The Riverside County Superior Court has a reported backlog of nearly 2,800.
The Riverside County Superior Court has a reported backlog of nearly 2,800. Credit: Chris Allen, VOICE

S.E. Williams

Today we learned  that since October 10,  judges in the Riverside County Superior Court have dismissed more than 200 cases countywide due to a backlog of cases and wouldn’t you know it, District Attorney Mike Hestrin was quick to criticize their decisions.

The cases allegedly include everything from misdemeanors to felonies and involve a variety of crimes. There is some reporting that many of the cases were related to domestic violence but that is speculative. And although my thoughts are also speculative, to me it seems more probable that something else is at play here. 

The state’s Appellate Courts have sustained a continuous backlog since the worst days of the pandemic when they were closed to protect lives across the state. This factor, coupled with Hestrin’s penchant for prosecuting low-level offenses must certainly be contributing to the county’s backlog of about 2,800 criminal cases

District attorneys wield enormous power in the criminal justice system. They decide whether to bring charges, what charges to bring, and whether or not a juvenile is to be tried as an adult.”

ACLU Foundation of Northern and Southern California

Earlier this year the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) exposed and criticized Hestrin for the grotesque amount of time and resources he’s spent prosecuting low-level offenses to make his numbers and [himself] look good. And like the overzealous prosecutor that he is, he did so despite the fact that–at least according to the ACLU– such crimes pose “little or no threat” to public safety and could potentially worsen long-term outcomes, according to the organization.

It is clear to many Hestrin critics, that he  uses this ‘racket’ to bolster incarceration rates–rates that data show has largely and disproportionately targeted and impacted Blacks and other people of color in the county, while also increasing the “criminalization of mental illness and asserted that nearly 57% of those cases Hestrin should have declined to charge or otherwise diverted. In addition, among the cases reviewed, 13.9% of the adults charged were Black although Blacks are only 7.3% of the county’s overall population.

But that’s not all. A 2017 study found Hestrin, and his henchmen- bench of assistant district attorneys, send our youth to prison at a rate that is 2.5 times higher than the state average, and once again Black and brown communities were the hardest hit.

The charging of such low-level offenses against Black and brown people not only results in overcrowded jails, it certainly contributes to a backlog in the courts. As far as I’m concerned Hestrin is crying about a scenario he helped create. 

In addition, with the spike in-custody deaths in Riverside county jails, Hestrin’s insistence on charging low level crimes disproportionately against Black and brown people  should be criticized for more than contributing to a backlog in the courts, it should also be considered a human rights violation. 

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

Author

  • Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.