Results tagged “Missing Complaints” 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.









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