Truden says conviction rate higher than former DA’s
District Attorney Colleen Truden on Wednesday said her felony conviction rate through October is 40 percent higher than her predecessor’s during the same period in 2004.A former deputy prosecutor under Truden said the embattled district attorney’s conviction rate is only 24 percent, compared to the former district attorney’s 40 percent rate in 2004.Comparing conviction rates between years is difficult. A variety of factors, such as a judicial district’s population, whether a suspect received a deferred prosecution, and a district attorney’s aggressiveness in pursuing cases, can play a part in the number of convictions.”It’s extremely difficult to place any sort of substantial credibility in this (process of)comparing one year with (another) year,” said a person who has many years of experience with the judicial system. The source wished to remain anonymous.In Colorado, there is a case outcome known as a deferred prosecution. Prosecution is postponed for two years, and if the suspect performs satisfactorily during that probationary period, his or her record is wiped clean. It is a wild card in determining conviction rates.”The person is informed that if he is subsequently asked (after two years) if he has been convicted of a felony, he can legitimately answer no,” the source said.So does that count as a conviction? Former deputy district attorney Gail Nichols said such cases count as convictions during the two years of probation. After that time, if the person stays out of trouble and gets a clean record, it is not a conviction.Nichols spent part of the past several days looking at numerous Pitkin County criminal cases from 2004 and 2005 in reaching what she says is a conviction rate of 24 percent for Truden. Nichols, former head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, readily agreed that comparing one district attorney’s conviction rate to another’s is taxing.”This is very, very tricky,” she said.Her comparison tracked 92 felony cases filed from when Truden took office in January through Nov. 11, 2005, and 92 cases filed in all of 2004. Nichols said the discrepancy between the dates shouldn’t affect the overall conviction rate.”It’s true that there are additional felony filings (in 2005),” she said. “But that means that the convictions should be up (this year), and you can see that convictions aren’t even close to what we did last year. The rate should be about the same, and it’s nowhere near.”To arrive at her conviction rates, Nichols said she “took all felony filings and divided it into the felony convictions, plus the felony deferred (cases).”According to Nichols’ comparison, of the 92 felony cases in 2005, 12 people pleaded guilty to or were convicted of felonies, 16 pleaded guilty to misdemeanors or petty offenses, and 11 pleaded guilty under deferred sentences.In the 92 cases of 2004, before Truden, 28 people pleaded guilty to or were convicted of felonies, 10 pleaded guilty to misdemeanors or petty offenses, and 10 pleaded guilty under deferred sentences.”That’s a huge difference,” Nichols said.The rest of the cases from both years is a mishmash of outstanding warrants, fugitives from other states and dismissals. The final conviction rates do not include cases from 2003 that were handled in 2004, nor 2004 cases handled in 2005.”If you asked me, I’d say, ‘Look, I can’t tell what (Truden) did is wrong.’ It all depends on the facts of the cases,” she said. “The thing that offends me is she’s saying she’s so much tougher on crime. You talk to any defense attorney, and they’re getting gifts. Everybody’s saying, ‘We don’t want her to change because she’s giving us great deals.'”The findings, she said, are a rough estimate that nevertheless “is not that far off” from reality.Truden dismissed Nichols’ analysis, saying she didn’t know where her former employee obtained her statistics.”She provides no information, so I can’t comment on what she says,” Truden said. “What I can tell you is the information I’ve got from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council is that our conviction rate for felonies is up 40 percent through the end of October (compared with) 2004.”When asked for the 2004 conviction figure that she has exceeded by 40 percent, she said she did not have that information.And then there is the population question. Whether an influx of oil and gas workers in western Garfield County is leading to her claim of increases in felony filings and convictions is an issue that keeps coming up, she said.”It’s as I told the commissioners during our workshop up there in Pitkin County (in early November): I don’t have any statistics or information that correlates between the increase (of oil and gas workers),” Truden said. “Anecdotally, there seems to be an increase in population, and therefore it would make sense to think that there’s some increase (in crime). But predominantly that’s not what I’m sensing.”We’re just filing more, we’re working more with (police) and filing and addressing the cases that would otherwise have gone unaddressed.”At any rate, the source familiar with the courts said, there is a larger ideal for prosecutors: “The district attorney, it is often said, doesn’t have any duty to convict – the district attorney has a duty to see that justice is done.”
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