The Statistics Look Great

The San Diego District Attorney says that 11,000 people were charged with misdemeanor or felony DUI in her county in 2010 and that she convicted 98% of them.  That’s compared with a 73% rate state-wide.  But what does that mean?  The DA seems to be implying that she convicted 98% of DUI drivers at trial.  And that may be true.  If the San Diego DA tries all her DUI cases and has a conviction rate that high she must be doing something (everything?) right, because 98% is an astounding number.

But I think she got to that number in a different way.  Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the criminal justice system knows that the vast majority of cases are resolved by plea bargain.  For example, the National Review says that 95% of state felonies are resolved in this way.  Assuming that most cases in San Diego are resolved by plea bargain, as they are everywhere else in the country, and that all cases resolved by plea bargain result in a conviction, the San Diego DA’s office may be bargaining their way to a high conviction rate.  How would they do that?  Try to get as many people as possible to accept a plea bargain and thus a conviction.  How does a DA’s office get virtually everyone to accept a plea bargain?  By making really good offers.  Good in this context meaning gentle, mild, or liberal.  When a criminal Defendant is offered a slap on the wrist if they plead guilty, but will face the full sentence under the Penal Code at trial, then they are going to take a deal, and a conviction.  But a gentle sentence may do next to nothing to deter that driver from another DUI.  It may not come with any time in jail, the world’s oldest sober living facility.  And a mild sentence may not come with any serious treatment for those drivers with a drinking problem.

It seems like the San Diego DA is showing off her statistics.  But a closer look implies that she may be soft on DUI offenders for the sake of a high conviction rate.  Not something to brag about.

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