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September 14, 2018 - 4:54pm

Shortage of prosecutors has hit 'crisis' stage, DA warns County Legislature

posted by Howard B. Owens in District Attorney's Office, news, notify.

Changes in technology and criminal law in New York have increased the workload in the District Attorney's Office, according to DA Lawrence Friedman, to a point that is unsustainable and either some cases won't get prosecuted by his office or good attorneys will quit their jobs.

Friedman described the burdens on his office in a letter to the County Legislature to support his request for additional staffing.

"Without such additional resources, our attorneys will not be able to continue to shoulder all of the added responsibilities and time commitments that have been placed on us over the years," Friedman said. "Instead, we will need to figure out how we will implement a reduction in services. We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we do know that it will not be good for public safety in this community."

Reduced services could include:

  • Discontinue the prosecution of violations of probation, leaving probation officers to handle the violations themselves;
  • Discontinue the prosecution of non-criminal offenses, such as disorderly conduct, harassment, and unlawful possession of marijuana, leaving it up to the arresting officers to prosecute those cases;
  • Reduce the time spent educating new officers about criminal and court procedures.

Friedman is asking for at least one new full-time assistant DA. There are four now. 

When Friedman was himself an assistant, there were seven part-time (30 hours a week) prosecutors in the DA's office for a total of 210 attorney hours a week. In 1996, Friedman, newly appointed to DA, learned the county could obtain state money to fund a full-time DA so the county eliminated three part-time positions in favor of two full-time positions. When the county switched to five full-time prosecutors, it reduced the number of total attorney hours to 187.5, which helped save the county money, according to Friedman.

In recent years, the workload for prosecutors has increased substantially, Friedman said, because of: 

  • Body-worn cameras, video-recorded suspect interviews, more surveillance footage of crime scenes. Before the age of ubiquitous video, most cases involved written documents that could be reviewed in minutes. Now, sometimes, a prosecutor must spend hours watching video, and sometimes the video must be viewed more than once, including times to prep witnesses, review with police officers, besides the initial review to see what if any evidence the videos might contain.
  • The DA's office has been hit with numerous serious crimes over the past couple of years that assistant DAs help with during the investigation and then if an arrest has been made, handle the prosecution. These crimes include a gang-assault case, a homicide at the Sunset Motel, a deputy-involved shooting, a homicide on Liberty Street, a shooting on Jackson Street, a shooting on Thorpe Street, a series of residential burglaries, a stabbing and murder on Central Avenue, child sex offenses, a fatal hit-and-run in Darien, an attempted murder and arson on Maple Street, vehicular assaults in Corfu and Pavilion, a stabbing in the Town of Batavia, a stabbing on Ross Street, two first-degree rape cases, and follow up on a cold case murder.
  • There has been an increase in search warrant applications.
  • New state laws, such as Jenna's Law, Megan's Law, and Leandra's Law has added time and tasks to the prosecution of some criminal cases.
  • Big Box stores have increased the number of reported larcenies and forgeries.
  • DNA is helping to open cold cases.
  • Since Friedman became DA, new courts have opened, including Drug Treatment Court, DWI Treatment Court, Mental Health Treatment Court, Veterans Court, Domestic Violence Court, and now the new Youth Court opening next month.

Assistant DAs work a lot of hours beyond their standard "9-5" shift, Friedman said. In additional evening hours for town courts, they are on call 24/7.

A  recent example, Friedman said, was the fatal hit-and-run in Darien. ADA Shirley Gorman was called into the case on an early Sunday morning and worked 12 hours. Friedman and First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini also assisted that Sunday with the case. 

"Altogether, the attorneys in our office spent about 40 hours on this case in the first three days and many more hours since then," Friedman said. "Unfortunately, this type of scenario is becoming more and more common. I am concerned that this could result in our attorneys becoming 'burned out' and/or leaving for 'greener pastures.' "

He concluded the letter calling the current situation a "crisis."

