Fresno District Attorney Defending Low Trial Conviction

June 19, 2008 10:13:46 AM PDT
Fresno County's District Attorney goes on the defensive as she faces more losses in the court room and less money to try cases. In the least serious crimes, the DA is losing almost half of the trials her attorneys take to court. Legal experts say District Attorney Elizabeth Egan should be winning nearly 90 percent of her trials. Egan says the solution is simple give her more money. The words "not guilty" are being heard more and more at the Fresno County Court House. In the past six months, the district attorney has lost many high profile cases.

In January 2008, local pastor Charles Dickerson acquitted of child molestation. In March 2008, former city official Bob Madewell acquitted of misusing tax payer money. And the list goes on.

Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said, "That's nature of our business. In every trial someone wins and someone losses, we are advocates. We are not afraid of taking a tough trial to court. We are not shy. We do what we think is right."

The district attorney sat down with Action News to review numbers released by the Fresno County Superior Court. Court officials recently began compiling statistics that track what is happening inside the court room. The earliest numbers come from 2006. At that time, the DA won about 87-percent of trials. One year later, the rate dropped nearly 10 points to 78-percent. In 2008, the DA is on track to achieve what is considered a dismal conviction rate of 73-percent. Egan said, "When the board of supervisors is able to find the money to give me adequate staffing, the conviction rate will go up? I am not happy being inadequately staffed. It reflects on the service we provide."

Egan blames the low rates on the board of supervisors constantly cutting her budget and reducing her staff. The low rates also span to the least serious crimes called misdemeanors. The DA's office is only winning about 58-percent of those trials which means Egan's prosecutors are almost losing half the time.

ABC 30 Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi said, "I think a very good conviction rate is 85-percent and above." Capozzi said Egan's office is suffering from a lack of funding and it could get worse, "If there's a further cut in the district attorney's budget, I think they are going to be at crisis level.

This week some Fresno County Supervisors questioned Egan's spending especially on a recent trial known as the Genesis Case, two sisters accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from local groups homes. But the DA spent what is believed to be millions on the case. Egan's office has refused to disclose financial documents and directly address the issue in public. Egan said, "You are phrasing your question based on information you believe you understand from the case, so I will not discuss that. I will tell and the tax payers of Fresno county that the resources in this office are stretched so thin that we are very cognizant on how we spend our money."

The DA said her trial conviction rates are tied to funding. More money equals higher rates. But with the board of supervisors on the path to cutting her budget this year, those rates are expected to tumble.


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