This is a story I was waiting for someone else to write. It is a story about the criminal justice system from the perspective of a career prosecutor. It is a story that needs to be told because the media does a poor job of giving the public accurate information about how the system works. And for most people, the media is the only source of knowledge about the criminal justice system. This book reveals how the system really works. It is also a critique of a media driven by such a pervasive liberal bias that the public is often misinformed.
Otherwise well-educated people, including television anchors, lack basic knowledge of the criminal justice system. I point out many examples, over the years, of instances in which the media has misled the public, causing many to believe the criminal justice system is unfair, unreasonable, racist and unduly harsh. The Criminal Justice Club is a rebuttal to this media misinformation, and also seeks to educate the reader about the criminal justice system and the roles of the players within the system. Some of these players comprise what I call “The Criminal Justice Club,” because only these Club members know how the system really works. As a result of this shared knowledge, there often exists a camaraderie between prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys even though we are on opposite sides of a case.
It is also my personal story, an unlikely story of a kid growing up in Hollywood, California, the only child of divorced parents in the entertainment industry, a high school dropout who once worked the night shift on an automobile assembly line, delivered liquor on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, became a civil rights demonstrator, ACLU member, a lawyer and finally a career prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
It is also the story of my conversion from a young liberal, who always sympathized with the criminal, into an advocate for crime victims and for longer sentences for violent and career criminals. This conversion was partly the result of my witnessing the suffering of crime victims and their families throughout my career as a deputy district attorney.
I include several of my cases and experiences as a Deputy DA: some humorous, some gratifying, some heartbreaking, some frustrating. One of the realities of the system is that relatively few crimes are ever solved by the police. Of the crimes that are “solved” by an arrest of a suspect, DAs in L.A. County refuse to file charges in about 30% to 40% of these cases. Thus, prosecutors in Los Angeles County charge suspects with only a small fraction of the crimes committed.
The Criminal Justice Club
• Exposes the lack of truth in sentencing and reveals the large differences between the sentences pronounced by the judge and reported in the media, on the one hand, and the actual time criminals really serve in jails and prisons.
• Reveals that from 1965 through 1978, the state of California paid its counties $4,000 for each convicted felon who was not sentenced to prison, thus avoiding, for many years, the necessity of having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new prisons. Under this plan, called “The Probation Subsidy Act,” many thousands of violent and career criminals were repeatedly released back to the streets after each felony conviction.
• Commends women’s groups for demanding and achieving significant reforms in the areas of sexual assault, child molestation, domestic violence and drunk driving in the 1970s and 1980s.
• Shows how California’s criminal justice system has undergone dramatic reform since 1978. Most of the credit goes to California’s initiative process, an exercise in direct democracy enabling the voters to pass laws when the legislature has failed to respond to calls for reform.
• Most importantly, this book debunks many criminal justice myths and errors perpetuated by the media. The reader will learn how frequently the public is misled by the media on criminal justice issues.
Even with the relatively few crimes Los Angeles County DAs end up prosecuting, DAs in Los Angeles need not worry about layoffs. There will always be enough business to keep them busy. The police and prosecutorial resources devoted to fighting crime in Los Angeles County are enormous. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office serves a population of approximately ten million and prosecutes all felonies committed in the county, as well as misdemeanors committed in the unincorporated areas of the county and in 78 of the county’s 88 cities. It is the largest local prosecution office in the nation with about one thousand lawyers. When I joined the DA’s office in 1968, there were about three hundred lawyers and only a handful of women DAs. At this writing, the majority of prosecutors in the Los Angeles County DA’s Office are women. About one-third are minorities. These prosecutors are spread over 38 offices around the county.
One of my reasons for writing this book is to urge the news media and their reporters to become educated in the workings of the criminal justice system and to stop misleading the public—whether from ignorance or liberal bias.
Those who read this book will become far more knowledgeable about the criminal justice system than the general public. Consequently, they will more likely be able to recognize when they are being misled by the media.