Yakima cutting back on number of cases that make it to court

YAKIMA Wash. -- Changes to the judicial system will soon affect Yakima's budget.
A ruling by the state Supreme Court will limit the number of cases that public defenders can take on beginning in January of 2015.

Yakima currently has five public defenders, and each handles more than a thousand cases a year.

The state Supreme Court wants that sliced by more than half starting in a year and a half, to allow for a better standard of quality in defense representation.

The city has created a new charging unit that weeds through all the cases filed, and only keeps the most important.

While police officers have a standard of probable cause when filing a case, prosecutors must prove a case beyond reasonable doubt.

"We have different standards, there's always going to be cases that police officers file that prosecutors think, I can definitely see why the officers did what they did, but am I going to be able to prove this at," said Cynthia Martinez, City Attorney.

Since the public defenders will be limited in how many cases they can have, the charging unit tries to dismiss weak cases.

"We look for a variety of things, first of all we look for proof problems, if there are witness issues, we're evaluating cases for strength of the case. We're also looking if the defendant might be eligible for other programs such as a diversion or deferral," said Martinez.

In the long run this program will save the city money. Only 5 additional defense lawyers will be hired by January 2015 as opposed to initial plans of 15 to 20 additional defenders.

Right now, Yakima has added one prosecutor and an assistant whose focus will be to weed through the cases and to see exactly how many additional defenders will be needed.

Court officials assured KIMA this is only for low-risk cases and there's no chance of violent offenders getting off the hook.

"Crimes of violence are our top priority, DUIs are our top priority, those cases will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Martinez.

Last year the court saw 5,300 cases.
They're on pace to see 300 more this year.
It's the hope that the charging unit will lower the number of cases by nearly half.