It's Report Card time...
As a child, I always marked certain dates on the calendar. Holidays, trips and, most importantly, the days that report cards came out were always noted on the calendar. Depending upon my performance during the six weeks before, I either looked forward to receiving them...or approached the day with dread and apprehension. From a very early point in my life, my parents made sure that I understood that I would be measured for the rest of my life. They emphasized that performance was expected and that if I wanted to succeed, I had to both perform and expect to be judged on that performance.
When I ran for District Attorney, I promised the voters that I would publish a report of our performance as an office, annually. I promised to submit our results to a report card. I promised that we would implement plea offer guidelines that required jail time in home burglaries, drug dealing and violent crime. I promised that we would implement a strict policy to deal with violations of probation. I also promised that we would report to the voters whether we had kept that promise. Well...here it is.
Let me say from the outset...statistics do not drive the workings of this office. I have never spoken individually to an assistant district attorney about their numbers. I tell them every time we discuss statistics as an office that if they just do the right thing, work hard preparing and analyzing their cases and hold offenders accountable, the numbers will take care of themselves. I tell them to make the hard decisions early in cases that we cannot prosecute and focus on improving the cases we can and again, the numbers will take care of themselves.
There are those who are critical of my keeping statistics, and that is their prerogative. I keep them to keep my promise to the voters and to see where we need to improve. I want to make sure that every assistant is shouldering their fair share of the work load and that cases are being professionally handled. As a basketball coach, I used statistics to make me a better coach and to help develop players. I never cut a player who's "numbers" weren't where I thought they should be. I did, however, use it to determine what players were best in certain game situations and which players were capable in critical moments. I also used them to see where players needed to improve. I do the same now. At the end of the day, our only real measure is justice. However the following numbers give us an insight as to how we are performing. They are compiled from our case disposition sheets that are forwarded to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Our office measures performance in three broad categories:
1. Overall conviction percentage. This gives us a basic measure of what is happening to our cases. We should only charge those we believe we can prove are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We should also hold people accountable for what they have done wrong. We should never convict someone just to add to our statistics, but we should convict someone of what they are guilty of having committed.
2. Trial conviction percentage. This gives us a basic measure of how we are performing on cases that are contested to a jury and whether or not we are preparing and trying our cases professionally. I strongly believe that this number is indicative of how well our office is performing. In these cases, a citizen has demanded that we prove their guilt to a jury of their peers beyond a reasonable doubt. When we stand before a jury, we should expect to convict. I tell my assistants that I never want them to be afraid to try a case. If you indict a case, be ready to try it. We will lose some cases, but we should have a strong performance in every case and always be prepared. Let the jury do their job and be prepared.
3. Percentage of cases pled to our guidelines. People hate plea bargains. I understand that. However, they are necessary to efficiently administer justice. We do not have enough judges, jurors and courtrooms to try every case. However, if we plea bargain a case, we should still demand accountability. When I took office, I specifically set out that home burglars, drug dealers and violent criminals should receive an offer that included some minimum jail time. My reasoning was that if we made offers that included significant jail time, defendants and their lawyers could either go to trial or plead guilty and have a sentencing hearing if they disagreed with our offers. If they truly believed we were being unreasonable, they could ask a judge to decide an appropriate sentence or just go to trial. We, however, would make offers that included jail time.
Here is how we have done:
Overall Conviction Percentage:
70 percent. Last year, the percentage was 68 percent. The year before I became District Attorney, the percentage was 54 percent.
Trial Conviction Percentage:
67 percent. Last year the percentage was 65 percent. The year before I became District Attorney, the percentage was 48 percent.
Percentage of Counts meeting sentencing expectations
88 percent. In 88 percent of the cases where mandatory minimum amounts of jail time must be offered, defendants are pleading to sentences including those minimums.
We will always strive to do the right thing. We look at the law and the facts and try to achieve justice. Justice is subjective many times and is an elusive concept. We will, none the less, continue to seek it in every case. But these numbers translate into accountability. If you want to look for reasons that the jails in the Tenth Judicial District are overcrowded, this is certainly one. The Assistant District Attorneys who are responsible for these results should be commended for their efforts to improve public safety and hold offenders responsible. I am proud of them and their work.
Every year I will report to you. You deserve to know...and I promised you I would.