "shot-gun" approach in charging defendants.  In other words, the district attorney piles criminal charges against defendants with little or no evidence to justify doing so.

An example might be a parking lot fistfight, which can be turned into a felony by simply tagging the legal words "likely to produce great bodily injury" to a misdemeanor battery crime.

Critics say that this action results in defendants having to pay higher bails to get out of jail, cases lingering in the criminal justice system, and in most instances, these crimes that are eventually dismissed or defendants are allowed to plead to lesser charges.

This is a waste of the limited resources and time of the Ventura County Superior Court, which has seen the cut in staff and hours as a result of the state's financial crisis, the critics say.

How do you respond to this?

Hughes denies that this happens at the District Attorney's Office.

"Do we, as a matter of practice, take a 'hey, let's file everything and coerce a guy into pleading to something less approach?'" Absolutely not. We just don't do that."

Adding, "and you're right I've heard those types of criticisms all over the state, all over the nation.  You watch CNN when there is a high profile trial, and somebody is there in front of the camera talking about prosecutors who overcharge. That is a common misconception."

Adding, "if you speak to most prosecutors, they'll tell you that's their worst fear,  that is, convicting somebody of something they didn't really do. I have no interest in doing that. There is nothing to be gained by overcharging somebody."

Hughes said this approach would harm the criminal justice system.

"What happens sometimes is that during the course of the case additional information comes to light. Sometimes it's through our own investigation, sometimes the witnesses tell us things, sometimes, the defense discovers things or knows things that they tell us about. And, we always reevaluate things and at the end of the day, just short of trial, sometimes the case looks very different then it did when it came in."

Sometimes, felony charges are reduced to misdemeanors as the case goes through the process or more felony crimes are tacked on to the criminal complaint, according to Hughes.

Part Two on Friday:  The issue of "Missing Complaints."

 

 

Q&A: The District Attorney's Office

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The District Attorney's Office prides itself in contributing to Ventura County having the lowest crime rate in any county in Central and Southern California according to the Caifornia Department of Justice.

The office has 267 staff members, and 30 of those positions are currently vacant, according to prosecutors.  Some positions are vacant because of budget cutbacks.  There are 96 authorized prosecutor positions, and 86 of those are filled.  The office has 49 investigators posts and 42 are filled, according to the DA.

The number of authorized prosecutor positions has increased from 91 to 96 attorneys in the last five years.  Some vacant attorney and investigator positions will be filled by the end of the year.

As of November, the District Attorney's has an annual budget ranging from $38.7 million in 2011 to $38.6 million in 2013.

Here,  two Chief Deputy District Attorneys --   Mr. W. Charles Hughes and Mr. Michael  K. Frawley,-- answer questions for the Court Reporter Blog about the office and its policy on drunken driving cases, the problem of delays in filing misdemeanor and felony cases, and whether the office takes a so-called "shotgun" approach in charging defendants. in other words, critics say that the district attorney charges defendants with numerous crimes, often with weak evidence,  just to see what charges will stick in court.

This is the first of a three-part  Q&A series, which will be published today, Wednesday and Friday.

Q:  How many drunken driving cases does the District Attorney's Office handle each year? Has there been an increase in the DUI caseload?

There were 5,457 DUI cases in 2009; 4,493 in 2010 and 3,976 last year, according to prosecutors.

 Fortunately, the number of DUI felony and misdemeanor cases has been decreasing since 2009. Felony DUI cases involve repeat offenders who injure others while driving under the influence. In the most extreme cases, these are people who kill others as a result of a DUI, according Frawley and Hughes.

These examples of felony DUI  include Judith Ramirez who was convicted of murder for killing her 17-year-old daughter, and injuring two others, including her four-year-old son, while driving drunk, they stated.

Another example includes  a mid-trial guilty plea to second-degree murder and other charges by Satnam Singh, who drove while under the influence of alcohol. He killed a 20-year-old man and seriously injured another victim, they state.

Q:  State law allows a person who is arrested for drunken driving to plead guilty to a "Wet Reckless" charge if a prosecutor feels that the DUI case against the defendant has some weaknesses.  This weakness may include when blood or breath results are close to .08, which is the blood-alcohol legal limit, and if a sobriety test that is done in the field by law enforcement is bad.

If a defendant who pleads guilty to a Wet Reckless offense gets another DUI within 10 years, it will be considered a second DUI because the Wet Reckless counted against the person is now like a first-time DUI.

In Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, DUI defendants, in some cases, are allowed to plead guilty to Wet Reckless charges instead of DUI offenses.  Has your office ever considered allowing some DUI suspects to plead guilty to Wet Reckless charges instead of DUI offenses?

