How Does The Structure Of The District Attorney’s Office In LA County Impact A Criminal Case?
When I talk about structure, I’m talking about a District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles that’s one of the biggest in the world. It prosecutes thousands of crimes every year, has over a thousand deputies, and you have to realize as a criminal defendant and also as a criminal defense attorney that they are set-up like the business. You have a boss or CEO at the top. They have other people who are assigned to different departments – whether it be sex crimes, violent crimes, major fraud, investigation of police officers. There’s a whole slew of different departments that are headed up by DA’s, and then you’ve got the deputies that are out in the courts prosecuting the cases, doing the preliminary hearings, negotiating the cases, doing the arraignments, arguing the bail for the District Attorney’s office.
You have to realize it is like a big corporation and if you don’t understand the criminal justice system and structure and how it works as a criminal defense attorney, you’re going to have a really big problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen inexperienced criminal defense attorneys come in and think they can resolve the case – think they can talk their way out of a case – and they end up just getting their client in more hot water because they didn’t handle the case the right way. They didn’t come in prepared. They didn’t realize who they were negotiating against. They didn’t realize the strength and weaknesses of their case. They didn’t realize that by doing certain things, the prosecutors would take an offensive position against their client.
So, you really have to understand how the District Attorney’s office is set-up, what their structure is – what their power structure is. They have a Grade 1, a Grade 2, a Grade 3, a Grade 4 and a Grade 5 and they have the big boss – the head DA. Depending on who you’re talking to, some of those District Attorneys don’t really have any authority to do anything. Some defense attorneys come in and they’re talking to a Grade 1 who just started as a DA and has no authority to make an offer and they’re trying to convince them of their case. Waste of time – making their clients look stupid because they are trying to negotiate with somebody who doesn’t have the power or the authority to give them what they want. You have to know that going into the negotiation. You have to understand the hierarchy in the District Attorney’s office. If you can’t get something from a Grade 1 prosecutor, who do you go to next? What are your choices? You go to their direct supervisor. You go to the court where the case is matrixed to. In other words, if they do the preliminary hearing in a felony case, they already know at the arraignment in a lot of these cases which trial court that’s going to end up in. There’s going to be a trial deputy in there who is in charge of that court who is probably a Grade 3, of Grade 4 or Grade 5. That person is going to have the power to make you an offer to settle the case.
Eventually, you’re going there to do the preliminary hearing so sometimes the best move is to go to them. Then you have to figure out what if that particular prosecutor is a tough, difficult prosecutor and is hard to work with and who is going to try to smash your client? You don’t want to deal with them. So, now you go to the preliminary hearing supervisor who deals with all of the preliminary hearings and is the boss of them. Maybe that person is more reasonable. Maybe you have to go to the number 2 in command. Maybe you have to go to the head DA. If you don’t know the structure or the hierarchy of the DA’s office and you’re trying to resolve serious felony cases in Los Angeles County, forget about it.
So, when I meet with a client we talk about the case. We talk about the courthouse. We talk about the case. We talk about the courthouse. We talk about the charge. We talk about their criminal record and we talk about how this case is going to be resolved. I am coming with a wealth of knowledge. I’m coming from working for the District Attorney’s office in 1992 when Ira Reiner was the head DA and Gil Garcetti came in. That’s the father of the current Mayor of LA County. I’ve been dealing with criminal cases since the early 1990’s. I know the political structure. I know the changes in the law that have come into effect and in ’93 when the three-strikes law came into effect – all these different changes – violent felonies, sex crimes and gun laws. So, if you don’t know this and you don’t know the structure of the DA’s office, to get a good result is going to be luck. Nobody wants to rely on luck in a criminal case. It’s going to take skill to either win the case, to reduce the case and/or to resolve the case by way of a negotiated plea, and one of the big things that you have to have as a criminal defense attorney when it comes to defending your client the right way, you must know the structure. You must know the business of a District Attorney’s office and you must know how to use their size against them. Get your client in a good position. A lot of times these guys are unprepared at the bail hearing, at the preliminary hearing, even at a trial.
But you as a defense attorney, if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t know how to handle the case the right way, you may help prepare them. You may get them wiled up and angry, and that’s when they start putting extra time in – getting the police involved in the case – and that’s when your client is going to have a real problem. So, to defense attorneys – you shouldn’t be practicing criminal defense unless you understand the structure of the DA’s office in Los Angeles. To defendants – you better find yourself an attorney that knows the ins and outs of LA county, the system, the judges, the prosecutors, how to negotiate cases, how to win cases, and if you’re having any problems come and sit down with me. Hopefully, I can represent you and help you, but if I can’t, I can help guide you because I’ve been doing this a long time. I know all the good defense attorneys. If know how the District Attorney’s office works, and once you tell me where your case is and which court it’s in, that gives me an idea of who the players are that we’re going to have to deal with.
So, knowing the structure – knowing how the District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles operates like a business is a big advantage to a defendant and a criminal defense attorney.
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