COLUMN ONE : Crime Overloads L.A. Justice System : Many suspects are never prosecuted and small crimes are often ignored. A yearlong jail sentence actually means 155 days or less.
Crime is choking the criminal justice system in Los Angeles.
Numbed by rising violence and overwhelmed by drug offenses, the system routinely gives short shrift to all but the most serious crimes.
Police often take hours to respond to burglaries and other property crimes, if they respond at all, and most of the cases are never investigated.
Prosecutors trade guilty pleas for lesser sentences for nearly every crime, including homicide, rape and robbery.
Judges regularly grant probation to habitual narcotics dealers and other repeat offenders who, by law, should go to prison.
Sheriff’s officials release inmates months early from the county’s overcrowded jails, where felons serve less time than they would in nearly any other large American city.
Probation officers rarely, if ever, see tens of thousands of the convicted criminals who are supposed to be actively supervised.
“We are fooling the public,” said Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. “They think because everybody talks tough, that the system is tough, but the system won’t allow us to be tough.”
With more crime than they can handle, detectives have become more selective about which cases they actively investigate. With more suspects than courtrooms, prosecutors have become more selective about which cases go to trial. And with a limited number of cells in the county jail and state prisons, many judges have become more selective about who should be put away--and for how long.
As veteran Deputy Dist. Atty. Norman J. Shapiro puts it: “Look at the courts. They’re filled up with murders and rapes. Who cares about somebody stealing a $1,500 stereo?”
Virtually every community in America is struggling against crime. But in Los Angeles, where law and order have been glorified in countless movies and television shows, crime has forced the justice system to make one concession after another.
A nine-month study by The Times found:
* While Chief Gates has declared publicly that casual drug users “ought to be taken out and shot,” his own department and the district attorney’s office have an agreement that has allowed hundreds of small-time “crack” cocaine dealers to dodge potential prison sentences and instead be charged with a lesser crime. This happens because hard-pressed police criminalists do not routinely conduct the laboratory tests needed to distinguish crack from ordinary cocaine when dealers are arrested with relatively small amounts of the drug. The agreement even applies when dealers sell crack directly to undercover LAPD officers.
* Los Angeles police officers are arresting people in record numbers for the worst crimes, but a higher percentage of suspects are being released without ever going to court. Though the number of adults arrested for so-called Part I crimes--homicide to larcency--climbed by more than 50% in the last decade, a greater percentage of suspects were prosecuted in 1980 than last year, according to police records. In 1980, for instance, 55% of those arrested for rape were ultimately charged with rape or lesser crimes; last year, that rate had dropped to 28%.
* Deputy district attorneys routinely offer defendants shorter sentences for pleading guilty when accused of serious crimes, despite a California law intended to restrict plea bargaining in such cases. Of more than 1,800 randomly selected felony cases examined by The Times, 98% were settled with accused criminals agreeing to plead guilty rather than face trial. Of those cases, 3% ended in defendants going to prison for maximum terms. “It’s a settlement system,” said presiding Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard P. Byrne. “It is not a trial system.”
* Crimes that would be filed as felonies elsewhere in California commonly end up being treated in Los Angeles as misdemeanors--lesser offenses with usually lighter penalties. Suspects, for example, who shoot into inhabited dwellings without killing or wounding anyone face only misdemeanor charges as a matter of practice. “The joke around our office,” said City Atty. James K. Hahn, “is that if you’re a good shot, it’s a felony; if you’re a poor shot, it’s a misdemeanor.”
* Many crimes prosecuted as misdemeanors elsewhere are simply ignored in Los Angeles. The city attorney, as a rule, will not file charges against accused shoplifters unless the value of the goods stolen is more than $10. People who rent movie videotapes and never return them generally need not fear prosecution unless the value of the tapes exceeds $400.
* Criminals on probation who are arrested for attempted robbery, burglarizing businesses and other felonies deemed low priority increasingly are not charged with those crimes. Instead, many are accused only of violating terms of their probations. The tactic, judges say, is intended to ease jail overcrowding and reduce court caseloads. Critics, however, call such cases “freebies” because the defendants go unpunished for their new crimes.
