Thursday, September 25, 2008

Budget cuts turn some felonies into misdemeanors


SEATTLE – The impact of King County’s budget cuts is already being felt by the people who put criminals behind bars as the county prosecutor is being forced to cut dozens of jobs, which means handing off more cases to lower courts.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal cases are now winding up in Seattle Municipal Court because of the cutbacks. Some cases that the legislature defines as felonies will now be prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr is concerned about the change.

"My concern is that my constituents are going to be put at risk because the budget problems the county has and that's scary to me,”
said Carr.

But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says he has no choice. His budget is being cut $5 million in 2009, which means 41 deputy prosecutors must go. As a result property crimes under $1,000 and identity thefts will go to municipal courts for prosecution, where sentences carry time in county jail but no prison time.

"If someone stole a thousand dollars from me, I think I'd want more than a couple days in the county jail from them,” said Carr.

Ironically, Seattle’s been making big headway on property crimes which reached their lowest level in ten years in 2007. Prosecuting these cases as misdemeanors will put offenders back on the street much faster.

That’s not good news in neighborhoods where property crimes are already high.

"If they're gonna take something of mine, they should be punished for it. I mean you work hard for your money,” said Laura, a concerned citizen.

"I think they should be prosecuted just like if they were robbing a store, major business or whatever,” said Melinda Anderson, another concerned resident.

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