Domestic violence is a subject on the minds of our government officials lately, with the U.S. Senate finally re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday. In arguing in favor of the act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, “In my days as the mayor of San Francisco, many of the most difficult calls for The City’s law enforcement officers were those of domestic abuse. It was a big problem then, and it remains a big problem today.”
District Attorney George Gascón agrees.
According to a report from his office, in 2007 the District Attorney’s Office handled 27 domestic violence jury trials. Last year, it was 49. The average number of domestic violence cases the office handles each month also jumped from 155 to 268 in that five-year period.
Police records show a slight decrease in police reports of domestic violence, so what’s causing the uptick in legal cases? That was a central issue last week when the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee considered whether to allocate an additional $750,000 to the District Attorney’s Office so it can hire attorneys and victim’s rights advocates.
Gascón blamed the increased caseload on the Public Defender’s Office for refusing plea deals. According to Gascón, the 23 percent reduction in pleas in domestic violence cases since 2010 is “because the public defender is insisting on taking more cases to trial.”
Public Defender Jeff Adachi argued that, “The District Attorney’s Office has been more aggressive in terms of going to trial in cases [Gascón] can’t prove.”
Adachi produced a chart showing that in 2012, the public defender won a full acquittal in 20 domestic violence trials, there were hung juries in four, and the jury convicted the defendant of at least one charge in 13. (The chart showed there were no convictions in 2009 and nine in 2010 under Gascón’s predecessor, current state Attorney General Kamala Harris.)
Gascón fired back, accusing the public defender of sabotaging The City’s cases.
“Before we actually get to the victim in order to prepare for our cases, the victim has already been contacted by the Public Defender’s Office,” Gascón said. “We have seen cases where the victims are being told that, ‘If you cooperate with the prosecution in a domestic violence case, this could lead to a separation of your family. This could actually impact whether your husband or your boyfriend may be deported from the country.’”
He added that being understaffed can cause the office to lose cases, which was the whole point of giving the office more money to hire lawyers. The committee approved about $630,000 of the $750,000 proposal, and Supervisor Malia Cohen later asked that the other $120,000 be given to nonprofits that assist The City with domestic violence services. The board will consider that request in a few weeks, but it will be approved without much of a fight.
Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at email@example.com.