* Prosecutors in Los Angeles commonly ignore or drop charges called “special allegations” intended by legislators to prevent repeat offenders from being granted probation or to lengthen the time that certain criminals must serve in prison. Prosecutors did not pursue these allegations in nearly one-third of all cases in which defendants were eligible, The Times’ study found. In cases where special allegations were filed, nearly three-quarters were dropped under plea agreements. One in five convicted felons who received probation could have been declared legally ineligible, but prosecutors did not file the appropriate special allegations that would have compelled judges to send the defendants to prison.
* Los Angeles County Jail inmates serve less time than those convicted of comparable crimes in all but a few other major U.S. cities. Faced with federal court orders to limit jail overcrowding, the Sheriff’s Department in 1988 began granting inmates extraordinary time credits that today reduce a one-year jail sentence to no more than about five months. Last year, 86,911 inmates were freed before fully serving their court-ordered sentences, to make room for new inmates.
* Over the past decade, median prison sentences have grown shorter in Los Angeles County. The median term imposed by judges throughout California has remained 36 months, while the median term in Los Angeles has dropped to 28 months from 36, according to the California Board of Prison Terms.
* Hundreds of illegal immigrants subject to deportation after serving jail time have been simply dumped back on the streets of Los Angeles each month--often to commit more crimes. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization administrators say there are not enough agents to identify and detain all deportable aliens before they are let out of jail. Of criminal cases studied by The Times, about one in four cases involved defendants who were illegal immigrants.
* Judges sometimes impose light sentences without knowing full criminal histories of defendants. Probation officers say that new, tighter deadlines intended to streamline sentencing too often prevent them from providing judges with complete reports on the criminal backgrounds of defendants. In one case, The Times found that a judge sentenced an accused burglar to a minimum prison term without knowing he was a repeat offender and a wanted fugitive.
* Of 90,000 convicted adults in Los Angeles County who are supposed to be on supervised probation, almost three-quarters do not report to a probation officer. Instead, their names are fed into a computer and they are told to mail monthly postcards to the Probation Department to let authorities know where they are.
* The Probation Department provides little or no supervision to many convicted felons who are required to report regularly to probation officers. Given caseloads that can exceed 300, some probation officers say they can barely spend 10 minutes a month with “clients,” including those convicted of murder and rape.
* More than 17,000 people on probation are under court orders to be periodically tested for drug use but, left to the discretion of the Probation Department, nearly half never are tested. Probation officials say they do not have the budget or staff to process that many urine samples.
* When a convicted criminal violates his probation and a Superior Court judge issues a bench warrant, the odds are less than 1 in 12 that the person will be arrested on the warrant. Sheriff’s deputies assigned to serve bench warrants and arrest probation violators say they rarely have time to do more than check the violator’s last known address before going on to the next warrant. Last year, only 1,600 of more than 20,000 Superior Court bench warrants resulted in arrests.
Few would deny that Los Angeles County’s $2-billion-a-year criminal justice system is in trouble, but not everyone within it is convinced that criminals are receiving more lenient treatment amid the crush of cases.
“No one,” said supervising criminal Superior Court Judge David A. Horowitz, “is giving away the courthouse.”
Indeed, police officers are arresting criminal suspects in record numbers, prosecutors are filing criminal charges in record numbers and the guilty are going to jail or prison--in record numbers.
Yet seemingly in every courtroom, behind every probation officer’s door, on the beat of every detective, stories abound that demonstrate how crime in Los Angeles has been devalued as never before.
The images are not so much of justice served, but of justice in distress.
Out for an evening of dancing, a man and his live-in girlfriend argue. He pounds her with his fists--so hard that her left eye later must be surgically removed. He faces up to eight years in prison for mayhem. Police and probation officers recommend that he be put away.
Records show that his criminal history is light and, even though she has been beaten before, his girlfriend says all is forgiven. He pleads guilty to mayhem and is sent to the County Jail--where he serves about five months.
