DNA LA County Jail Mental Illness Prosecutors

Helping the Mentally Ill Exiting LA Jails, Prop 47’s DNA Dilemma, DOJ to Help Compton Reduce Crime, and “De-Publishing”


In August, The LA County Sheriff’s Department announced a settlement with the US Department of Justice regarding treatment of the mentally ill in county jails.

But inmate advocates say that while the LASD-DOJ agreement requires an overhaul of mental health treatment and services for mentally ill inmates as well as referral to a social worker upon release, the settlement leaves gaping holes that will perpetuate the homelessness-incarceration cycle.

The public interest law firm, Public Counsel, is working to get the settlement amended to include “warm hand-offs” (rather than paper referrals) from jail staff to social workers as mentally ill inmates are released back into their communities. Public Counsel also takes issue with the fact that people with mental health issues like dementia and personality disorders are disqualified from the assistance for mentally ill.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We ought to be allowing them to exit jail with at least a reasonable chance that they won’t be back any time soon,” said UCLA Law Professor Gary Blasi, an attorney with Public Counsel, which is suing to have a say in the court-imposed reforms.

He said inmates need a “warm hand-off” from jailer to social worker because they often lack the capacity to navigate a complicated web of county mental health facilities and services.

“That means that you have a human being in one system who connects with another human being in another system,” Blasi said. “They assume responsibility for seeing that the person doesn’t get dropped in the gap between the bureaucracies.”

Thousands of mentally ill inmates are released from L.A. County jails every year. The population of inmates with serious mental health conditions has continued to grow.

In August, after years of monitoring conditions, the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the sheriff’s department to massively overhaul how such inmates are treated while in jail.

Now, Public Counsel, representing a group of former inmates, is going to court to “intervene” in the case and alter the settlement agreement.

The current agreement “creates practices that will continue to cycle the mentally ill between Skid Row and the County Jails, depriving them of necessary medical and psychiatric services,” according to a Public Counsel statement.


Last November, California voters passed Prop 47, which retroactively downgraded certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.

What Prop 47 didn’t address, was what to do with the DNA samples previously taken from people arrested for felonies that have since become misdemeanors, since DNA samples are not taken from people arrested on misdemeanor charges (only felonies).

An appellate court has ruled that the law does call for retroactive DNA expungement for former offenders whose felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors. Critics say that wiping out all that DNA from the database will harm future investigations. Critics also point out that law enforcement officers take DNA samples for wobbler charges—which could be designated as either misdemeanors or felonies—, and for those cases that end in misdemeanor charges, DNA samples are not destroyed.

The debate rages on, and the issue will either be addressed by the courts or by lawmakers.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kristina Davis has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Nearly 2.5 million DNA samples are stored in California’s DNA Data Bank and are frequently cross-checked against DNA evidence taken from crime scenes to find potential matches. From April to June, hits from the database aided some 48,000 investigations, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Justice.

Oddly, for a voter campaign as costly and debated as Proposition 47’s was, the DNA issue wasn’t really addressed as a talking point by either side before the election.

The issue is rearing its head now as part of a case involving a San Diego teenage boy who applied to have his felony commercial burglary charge reclassified to a misdemeanor. The District Attorney’s Office fought the request, saying the retroactive part of Proposition 47 should not apply to juveniles because of differences in how minors are convicted. In adult court, defendants are found guilty or not guilty. In juvenile court, a conviction is known as a “true finding.” Proposition 47 does not mention juveniles specifically.

The state’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the teen in July, saying that Proposition 47 applies equally to juveniles and adults.

The appellate three-judge panel also asked the lower San Diego Superior Court to reconsider how that finding might affect the boy’s request to have his DNA expunged. The judges made their opinion clear on the matter: that voters intended for Proposition 47’s retroactive relief to result in the purging of existing DNA samples.

Juvenile Deputy Public Defender Maryann D’Addezio Kotler, who is representing the boy, said the appeals court made the right call.

“The taking of someone’s DNA is an infringement on someone’s privacy, obviously, and we certainly only want the government to take it when it is sanctioned by law,” she said.


