Gascon, Adachi and conviction rates

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.


This is why he is re-elected term after term.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

such offices have in other cities that are "tough on cime" rather than "tough on law enforcement".

For most SF voters, public safety is the number one priority after jobs/growth. Let's invest more in that.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

Adachi is doing a good job. Releasing the videos of the cops illegally entering rooms at SRO hotels. Protecting the rights to due process for alcoholics and substance abusers.

I opposed his opportunistic effort to scapegoat public sector pensions for the crisis of late stage financial capitalism. But I applaud his job as PD.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

...who the hell else seriously did before Adachi came along - Adachi being the City's only elected official with a spine and that's why he's kicking Gascon's ass? Every other elected official just cowers to police and fire union bullies like little sheep - Elsbernd included.

You should have shared your idiotic theory of "scapegoating" with the City Family. Maybe they would blown off pension reform had you told them Adachi was making it up.

The pension problem is still not even remotely "fixed' - same as the unfunded retiree health liability...Big blow up to come.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 9:46 pm

from the type of organization whose boots you lick; private equity, specifically the Blackstone Group:

“Blackstone’s view on public employee pensions is clear and unambiguous: We believe a pension is a promise. Working men and women should not have to worry about their retirement security after years of service to their communities. We oppose scapegoating public employees by blaming them for the structural budget deficits that cities and states face. We at Blackstone are committed to helping public employees retire with confidence in the strength and reliability of their pensions.”

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

Yes of course, all those raises the SF police and fire unions demand and the pension increase they put on the ballot for themselves in 2002 (saying btw their pension increases would not cost anything) having nothing to do with budget deficits (also see LA/Sacramento) - or the parity the fire union demands.

Do you think private equity funds - which public pension funds invest hundreds of millions of dollars in - might have a conflict of interest? Familiar with that expression about not "biting the hand that feeds you?"

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:16 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 6:59 am

indicate serious anger issues. Please seek professional help before your anti-social and pathological behavior escalates into something worse.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 8:24 am

You realize that more than one person uses that signon, right? Are they all nuts? Or are you nuts to think that?

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 9:35 am

Barry Eisenberg commented about him on the comments about the HANC recycling center eviction.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 9:49 am
Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:08 am

Adachi has good ideas about pension reform, too. Unfortunately, his efforts to bring down the "city family" and its huge incurred debt obligations failed.

But bravo here!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

When someone like Sharmin Bock runs for office touting conviction rates worthy of Stalinist show trials, that's no more of an indication of her competence than if the chief prosecutor of Tehran was to say that he's so great at his job because his conviction rate is also 95%. Sometimes the DA is right, sometimes the DA is wrong, but the DA simply isn't right 95% of the time. If the DA is winning 95% of the cases, as Sharmin Bock claimed, and as is the norm in many jurisdictions, then that is just an indication of how profoundly broken the system is.

Fortunately here in San Francisco, there's a different dynamic.

It's partly because we have a fantastic Public Defender. And while he rightly crashed and burned in his attempt to gain power on the backs of working people, and I'll never vote for him for any office other than PD ever again, I'll continue to vote for him for as long as he wants to remain PD, because he is both competent and right on criminal justice issues.

Not that it's entirely Gascon's fault. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the main reason we have this kind of a dynamic is that juries in San Francisco are more fair minded than elsewhere. I think juries here actually listen. Sometimes they side with the PD. Sometimes they side with the DA. But not 95% of the time, and they're not going to side with the DA 95% of the time no matter who is DA.

That's why I didn't think it was fair when Terence Hallinan was attacked on his conviction rate, which IIRC was very similar. And that's why I don't think it's fair now. As for the Guardian... it would be one thing to point out the sheer hypocrisy of how everyone attacked Hallinan for supposedly "low" conviction rates, but few in the corporate media raising a peep about Gascon's conviction rates which haven't budged. But it's quite another thing to buy into this narrative that these kinds of conviction rates say something negative about the criminal justice system.

Quite the contrary, when you have conviction rates which indicate that the DA *doesn't* get everything he wants all the time, and that the PD actually seems to do as good or better than private attorneys, that's actually an indication that the system is working the way it should be... at least at the trial level... at least in San Francisco. Can't say the same for the SFPD. Can't say the same for the rest of the country. But at least at the trial level, at least in San Francisco, I find these numbers heartening.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 08, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

While your interpretation has certain appeal, I think there is a way to look at it that makes even more sense.

I think that the writer has it right here suggesting that the DA is bringing weak cases that shouldn't be brought.

A 95% conviction rate does not necessarily mean that the game is rigged -- though to be sure it often is! -- but instead the policy of the DA has to be considered.

Do you suppose that DA Gascon's urge towards imposing Law and Order might cause him to bring cases that aren't provable? Would you fault another DA for refusing to bring cases they thought marginal? I say it all might depend on the specific crime and possibly crime-deterring effect of fruitless prosecutions.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:37 am

I have not seen much to persuade me that Gascon is not doing a good job, and apparently most of the voters agreed as well. I believe the goal is not to get the highest conviction rate, but rather to ensure that justice is served. Remember, our criminal legal system is purposefully set up so that many factually guilty individual persons will be acquitted to ensure that we give the highest level of protection to the truly innocent. The DA's job is to look after the general public's interest and bring a criminal case when he or she believes the defendant committed the crime and there is a reasonable chance it can be proven in court, and a reasonable chance does not mean it has to be 99%.

