New charging unit in Yakima will save taxpayer money in long run

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima is using your taxpayer dollars to change up the way some cases are prosecuted. It will add a new charging unit in May. Yakima said the start-up costs will mean a savings in the long run.

The changes are coming to the Yakima's court system following a decision by the state supreme court. It limits the number of cases taken on by public defenders.

"We probably see anywhere from 30 to 50 new cases a day," said Yakima's Senior Assistant Attorney, Cynthia Martinez.
"Is that a lot?" KIMA asked.
"Yes, that's a heavy caseload for the number of attorneys that we have," said Martinez.

Cities have been forced to get creative to comply with the rules. Yakima's solution is to have its legal department file these cases with municipal court instead of police. This way, attorneys can decide whether there's enough evidence to get a conviction. Some cases filed by police were dismissed, but your money had already been spent.

"There are going to be some cases where there's probable cause to arrest or to charge them, but that doesn't necessarily mean we can make the case beyond reasonable doubt," said Martinez.

Part of the charging unit will be a pre-filing diversion program. Brooke Goosman will lead the charging unit. She said the diversion program will give first time offenders a chance to avoid prosecution.

"A lot of times, they're young kids that we don't need to put through the court system, but if we require them to take something like a defensive driving course through probation," said Goosman. "Then for exchange for that, we will not file their case."

The potential savings for taxpayers is about $350,000.

"It's a less-expensive option for the city to implement the charging unit then hiring the number of defense attorneys needed to handle our current caseload," said Martinez.

And that lighter load will save in the long run.