In response to Mr. Aleshire’s March 27 article that indicated the Payson Police Department is doing its job in arresting people but “the large problem remain[s] in seeming reluctance of Gila County prosecutors to file the cases submitted by police, resulting in officers returning to the same address over and over again ....” We agree that the Payson Police Department is working hard to combat all crimes occurring in Payson and particularly domestic violence (DV) offenses. The comment directed at prosecutors is, however, inaccurate and there is no “reluctance” to file DV offenses when charges are supported by sufficient facts to result in a conviction. Our 2011 annual report indicated just shy of 300 DV cases were prosecuted by this office and we take pride in ensuring these cases are handled appropriately.
After reviewing all felony DV cases submitted for review to the County Attorney’s Office from the Payson area for 2011, we determined only a small percentage were outright declined with no prosecution. Importantly, we referred 30 cases to the Payson Town Attorney for review and prosecution as the offense must be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. These offenses were thereafter prosecuted by the Town of Payson as that office handles all misdemeanors occurring within the Town of Payson and are not included in our statistics for prosecution. The Town of Payson prosecutor does an exceptional job in processing their cases.
For felonies declined to misdemeanor outside of the Town of Payson, we filed five misdemeanors and prosecuted them in the Payson Justice Court. Importantly, numerous cases are filed directly as misdemeanors by law enforcement and then handled by this office. Finally, only 24 felony DV cases were declined with no prosecution. Of those 24 matters declined for prosecution, two were not indicted by the grand jury, nine were declined as insufficient evidence submitted by the law enforcement agency, and 13 were declined as the victim refused to cooperate and/or could not be located.
It is important to remember that an arrest is only based on probable cause, but a prosecutor must ensure there is sufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. As is evident, we often are faced with cases that lack sufficient evidence for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, the arresting officer requests charges that cannot be sustained as the offense must be treated as a misdemeanor by the Payson Town Attorney, rather than a felony through the County Attorney’s Office. These matters are directed to the Town Attorney for misdemeanor prosecution.
Also, quite often a domestic violence case is purely a “he said she said” offense with no independent evidence of a crime and the victim’s cooperation is crucial. Victims of DV are often in a difficult situation as they wish to seek prosecution at the time of the arrest, but for a variety of reasons that changes. The state, however, must have the victim’s cooperation and participation in court to proceed. Clearly, the largest number of outright declined cases is due to the victims’ refusal to cooperate and/or the victims cannot be located.
Through our Victim Services Department we do our best to ensure that every victim has the opportunity to be heard in court and we will assist any victim through the court process and to obtain needed services. We implore all victims that when we seek your assistance to see that justice is done, that you continue to bravely step-up and ensure your own safety and the safety of any future victim.
Importantly, April 22-28, 2012, is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and this year’s theme is “Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim.” In observance of this annual event, my office will host several community events including a memorial program on April 24 at 5:15 p.m. in Globe and presentations to the Gila County Board of Supervisors on April 17 at 10 a.m. and the Payson City Council on April 19 at 5:30 p.m. for observance of Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
In addition, a display and informational booth will be at the Payson Public Library and the Gila County Courthouse to raise awareness about the prevalence and cost of DV, provide information about resources, safety plans, prevention and the availability of services for victims of abuse. Also, a video entitled “Sin by Silence” will be shown to both Gila County Domestic Violence Shelters. The film is an emotionally packed documentary that tells the personal and shocking stories of courageous women who have learned from their experience and will teach us how DV affects each and every person. If anyone wishes to participate in any event or needs information/assistance, please contact the Gila County Attorney’s Office at (928) 474-4068.