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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Budget cuts hamper abilities of prosecutors across U.S.

A sour economy is forcing sharp cuts in law-and-order budgets, district attorneys say, hampering their ability to prosecute criminals and secure appropriate sentences for some types of crimes.

The cuts include treating drug-related felony crimes as misdemeanors, dismantling specialty units that prosecute domestic violence and child abuse, and placing prosecutors and staff on unpaid leave to save money.

"It's pretty universal," says Tom Sneddon, interim executive director of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA). "The money may go away, but the caseloads won't."

Florida's 20 state attorneys have written to the Legislature, asking for relief from further budget cuts, says Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are furloughing attorneys to save money. "We are at the breaking point," he says.

Prosecutors elsewhere also feel pinched as states adjust their budgets to declining revenue:

• In King County, Wash., prosecutor Dan Satterberg is down 20 lawyers after a 12% budget cut. He's treating most felony drug cases as misdemeanors, which can entice defendants to accept plea bargains and avoid costly trials. "It's the first of many bad choices that we're going to have to make in the next couple of years if we don't get on better fiscal footing," he says. [Mark Godsey]

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