MARTINEZ (CBS SF) — Most people arrested or cited in Contra Costa County for possession of a small amount of drugs and other non-violent misdemeanor infractions will no longer have charges filed against them under a new policy from the district attorney’s office.
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced Thursday her office will formalize the policy of misdemeanor filing considerations after a pilot period. According to a press release, the idea is to divert low-level recreational users out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system with the goals of both reducing the strain in the courts and on law enforcement.
Last year, Becton and Public Defender Robin Lipetzky were contacted by the presiding judge of the court who stressed the need to reduce the significant backlog of low-level, non-violent misdemeanors in the court system. Becton said the aim of these considerations is to stop chronic patterns of arrest and to connect individuals to community-based behavioral health services, while allowing prosecutors to focus on criminal street gangs, drug dealers, violent criminals, and cases involving firearms.
“When I took Office, I realized we had to change our perspective on filing cases, especially low-level drug cases. From my experience as a judge I saw first-hand how individuals were cycling through our system,” Becton said in a prepared statement. “Now as the District Attorney, I worked with several law enforcement partners throughout the county to build a plan and gain consensus on how best to proceed with these types of cases. We cannot prosecute ourselves out of this growing trend of low-level offenses being submitted to our Office for a filing decision.”
Cases would not be filed against individuals who are first-time offenders or are facing a standalone charge. Becton said the policy would not apply if the person has been arrested on three previous occasions, the theft is more than $300 in value or the person is on probation.
Aside from drug possession offenses, other misdemeanor crimes falling under the new considerations include shoplifting, petty theft, possession of burglary tools, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and trespassing.
Becton is among a group of California district attorneys who have publicly come out against Proposition 20, a statewide initiative that they believe will increase incarceration rates and costs while cutting investments in services necessary to help survivors.
The measure is supported by law enforcement groups and large grocery store chains who have railed against a rise in shoplifting and organized retail crime.