How many criminal cases are in the courthouse that don’t belong there? Plenty, that’s clear from a recent case in the Los Angeles County Court. A homeowner gets cited for his dog running loose. The citation is for a misdemeanor because the County Ordinance carries the possibility of six months in jail for each violation. If a criminal defendant is subject to a jail sentence then certain rights apply.
The United States Constitution guarantees due process, right to a jury trial, confrontation of one’s accuser by the defendant, and the right to remain silent, among other rights. All these rights apply in California when a defendant is facing jail time for a violation of law.
But, surely, the dog owner isn’t facing real jail time for letting his dog run loose….is he? If the law that is violated is a misdemeanor, then all the above rights apply no matter how absurd the possibility of jail time is. Therefore, if the dog owner wants a Public Defender, at tax payer expense, and he is indigent, he is going to get the Public Defender. The Public Defender is an attorney, with clerical staff, office costs, investigators, and with an overwhelming case load of needy clients. Yet, no matter, the dog owner gets a lawyer at government expense.
Or if the dog owner is a responsible, non-indigent taxpayer, then he has to pay for his own lawyer, his own investigator, and his own expenses. But, surely common sense will prevail and the judge will see that his calendar is full of cases that really demand his time and energy to a larger extent than this dog running loose case. Not so. The system marches on. It doesn’t look right or left just keeps plowing forward wasting thousands of dollars prosecuting the miscreant dog owner. The prosecutor, yes, there is a real Deputy District Attorney who is prosecuting this case, doesn’t see what a waste of precious resources this is. Neither the judge nor the prosecutor reduce this case to an infraction thereby eliminating the possible jury trial, appointment of the Public Defender, and the waste of countless thousands of dollars. Much like the dog, this case is running wild with taxpayer money. And the court system says it’s running low on funds and needs more money fed into it from the precious few taxpayer dollars available. Is anyone listening? Common sense is screaming but apparently only a few of us care.