Drinking together in an apartment last Christmas Day, three men begin to fight. One of them is armed with a razor-sharp utility knife, which he uses to slash and stab the other two.
He is charged with two counts of attempted murder, each punishable by a maximum of nine years in prison, but insists that he was only defending himself. Having sat in jail for 150 days while awaiting trial, he pleads guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and is released after serving another two months.
On a busy street, a gang member with an Uzi rifle trades gunfire with a rival, killing him. After a year of delays, the gang member is finally brought to trial for murder, but the jury deadlocks on his fate.
Rather than be retried, he is allowed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. Sentenced to eight years in prison, then credited for time spent in jail awaiting trial, he will serve about three years.
Typical court cases. Typical endings. Typical examples of violence in an increasingly violent city where the number of homicides this year could well exceed 1,000.
Most criminal actions filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court today, even murders, end in like fashion, with defendants pleading guilty to reduced charges or lighter sentences.
In fact, as violence has increased and the war on drugs has escalated, the resultant flood of cases has forced the criminal justice system to compromise at every level.
“We can’t give the same attention to every case that we did 10 years ago because we have so many more cases,” said Richard Neidorf, a former prosecutor who became a Superior Court judge three years ago. “We are having to engage in triage every day and every day we are at a crisis level. . . .
“I don’t see how I can last another 17 years without taking 10 years off my life.”
The proliferation of street gangs has contributed in no small fashion to the rise in violent crime--and to the workloads of judges, prosecutors, police and others.
There were an estimated 45,000 gang members in 1985 in Los Angeles County. Today, there are 90,000.
More than one-third of the homicides committed today in the county are gang-related. The ratio a decade ago was 1 in 10.
Police Detective Robert L. Suter has seen firsthand the relationship between gangs and rising violence. For most of the 26 years that he has worked at the Hollenbeck Station east of downtown, he has commanded the station’s homicide squad.
Things are not like they once were, said Suter, who wears his mustache perfectly clipped and his pistol in a shoulder holster. It used to be that gang boundaries were set, everyone knew who belonged where, and his six detectives, many of whom had 20 years on the beat, often could figure out who did the killing--and why--with relative ease.
Nowadays, Suter said, there are too many gangs, too many killings--45 in Hollenbeck alone last year--and his most experienced investigators have retired.
As if all that were not enough to stifle justice, he said, it seems to take forever to get murder weapons and fingerprints tested by the police lab. On weekends, his detectives cannot get mug shots from downtown, which means they cannot show photo lineups to witnesses, which means murder suspects often remain free until at least Monday.
“We have a Polaroid camera,” Suter added, “but we can’t even get film for it.”
Hollenbeck Station was supposed to get more detectives, according to Suter, “but a lot of resources are going to narcotics right now.”
Nothing has staggered criminal justice in Los Angeles as much as drugs. An estimated three-quarters of all felony suspects arrested in the city today have cocaine, heroin or other narcotics in their blood, according to authorities. Fully half of all defendants sentenced this year in Superior Court will have been convicted of violating drug laws.
The number of people arrested in Los Angeles for drug law violations has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 21,746 in 1980 to 51,385 in 1989, Police Department records show.
Few, however, receive the degree of punishment intended by voters and legislators who have enacted statutes to keep narcotics offenders off the streets. Instead, many dealers and users pass repeatedly through a revolving door that allows them to commit crime after crime.
Of 184 randomly selected cases studied by The Times in which defendants were charged with selling cocaine, only six received the maximum prison term of five years. Virtually all the rest negotiated guilty pleas that resulted in lighter sentences.
Almost half were sentenced to six months or less in the county jail.
Consider 21-year-old dealer Lavon Conway.
By age 15, Conway, a former altar boy whose right arm bears the tattoo “Devil,” already had been convicted of armed robbery and shipped off to a work camp for juvenile offenders.
By age 16, he had picked up a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and had been ordered home on probation.