The fines and penalties between a DUI and Wet Reckless are pretty significant, said Frawley.  The fine for Wet Reckless is between $145.00 and not more than $1,000.  On the contrary, the fines and fees  for a DUI conviction are just under $5,000, said Frawley.

"The difference in the financial penalties is significant between the two," said Frawley. "That  doesn't even include insurance fees going up and attorney's fees. That just what the court charges them."

Also if you get a Wet Reckless conviction,  the law provides for 12 hours of education on the perils of drunk driving, according to Frawley.  For a DUI conviction, it is going to be 30 hours of education, said Frawley.

In addition, there is no mandatory driver's license suspension for a Wet Reckless conviction.  But a DUI conviction will result in a suspension or restriction of a driver's license as part of probation.  The state Department of Motor Vehicles will then decide whther a person's driver's license is revoked or suspended.

Q:  If Los Angeles and Santa Barbara allow some defendants to plead guilty to Wet Reckless offenses  --  taking into consideration that there are now less court resources and court staff because of the state financial crisis that have impacted California courts and the criminal justice system -- why doesn't  the Ventura County District Attorney's Office consider the use  of Wet Reckless offenses ?

 "We don't want to minimize the seriousness of driving and drinking. There is no need to do that, and if we can't  prove our case, then we don't charge it.  We don't get into this plea bargaining thing, well let's see, this case isn't as robust as another case so we'll give this person a Wet Reckless, and this person, we're going to hold out to get the DUI."

Adding, "Other counties might do it that way but that's not the way we want to do business.  If two people are both guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, we want to treat them the same."

The District Attorney's Office isn't going to treat people differently  because one person has a .08 percent drug alcohol reading  and another person blows a .12 percent blood-alcohol.

"They are both guilty of the same thing," said Frawley.

Q:  Do you think that Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties minimize the gravity of drunken driving by  letting some defendants to plead guilty to a Wet Reckless charge?

"It's not for us, at all, to comment how anybody else does business," said Frawley.

Adding, "Just because resources are tight, we are not going to take this less seriously and put the community more at risk. It is a community safety issue."

Q:  Some of the your critics say that this kind of talk -- about being tough on crime and prosecuting anything and everything that -- is  political chest pounding.

The critics note that the whelming majority of cases never go to trial and  plea bargain agreements between defendants and prosecutors happen all the time. More than 95 percent of criminal case filed are resolved through a plea agreement, and cases seldom go to trial.

Can you respond to this?

"One, I'd want to know who are the critics that are saying that because criminal defense attorneys have a financial interest in trying to get the district attorney to lower the price of crime in the county," said Hughes. "And, I am not saying that you can never trust what a criminal defense attorney says. But you have to consider the source.  They have a vested interest in trying to critique the District Attorney's Office into reducing the price of crime."

Adding, "But beyond that. It is not chest thumping. I'd be surprised if you could point to anyone who said we file everything all the time, and it doesn't matter. We use the same filing standards every District Attorney's Office around the state uses. "

Hughes said a criminal complaint is filed against a suspect when there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime along with taking into consideration foreseeable defenses.

" It's not about 'look at us we're filing everything.' That's not what it's about," said Hughes. "It's not anybody in management that's doing the filing of the cases.  It's the line folks (prosecutors) that are applying that criteria day in and day out."

Adding, "What we don't say, 'okay, you committed a robbery. We'll let you plead to a grand theft because it is easier for everybody.' If you committed a robbery and we can prove it, then you have to plead to a robbery. "

"That is where we draw the line. You are going to have to plead to the most serious thing that you did. We are not going to knock it down to facilitate moving cases,"  Hughes said.

 

 

 

 

Judge Gags Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers in Packer Case

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The judge slapped a gag order on prosecutors and defense attorneys during Friday's hearing for Joshua Graham Packer who is accused of slaying the Husteds and their unborn child.

Judge Patricia Murphy's gag order means that attorneys from the District Attorneys Office and lawyers from the Public Defender's Office are prohibited from talking to the media or the public about the case.

Basically, a gag order is intended to prevent pre-trial publicity which would influence potential jurors. Also a gag order is issued to keep lawyers via the media from stirring up public sentiment one way or  another towards a defendant.

The gag order was issued after prosecutor Michael Frawley responded to questions about his adult children possibly being put on the stand to testify in the capital-murder trial which is scheduled to begin in January.

In a recent newspaper article, Frawley made comments in response to remarks made by Packer's lawyer Benjamin Maserang who works at the Public Defender's Office. Maserang claims that Frawley's adult children -- Elizabeth and Kyle Frawley were in a Christian group with Packer in high school.

Elizabeth and Kyle Frawley could be called up as witnesses if Packer is convicted, and the trial proceeds to a penalty phase, according to Maserang.

The comment that apparently got the Public Defender to cry foul was Frawley's response shortly after learning that his children could be served with subpoenas.

