Fewer criminal cases filed with Yakima court system

YAKIMA, Wash. -- A lot fewer criminal cases are going through the Yakima city court system. That became a priority when Yakima started a special unit last year. Prosecutors say the move is saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Brooke Goosman is Yakima's charging prosecutor. She goes over every criminal case before deciding whether it goes to municipal court.

"I have to decide if this person is going to be in the criminal justice system so that affects a lot of people," said Goosman.

Yakima gave Goosman these duties in response to a State Supreme Court ruling that limits the caseload for public defenders. That takes effect next year.

Her decisions determine whether the city court system is bogged down with cases or not.

"It is overwhelming the amount of cases that we receive," said Goosman. "There's a lot of pressure because I don't want a case lingering on my desk for a long time especially when there's a victim."

Fewer cases sent to court help the city save money because Yakima wouldn't need to hire as many public defenders. Yakima is seeing that play out so far.

The city court saw 5,300 cases filed two years ago, more than 4,200 last year. Halfway through this year, there were a little more than 1,400 cases.

"That has been an effective tool for saving the city money and allowing people who don't have a criminal record to keep their record clean," said Yakima City Prosecutor Cynthia Martinez.

Cases that don't get filed with the court don't necessarily disappear. Some do if prosecutors can't prove a crime.

Other cases can be changed to an infraction that doesn't need a public defender. Another option sends offenders to diversion programs. They can go to traffic school or perform community service. If they meet the requirement, their case won't be filed.

Yakima's prosecutor says the city plans to add three public defenders next year. She says without the charging unit, there would have been eight. That saves taxpayers about $500,000 next year.