Marin County Civil Grand Jury
Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
Marin District Attorney’s Office in Crisis May 15, 2023
The Marin County Civil Grand Jury has released a report, "Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied - Marin District Attorney's Office in Crisis,”” which calls attention to the backlog of criminal cases pending in the Marin court system. The report concludes that the Marin District Attorney’s Office is primarily responsible for the delays in resolving criminal cases.
The report, which is directed to the Marin District Attorney and the Board of Supervisors, calls attention to:
- The backlog of cases affects the community at large, including victims of crime, people charged with crimes, and law enforcement agencies.
- Once charges are filed in Marin, there is an unreasonable delay in bringing these cases to a resolution – in many cases more than a year.
- Most people in the Marin County Jail are awaiting trial on pending charges and have not been convicted.
- The District Attorney’s Office lacks the staff and organizational structure to resolve cases in a timely manner.
- The backlog of cases and overwhelming caseloads make it difficult for deputy district attorneys to perform their duties in a competent manner.
The report is available on the Marin County Civil Grand Jury website: https://www.marincounty.org/-/media/files/departments/gj/reports-responses/2022-23/justicedelayedisjusticedenied.pdf?la=en
The list of agencies and elected officials required to respond can be found at the end of the report.
There is a substantial backlog of criminal cases pending in Marin County. This backlog affects the community at large, including victims of crime, people charged with crimes, and the law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal cases. Once charges are filed in Marin, there is an unreasonable delay in bringing these cases to a resolution - in many cases more than a year.
The scope and impact of the delays in resolving cases in Marin are considerable.
- Of the 1,896 misdemeanor cases pending in February 2023, 42.4 percent had been pending for more than a year and 17.9 percent for more than two years.
- Of the 458 felony cases pending in February 2023, 38.4 percent had been pending for more than a year and 12 percent for more than two years.
- Of the 251 people in the Marin County Jail as of February 28, 2023, 79 percent (199) were awaiting trial. Twenty percent (40) of those people had been in the county jail for more than a year.
The Grand Jury’s investigation has concluded that the District Attorney’s Office is the primary reason for the delays in resolving criminal cases in Marin. The District Attorney’s Office faces significant challenges.
- Deputy district attorneys struggle to carry out their legal duties due to the backlog of pending cases and overwhelming individual caseloads.
- During the past four years, the District Attorney’s Office has experienced a high turnover of attorneys, especially among the more experienced attorneys, including 13 attorneys departing in the last fourteen months as of February 2023.
- The District Attorney’s Office lacks the internal organizational structure and procedures to facilitate the processing and resolution of cases.
- There are multiple lawsuits filed by current and former employees pending against the office alleging various claims, including discrimination based on race, gender, and age.
This report, completed in March 2023, examines the challenges confronting the District Attorney’s Office and makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Retention of an independent consultant to analyze office operations with the objective to reduce caseloads of individual attorneys and to recommend operational changes to facilitate the efficient processing and resolution of cases.
- Hiring two or more experienced attorneys on short term (6-12 mos.) contracts with responsibility for reducing the backlog of pending cases through plea negotiations.
- Hiring additional deputy district attorneys to maintain caseloads at manageable levels.
The pandemic had a significant impact on virtually all aspects of our community and daily life. The criminal justice system was no exception. In March 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued executive orders which effectively closed the courts for criminal trials.
In the same month, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, in her capacity as Chairperson of the Judicial Council, issued the first of several emergency orders that permitted courts to extend trial dates beyond the statutory time periods to bring a criminal case to trial. The Marin Department of Public Health also issued guidelines for in person gatherings, which encumbered the processing of criminal cases. During this period, it was understandably difficult to resolve cases.
By early 2021, Marin courtrooms had reopened, and criminal cases were again going to trial, although in fewer numbers because only one courtroom had been reconfigured to address Covid issues. By the end of 2021, Marin courtrooms were available for civil and criminal trials.
However, it should be noted that most criminal cases (more than 90 percent) are resolved through plea negotiations between the District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel. The plea bargains, as they are known, must be approved by the court. While the pandemic impeded the trials of criminal cases, it did not stand in the way of the District Attorney’s Office negotiating the disposition of cases with defense counsel.
Nevertheless, by February 2023, 79 percent of people incarcerated in the Marin County Jail had not been convicted but were awaiting trial or disposition of their cases. This led the Grand Jury to investigate why such a disproportionate number of people in the county jail had not had their cases resolved.
While the pandemic was certainly a factor in 2020 and 2021, it became apparent through the Grand Jury’s investigation that the District Attorney’s Office is currently the primary reason for the delays in resolving criminal cases.
The Grand Jury interviewed many people involved in the criminal justice system, including current and former prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as probation, law enforcement, and county jail personnel. The Grand Jury collected data on the criminal cases pending in Marin, the population in the county jail, and statistics from the District Attorney’s and the Public Defender’s Offices. The Grand Jury reviewed articles on pending lawsuits and government claims filed by current and former employees against the District Attorney’s Office.
Reported cases, statutes, newspaper articles, and other articles concerning the backlog of cases in counties throughout the state were also reviewed.
This report was completed in March 2023.
Contact the Grand Jury Foreperson at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about this report.