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Criminal Prosecutions, with 65 attorneys, is the largest division within the District Attorney's Office and is responsible for reviewing complaints, filing charges, and prosecuting the majority of felony and misdemeanor crimes occurring within Ventura County. Criminal Prosecutions encompasses the Major Crimes, General Felony, Misdemeanor, and Sexual Assault / Family Protection Units. Together, attorneys in these units prosecute the majority of the approximately 25,000 criminal cases reviewed each year by the District Attorney's Office. The chief deputy district attorney of Criminal Prosecutions directly supervises the Major Crimes Unit, which handles homicides and other significant cases. Dedicated attorney supervisors oversee the other units and report to the chief deputy. The chief deputy serves as liaison to the civil and criminal grand juries, and addresses law enforcement and criminal justice issues on numerous other countywide committees.
One deputy district attorney handles all of the car theft and carjacking cases that are submitted to the District Attorney's Office. This attorney is responsible for reviewing and filing cases submitted by law enforcement agencies. Cases are handled vertically from filing through sentencing, meaning these cases are assigned to the auto theft prosecutor for all purposes once the case is submitted for review. This deputy district attorney works closely with local law enforcement agencies through the Ventura Auto Theft Task Force (VENCATT). This collaborative effort provides the most effective means to prosecute these cases and meet the needs of people who are victimized by these types of crimes.
The District Attorney's Office is committed to increasing public safety on Ventura County's streets and highways by ensuring that all persons who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs are held accountable for their actions. In accordance with the District Attorney's Office policy, Ventura County prosecutors do not offer plea bargains, such as a "wet reckless" charge, in driving under the influence cases. Since 2007, the District Attorney's Office has prosecuted an average of 4,877 driving under the influence cases per year.
The District Attorney's Office receives grant monies from the Office of Traffic Safety to fund a team of two seasoned prosecutors who handle all driving under the influence of drugs and felony driving under the influence of alcohol cases. These felonies include driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in injury and alcohol-related vehicular manslaughter cases. In addition to reviewing and litigating these challenging cases, these attorneys engage in community outreach and extensive training of local law enforcement personnel.
Crimes committed by, for the benefit of, in association with, or at the direction of active criminal street gang members are prosecuted by experienced attorneys dedicated to achieving justice in these cases. Even though Ventura County is consistently ranked as one of the safest counties in the western United States, many violent criminal street gangs pose an ongoing threat to local residents. The crimes committed by those involved in gang activity may include vandalism, burglary, robbery, extortion, assault with a deadly weapon, trafficking in controlled substances, and murder. While the intended targets of such crimes may often be other gang members, the collateral risk and trauma caused by these crimes to innocent bystanders and the community as a whole mandate that all provable cases be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. For these reasons, the prosecutors and investigators assigned to handle gang cases are among the most experienced and talented people within the District Attorney's Office.
Most felony cases submitted by law enforcement agencies to the District Attorney's Office are handled by the General Felony Unit. Seasoned attorneys within the unit are primarily responsible for reviewing and filing these cases.
Once felony charges are filed, defendants are arraigned in court and bail is set. In cases that do not resolve at an early stage, prosecutors present evidence at preliminary hearings to establish there is probable cause to hold charged defendants to answer at jury trial. Cases are reevaluated to determine the appropriateness of all charges and then assigned to attorneys for trial.
All cases involving serious or violent crimes are prosecuted vertically, meaning these cases are assigned to more experienced deputy district attorneys for all purposes once charges are filed. Cases involving auto theft are also handled by a dedicated prosecutor from review through sentencing. This attorney works in partnership with the Ventura County Auto Theft Task Force (VENCATT) in prosecuting auto theft cases and other crimes associated with motor vehicles.
Where cases result in convictions by guilty plea or trial, prosecutors in the General Felony Unit seek appropriate punishment at sentencing hearings conducted in court. Defendants may face a combination of local custody (jail), probation, fines and orders to pay victim restitution. Prison sentences are sought and imposed based on factors including the nature of the crime, the impact upon any victims and a defendant's criminal history. The name and telephone number of the assigned attorney may be obtained by calling the general felonies desk at 805-654-2545.
Murders, cold-case homicides and similar unlawful killings are prosecuted by the Major Crimes Unit. Cases prosecuted by this unit involve some of the most heinous crimes committed within Ventura County and often entail substantial follow-up investigation, trial preparation, and the use of cutting edge forensic DNA analysis and evidence. In addition, other special interest crimes are also assigned to the unit when it is determined that the complexity of the case requires the experience of a major crimes attorney.
The Major Crimes Unit's prosecutors also respond to 24-hour a day on-call requests from law enforcement seeking legal assistance with search warrants, crime scene evaluation, and officer-involved shooting matters. Other duties of prosecutors in the Major Crimes Unit include law enforcement training, assisting in selected special investigations, and appearing at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parole hearings.
Cases involving defendants who are severely mentally ill and dangerous are handled by a prosecutor who specializes in these types of cases. Some of these offenders are found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) for crimes charged against them and receive treatment in locked psychiatric hospitals such as Patton State Hospital. They are not released into the public unless they are restored to competency and are deemed to no longer pose a danger to the community.
Other offenders that have been convicted of an underlying violent offense who are deemed severely mentally ill and dangerous at the end of their regular prison commitment may be ordered to remain in a locked facility. These mentally ill offenders are provided further treatment by California Department of Corrections medical staff consistent with court orders.
Sexually violent predators are people who have been convicted of a sexually violent crime against one or more victims and who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder making it likely they will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior. Those offenders who are found by a jury to meet the legal definition of a sexually violent predator are committed for an indeterminate term to a locked facility for treatment unless and until they are deemed safe to be released.
The Narcotics Unit takes an aggressive and proactive stance towards drug trafficking in Ventura County and the surrounding areas. A wide range of cases involving methamphetamine labs, street-level drug dealing and high-level drug trafficking organizations involving multiple pound quantities of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are handled by the vertical prosecution Narcotics Unit. These prosecutors work closely with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies during complex multi-level narcotics investigations that utilize confidential informants, search warrants and court authorized wiretaps. These investigations lead to the prosecution of narcotics traffickers for manufacturing, sales and possession for sales of controlled substances, as well as conspiracy and money laundering. The Narcotics Unit is also responsible for reviewing, filing and prosecuting cases involving drug-endangered children, prescription drug diversion and vice crimes including human trafficking, pimping, pandering and prostitution.
When people are taken to the hospital because they pose a danger to themselves or others, their constitutional right to bear arms is restricted for five years. Any weapon in their possession may be seized by law enforcement and destroyed unless a petitioner convinces the court a weapon may safely be returned to its owner. Such hearings are routinely held after a hospitalization to determine if such people can safely possess firearms.