Gascon, Adachi and conviction rates

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Adachi: Beating the DA

Public Defender Jeff Adachi just released his annual report, and it's impressive: According to the statistic his office complied, of the 60 felony trials handled by deputy public defenders, 62 percent resulted in acquittals or hung juries. That means that the office of District Attorney George Gascon has a trial conviction rate of just 38 percent when the DA's office is up against the PD's office.

That's a pretty abyssmal conviction rate -- and the DA's office has a different spin. According to DA spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman, the overall conviction rate on felonies in 2012 was 67.7 percent. But that includes plea bargains, which officially count as a conviction; she didn't dispute Adachi's contention that public defenders win far more than half of their actual trials.

There are a couple of ways to interpret this. Not all criminal trials are handled by public defenders; the better-off defendants hire private counsel. And there's an old assumtion in the world of criminal justice that rich people get better legal defense because they can hire high-priced private counsel.

But if the DA's figure are accurate, it's entirely possible -- although nobody has the figures -- that the San Francisco PD's office actually does better in criminal trials than private law firms. Tamara Aparton, spokeperson for Adachi, said she has no data on that, but "I wouldn't be surprised."

And there's no way to dispute the fact that low conviction rates indicate the DA is sending weak cases to trial. If criminal defendants are getting off more than half the time, either the cops are making very bad busts (true all too often) or the DA is trying cases that should have been settled.