Yolo Judicial Watch will be located on the Vanguard but available on its own separate page: yolojudicialwatch.org.
The purpose of this project is to expose potential miscarriages of justice in the Yolo County system. Over the past three and half years, The Vanguard reported on a number of cases that were marked by the overcharging of defendants by the prosecutor. Also, there were a number of cases that revealed with closer scrutiny that people were likely innocent of the charges altogether.While we have had success breaking major news stories such as the letter from DA investigator Rick Gore as well as covering in depth cases such Khalid Berny who faced 60 years in prison for allegedly allowing his goats to run free, Ajay Dev who was sentenced to 378 years in prison based solely on a contested pretense call that was recorded by the Davis Police Department, among others. We have also provided heavy critiques of the District Attorney's report on the shooting of Luis Gutierrez.
However, we have been limited in what we can report. Previously the Vanguard had limited ability to track cases of interest that did not emerge into the public light. At times, the Vanguard was directly tipped off by an interested party, however, for the most part, a large number of cases have gone unreported.
How many cases? How big a problem is this? Those are questions that we cannot answer right now because the mass media covers only a few high profile cases and we have never been able to follow and collect data on the overall system.
That changes now with this project.
For the first time, we will be able to track and monitor cases from the beginning to the end of the process. That means we can we report on a much greater number of cases that may be of interest to the general public, but never reach the light of day.
While this project will have a broad scope, our goal will be to quantify some of the complaints that we have received over the years about the Yolo County justice system. These complaints include the overcharging of certain defendants and the prosecution that is often alleged to be malicious or racially motivated of individuals who are likely not guilty of any crime.
The Vanguard will look at a whole range of cases, but focus on gang enhancement cases, cases where there a resisting arrest charge without an additional charge, cases where numerous charges have been tacked on by the District Attorney, and all felony cases that go to trial.
The county cites the number of felony cases that go to trial per year to be around 120. We have heard that of those, 40% end in a victory for the defense. If that number is anywhere close to accurate, it is alarming.
From a practical standpoint that should never occur. The District Attorney has a huge advantage in that they determine what cases to take, which cases to accept plea agreements on, and how much to charge. They hold all of the advantages. If they are barely breaking even on trial cases, that indicates a huge problem in the system that there are a number of cases that should never have gone to trial.
With Yolo County again facing a $20 million deficit in its general fund, we need to find out if current practices are costing too much in terms of resources and money.
This project will be able to quantify these issues. This is not merely an academic question. If the DA is overcharging cases and thus forcing cases to trial that should not go to trial, that is a huge waste of taxpayer money. If the DA is charging people likely to be innocent, that again is a waste of money.
Again this project will be able to quantify that issue and sort out fact from myth. This process will also be better able to quantify claims that the DA has a 90% conviction rate. We will be able to determine what that means and what the ramifications are of it.
To perform this work, the Vanguard will utilize a project director and a number interns from a diverse group of people ranging from undergraduates at UC Davis, to law students, to paralegals and community members.
It is our hope to have an interim report to the public by the end of June on the state of the Judicial System. In the meantime, Vanguard and Yolo Judicial Watch readers will see an increase in coverage of cases that have go through the legal system in Yolo County.