By age 19, he had pleaded guilty to possession of rock cocaine for sale, for which he eventually received 60 days in jail after failing to attend a drug diversion program.
In April, 1989, Conway was arrested yet again, this time for selling an undercover Los Angeles police officer $20 worth of crack in Hollywood.
Under a body of California laws called “special allegations,” a person who has already been convicted for sale or possession for sale of cocaine must be sent to prison if convicted again for a like crime. Possession for sale of cocaine is punishable by as many as four years in prison; actual sale of cocaine carries a maximum five-year prison term.
Yet in Conway’s case, as in hundreds of others examined by The Times, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office never bothered to pursue the appropriate special allegation. After plea bargaining, Conway admitted guilt and in July, 1989, was placed on three years’ probation on condition that the first 180 days be spent in jail.
With the weeks he had already served awaiting his day in court, plus time credits allowed by the Sheriff’s Department to reduce jail overcrowding, Conway was back on the streets in less than three months.
Within days, he was arrested anew as a passenger in a stolen car. The district attorney’s office, however, declined to charge him.
Nine days after that, he was picked up for attempting to rob a transient near MacArthur Park. In the interests of “judicial economy,” the district attorney’s office charged Conway only with violating his probation.
Conway admitted the violation in November, 1989, and was sentenced to 77 days in jail, court records show. He had already served 51 days awaiting his court date and was entitled to another 22 days “good time-work time” credit. His remaining time in jail: four days.
Again Conway was released on probation and ordered to undergo drug testing. Again he failed to comply. In March, another bench warrant was issued.
Less than two weeks later, as Conway stood on a street corner in Hollywood, two uniformed officers on routine patrol approached him. Conway, according to the officers, dropped a rolled dollar bill from his hand. In it were several rocks of cocaine. He was charged with possession for sale of crack--his third drug offense in two years.
“He must not be allowed to prey further upon society,” Deputy Probation Officer Ernest Butler wrote in a pre-sentence report to Superior Court Judge Candace D. Cooper, who was to sentence Conway.
Once again, the district attorney’s office did not pursue the necessary special allegation mandating that Conway go to prison.
On May 18, after Conway agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of possession of cocaine, Judge Cooper pronounced sentence: probation and a year in the County Jail.
Conway was back on the streets within five months.
“He’s not a bad kid,” said his grandmother, Wilda Little, who raised him, “he’s just a disturbed kid.”
When criminals in Los Angeles are sent to jail rather than prison, they are apt to serve less time than their counterparts in all but two of the 20 largest U.S. cities, according to a Times survey. Only in Dallas and San Antonio, Tex., where a federal court order to prevent overcrowding has limited the number of inmates sent to prison, do convicted criminals spend fewer days in custody.
In New York, defendants serve 241 days after a judge imposes a one-year jail sentence. In San Diego County, a one-year sentence amounts to 236 days. But in Los Angeles County, which operates the nation’s largest municipal jail system, a one-year sentence has come to mean no more than 155 days.
Over the last decade, the number of people held in the county’s jail system has nearly tripled, to about 22,000--a population approaching that of South Pasadena. The system’s 11 jails were built to house only 13,530 inmates.
Faced with federal guidelines limiting the number to no more than 22,383, the Sheriff’s Department releases hundreds of arrestees each day who two years ago would have had to pay bail to get out of jail.
Anyone arrested on a misdemeanor whose bail is set at less than $7,500 is automatically freed on his “own recognizance” after promising to appear in court. Even arrestees with outstanding warrants are let go if the bail on the warrants totals less than $5,000.
Since May, 1988, when the program was started, about 145,000 arrestees have been released from jail without having to post bail. More than half never show up for court, sheriff’s officials and court administrators estimate.
The Sheriff’s Department in 1988 also adopted a fluctuating scale that has dramatically reduced the time inmates serve in jail after being sentenced: The more crowded the jail becomes, the less time inmates must serve.
Since January, all inmates have had 35% of their court-ordered sentences lopped off by the sheriff.