Some SFBG readers may applaud when charges against a petty shoplifter are dropped because the DA (or really the deputy DA assigned to the case) determines it is "not provable," but these same individuals will call for the gallows and fly into a blind rage when the DA determines there is no evidence to support criminal charges for an officer-related shooting, or corruption charges against an elected official, or criminal fraud charges against a white collar defendant. As an example, recall one very unpleasant case a few years ago in Santa Clara County: Many individuals both in San Francisco and in Santa Clara County and throughout the Bay Area were absolutely outraged when DA Dolores Carr rejected bringing charges in the De Anza rape case. The anger was so intense that the state Attorney General was asked to review the case, and guess what? The Attorney General after a thorough review also agreed there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges. DAs have to make hard choices everyday, even in ugly cases like the De Anza situation. A simple review of conviction rates without any context is not very illuminating as to whetheror not a DA is bringing "strong" or "weak" cases to trial, especially when an actual conviction depends on so many variables completely outside the DA's control, such as the minds of the jury-and all juries, no matter how hard the trial attorneys and the judge try to screen for supposedly unbiased and impartial individuals, always bring their own opinions, prejudices, and values to a trial.

I know personally know a few individuals who are attorneys in the DA's office, and I know they reject numerous cases for lack of evidence (as do most attorneys at most DA offices). Also, I hate to shock you, but the individuals I know who who are SF DAs are not "law and order" old white men--they are lesbians and gay men, medical marijuana smoking, flaming left-wing Progressives, etc. I know that doesn't agree with the idea pushed by some editorialists at SFBG about who supposedly works in the DA's office, but it is the truth nonetheless.

Posted by Chris Brown on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:39 am

Obviously, if a DA was getting a high conviction rate through some extra-constitutional means it would be rightly condemned.

But the meaning of such a statistic might mean any several of other things instead.

One thing I imagine it could mean is that the DA is wisely managing available resources by directing them towards the greatest productivity; -- and also perhaps exhibiting an understanding that simply by charging crimes against citizens might amount to a form of extra-judicial punishment if it is done cavalierly.

What is it that gives a DA the capacity to "believe" in the guilt of an accused that a jury would typically lack?

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

This is why we don't elect cops to be prosecutors.

Posted by Hortensio Alejandro on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:22 am

She's a nice lady -hard to dislike in person. But she's dangerous. She's just as far right as Gascon, but smarter and more competent. Her single-minded fanaticism on the issue of sexcrime scares me most of all. She sees a trafficker behind every sex worker. Even after losing, she still remains dangerous. She was responsible from Prop 35, which redefined sex trafficking to include anyone who receives money from sex work. One sex worker brought up the point that her son can now be considered a sex trafficker because she sends him money to help with college. And then the prop imposed even more draconian penalties for such "sex traffickers." While the above example is extreme (though I can see DAs doing even that in some places, if they can get away with it), I can easily see DAs routinely threatening to charge the husbands or boyfriends of sex workers with sex trafficking. So that's Sharmin Bock for you. She sends chills down my spine.

That said, I honestly don't think she'd get higher conviction rates than Gascon. Gascon's not the most competent (hell, dude got his law degree in some unaccredited college in Phoenix). But San Francisco has always had relatively low conviction rates as far as I can remember. It has to do with juries here, and thank goodness for that!

Posted by Greg on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

Last time I was at jury duty- it seemed the poor DA did everything she could to just get a half-way sane jury sworn in. All her challenges were wasted getting the obviously crazy person excused.

The fact is that SF is full of people overly sympathetic to the criminal story etc. I do not buy the BS that Jury's in SF are more fair minded or smarter etc. Getting a case convicted in SF is hard work.

Posted by D. Native on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

and thought that if i am ever involved in a trial, I sure as heck wouldn't want these bozo's deciding my fate.

The people you really want on a jury have real jonbs and can't do the service. That leaves the most dangerous types of all - those with infinite time on their hands who actually want to do jury duty.

Posted by anon on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

That is of a piece with the authoritarian catechism.

Remember the McDonalds coffee burn story and how it was twisted? The corporations *hate* juries.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

performed jury duty, as opposed to someone merely theorizing about what it might be like.

Every defendant wants a jury trial. Every plaintiff or prosecutor wants a judge trial. There's a reason for that - the average Joe gets swamped by emotion and prejudice.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

like yourself.

You are transparent. I see through you.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

One of the times I was called to serve on a jury, the judge in the case saw fit to give us a lecture about how wonderful and unique it is and what a privilege it is to participate in it. This, as the high-priced lawyers for the corporation being sued are handing out multipage surveys to profile the potential jurors. I'm sitting here thinking "it's unique all right." This system of ours produces an incarceration rate that's higher than all the worst dictatorships in the entire world. It's not all the fault of the jury system, but I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, conviction rates that routinely hover around 95% probably have at least something to do with it? Even if the DA does a decent job of weeding out the cases that should really go to trial, still, there is no stinkin' way they're right 95% of the time.

San Franciscans are different. People here are more tolerant, they're generally more worldly and more educated, and with that comes more openness to hearing all sides. They're not as knee-jerk pro-authority as people are elsewhere. They recognize that authority is sometimes wrong. By definition, I think that makes them more balanced. As a result, this may be the one place in America where the jury system (more or less) works as intended.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

I lost confidence in SF's potential jurors during the Mirkarimi case. Open-minded? Ha!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:40 pm