"This is the most serious staffing concern that I've ever faced," said Friedman, who has worked in the DA's office for 37 years, and who plans to retire in 2021. 

"I sincerely hope that an inability to get the help we need will not become the next impediment to the effective prosecution of crimes committed in Genesee County," Friedman said. "The current District Attorney truly hopes that his legacy will not be that of leaving an office that is understaffed and thus unable to properly serve the citizens of this County and he assumes that our County Legislature does not want that to be their legacy either."

Daniel Norstrand
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I don't smoke pot. That's not to say that I haven't, but with age comes the uphill battle to maintain good health. Chasing pot smokers and even dealers in this day seems a ridiculous waste of resources. The alcohol lobby has been successful for most of the last century in its intense efforts to curb and usurp our constitutional rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness regarding the use of weed. I know many many productive, family oriented people who partake of the "evil weed." Many in positions of power that would make your head spin if it were to come to light. The insane epidemic of opioid abuse is a much more important problem that leads abusers to heinous crimes, even against friends and family.
The source of the illic opiates coming into country is dubious by design. The largest producer of the poppies has been Afghanistan since shortly after our invasion of that country. While under the control of the Taliban Afghanistan had a negligible crop of poppies as drug use is forbidden in their religion. I've spoken with GI's who were deployed in Afghanistan who informed me that they had personally helped to guard poppy fields. The cash crop makes land owners happy and facilitates our occupation of that country. While creating death, destruction, and mayhem at home. Here's a link to a 2010 interview that backs my contentions:
Watch "Marines grow opium for their masters." on YouTube
https://youtu.be/AUATfLDiwVA
Here's another more recent article regarding the insane increases of production:
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/09/how-the-heroin-trade-explai...
The numbers are numbing. The conclusions to be drawn are/should be mind altering.
Pot is being legalized all over the country because the overwhelming majority of the liquor lobbyists lies have been debunked. Many states and municipalities have put aside pot related convictions and stopped prosecutions. Local officials should read the constitution and consider the oaths they have taken.
"If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so."
Thomas Jefferson

Gary Spencer
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Stop arresting people for victimless offenses, such as drug possession, that alone will free up prosecuting "criminals"

John Roach
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Gary, the Police have little discretion in enforcing the law. If somebody gets stopped for some reason and is found with pot, the cop has to make the arrest. Some gets caught drunk driving, he has to get arrested. They are not allowed to pick which laws get enforced and which do not.

Want the laws changed, great, work for that. But do not ask the Police not to enforce them.

Ed Hartgrove
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John Roach. Your comment isn't (necessarily) true.
I suppose it depends on which state/municipality the police officer works for, and, the wording used in the statute. At least, according to this Deputy Sheriff Paul Harding (see https://www.quora.com/Do-American-police-officers-always-have-discretion... )

When asked the following question: "Do American police officers always have discretion as to whether to make an arrest, or in certain situations are they legally required to make an arrest?",
Deputy Harding answered:
" Nope. There is no law requiring me to make an arrest for murder, or any other crime, other than domestic battery.
If you blew up a building full of people, and I witnessed it, I could literally just give you a warning that your actions were illegal and to not do it again, or I could just ignore it altogether, assuming that none of the people who got hurt were your family or household members (as defined by law) which would make your actions a domestic battery."

Deputy Harding went on to address some caveats to his "Nope" answer.
Several other police officers (retired/former) pretty much agreed in the above-linked discussion.

As noted, a lot of depends on the actual statute, and, how they are worded. Example: If the statute says "must arrest", then, by law, the officer cannot use his/her discretion.

John Roach
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Ed, In NY, officers have a duty to uphold the law(s). Failure to do so and lead to charges agains them.

An example, an officer refuses to arrest a murder suspect because he did not like the victims race or sexual orientation. That officer will face charges. Same with a person who hits another while driving drunk, because the officer does not like the DWI laws.

Howard B. Owens
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Let's say an officer pulls over a dude and finds a little baggie of weed.