The sentences are further reduced by standard credits that reward inmates for working and behaving themselves in jail. Under the credits system, their time in custody is cut by one day for every two served. Jailers say that inmates get “work-time” credits even without working, because there are more inmates than jobs.
Additionally, under a 1977 California law intended to relieve jail overcrowding, inmate sentences in Los Angeles also are automatically reduced by one day for every 10 the inmate serves--up to five-days’ credit. For appearing in court, an inmate gets an additional one day off.
When all credits are tallied, a one-year jail sentence in Los Angeles today translates to about five months.
“We don’t have a choice,” said Sheriff Sherman Block, whose department operates the jails. “We don’t have the space.”
That is primarily why convicted robber Demetrius King, 27, served little more than five months.
Shortly before midnight on June 24, a Domino’s deliveryman answered a call for two pizzas at the apartment house in Southwest Los Angeles where King was living. King, a former Crips gang member and convicted drug dealer, had been released from state prison six weeks earlier and was on both parole and probation.
After the pizza man pulled up, King and three others threatened him with a bumper jack and pummeled him with their fists. They fractured his jaw, robbed him of $25 and stole the pizzas, according to court records.
When police arrived, they found a bumper jack and two empty Domino’s boxes in King’s apartment. The pizza man positively identified King and the others as having attacked him, and they were arrested for robbery. Investigating officers concluded that King had orchestrated the crime.
On Sept. 27, after King agreed to plead guilty to second-degree robbery--punishable by a maximum five-year state prison term--Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner sentenced him to three years’ probation with the first year to be spent in the County Jail. With credit for time served before sentencing, King was released Friday and returned to state prison for violating parole. Most parole violators spend less than three months in prison.
Jail overcrowding, sheriff’s officials say, is exacerbated by the thousands of illegal immigrants who commit crimes and are incarcerated in Los Angeles. Many are then eligible for deportation but instead are released to the streets where some continue to break the law.
Regional planning officials estimate that illegal immigrants account for about 14% of the county’s 8.5 million residents. But The Times’ study found that they represent 23% of all defendants charged with felonies.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service since 1988 has assigned agents to the County Jail’s Inmate Reception Center to identify and deport criminal aliens as they are released after finishing their sentences.
However, the agents only staff the center 16 hours a day, although the Sheriff’s Department releases inmates around the clock.
“When they’re ready to go, unless they have an (INS) hold on them, we kick them out the door just like everybody else,” said Capt. Lee Davenport, who commands the reception center. “We have to make room.”
To study how many deportable criminals were actually passing out of the jail undetected, the INS decided to post agents at the reception center day and night throughout the month of May.
In staffing the jail 16 hours a day, agents are able to identify about 800 deportable aliens a month, according to INS District Director Robert M. Moschorak. But with round-the-clock staffing, nearly 2,000 were identified.
Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the study, INS officials decided not to staff the center at all hours.
“It would be a worthwhile project,” Moschorak said, “but it is manpower-intensive. We have a seven-county area with 105 special agents to cover it. We can’t be sending agents to every jail 24 hours a day.”
Moschorak said Los Angeles sheriff’s officials have promised that inmates identified as deportable will be detained for the INS when agents are not present.
The hitch, sheriff’s officials say, is that the INS must first identify those inmates they want held for possible deportation.
“We’re going to hold them until the morning,” said Davenport, commander of the inmate reception center, “but if (the agents) aren’t here by then . . . or don’t identify them and put a hold on them, out the door they go.”
That is how Mario Ayon, a 29-year-old Salvadoran, got out of jail.
In April, Ayon sold an undercover police officer a small amount of heroin, and the Probation Department recommended that he go to prison. A month later, Judge Michael A. Tynan sentenced him to a year in County Jail, followed by two years of probation.
“This is a small-time thing compared to rapists, murderers and robbers,” said Tynan, who in 1989 presided over the conviction of Night Stalker serial killer Richard Ramirez. “If we tried these lightweight cases just for spite, we (wouldn’t) have time” for more serious criminals.
