When it comes to criminal defense, law enforcement are basically those individuals who investigate crimes. There are number of different branches of law enforcement. Sometimes people get confused. In Los Angeles, the main two branches of law enforcement state-wide are the sheriffs and the Los Angeles Police Department or LAPD. They investigate all crimes and their jurisdiction is carved up for them.
For example, the sheriffs control everything to the west of Valley Circle in the San Fernando Valley, while LAPD controls the rest of the Valley, but the sheriffs also have other jurisdictions like Calabasas and other areas across Los Angeles County. So, as far as when a crime occurs, the jurisdiction is going to be dictated by whatever contract or LAPD have with the county. There are also other law enforcement branches that are federal. For example, the DEA – the Drug Enforcement Agency, Fire Arms and Tobacco. It even runs deeper than that. For example, the California lottery has its own investigative branch, and then there’s other state agencies that have investigative branches and then when they’re done with their investigation on a case, they’ll then turn that over to either the LAPD or the sheriff, depending on who has jurisdiction.
So, it is a bit complicated when it comes to trying to figure out who is in charge of what crime, but the authorities know. Sometimes there’s confusion. People will get arrested by the sheriffs and the sheriffs will get confused about which jurisdiction controls a particular case and a lot of times they’ll actually send them to the wrong court in Los Angeles and then that court will realize where the arrest took place and then they will change the court location. No court is going to deal with a case that’s not in their jurisdiction.
So, when law enforcement gets involved with a case, basically what they do – depending on how serious the case is and how sophisticated the case is, sometimes law enforcement will just make an arrest right on the spot and try to get a confession. Other times, if it’s a more serious case or a complicated case like sex crime case for example, or some sort of a fraud case where a lot of money is being stolen and records need to be reviewed and decisions need to be made and search warrants need to be executed, then they might coordinate with a prosecutorial branch like the District Attorney’s Office or the City Attorney’s Office.
There’s also code enforcement/law enforcement people who are involved. For example, with marijuana shops, if they’re illegally operating in downtown Los Angeles, there are certain investigative agencies that deal with that and they will typically turn that over to the City Attorney to handle.
So, just because the sheriffs and the Los Angeles Police Department are the most visible law enforcement officers in Los Angeles, that doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones that are out there investigating. They have other teams of investigator depending on the section. For example, if it’s health care fraud, you’re going to have certain investigators that deal with that. Um, if it’s prostitution, you’ll have certain investigators that are dealing with that. If it has to do with bars and alcohol for example, ABC, Alcohol Beverage Control is going to monitoring that, and then some of the law enforcement agencies actually have the ability to make their own arrests.
For example, campus police – take Cal State North University – they have their own campus police. I see cases where they arrest people on campus – students or other people entering the campus and those law enforcement officers will send the case into the District Attorney’s Office who will prosecute the case, or they can call in other law enforcement officers like the LAPD to come in and assist them with the arrest; assist them with writing the police report in the case.
So, no matter what law enforcement branch is dealing with a particular case, they all answer to the prosecutors. The prosecutors are lawyers. They are the ones who decide what charges to file and what charges not to file and a lot of times these law enforcement officers have to meet with the prosecutors and show them what evidence they have so the prosecutors can make the decision as to whether or not they’re going to file a case, and a lot of times the prosecutors will say to the law enforcement officers, I see what you have investigated here. The problem is you didn’t do some of the investigation that needs to be done. I’m not going to file this case today and then the defendant who shows up in court that day is going to be told that either their case was rejected or their case was set out for another date for further investigation. That means the prosecutors have decided there needs to be more investigation on the case before they’re going to file it. They want to make sure if they file it, that they can successfully prosecute the person for the crime, because they know a good defense attorney is going to come in and try to up-end their case, attack their evidence. They need to deal with that right up front to make sure they have the evidence. Trying to deal with it in the middle of the case is sometimes very difficult, so they need to try to get it all together and they’re going to use law enforcement officers. So, the prosecutors charge the case as law enforcement officers are typically investigating the cases. But believe it nor not, the District Attorney’s office has its own investigators that they can use who are part of the law enforcement team as well.
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