Published: September, 2012| Dusty Olson, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

With the award of a Community Defined Solutions grant in 2009, the Seattle Human Services Department’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Unit ( DVSAP ) developed a project addressing a gap in the coordinated response and the need to create linkages across systems. This project borrows the concept of co-location pioneered by Family Justice Centers. BWJP is highlighting how this project focuses on creating linkages between prosecutorial agencies in order to evaluate misdemeanor cases for felony charging if appropriate.

Linkages between Prosecution Agencies

In King County, Washington’s most populous county with 39 cities including Seattle, cities have jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence (DV) crimes while the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) has jurisdiction over all felony domestic violence crimes and those DV misdemeanors that occur in unincorporated areas of the county. Although cross-agency communication has improved over the years, collaboration among the suburban cities and county agencies is often encumbered by caseload volume, the large number of jurisdictions, the time it takes to transfer and investigate cases between jurisdictions, and the lack of daily communication between the jurisdictions. A cohesive approach to cases that share jurisdiction between the county and the cities is lacking due to the effort required to coordinate outcomes. Many DV cases present as misdemeanors, but after victim assistant involvement, and specialized review of context and history, they are found to be truly felonies. These cases were not consistently identified previously.

This project replicates a successful prosecution co-location model initiated in 2008 between Seattle’s City Attorney’s Office and the KCPAO. A part-time felony prosecutor is co-located within the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. As a result, since April 2008, over 1,700 cases have been reviewed, and more than 370 cross-over cases that shared a jurisdictional interest were identified. The number of misdemeanor cases that were upgraded to felonies doubled in the first year this position was created. This new effort began as a partnership between King County and the cities of Auburn, Federal Way, and Renton to replicate Seattle's model for a co-located DV prosecutor (aka DV Liaison) in the South portion of the county, and expanded to include the cities of Burien, Algona, North Bend, Tukwila and soon, Des Moines. These suburban cities are known for having a large number of both felony and misdemeanor DV offenders. Attempts to identify shared offenders and coordinate investigation, charging, probation, advocacy, and disposition were inconsistent among agencies prior to this project. The volume of DV cases made coordination of shared offenders (those with pending charges or probation matters in multiple jurisdictions) on a regular basis almost impossible.

Project Thriving

The project has thrived since it started in February 2010. The position is filled by Gabrielle Charlton, an experienced King County felony DV prosecutor who works part time. Ms. Charlton is based at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, where she communicates on a daily basis with the various city attorneys’ offices and makes site visits as needed. For reference, the original three suburban city partners range in size from 67,000 to 88,000 residents, and on average each has 600 DV offenses a year.

One of the goals of this program is to leverage and improve case dispositions by coordinating and assisting in the staffing and early plea negotiations of cross-over DV cases between the city attorneys' offices and the KCPAO DV Unit. Ms. Charlton attends weekly staffings at the KCPAO and works to identify potential cross-over cases and coordinate global resolutions. Ms. Charlton also reviews new case filings on a daily basis, both at the request of city attorneys and law enforcement, and identifies potential felony level DV filings. Once a case is identified for potential felony prosecution, Ms. Charlton works with DV detectives to obtain a felony work-up including participating in joint interviews of the victim where necessary in order to make a filing determination.

Ms. Charlton also assesses the benefits of felony vs. misdemeanor prosecution in terms of offender accountability. In some cases, a plea in municipal court may result in greater supervision of the offender and thus is preferable to a felony. Once the investigation is complete, Charlton assists in filing felony rush cases at the KCPAO. She maintains a database of all the cases she reviews in addition to tracking crossover DV offenders and shares the information with each of the city attorney’s offices and the KCPAO DV Unit to assist with pending cases and probation matters. Ms. Charlton coordinates with felony and misdemeanor victim assistants/advocates in the KCPAO and the cities.

This project benefits victims of DV whose criminal cases are being prosecuted by either King County (felonies) or by one of the cities (misdemeanors). When the co-located prosecutor consolidates a defendant's pending cases into one courthouse, the result is improved quality of services for the victim (e.g. one trial and one victim advocate to provide the latest updated information). Additionally, letting a victim know that the County, the city, and the police agency are working together on the case provides a sense of commitment that may have been lacking in the past. The outcomes of this project have resulted in increased monitoring and accountability for dangerous, repeat offenders.

For more information, please contact Dusty Olson at, Dusty.Olson@seattle.gov .

Case Study 1

A defendant was originally charged in Renton Municipal Court with misdemeanor violation of a no contact order (VNCO) and harassment for threats to kill his ex-girlfriend and her unborn child. These charges carry a maximum term of one year in jail, which is rarely imposed at the misdemeanor level. In looking at the case more closely, KCPAO was able to file felony harassment and two counts of felony VNCO. The defendant pled to felony harassment and two counts of misdemeanor VNCO. He also pled to one count of Assault 3. He was sentenced to 12 months in custody.

Case Study 2

A defendant had a number of pending misdemeanor DV cases in Federal Way Municipal Court when he committed a new violation of the no contact order during which he assaulted the victim. The case was originally filed as a misdemeanor. KCPAO was able to file a felony violation of a no contact order and reach a global resolution with the other pending cases. The defendant was sentenced to a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative, addressing the defendant’s severe substance abuse issues, which was what the victim wanted.

Case Study 3

A defendant was originally charged in municipal court with one count of Assault 4. Despite nothing to support a felony, it was clear from the patrol officer’s report that this was more than a simple assault given the appearance of the victim, who was holding her small child at the time of the offense. A thorough review of the defendant’s criminal history revealed that he was a serial batterer with multiple victims. Additional investigation included obtaining the defendant’s jail phone calls and resulted in multiple felony charges. In this case, the defendant originally faced a maximum of one year in jail on one misdemeanor charge; in the end, the defendant plead guilty to two misdemeanors and five felonies and was sentenced to the prosecutor’s recommendation of 60 months in prison.