When he arrived in Los Angeles in 1984, Ayon had already been deported once by border patrol agents in El Centro and twice had voluntarily left the country after arrests in Santa Barbara County, probation records show.
Over the next five years, he was convicted in Los Angeles no less than eight times for crimes ranging from burglaries to street robberies, including ripping gold chains from women’s necks.
Most of the crimes ended with Ayon serving a few months or weeks in jail. The longest term was six months at the California Institution for Men at Chino for violating probation.
Not once after he was released from custody in Los Angeles was he deported, probation records indicate.
Ayon finished his most recent jail term in October, after serving less than 4 1/2 months. While his court record clearly indicated he was deportable, the INS did not place a “hold” on him or attempt to detain him, according to the jailers.
“We released him,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Morgon.
Even when jail inmates have been detained by the INS as illegal immigrants, it often has not resulted in deportation.
Because federal immigration courts are so clogged and federal detention facilities so limited, most illegal immigrants convicted of criminal acts until recently were simply asked to leave the United States and many were put on buses to Tijuana, according to immigration officials.
Many returned to commit more crimes. Had they been formally deported in the first place, they would have been subject to felony prosecution in federal court for having re-entered the country illegally. Instead, many once again passed through the county’s criminal justice system--only to be asked once again to leave the country voluntarily.
The Times study found that one out of every 10 illegal immigrants prosecuted in Los Angeles Superior Court already was on county probation or state parole when arrested.
Under an INS policy implemented in October, illegal immigrants who are convicted locally of “aggravated” felonies, including drug trafficking and many violent offenses, automatically face deportation hearings.
“Our argument has always been that the best way to deal with these people is to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” Moschorak said.
About This Series
The Times today begins a seven-part series that explores the impact of crime on every level of the criminal justice system in Los Angeles.
A nine-month study found that crime has forced every level of the system to make concessions to cope with an increasing number of cases. The result, The Times found in conducting more than 200 interviews and examining 1,800 court cases, is a devaluation of crime in Los Angeles:
Police no longer respond promptly to burglaries and other property crimes. Some crimes that would be prosecuted as felonies elsewhere end up as misdemeanors in Los Angeles. Judges in Los Angeles are imposing sentences that are among the shortest in America. The Sheriff’s Department is releasing prisoners early from over-crowded jails. The probation department is unable to supervise hundreds of convicted criminals. And the future, according to those within the system, is not likely to improve in the short run.
TODAY: An overview of a system choking on drugs, violence and other crime.
MONDAY: The decline in police service.
TUESDAY: Drug crime and punishment.
WEDNESDAY: The deals prosecutors make.
THURSDAY: The courts and sentencing.
FRIDAY: Probation without supervision.
SATURDAY: The future of criminal justice.
How the Research Was Done
“Justice in Distress” is the result of a Times examination of the criminal justice system in Los Angeles--from arrest through prosecution and punishment.
More than 200 police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation officials, crime victims and criminals were interviewed about the system’s performance and about dozens of individual court cases, ranging from burglaries and narcotics sales to rapes and homicides.
To determine prosecution and sentencing practices, The Times conducted a computerized study of 1,831 adult felony cases and probation reports randomly drawn between June and August from the 11 district courthouses of Los Angeles County Superior Court. The study, designed and directed by Times director of computer analysis Richard O’Reilly, used procedural manuals issued to Los Angeles County’s probation officers and deputy district attorneys to analyze whether defendants were subject to longer sentences and were ineligible to receive probation. When applied to the entire county caseload, The Times findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Times also analyzed dispositions of felony arrests for the years 1982, 1988 and 1989 by using computer tapes obtained from the state Bureau of Criminal Statistics of the attorney general’s office.
To gauge the perceptions of those within the justice system, The Times Poll surveyed 798 probation officers, 423 public defenders, 398 police officers, 313 Municipal and Superior Court judges, and 279 prosecutors from the offices of the city attorney and the district attorney. The results, gathered largely from telephone interviews July 30 to Sept. 25, have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 to 8 percentage points, depending on the size of each group surveyed.
