Martinez, Calif. – Today, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announces misdemeanor filing considerations for the DA’s Office. Originally initiated as a pilot, the considerations are now formal policy for the Office. The DA’s Office will no longer file charges against most people arrested or cited solely for the possession of small amounts of drugs. The idea is to divert low-level recreational users out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system with the goals of both reducing the strain in the courts and on law enforcement, and also by providing treatment options for the user.
Last year District Attorney Becton and Public Defender Robin Lipetzky were contacted by the presiding judge of the court who stressed the need to reduce the significant backlog of low-level, non-violent misdemeanors in the court system. The backlog of cases was slowing down court operations and proving to be an immense burden on the budgets of various law enforcement agencies and the courts.
Furthermore, there have been significant changes in the laws governing personal drug use that have changed the dynamics of prosecuting low-level drug cases. The aim of these considerations is to stop chronic patterns of arrest and to connect individuals to community based behavioral health services. For a first-time offender we will refer the person to health care services in our community. The policy allows the DA’s Office to focus our efforts on cases that may pose significant public safety concerns such as criminal street gangs, drug dealers, violent criminals, and cases involving firearms.
“When I took Office, I realized we had to change our perspective on filing cases, especially low-level drug cases. From my experience as a judge I saw first-hand how individuals were cycling through our system. Now as the District Attorney, I worked with several law enforcement partners throughout the county to build a plan and gain consensus on how best to proceed with these types of cases. We cannot prosecute ourselves out of this growing trend of low-level offenses being submitted to our Office for a filing decision,” said DA Becton.
Prosecutors will use their discretion on these low-level non-violent offenses to determine if criminal charges are appropriate. Pre-filing diversion is also available for individuals in lieu of a formal criminal complaint.
DA Becton stated, “As I do with all of my Office’s policies, I will periodically review this policy and work with my justice system colleagues to ensure its effectiveness and to modify it when necessary.”
In several situations, the policy may not apply. The exceptions include: the person has been arrested on three previous occasions in the past year for a misdemeanor drug offense, the theft is more than $300 in value, or the subject is on probation.