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1 in 3 Defendants in San Diego Not Convicted

Posted in General FAQ'S on April 26, 2017

San Diego County has displayed some interesting trends in conviction and acquittal rates for criminal cases over the past few years. According to an internal District Attorney’s Office analysis of trial results for recent years, the court system has convicted roughly one out of every three defendants in San Diego County criminal cases.

Some argue this indicates prosecutors are too often unable to convince juries of defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but several other factors are in play with these metrics, such as split juries and dismissed charges in some cases.

Convictions in San Diego County

The District Attorney’s Office report included several interesting statistics concerning crime and convictions in San Diego County for 2016:

  • The San Diego County court system found 64% of defendants guilty as charged.
  • The court acquitted defendants 14% of the time.
  • For misdemeanor cases, prosecutors achieved a 59% conviction rate.
  • For misdemeanor cases, the court acquitted defendants a staggering 28% of the time.
  • Only 352 out of 11,633 felony defendants proceeded to trial in 2016.
  • Not accounting for cases involving split or “hung” juries, the felony conviction rate for San Diego County in 2016 was 84%, and the misdemeanor conviction rate was 68%.

These statistics may indeed indicate some measure of failing on part of the prosecutors in these cases, but there are several other things to consider. It’s important to note that these figures do not factor in negotiated pleas. Some guilty defendants choose to take convictions for lesser charges instead of fighting charges and risking stiffer punishments when possible.

Most judicial agencies aim for a high conviction rate. Last year, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office aimed for a 90% felony conviction rate and an 80% misdemeanor conviction rate. Deputy District Attorney David Greenberg recently stated that the District Attorney’s office is considering new methods for choosing which cases go to trial, better negotiation tactics for dealing with defense lawyers, and new methods for trying cases. These changes may improve the County’s conviction rate.

Reporting Issues

Some have criticized the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for its tracking methods when tabulating conviction rates. For example, in some criminal cases, a jury may acquit a defendant of a felony charge while convicting him or her of a misdemeanor charge. Despite there being no felony charge, since a case such as this was originally for felony charges, the District Attorney’s Office counts it as a felony case.

The District Attorney’s Office has also reported a 93.7% conviction rate for 2016 during District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ recent reelection campaign. While this figure is technically accurate, it includes cases that led to plea bargains and misdemeanor convictions in felony cases, not just conviction verdicts.

Options for Defendants

Defendants in San Diego County benefit greatly from hiring qualified defense attorneys. In most cases, experienced defense attorneys will be able to ensure defendants who are not guilty as charged will not face undue punishments. Some cases are less open to interpretation, and when a defendant’s culpability for a crime is clear, the defense attorney may still be able to plea bargain for lighter charges and more relaxed sentences.

Ultimately, conviction rate goals exist to inform the public about successfully closed cases and sentenced criminals. A high conviction rate logically indicates that more defendants are assuming responsibility for their crimes. However, remember that the justice system hinges on the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” It is the prosecution’s burden to provide proof of a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While defense attorneys can help protect the rights of falsely accused or misunderstood defendants, prosecutors must strive to hold guilty parties accountable for their crimes.