The survey was supervised by Susan Pinkus, assistant Times Poll director.
Research assistance for the criminal courts computer analysis was provided by Times statistical analyst Maureen Lyons and law students Jeff Gillett of UC Davis, Cindy Kassman of UCLA and Leslie McWilliams of USC.
Felony Arrests: The Bottom Line Of all the felonies committed in Los Angeles County, fewer than 17% result in arrests. Fewer than 1% of all felony crimes result in defendants receiving maximum prison sentences. This column represents all of the felony crimes committed in Los Angeles in 1989 (100%). Of those crimes... 16.8% resulted in felony arrests 9.7% resulted in felony charges Convictions* 5.4% result in jail terms 2.0% result in low prison terms 1.1% result in mid prison terms 0.3% result in high prison terms * 0.4% of the felony crimes get probation without jail. Sources: Los Angeles Police Dept., Bureau of Criminal Statistics, State Attorney General, Los Angeles County Superior Court records After Arrest Of the felony crimes that result in arrests: 21% Released by police 20% Charged with misdemeanors 59% Charged with felonies Outcome of Felony Charges Of the crimes that result in felony charges actually being filed: 95% Convicted 4% Dismissed/Diverted 1% Acquitted Common Prison Terms The law sets specific determinate sentence lengths crime by crime within these general ranges: Property Crimes Low term-16 months--2 years Mid term-2--3 years High term-3--4 years Crimes Against Persons Low term-2--3 years Mid term-3--5 years High term-4--8 years Violent Crimes Low term-2--4 years Mid term-4--8 years High term-5--12 years Drug Crimes Low term-16 months--5 years Mid term-2--7 years High term-3--9 years Murder 15 years--Life, Death The Revolving Door 77% of those charges with felonies had prior criminal records. Prior felonies: 43.1% Prior misdemeanors: 33.9% No record: 23%
Metropolitan Crime Rates Violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 1989. Crimes in this caregory include homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Los Angeles had the third-highest rate in the nation, surpassed only by Miami and New York City. Miami: 2,204 New York City: 2,201 Los Angeles: 1,601 Dallas: 1,105 Atlanta: 1,034 Detroit: 891 San Fransisco: 861 Houston: 801 Boston: 794 San Diego: 756 Washington, D.C.: 722 Phoenix: 620 Philadelphia: 608 Seattle: 551 Source: U.S. Department of Justice The Jargon of Justice From police stations and jails to courtrooms and probation offices, the criminal justice system in Los Angeles has a language of its own. Here are some of the more commonly used terms: Autopilot: A jail inmate assigned a job that requires little supervision. Bench Warrant: An arrest warrant issued by a judge for a defendant who has failed to appear at a hearing or otherwise failed to comply with court rules. Body: Courthouse slang for an arrestee or defendant. Case Management: A euphemism by judges and attorneys to describe plea bargaining. CJ: The Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail. Cleared by Arrest: A case closed out by police after an arrest, regardless of whether the suspect is charged or convicted. Client: A Probation Department term describing a convicted criminal placed on probation. Complaint: A prosecution document filed in Municipal Court, listing criminal charges. Concurrent Sentence: Two or more sentences served at the same time. Consecutive Sentence: Two or more sentences served one after another. County Lid: A one-year County Jail sentence. Diversion: Instead of serving prison or jail time, certain drug defendants are diverted to drug treatment programs. Dove: Street jargon for $20 worth of rock, or crack, cocaine. Double Barrel: A process in which a defendant is simultaneously prosecuted for a probation violation and a new crime. Enhancement: A special allegation that potentially lengthens a prison sentence, based on a defendant’s criminal history or the severity of the alleged crime. Fish: A new jail inmate. Freebie: A disparaging term used by authorities to describe cases in which convicted criminals are arrested for new crimes but are charged only with violating their probations. Information: A prosecution document filed in Superior Court listing criminal charges. Jump-Ons: Assaults, strong-arm robberies and other crimes in which one person attacks another. Junk: Court cases not worth much time or attention. Usage: “It was a junk burglary.” Kickout: When a criminal case is dropped, either by court, police or prosecutor. Missouts: Jail inmates who are not where they are supposed to be. Nickel Prior: A prior conviction for a serious felony, which can add five years to a defendant’s sentence if he is convicted again. NSF: A “bounced” check, written with “non-sufficient funds” in the bank. Parole: The conditional release of an inmate after a prison term. Plea Bargain: The process by which a defendant and prosecutor negotiate a sentence before trial and a judge seals the deal. Probation: An alternative to prison that requires a defendant to abide by specified rules and conditions. Ride: A stolen car. Six Pack: A series of six photographs that police show to witnesses or victims to help identify a suspect. Soft: A jail inmate who is deemed vulnerable and segregated from others, as in “He’s a soft.” State Time: Time spent in the state prison system. Swamp: A sheriff’s deputy who rides “shotgun” on jail bus. Time Served: The amount of time that a defendant has already spent in jail or prison while awaiting sentencing. Waive Time: The process by which jail inmate agrees to waive his right to a speedy trial. Wobbler: A crime that can be prosecuted as either a felony or misdemeanor.
