FREE PRESS -- A local government watchdog website in Davis reports that it has spun off a more specialized web monitor to focus on the criminal justice system in the county, including the trial courts.


"Yesterday," says site proprietor David M. Greenwald,  "the People's Vanguard of
Davis proudly launched its newest project, Yolo Judicial Watch.  Yolo
Judicial Watch is a focused effort to monitor and track cases that go
through the Yolo County Judicial System from arrest to adjudication."

Yolo Judicial Watch will be located on the Vanguard but available on its own separate page: yolojudicialwatch.org.

The purpose of this project is to
expose potential miscarriages of justice in the Yolo County system.  Over
the past three and half years, The Vanguard reported on a number of
cases that were marked by the overcharging of defendants by the
prosecutor. Also, there were a number of cases that revealed with
closer scrutiny that people were likely innocent of the charges
altogether.

While we have had success breaking major news
stories such as the letter from DA investigator Rick Gore as well as
covering in depth cases such Khalid Berny who faced 60 years in prison
for allegedly allowing his goats to run free, Ajay Dev who was
sentenced to 378 years in prison based solely on a contested pretense
call that was recorded by the Davis Police Department, among others. 
We have also provided heavy critiques of the District Attorney's report
on the shooting of Luis Gutierrez.

However, we have been limited
in what we can report.  Previously the Vanguard had limited ability to
track cases of interest that did not emerge into the public light.  At
times, the Vanguard was directly tipped off by an interested party,
however, for the most part, a large number of cases have gone
unreported.

How many cases?  How big a problem is this?  Those
are questions that we cannot answer right now because the mass media
covers only a few high profile cases and we have never been able to
follow and collect data on the overall system.

That changes now with this project.

For
the first time, we will be able to track and monitor cases from the
beginning to the end of the process.  That means we can we report on a
much greater number of cases that may be of interest to the general
public, but never reach the light of day.

While this project
will have a broad scope, our goal will be to quantify some of the
complaints that we have received over the years about the Yolo County
justice system.  These complaints include the overcharging of certain
defendants and the prosecution that is often alleged to be malicious or
racially motivated of individuals who are likely not guilty of any
crime.

The Vanguard will look at a whole range of cases, but
focus on gang enhancement cases, cases where there a resisting arrest
charge without an additional charge, cases where numerous charges have
been tacked on by the District Attorney, and all felony cases that go
to trial.

The county cites the number of felony cases that go to
trial per year to be around 120.  We have heard that of those, 40% end
in a victory for the defense.  If that number is anywhere close to
accurate, it is alarming.

From a practical standpoint that
should never occur.  The District Attorney has a huge advantage in that
they determine what cases to take, which cases to accept plea
agreements on, and how much to charge.  They hold all of the
advantages.  If they are barely breaking even on trial cases, that
indicates a huge problem in the system that there are a number of cases
that should never have gone to trial.

With Yolo County again
facing a $20 million deficit in its general fund, we need to find out
if current practices are costing too much in terms of resources and
money.

This project will be able to quantify these issues.  This
is not merely an academic question.  If the DA is overcharging cases
and thus forcing cases to trial that should not go to trial, that is a
huge waste of taxpayer money.  If the DA is charging people likely to
be innocent, that again is a waste of money.

Again this project
will be able to quantify that issue and sort out fact from myth.  This
process will also be better able to quantify claims that the DA has a
90% conviction rate.  We will be able to determine what that means and
what the ramifications are of it.

To perform this work, the
Vanguard will utilize a project director and a number interns from a
diverse group of people ranging from undergraduates at UC Davis, to law
students, to paralegals and community members.

It is our hope to
have an interim report to the public by the end of June on the state of
the Judicial System.  In the meantime, Vanguard and Yolo Judicial Watch
readers will see an increase in coverage of cases that have go through
the legal system in Yolo County.