Prosecutors in Northern California's Contra Costa County, adjacent to Oakland and Alameda County, announced Tuesday they will no longer prosecute a number of misdemeanor offenses, nor will they prosecute felony drug possession cases involving only small amounts of drugs. The new policy goes into effect May 4, District Attorney Robert Kochly told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Under the new policy, anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine or less than a half gram of heroin will not be charged. Ditto for people caught carrying fewer than five ecstasy or prescription opioid tablets.
"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do."
Kochly sent a memo Monday to the Contra Costa County Police Chiefs Association, which represents local police chiefs, asking them not to even bother submitting such cases. "If they are submitted, they will be screened out by category by support staff and returned to your department without review by a deputy district attorney," he wrote.
The charging changes are necessary to eliminate a $1.9 million budget gap in the district attorney's office this fiscal year. Six deputy district attorneys will be laid off at month's end, and another 11 will be let go by the end of the year, Kochly said.
Kochly had long taken pride in saying his office could "do more with less," he wrote in the memo. "Unfortunately, we have now reached a point where we cannot maintain the status quo," he said. "We will definitely be doing 'less with less' as a prosecution agency."
The cops aren't happy. Several Contra Costa county law enforcement officials told the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday that they would continue to make arrests regardless of prosecutors' charging decisions.