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Reducing caseload is being soft on crime

Andrew Heyl

It is interesting that Martin Beeson, in his first statement to the press after being sworn in as district attorney, continues to malign the Truden administration. Lately, however, he has reversed himself.I started working as a deputy district attorney in the Truden administration in April of 2005. I was hired to handle the felony cases in Pitkin County. At that point in time, Beeson was masquerading as “Chicken Little” and telling the citizenry of the 9th Judicial District that crime was going to run rampant in the streets and nobody was safe. He was sounding the alarm that the DA’s office was falling apart because a few holdovers from the prior administration had quit. Of course, the sky did not fall, and the DA’s office continued to function well and filed a record number of cases. In Pitkin County, 120 district court cases were filed in 2005, which is about a 30 percent increase over the 92 cases filed in 2004. This is not to say that the office was remiss in 2004. It does point out that, despite the hysteria of the recall proponents, the office managed quite well and processed cases without any major hitches. Having been proven wrong on his dire predictions of chaos, Beeson now appears to be changing course and has inferred that the Truden administration filed too many cases. He has indicated that one of his top priorities will be to review all the cases and dismiss those he feels were overcharged, thus reducing the heavy caseload. He also predicts that he will probably file less cases in 2006 under his philosophy of “doing justice.” In my opinion, caseloads should not be determined by the district attorney’s office. They are determined by the amount of crime in the jurisdiction and the number of cases solved and brought to the district attorney by law enforcement agencies. I am interested to know how Beeson is going to explain to a victim that he is going to dismiss their case or substantially reduce the charges because the caseload in the office is too heavy. I would also like to know how he’s going to explain to a police officer or sheriff’s deputy that he’s not going to file a case that law enforcement has spent a substantial amount of time solving, because the caseload in the DA’s office is too heavy. One of several major cases I have handled, and the first in Pitkin County, was the Cinthia Romero and Jaime Rivera-Castro attempted murder case. This was a case in which Romero and Rivera-Castro were charged with attempting to murder a teenage girl by beating her with a golf club on Independence Pass. Romero and Rivera-Castro were both juveniles, but because of the seriousness and brutality of the crime, they were treated as adults for purposes of prosecution. This case involved a number of law enforcement officers. Almost the entire Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office was involved in one way or another with the investigation. There were more than 1,000 pages of documents in the file, as well as tape recordings and video tapes of witnesses. I could have taken the easy way to handle this case and simply recharged it as a juvenile case, allowing the defendants to spend a few years in juvenile detention. I am sure I could have rationalized it in some manner, and it certainly would have reduced my caseload and made the defense attorneys happy. I could have told the victim that there were not enough resources in the office to proceed to trial with her case and if we went to trial it would result in a serious backlog. If I had taken this route, I certainly would have spent a lot fewer weekends in the office. However, my conscious would not allow me to do this; the crime was simply too heinous. As a result the defendants were both convicted of major felonies. Rivera-Castro eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal assault with a deadly weapon. He is now serving time in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Romero has been convicted of attempted murder and first-degree criminal assault and is awaiting sentencing. One has to wonder, based on Beeson’s recent comments and his apparent obsession with reducing caseloads, how he would have handled that case.In my opinion, prosecution is not about reducing caseloads or making defense attorneys happy. Prosecution is about charging and prosecuting crimes when law enforcement officers bring you cases that you can prove in court. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. If the amount of crime in the district goes up, a prosecutor has to work additional hours. I am sure that when I was handling the district court docket in Pitkin County, many defense attorneys thought that I was harsh or at least more difficult to deal with than prior administrations. This was not my concern. My concern was for the victims and the safety of the law-abiding citizens of the district. I find that the new administration’s obsession with reducing the caseload by any means possible is very troubling. To me it can be translated into three words: “soft on crime”. Is this what the recall was all about? Andrew Heyl is the former deputy district attorney for the 9th Judicial District.


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