DA not to blame for crime

From District Attorney Peter Gilchrist, in response to “Don't blame police for Charlotte's crime problem,” by Julie Eiselt, founder of Neighbors For a Safer Charlotte (Nov. 7):

The column was completely misleading about the district attorney's office and the criminal justice system.

The statement that only 1 percent of criminal arrests result in prosecution is absolutely incorrect. CMPD clears (“solves”) about 38 percent of violent crimes and about 11 percent of property crimes. The DA's office accepts about 60 percent of the felony cases brought to us by CMPD. It is true that only about 2 to 3 percent of felony cases go to trial, but the others are prosecuted and resolved before trial. Court time and other resources in every court system nationwide limit trials to a percentage in this range.

As is true in every large city in the U.S., the vast majority of felony cases are resolved by a guilty plea. The plea bargain is determined by the strength of the case brought to us by police and N.C. sentencing laws.

The column recounted a Dec. 6, 2007, attempted kidnap, a security video that showed the suspect, the police being certain they knew who the suspect was, and a rejection of the case by the DA's office, leaving the man free to “roam the streets” to kidnap another woman days later.

Whoever provided this victim with the sequence of events could hardly have been more wrong. There were no suspects. The security tape does not even definitively show the race of the person, nor does it show the incident or the car.

Three days later, James Edward Talford was arrested in a separate robbery. The victim of the attempted kidnapping failed to positively identify anyone in a photo line-up, saying “I'm just not sure.” She was still unsure after seeing the line-up again the next day.

Talford pled guilty in April 2008 to other robberies and was sentenced to about 16 1/2 years.

Police didn't inform the DA's office of the Dec. 6 attempted kidnapping until May 27, 2008. It was not accepted for prosecution because there was no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed the crime. The victim could not positively identify the suspect, and the video was of no value at all in making an identification of the suspect. No jury in Charlotte or anywhere else could convict on this evidence, partly because a judge would dismiss the case at the close of the State's evidence.

The statement that video is only valuable if the suspect is caught in the act is also grossly incorrect. A video that clearly shows the suspect is always valuable as evidence. However, few security videos are clear enough to show the features of a suspect for an identification to come from the video alone. For reasons of economy, businesses usually use recorders that only film a frame every few seconds and produce photographs that are very grainy in appearance, making it impossible to positively identify a suspect. The video in this incident is of that quality.

Criminals are punished everyday in our courts. Some defendants are given long active sentences while others are placed on probation. The media seldom cover these cases, because they're not sensational.

The District Attorney's office and the rest of the court system do address the problems head-on and have been doing that for years. A prosecutor's office is only as good as the cases brought in by the police. An arrest can be made simply on probable cause, but a conviction can't take place unless it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed the crime. That means that the police cannot just arrest people, they must investigate every case and uncover all the evidence. The notion that police are doing their jobs just because an arrest is made is dead wrong.

The system (other than police) may be under-funded, but dedicated individuals are working diligently every day and getting good results that are never noticed. For every defendant who has been arrested before and makes the news because of some awful crime, there are hundreds or thousands who came through this system and never turn up in the news.

I am very sorry that this person was a victim of a crime, but I am even sadder because whoever supplied her with the “facts” in her case either didn't take the time to find out what really happened or decided to tell something that had nothing to do with what really happened.