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'Slow Road to Justice'

August 05, 1988

You wrongfully identify preliminary hearings as a cause of delayed justice. The real "culprits" you failed to identify are the headline-seeking prosecutors. Any lawyer will tell you that preliminary hearings eliminate the necessity for trials in over 95% of felony cases in Los Angeles and Orange counties. We simply don't have a grand jury capable of screening the 35,644 criminal cases filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts last year. It would not be helpful to eliminate the sifting out of cases before a detached and neutral magistrate. Preliminary hearings allow prosecutors, defense attorneys, and most of all the defendants themselves to evaluate the strength of the evidence. As a result, only 4.1% of all felonies filed end up in jury trials, most of which last no longer than four or five days.

Your editorial inquiry into the long delays in a very few exceptional cases might instead focus on the lack of discretion used by prosecutors. It is not necessary to go after a conviction of Richard Ramirez or Randy Kraft for every murder count that could be charged. A district attorney can select three or four of his best counts and proceed to trial quickly on these. How many times can you execute the same defendant? The McMartin preschool case is a perfect example of excessive prosecution where over 800 years worth of counts were filed.

It should be noted in fairness, however, that it was Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner who used the results of the preliminary hearing as a basis for dismissing charges against most of the McMartin defendants. Obviously, the elimination of preliminary hearings would cause many more trials and much longer delays in the court system.

PETER M. WILLIAMS

REED WEBB

Norwalk

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