The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Andrew Christiansen
Reporter 

Prosecutor says guilty pleas are more common

 

Klickitat County Prosecutor David Quesnel has released court statistics that relate to his campaign objectives back in 2014. During the campaign, Quesnel was critical of the previous administration for low conviction rates and long delays in felony cases.

One major point of contention during the campaign was the approach of deciding what charges to file. The previous administration's approach was to file all probable cause charges at the beginning of the case and dropping some in plea negotiations rather than leaving potential crimes uncharged. Quesnel argues that the law says more than probable cause is required to charge someone. Those two approaches are clear in the statistics. From 2011 through 2014, an average of nearly 77 cases were dismissed, according to the data, compared to 34 dismissals during 2015, Quesnel's first complete year.

For cases that were resolved without a trial (Quesnel says fewer than 2 percent of cases actually go to trial) there were far more guilty pleas in 2015 than in any of the previous four years. The ratio of dismissed cases to guilty pleas for 2015 was .22 (34/153), which is about the statewide average, placing Klickitat County 18th out of 39 counties. During the campaign, Quesnel was quoted as saying Klickitat County was "the only county where a felony case is more likely to be dismissed than found guilty." That was true for 2013, the most recent data at the time when 85 cases were dismissed versus 73 convictions, placing Klickitat County last among the 39 counties. The numbers were a little better in 2014 with 105 guilty pleas and 85 dismissals, moving the county up two notches.

Quesnel says "We don't plea deal. We start where we want to end. It speeds things up considerably." It puts high expectations on law enforcement to have more than just probable cause evidence. "All experienced officers know that we want evidence that makes a case beyond reasonable doubt," says Quesnel.

One of the changes Quesnel says he has made is to tighten up drug court eligibility. According to Quesnel, previously, convicted felons were given drug court as an option. "If you have a criminal history or years in prison, that's where you belong," says Quesnel. "Drug court is for first time or minor offenders. If you have four or five convictions, you have squandered your chances."

Asked about his take on Sheriff Songer's tough stand against drug dealers, Quesnel says he has no problem with it if their rights are respected. "It is good they make people uncomfortable if they are involved in drug trafficking," says Quesnel. "It is a catalyst for criminal activity. I am not demonizing addicts, but it is not an excuse for not being held accountable." Quesnel says some attorneys have expected leniency in cases involving residue amounts of drugs. "If you are engaged in drug activity, we will aggressively prosecute." Quesnel says he includes the residue cases because it creates a record for future purposes. "We won't cut them a break."

As for reducing long delays, Quesnel says he is not yet satisfied. "We are nowhere near where we need to be in the speed of resolving cases," says Quesnel. However, he says at least half of the cases are resolved in the first month, which according to Quesnel is a "dramatic improvement" over the previous administration. According to data provided by Quesnel, the state goal is to resolve 90 percent of cases within four months. It is an unrealistic goal that no county meets, says Quesnel. Statewide the average has been 61 to 63 percent since 2009. In Klickitat County it was 57.61 percent in 2009, the high water mark for that time frame. It was as high as 44.38 percent in 2012 and down to 34.34 percent in 2014, the last year of the previous administration. In 2015 it was 52.04 percent and the number of active cases pending resolution was down to 61, the only time since 2009 that it has been less than 107. It was as high as 136 at the end of 2010, prior to the past administration taking office. The most cases resolved in a given year since 2009 was in 2014 when the previous administration resolved 198 cases. The average for 2011-2014 was 172 per year. The current administration had 196 cases resolved in 2015.

Quesnel says he has spent less time in court this year than he did in 2015. He says other prosecutor responsibilities, such as civil issues and county business have taken his time. One of those issues is the Tract D issue about jurisdiction in the Glenwood area. Another is tightening up policy on public information requests. It has become a huge issue, according to Quesnel, who says "it is money driven." He is working to have a more uniform policy for the county's various offices to follow. The proposals are currently under consideration by the Klickitat County Commissioners. Asked if it will make access more difficult, Quesnel said, "It will make it easier."

The Prosecuting Attorney office has been dealing with funding issues. An error prior to his taking office left the office short of funds for salaries in 2015. It was corrected with a supplemental budget passed by the commissioners. Quesnel also says that after two years of budget cuts (the budget dropped from $862,779 in 2013 to $833,383 in 2014 and to $768,403 in 2015, prior to the budget correction) the budget is in bad shape. It is $855,749 for 2016.

The Commissioners have approved hiring an additional attorney who will do civil work. Some of that was contracted with outside attorneys in the past. The current Chief Deputy Prosecutor is David Wall, who does felony cases in Superior Court. Chris Davis handles misdemeanor cases in District Court. The other attorney on staff, Erica George is taking a job in Kittitas County and will be replaces. Once the staff is set, Quesnel says he will be free to do more of the criminal work.

 

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