The Office of the Attorney General is working to better communicate and justify to the general public its deviations between initial charges in a case and the charges that defendants plead guilty to later on.
"We need to be able to justify to the public when they're saying, 'Why are you charging someone with murder and then you're pleading it down to this?'" Attorney General Leevin Camacho said Thursday. "Those are questions that we should be able to justify if that's the decision that's made ... because our prosecutors really are doing their best and nine times out of 10 they have a very good reason why they've pleaded out of an offense to whatever they decided to plead out to."
Whether the OAG speaks on a particular case will depend on factors behind that case, but Camacho acknowledged that seeking a justification for charges was a fair question to ask and one asked internally as well.
"When I wake up and I see something move from a first-degree felony down to a misdemeanor, I also ask the same question," Camacho said.
Part of the issue falls on charging practices – something the OAG is currently assessing.
"Some cases were just not charged properly, and that's what I'm having to deal with now taking office in January. ... We have cases that were filed and are still being filed, but because of the practices from before, we may not necessarily agree with the ways (defendants) are being charged," Camacho said.
Moving forward, the AG's office is also looking to better address prosecuting offenses committed while on release and make distinctions when necessary.
Distinguishing violent offenses
There is a five-year minimum sentence for committing a felony while on felony release, Camacho said. But this doesn't mean all cases should be treated the same, he added.
For example, a criminal sexual conduct offender who commits a similar crime on release should serve that minimum sentence, but that is not necessarily the case for a drug defendant caught with a meth pipe with drug residue, the attorney general said.
Camacho, who has a background as a defense attorney, said he has had many cases with defendants going through Adult Drug Court who were picked up "with a pipe" while on pretrial release.
"Do we want to put that person in jail for five years because they're on pretrial on a drug case and got caught with another pipe?" Camacho said.
"The problem we have internally that we're reviewing, if we charge out all felony on felony releases the same ... we need to look at our charging practices to make sure there is a distinction between a violent offender on pretrial who committed a violent act and a drug defender on pretrial," he added.
These policy shifts won't happen overnight, Camacho said, but the office is actively looking at its practices and will put out some kind of policy.
In the end, the job of prosecutors includes encouraging confidence in the criminal justice system, he added.