"It's probably the lowest sort of trial tactics I've ever seen," Frawley told the Star.

That statement could violate the state's rules of professional conduct, which limit what attorneys can say publicly about opposing counsel, said Attorney Michael McMahon who also works at the Public Defender's Office.

If Frawley's children were in the Christian group with Packer, that could at the least give the appearance of a conflict of interest if Frawley stayed on the case, McMahon said.

 

Chief Assistant DA Post Left Unfilled for Right Now But.......

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After working at the District Attorney's Office for 31 years, Greg Totten's second-in-command James Ellison retired on May 4.

(Mr. Ellison's portrait and job description, however, still appear on the DA's website.)

Anyway, I emailed DA Totten yesterday to find out whether he was going to appoint a new chief assistant district attorney and if so, when he would do this?

Totten who was out-of-town asked Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Frawley to respond to my questions.

Mr. Frawley said that right now  DA Totten isn't going to fill this position. But he has appointed prosecutor Chuck Hughes as interim Chief Deputy District Attorney to help with the management responsibilities in the office.

 Hughes also handled the April 18 report on the DA's two-year criminal investigation of Oxnard.

"So he (Totten) is not filing the position right now as a chief assistant," said Mr. Frawley.

Mr. Frawley said this is a cost-savings move not to fill the second-in-command post.

The courthouse scuttlebutt is that DA Totten will eventually appoint Hughes as his new chief assistant district attorney.


 

Judge Rules that Key DNA Evidence Can Be at Admitted at Packer Trial

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A judge on Tuesday denied a request by attorneys representing murder suspect Joshua Packer to suppress robbery-related evidence gathered after detectives put a GPS tracking device on his vehicle.

Defense attorney Benjamin Maserang unsuccessfully argued that there wasn't probable cause for police to put the tracking device on Packer's SUV.

Packer, 22, of Ventura, is accused of fatally stabbing Brock and Davina Husted and killing their fetus on May 20, 2009, at the couple's Faria Beach house north of Ventura. He has pleaded not guilty.

The judge's decision is important for the case against Packer, according to prosecutors. 

A swab for DNA was obtained from Packer by Santa Barbara Sheriff's deputies as part of the jail's routine booking process after Packer was arrested in that city for a September 2009 robbery.

"It was real important," Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Frawley said in an interview, adding that this DNA evidence, which was sent to a state DNA computer bank, was key to making an arrest in the killings.

 Maserang argued in court that the physical descriptions of the suspect in a string of robberies in 2009 varied to a large degree, including discrepancies in height and hair color.

Prosecutor Michelle Contois countered that there was probable cause to use GPS and that "similar descriptions" of suspects were more than sufficient to satisfy legal and constitutional requirements.

Court testimony indicated police were baffled by several Ventura robberies in September 2009, including at a Shell gasoline station on Harbor Boulevard, an Arco gasoline station on East Main Street, a Dairy Queen restaurant on Telegraph Road and a liquor store on Telegraph Road.

On Sept. 23, 2009, a Thrifty gasoline station in Santa Barbara was robbed.

Several law enforcement officers from Ventura and Santa Barbara police departments and an investigator with the District Attorney's Office testified Monday for several hours about the robberies.

Ventura police tried to find the suspect vehicle involved in that robbery. Police twice stopped a vehicle matching that description, a 2002 beige or light brown Trailblazer.

Jarrod Wilfert, who was then an officer with the Ventura Police Department, testified that Packer was going 85 mph when he stopped him in Ventura. Packer's clothing and other clothing inside the Trailblazer, including dark hoodies and a black baseball hat, matched items worn by the Santa Barbara robbery suspect, according to court testimony.

Wilfert testified that Packer said he was going to a casino near Santa Barbara and had recently won money. Wilfert said just two screws held the license plate, which had no frame. Police maintained in court that is indicative of being able to easily change plates.

More than two hours later, another officer stopped Packer in Ventura. The same items of clothing were found inside the car along with two passengers and a small amount of marijuana. Packer was cited and warned, but not arrested after either stop.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Ventura police placed a GPS tracking device on Packer's SUV and monitored Packer's travel to the Chumash Indian Gaming Casino in Santa Ynez using a route that passes near the Thrifty gas station in Santa Barbara.

In an ongoing investigation, the casino's surveillance cameras indicated Packer had no license plates on the back of his vehicle, according to court testimony. Two search warrants were executed at Packer's residence.

On Jan. 14, 2010, Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies arrested Packer in connection with the Thrifty robbery, saying he made criminal threats using the victim's stolen cellphone.

Frawley said Packer's DNA taken in jail was entered into the state's computer data system and it linked him to the Husted killings around March or April 2010.

"Hey, we've got a match here," Frawley said state officials told the district attorney.


The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.