More than 500 criminal court cases have been dismissed in Riverside County over the past month amid a judge shortage, the District Attorney’s Office said Monday.
The dismissed cases include 50 felonies such as attempted murder, assault, stalking, arson vandalism and a hate crime, officials detailed in a news release, which called the dismissals a “public safety crisis.”
Most of the dismissed cases involve domestic violence or driving under the influence, and many of the cases include a victim.
The cases that were dismissed were apparently ready for trial, but the Riverside County Superior Court did not have a judge available for them, officials said.
In one of the dismissed cases, the defendant had been charged with attempted murder, assault with a gun, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and resisting the duty of a peace officer. The defendant had been previously convicted of first-degree burglary, officials said. The DA’s office has already refiled that case.
In another example, the defendant had been charged with six counts of vandalism and a hate crime. The case was dismissed despite the victim speaking to the court, officials said. The DA’s office is planning on refiling the case.
“Rather than granting a short continuance until a trial courtroom becomes available, judges have chosen to dismiss criminal cases and release the accused perpetrators back into the community,” the news release states.
“The dismissal of cases and thus allowing criminals back into our community with no consequences for their actions is a danger to everyone,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin indicated. “The consequences of the decisions being made from our judges is going to cause extreme harm to victims of crime and our community at-large. This is a public safety crisis, and it needs to stop.”
In a news release late last month, the Superior Court broke down how it is dealing with backlogs caused by a “chronic shortage of judges.”
They include deploying civil judges to hear criminal trials, re-designating some departments to hear criminal trials, assigning newly appointed judges to criminal trial departments, assigning criminal trials to a courtroom immediately after it becomes available and using retired judges, when available, through the Temporary Assigned Judges Program administered by the Chief Justice’s office.
The court added that the county is “woefully short of the statewide average of 11.4 judicial officers per 100,000 residents,” but touted the fact that it conducted 368 criminal jury trials and 94 civil trials since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Riverside County residents deserve equal justice on par with all other Californians, and in that vein, the court will continue to advocate for more judges to properly meet the needs of Riverside County,” the court indicated.
The District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, said it will immediately refile felony cases that are being dismissed and file appeals when appropriate.