The Times Poll: Is the System Sound?
Is Los Angeles’ criminal justice system basically sound?
Nearly half of its police officers say it is not. More than three-quarters of its judges say it is.
Has the quality of local justice improved in the last 10 years?
As many judges say it has as those who say it has not. Public defenders, meanwhile, are much more inclined to believe that justice has eroded over the past decade, The Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
The results, derived from surveying 2,211 judges, prosecutors, public defenders, police and probation officers, suggest distinctly differing perceptions at each level of criminal justice in Los Angeles.
The further removed from the street, it would seem, the more optimistic the view.
Municipal Court judges, in particular, were relatively upbeat when asked whether they were satisfied with the level of service that the justice system affords Los Angeles today.
At the same time, two-thirds of all police officers said they were dissatisfied with the system’s level of service as did about six-in-10 of probation officers, prosecutors and public defenders surveyed.
Six in 10 judges believe that their efforts are having “some effect” in helping deter unlawful behavior. Just as high a proportion of police officers say the system is having “little effect” in stemming crime.
The criminal justice system today is basically:
Municipal Superior Public Probation Judges Judges Defenders Prosecutors Officers Sound 81% 77% 55% 71% 55% Not Sound 15 17 42 26 43 Don’t Know 4 6 3 3 2
Police Sound 50% Not Sound 48 Don’t Know 2
Do you think the criminal justice system has improved over the last 10 years, deteriorated or remained the same?
Municipal Superior Public Probation Judges Judges Defenders Prosecutors Officers Improved 32% 30% 5% 19% 23% Remained Same 29 27 16 24 24 Deteriorated 32 32 70 45 48 Don’t Know 7 11 9 12 5
Police Improved 18% Remained Same 23 Deteriorated 55 Don’t Know 4
The quality of justice in Los Angeles has:
Municipal Superior Public Probation Judges Judges Defenders Prosecutors Officers Improved 27% 25% 5% 14% 16% Remained Same 42 43 23 36 35 Declined 23 24 66 41 45 Don’t Know 8 8 6 9 4
Police Improved 16% Remained Same 33 Declined 47 Don’t Know 4
Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the level of service the community is receiving from the criminal justice system?
Municipal Superior Public Probation Judges Judges Defenders Prosecutors Officers Satisfied 55% 39% 33% 40% 34% Dissatisfied 38 48 60 58 62 Don’t Know 7 13 7 2 4
Police Satisfied 30% Dissatisfied 67 Don’t Know 3
What effect is the criminal justice system having in deterring crime?
Municipal Superior Public Probation Judges Judges Defenders Prosecutors Officers Some Effect 60% 60% 31% 55% 51% Little Effect 34 34 68 40 48 Don’t Know 6 6 1 5 1
Police Some Effect 38% Little Effect 61 Don’t Know 1
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll
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