The officer could let said dude off with a warning but then what?

Let the guy leave with the weed? That is hardly a warning of "don't do it again," and the cop really becomes an accessory to an ongoing crime. That doesn't seem very good for society.

So the cop takes the weed but doesn't write an appearance ticket. Now he's confiscated something with no proof that due process was followed and could face the possible accusation that he just took said baggie of weed for his own personal use. That's not good either.

Getting caught with the physical evidence isn't like getting stopped for speeding or not using your safety belt. It's easy to give somebody a warning for those violations. But there are certain crimes where if the cop has the evidence and doesn't prosecute it's really a dereliction of duty.

If you think there are crimes that shouldn't be on the books -- vote to get them changed. But expecting cops not to enforce laws is to say you really don't care about the rule of law and equal application of justice, that cops should just be a law unto themselves. That's not a society I want to live in.

david spaulding
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Howard,..."If you think there are crimes that shouldn't be on the books -- vote to get them changed.".... Good idea, when do we get to vote on the SAFE-ACT? That law passed in the middle of the night, not going to happen even though there has been all kinds of protests from all walks...

Ed Hartgrove
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John, and, Howard.
If you'll notice, my first comment was in relation to John's first comment. John said police officers have little discretion in enforcing the law.
I merely pointed out other people's "take" on that statement.

If I had the time AND the inclination, I could probably provide links to HUNDREDS of both videos and news articles, in which police officers are shown letting a "criminal" off with just a warning. If you've ever seen very many episodes of A&E's "LivePD", "Cops", and, "LAPD: Life On The Beat", you've probably seen it happen, too. - Examples: ● (1) During a traffic stop, cop finds a half-empty bottle of beer in a vehicle. Has the driver perform a "FST" (Field Sobriety Test). Driver "passes" the FST, so, the officer decides that the driver isn't "anywhere near the level of intoxication". The officer pours the beer on the ground, and, issues a warning. Sends the driver on their way. I've seen it happen, on "live" TV. ● (2) During an encounter, officer finds a pipe with drug "residue" in it (possibly discovered the pipe under the passenger seat). Again, performs an FST on the driver, and, finding no indication of either drug use OR intoxication, lets the driver go on their way (I remember one episode where the cop made THE DRIVER step on the glass pipe and "smush" it into the ground). No arrest. Just a warning. Had that driver "committed a crime"? Yes, because vehicle drivers are responsible for "everything in their vehicle, while the vehicle is under their control". That driver had a controlled-substance in his vehicle. Oh, btw. THAT one was also televised on a nationally-broadcast TV show. ● (3) From https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/27/iowa-governors-suv... "A vehicle carrying Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was stopped for speeding last month...". "Officers who respond to speeding incidents are given wide discretion in deciding whether to issue tickets or warnings." The governor's driver, an Iowa State Trooper, was issued a warning.

So, again, to say officers have "little discretion" is, to me, misleading. And, again John, a lot of it depends on how the "law" is written. Some statutes are written in a manner that "allows" the officer's discretion. Some don't allow any (which I think I pointed out in the first place).

Howard B. Owens
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David, you get to vote on the SAFE Act in the upcoming gubernatorial election, Nov. 6.

Howard B. Owens
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Ed, as an ex-police officer, I know officers have all the discretion in the world, as a technical matter. As a practical matter, it often doesn't work that way. The oft-expressed opinion that police shouldn't enforce the law is objectionable because in a society that prides itself on rule of law and no man is above the law, that shouldn't be the standard. An officer should not have a blanket policy along the lines of, "I'll never write a marijuana ticket." That is a path toward an officer thinking he is the law.

Rich Richmond
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Howard, no, we don't get to vote on the Safe Act, directly or indirectly, regardless who wins the Governor's spot. There aren't enough the votes to change it. I agree with you wholeheartedly on an Officer's discretion.

Daniel Norstrand
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"If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so".
Thomas Jefferson

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