There are 1,500 arrests made each year in Plumas County and one office has 48 hours to decide whether there is enough evidence to hold the suspects or set them free.
District Attorney David Hollister shared that information as well as explained what his office does, the problems the county has attracting new attorneys and his office’s recent accomplishments during the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 17 meeting.
Hollister observed that many people see the DA’s office as that “prosecutor fighting in court against defense lawyers.”
He agreed that his office does fight cases in court, in line with its primary duty to investigate and prosecute crimes to protect the county’s communities.
Hollister pointed out that his prosecutors are on call “24/7.”
“If there is a murder at 3 a.m., we are on the job at 3:01 a.m.,” noted Hollister.
His office jumps in after law enforcement is finished and “do just a little bit more” to finish the investigation.
Hollister reported that his office deals with a lot more than investigations and prosecutions, including victim and witness services, official misconduct investigations, consumer protection and grand juries.
Hollister noted many people don’t know it, but the DA’s office approves search warrants, and then answers any questions judges might have concerning those warrants.
He also explained that his office interacts with dozens of county, state and federal agencies. For example, his office interacts with county social services, state fish and wildlife and the FBI.
The DA’s office extradites suspects and fugitives to other states or other government authorities.
More and more, Hollister reported, the state has given counties the role of housing and trying to rehabilitate prisoners.
However, Hollister declared, “Our primary duty is to be sure justice is done in each and every case. We have to get it absolutely right every time.”
Hollister served for 11 years in Oakland as a deputy DA before moving to Quincy in 2003 as deputy district attorney. In 2010, Hollister was elected as Plumas County’s DA and took office in January 2011.
There was so much crime in Oakland that the DA’s office often only tried life cases; cases involving long sentences up to life, said Hollister.
Hollister noted that the same types of cases that occur in a big city, like Oakland, occur here, “there are just fewer of them.”
Noting that his office is a “young office,” Hollister said that the oldest and lead prosecutor has been on the job for only six years and the youngest prosecutor for just two years.
These new prosecutors “arrive just a few months out of law school and have to immediately start doing litigation. This is an eye-opener for them, but they do well.”
“We have not had a verdict or ruling reversed by an appellate court in 17 years,” Hollister pointed out proudly. “We don’t cherry-pick cases here, and just pick the easy cases to prosecute, we prosecute them all.”
It is a challenge to attract new prosecutors. The pay is not an incentive.
“The state of California pays incoming prosecutors more than we pay our district attorney in Plumas County,” Hollister noted, “and then it takes two to six years before a new hire can prosecute felonies and we sometimes lose them before that.”
On the other hand, Hollister pointed out, a prosecutor has a much better chance of becoming a DA here than in a large metropolitan area where there are hundreds of applicants.
The only down side to being a prosecutor, Hollister mused, is that the only new law passed last year that gets tough on criminals allows prosecutors to be put in jail.
The times are changing
Hollister also reported that “the rules have changed.” Following laws passed to lock up as many lawbreakers as possible, prisons have become overcrowded.
So the pendulum has swung toward finding ways to reduce the number of people in California prisons, the number of people who return to prison and the amount of money itcosts the state to house prisoners.
In 2011, AB109 shifted many state responsibilities to counties. In 2014, Proposition 47 reduced many drug and theft offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Last year, Proposition 57 passed that allows for early parole of prisoners.
He said he has seen serious offenders put up for parole after they have served only the primary term for their offense, while ignoring the additional years added to their sentence for having earlier offenses.
Hollister also pointed out that parole hearings are held in larger cities and officiated by people who don’t know the offender or the particulars of the crime.
In cases involving murder, Hollister takes the time and effort to go to those cities to represent both the interests of Plumas County and those of the victims.
Hollister also stressed that he manages a small office, with very few prosecutors as compared to surrounding Lassen and Butte counties.
Yet, he was proud to say, Plumas County has taken the lead in implementing new programs. The county’s Alternative Sentencing Program, renamed the Community Justice Program, provides an array of resources to people once they are released from custody in order to help them to reintegrate back into the community.
The program allows certain low-level, nonviolent suspects to be released from jail before trial so that they don’t lose their jobs or their homes. These people are vetted first and have to meet specific criteria. Then they have to go before a judge for approval.
“If I have any doubt, it’s a no-go,” said Hollister.
Both of these programs were not mandated by the state, but were created by local leaders.
He was also clearly proud that he was able to make Jessica Beatley the first female investigation supervisor in the county’s history. The DA often has to begin investigations or add to investigations started by law enforcement. So the investigator’s role in the office is similar to that performed by detectives in the sheriff’s office.
Many times, victims of crimes report a crime and then hear nothing more from law enforcement. Hollister makes sure that all victims are contacted about the outcomes of a criminal investigation.
No place to hide
Hollister described the lack of anonymity for those involved with the judicial system in a small community like Plumas County.
“I have gone to the grocery store to find out that the guy I just put out on pretrial release is bagging my groceries, but in my mind, this makes us do a better job,” he said.
Lastly, Hollister pointed out that 14 years ago, when he came to the county, heroin was not an issue. He said, however, that methamphetamine is still the county’s largest serious drug problem.
There were about 40 methamphetamine arrests last year versus only four for heroin, he said.
Citizens are well protected Hollister concluded, “This is a beautiful and safe place we live in.”