The 17th floor of the downtown Foltz Criminal Justice Center is where the quest for order and the rule of law meet.
The floor houses the District Attorney’s Charge Evaluation Division. About 20 attorneys and a support staff team are responsible for reviewing criminal cases submitted by law enforcement agencies and determining what – if any – charges should be filed.
Deputy district attorneys who make such filing decisions are stationed in courts around the county, but none of them see the volume of cases that are presented – via fax or walked in by police officers and sheriff’s deputies – to the Charge Evaluation Division.
Prosecutors assigned to the division review allegations involving about 18,000 suspects a year, said Head Deputy District Attorney Maria Palomino.
Of those, more than half result in criminal charges being filed after initial review. In a significant percentage of the cases that do not pass that initial review, prosecutors ask law enforcement to conduct further investigation and resubmit the case.
In addition, if prosecutors in the Charge Evaluation Division determine that crimes alleged within the city of Los Angeles do not rise to the seriousness of a felony, those matters may be referred to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office for consideration of misdemeanor prosecution.
Insufficient evidence is the most common reason that the division rejects filings.
For example, prosecutors recently declined to file criminal charges against a man accused of driving a stolen vehicle. He and his girlfriend said they borrowed the car from a friend and had no idea it was stolen. The prosecutor concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegation in court beyond a reasonable doubt – the standard of proof for a criminal conviction.
The prosecutors who work the division are veterans of the office with keen ability to determine what cases meet the legal standards to support criminal charges. Several prosecutors spend time working in Los Angeles police stations reviewing evidence for arrest warrants and serving as a resource to officers.