Despite the difficulty of leaving Juneau in the middle of the legislative session, Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny plans to attend Petersburg’s Town Hall Meeting on February 21.
“Whether case dismissals are good or bad is very difficult to tell,” said Svobodny.
In general, dismissals can indicate problems with policing, problems with the District Attorney’s office or problems with the court.
“Case dismissals are not always bad. Sometimes cases should be dismissed,” according to Svobodny.
Just the term, “sufficient evidence,” can mean different things to police, the prosecutor or the court. How the parties review the elements of a case can sometimes be an issue, explained Svobodny.
Sometimes, according to one of the state’s top attorneys, the question arises, “Is it a good use of police resources to push for more counts or charges,” when it’s likely the court will not give a defendant any greater punishment? Sometimes it’s reasonable to negotiate pleas.
Svobodny has responded to accusations of lack of prosecution in assorted cases from Petersburg. “I understand Petersburg would like a full-time prosecutor,” said Svobodny. The fact is that since 2005 the crime rate in Alaska is flat. “On a per capita basis the crime rate is down in Alaska,” said Svobodny.
The number of cases hasn’t grown, and actually the number has decreased in Southeast. He did add, “Some cases are more complicated.” He felt the current staff could handle the caseload in the region.
When asked of his expectations for the town meeting, Svobodny said he hoped for mutual agreement on the definition of dismissals.
He added, “Justice is different for every person. I’m not sure we’ll have consensus on what justice is.”
Svobodny related a recent case where a community member advocated for tougher sentencing until his son’s case came before the court. That person’s definition of justice changed.
“95% of cases across the state are resolved by negotiations,” according to Svobodny.
Petersburg had 170 cases in 2010 and if the state held two-day trials for all of the cases people would get tired of serving on the juries.
“I’m sure there are problems. I think the town meeting is a great idea. You need to explain how the system works. I hope people turn out for the meeting,” Svobodny concluded.