Juneau backs off plan to dump prosecutions on state

Posted: Tuesday, June 27, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- After scolding by community groups, the city has backed off from a plan to dump local prosecution of assault cases on the state as a way of saving jail costs in the face of looming budget deficits.

City Attorney John Corso presented Juneau Assembly members an alternate plan Monday that would bring prosecution of assault cases back into the city's jurisdiction.

At a recent meeting of the Juneau Domestic Violence Task Force, Chairwoman Annette Coggins complained that moving prosecutions to the state would undermine years of increasingly aggressive city prosecution of assault and drunken-driving cases.

Citing for offenses under state statute would overwork the district attorney's office, which could prompt prosecutors to plea-bargain lighter sentences, the task force worried.

Greg Pease, executive director of Gastineau Human Services, a nonprofit community corrections and substance abuse rehabilitation contractor, dubbed the initial move to lighten the city's legal load ''ludicrous.''

''You just wanted to save money,'' Pease told the assembly. ''When you look a victim in the face, tell them you were only interested in dollars and cents.''

Among Corso's most recent proposals:

--The city will prosecute only driving-while-intoxicated charges with a three-day minimum sentence. Subsequent DWI offenses will be cited under state statute. Thus far, the city has prosecuted all DWI cases.

--Assaults will be charged under city ordinance unless an assault suspect is on probation as a result of a felony conviction.

--City prosecutors will not seek to revoke probation on the grounds that the offender violated court-ordered restriction such as not entering a bar or consuming alcohol.

''Such petitions to revoke account for about a third of our jail time,'' Corso said.

The city prosecuted 44 second-offense drunken-driving cases last year and 152 assaults, according to officials.

City Manager Dave Palmer has proposed that the city incarceration budget be reduced to $500,000 for fiscal year 2001, compared to the $770,000 currently budgeted.

Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said that's realistic, but said the assembly will keep an eye out for any problems created by the changes.

''In retrospect, we should initially have said something to the community groups when we were first considering the changes,'' MacKinnon said.

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