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D.A. will file fewer charges

Budget cutting means some crimes will be downgraded; others won't be prosecuted until July

Fewer criminal charges will be filed in Jackson County as the district attorney's office prepares for cuts in the state's judicial system.

Under a new policy, prosecutors will treat a variety of misdemeanor crimes as noncriminal violations, including a dozen charges that previously were excluded, said District Attorney Mark Huddleston. The change affects cases filed between March — and June 30 this year, during which time state courts will cease to process non-person misdemeanors and will be closed on Friday.

I don't intend to have everything that's currently pending in the system to change, Huddleston said. Frankly, I view it as a short-term problem that needs to be fixed.

Beginning on March 1, public defenders will no longer represent those accused of certain crimes ' including some felonies ' who can't afford an attorney. Those cases will be put off until July. But filing violations instead of misdemeanors will help push certain cases through the system, Huddleston said.

Of the approximately 100 cases that the district attorney's office files each month, about a dozen of those are violations, Huddleston said. The new policy allows prosecutors more discretion in filing violations, but they will examine every case to determine if that course is appropriate, he said. Various factors, including a defendant's prior criminal history and the nature of the crime, will be considered, he added.

Most of the county's misdemeanor cases typically don't go to trial but instead are resolved through plea negotiations, Huddleston said. Yet settlements can be difficult to reach without the involvement of attorneys, he said, speculating that more violations may go to trial before a judge.

Defendants charged with a noncriminal violation do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney or a jury trial under Oregon law. If convicted by a judge, violators serve no jail time but could pay a fine of up to &

36;600.

Accused criminals facing jail sentences have a constitutional right to an attorney. Without an attorney's representation, inmates can't legally be held in jail and likely will be released at their first court appearances, Huddleston said. Those cases will be put off until July.

However, it remains unclear whether state legislators will restore funding to indigent defense in the next biennium, criminal justice officials have said. The cuts may effectively decriminalize certain felonies, such as possession of drugs, according to Huddleston.

I don't know if the state's willing to legalize possession of methamphetamine, but that's essentially what they're going to be doing.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail .

Temporary categories

Misdemeanors to be treated as noncriminal violations in Jackson County from March — to June 30:

Boating under the influence of intoxicants

Making false statements under oath

Furnishing alcohol to a minor

Initiating a false report

Menacing

Prostitution, loitering to solicit, procurement

Reckless endangering

Second- and third-degree theft

Tampering with physical evidence

Third-degree escape

Weapons