As far as expungement goes, under existing DNA law, someone can have their DNA removed only under conditions of innocence or reasonable doubt, including acquittals, findings of factual innocence or dismissals.

In their petition to the state Supreme Court for review of the case, prosecutors argue that nothing in Proposition 47 should change those existing laws concerning DNA.

“It defies reason,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in an interview.


On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced that the city of Compton was one of five new cities chosen to join a two-year program called the Violence Reduction Network. This means that through the DOJ partnership, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (which has jurisdiction over Compton) will receive training, personnel, and other support to reduce sex trafficking, gun violence, and other crimes.

Compton joins the ranks of two other California cities—Oakland and Richmond—receiving help from the feds through the Violence Reduction Network.

Richmond, if you’ll remember is being pointed to as a national model for community policing and crime reduction.

The LA Times’ Angel Jennings has the story. Here’s a clip:

The FBI has already committed to relocating its Safe Streets Task Force unit from Pasadena to Compton, said U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Thom Mrozek.

The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshal’s Service will also devote people to work with the sheriff’s Compton office, Mrozek said.

The Violence Reduction Network “is definitely a game changer for public safety in Compton that will positively impact the quality of life for our entire community,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown said in a statement.

Federal agencies will work together to tackle gang violence, human trafficking, narcotics, gun proliferation and cyber-crime, sheriff’s Lt. Chris Perez said.

Though Compton has long been notorious for gang crime, including drive-by shootings, violent crime has dropped significantly in recent years.


There’s long been a tradition of “de-publishing” judges’ opinions from the official records so that they are not used as precedents in subsequent cases.

However, an intense battle has been raging in California over the idea of de-publishing, which critics say is a way for prosecutors to have the last word (even when they have lost an appellate review) in order to remove that ruling from being used in future court proceedings.

The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen has more on the de-publishing dispute. Here’s a clip:

Take this new case of a minor we know only as “Elias V.” On June 9th, an intermediate California appeals court overturned a trial judge’s finding that incriminating statements made by “Elias V” in a case involving allegations of “lewd and lascivious” conduct could be used against the young man. The so-called “confession,” the appellate judges ruled, was involuntary for several different reasons. The opinion, which you can read here, was comprehensive, detailed, and replete with references to some of the most modern scholarly work on the fallibility of juvenile confessions.

The decision, to suppress the confession in a case of one juvenile accused of inappropriately touching another juvenile, was immediately controversial. But it was not necessarily wrong. It was immediately published so that lawyers in California could cite it as precedential authority and lawyers in other states could read it for clues and rationales that might apply in other cases. The California Attorney General’s office, which has the immediate authority to appeal such rulings to the California Supreme Court, chose not to do so. As far as California goes, the Elias V ruling was good law.

That did not end the dispute, however. In California, once the attorney general decides not to pursue an appeal, a slim window opens allowing prosecutors (or defense attorneys or anyone else) to seek to otherwise limit the scope of a decision with which they disagree. They can achieve this by convincing the California Supreme Court to “de-publish” an opinion, to rid it of any precedential value. Prosecutors do this when, as in the “Elias V.” case, they get a ruling they fear will result in the suppression of incriminating evidence in other cases. Defense attorneys do this when they fear a pro-police ruling will encourage other trial judges to tip the scales toward prosecutors.

What happened next in the Elias V. case was extraordinary, according to lawyers who try to keep track of these things. Two months after the June decision, prosecutors in two other California counties, wholly unrelated to the case, wrote letters to the California Supreme Court asking the justices to “de-publish” the Elias V. decision. They argued that it would “cause confusion both in juvenile and adult criminal courts.” One prosecutor listed as a reason to de-publish the fact that “the new rules… are based on social science rather than firmly established legal principles.”

What happened after that was even more extraordinary. The appellate judges who had issued the controversial Elias V. ruling then responded to the prosecutors with a long letter of their own to the California Supreme Court. De-publication of their ruling, they wrote, would have the effect of “shielding from public attention” the social science research they had included in their opinion.

Read on.

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