January/February 2021 Issue
Also in this issue: Divided Court Agrees With Kenosha: Property Not Actually Used for Ag Purposes May Be Assessed as Residential | Governor’s Climate Change Task Force Sees Prominent Role for Local Government
Municipal Prosecution Cost Saving Tips
Kathryn A. Harrell | 02.10.21
Most municipalities struggle finding a balance between saving costs and diligently prosecuting municipal violations. The following tips may prove useful in accomplishing these objectives:
- Relationship between judge and prosecutor. Many municipal judges have standard amendments to violations. It is important that the prosecutor be aware of and implement similar amendments. Knowing what the judge will likely approve as an amendment ensures a smoother and cost-efficient case resolution. For example, in the case of an underage drinking violation, a judge may routinely require an alcohol and drug assessment and a hold-open to earn a dismissal. While a defendant may plead not guilty, it is rarely the case when that defendant will not accept this offer when it is presented by the prosecutor. Being on the same page as the judge also ensures consistency in case resolutions, resulting in fewer citizen complaints.
- Relationship between police chief and prosecutor. Similarly, the prosecutor should have a general sense of what amendments or strategies the lead law enforcement officer is comfortable with. Trust between the chief and prosecutor is critical to keeping costs down. The prosecutor should feel comfortable resolving most cases without input from the chief, but also recognize those situations when the chief’s input is needed.
- Use the clerk. Clerks are immensely knowledgeable about municipal procedures. The more the prosecutor can lean on the clerk to handle the day-to-day nuances of municipal prosecution, the more money the municipality will save in the long run. For example, the prosecutor can direct all questions regarding community service, license revocations and occupational licenses to the clerk who is far better equipped to deal with those issues.
- Periodic police trainings. While police trainings by the prosecutor may cost more money up front, the benefits of such trainings can save money in the long-term. For example, one issue that officers frequently have trouble with during trials is testifying about the purpose of field sobriety tests and interpretation of the results. In the academy, they are taught how to demonstrate the test and what clues to look for. However, few officers are well-versed in explaining what those clues mean regarding impairment. Some simple training on this can go a long way by ensuring better trial outcomes.
- Consistency. As stated above, it is important that the prosecutor be consistent. For example, in OWI cases, I always tell the defendant that I am going to treat her the same whether or not she has an attorney. I make it clear that the municipality only amends to a reckless in extraordinary circumstances and that my offer will remain the same whether she has an attorney or not. This puts defendants at ease and results in fewer cases going to trial.
- Empathy. We live in a litigious society. When a prosecutor first meets with a defendant, her tone and method of communication can potentially control the direction of the case. Not listening to a defendant, being too tough or being a know-it-all will result in more cases going to trial. Many times, defendants dispute citations simply so they can tell their story to the prosecutor. If they do not feel that they are heard, they may be more inclined to take a case to trial.
This newsletter is published and distributed for informational pur-
poses only. It does not offer legal advice with respect to particular
situations, and does not purport to be a complete treatment of
the legal issues surrounding any topic. Because your situation
may differ from those described in this Newsletter, you should
not rely solely on this information in making legal decisions.