Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel announced Friday that his office will stop prosecuting some misdemeanor offenses to focus on prosecuting serious crimes.
In March, a staffing and workload analysis came out about the office revealing that it had more murder prosecutions pending than at any other time in its history.
“In order to focus on keeping us safe from violent offenders, my office will focus on the most-critical cases,” Hummel said in a news release Friday. “It’s no longer acceptable to do everything at a mediocre level.”
In an interview with OPB, Hummel said his office would at "the top of our game" by focusing on severe offenses.
In Oregon, most counties’ municipal courts handle minor misdemeanor offenses, but in Deschutes County, all cases go through the DA’s office.
In order to shift more focus to crimes like homicides and sexual assault, Hummel said, “some other less-essential services will be limited.”
This includes no longer prosecuting misdemeanor crimes for people driving with a suspended license, as long as the suspect has zero or only one prior conviction for the crime. Last year, the DA’s office prosecuted more than 500 driving while suspended cases.
The DA’s office will also no longer prosecute many probation violations, instead developing guidelines for probation officers on how they can resolve the alleged violations themselves.
Last year, the office prosecuted more than 700 probation violations.
The DA’s office already resolves some minor misdemeanor offenses, such as theft, trespass and littering, through an early disposition program. This refers people to community service, avoiding a conviction.
Hummel said in a news release that more misdemeanor cases will be resolved through this program.
The District Attorney's office is also cutting the Victim Impact Panel, a monthly panel where some people convicted of driving under the influence hear about the dangers of impaired driving from Hummel, law enforcement and people who have been affected by impaired drivers. That program will end after its August session.
The DA’s office will be getting more staff, but not enough to effectively handle all cases, according to the workload analysis.
The analysis found that 11 new full-time employees would be needed to provide sufficient service.
The Deschutes County Budget Committee approved funding for six new positions.
"All of these changes make our community safer, and it's done with the efficient use of resources," Hummel said. "It's going to make for a better criminal justice system in Deschutes County."