The Denver District Attorney's Office strives to provide accurate information and proper context to the public through the media on cases and issues of public interest.
Occasionally a story may misrepresent or misinterpret the facts. In those cases, we can "set the record straight" by making additional information available directly to the public.
Setting the Record Straight May 15, 2013
A recent broadcast news story (reprinted in The Denver Post) about filing statistics at the Denver DA’s Office includes misinformation and draws conclusions about statistics without meaningful analysis. The story also highlights the experience of a young woman whose case was declined for the filing of charges, and reminds us all of the importance of the work we do here. To that end we always seek to improve our advocacy for victims; there is more information on what we are doing about that at the bottom of this post.
Charging decisions are among the most important decisions made in a prosecution office, and this responsibility is not taken lightly. This is especially true in cases of sexual assault. The report does not provide any insight into the training, skill level or compassion of those working on sexual assault cases every day in Denver, nor does it address the complex legal issues that arise from these cases. It also does not highlight that our legal and ethical obligations do not allow us to file any case unless it has a reasonable likelihood to be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you are familiar with the recent story, it is important to know there is a lot of information that was not included in the reporting and there were also things that were inaccurately portrayed.
Here are just a few of the things that were not included in the reporting –
• In Denver, District Attorney and DPD policy mandate that police detectives present all of their cases for review, this includes cases with no identified suspect, cases with no physical evidence and cases in which the victim does not want to go forward. Unlike other jurisdictions where detectives may screen out unfileable cases without contacting a DA, every victim in Denver has their case reviewed by a prosecutor. This significantly different approach will obviously affect the refusal rate.
• The Denver DA’s Office has a specially selected, trained team of prosecutors who exclusively review and prosecute sexual assault cases. These deputy district attorneys are selected for this assignment because they are passionate about helping victims. Every case that is declined must be independently reviewed by another senior prosecutor to ensure nothing was overlooked.
• Since 1995, we have been part of the Sexual Assault Interagency Council, a collaborative group of police, prosecutors, hospital staff, therapists, service agencies and others, who hold each other accountable for following a sexual assault protocol. Interestingly, the chairperson of this group was also interviewed for the story in question, but her supportive remarks about how Denver’s process works were not included in what aired.
• We review every case, individually, on its own merits. We do not measure success by a single statistic; we look to an interdisciplinary approach to evaluate effectiveness (see below for more).
Inaccurate reporting –
The Denver District Attorney's office declines to prosecute 36 percent of all felonies and 71 percent of all felony sex assaults that Denver police bring to prosecutors, the CALL7 Investigators found.
The only Denver statistics available on sexual assault filings came from grant reports from 2010, 2011 and part of 2012 that involved exclusively the review of stranger and acquaintance assaults. The figure reported does not include “all felony sex assaults.”
For five months, CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon tried to talk to Morrissey about his refusal rates, but his office said he would not go on camera.
Channel 7 called 5 months ago to ask if the District Attorney would do an interview, and he declined because he had seen Ms. Rabon’s work (and saw first-hand how she manipulated interviews). There was no “trying to talk”. There was a request, Mr. Morrissey declined, and 5 months later Ms. Rabon ambushed him in the lobby of the Webb Building.
Michelle said she is upset that her case wasn't pursued. After CALL7 Investigators started asking questions, police reopened the investigation.
The case involving “Michelle” was reopened when the victim provided some additional information.
Most importantly, we are looking ahead –
We know it is important to look at our process and performance, and we are excited about several projects underway that will help us effectively evaluate how we are doing. This will help assure people in Denver that we are doing the best job we can to prevent and prosecute crime as well as care for victims.
• There is currently a study underway by the University of Massachusetts, funded by the National Institute of Justice, that will examine case attrition. This study is looking at different variables including prosecutors, police, hospital processes, as well as victim and perpetrator variables, to analyze factors that lead to unsuccessful prosecutions
• There is currently a study underway by the University of Denver looking at all of the systems that victims may be part of to evaluate how well we help them move from trauma to healing and what that process is like from a victim perspective.
• There is a review team that has been working for the last year or so to look at closed cases that were not filed to see if there are improvements or system changes that need to be made. The team is comprised of representatives from the Sexual Assault Interagency Council, the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, the Denver Police Department and the Denver DA’s Office
Denver DA Mitch Morrissey and Chief Deputy DA Lamar Sims recently talked about the filing process on a Denver Channel 8 broadcast. This 30-minute show afforded the time to talk in more detail about how the decision to file a criminal case is made in Denver. That show can be seen here: Dialogue: Denver DA
Denver District Attorney's Office