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The San Diego District Attorney’s Office is forging a new path for juvenile justice. In 2017, using new and diverse approaches to address juvenile justice issues, we developed new education programs and enhanced specialty courts, including Juvenile Mental Health Court, Drug Court, Truancy Court, RISE Court and Teen Court. In 2018, we made great strides down this new path by creating dynamic education programs to reach San Diego youth, parents and administrators. Requests for our presentations on the laws and dangers of social media, cyber-bullying, teen relationship violence, commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and Human Trafficking, drug smuggling and many other topics of interest have increased.
In the last two years, we saw students across the country lose their sense of safety as school place violence increased. In 2018 we responded by creating the School Safety Protocol which is utilized throughout the county and has been adopted in other states. The Protocol was created to lower risk of violence and promote safety of students and created the first ever coordinated community response to threats of violence on school grounds. With our unique vantage point, we see trends with our youth and can share this information with parents, school districts and community-based organizations to work together to address the most pressing issues facing kids.
For example, we saw a tremendous increase in drug trafficking cases involving juveniles as mules this year. In addition to thorough prosecution of these cases to decrease the influx of drugs, we teamed up the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Homeland Security Insecurity Investigations and Customs and Border Patrol to develop a multi-prong approach to combat this growing trend. As part of this approach the team created a video presentation involving a previously prosecuted youth to share the long-term consequences of drug smuggling to his life and his family. We have also increased our presence in the community that we protect. We developed additional prevention and mentoring programs for younger children, using our lawyers and staff to support prosocial activities for these youth, creating real opportunities for their development by creating our own after-school programs known as Success Agents and Power League.
Additionally, we have marshalled the strength of varied community-based organizations to invest in our specialty courts with enrichment activities and help those juveniles see a new future for themselves. We are using new and diverse approaches to help our justice-involved youth succeed in life, while keeping our community safe, working with law enforcement, the Courts, Probation, Health and Human Services, and Children’s Initiative. As our new programs flourish, the role of our deputy district attorneys’ increase in the community and our criminal filings decrease.
The Juvenile Division is broken down into specialty units, allowing our prosecutors to become subject matter experts and creative problem solvers. Within the Juvenile branch we have units including:
Deputies review reports submitted by police agencies to determine whether a crime has occurred.
The Juvenile Court has three delinquency departments. Each courtroom is assigned a Deputy District Attorney who appears on the cases on behalf of the People of the State of California.
The Motions Team handles arrest warrants and the majority of pre-trial motions filed with the court.
This team handles all disputed matters, including, but not limited to, trials, evidentiary hearings, restitution hearings, contested dispositions and prima facie hearings.
This team handles issues involving truancy.
This team is dedicated handling cases primarily motivated by drug or alcohol abuse issues.
This team handles all gang-related cases.
This team combats the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in San Diego County through prevention, education, protection and prosecution.
This team handles cases related to sexual assault, pornography, sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexting, child abuse and domestic violence among teens.
There are five specialized calendars in Juvenile Court:
This calendar is for minors who have an active dependency case and a new delinquency case.
This is a youth behavioral health court.
This court helps resolve issues for students who miss school.
Identifies minors whose criminal conduct is primarily motivated by drug or alcohol abuse issues and provides treatment.
Provides treatment plans for delinquent youth who have also been victims of human trafficking or commercial or sexual exploitation.
Additionally, to ensure that crimes with the highest potential to significantly affect the public are handled in an efficient manner, certain cases are assigned to one prosecutor for the length of the case, meaning, one Deputy District Attorney handles the case from beginning to end.
These types of cases include:
- Human Trafficking
- Human Trafficking
- School Threats
- Drug Court
- Mental Competency
- Teen Relationship Violence (TRV) and Sexual Assault
In 2018, the Juvenile Division handled a variety of crimes such as simple misdemeanors, robberies, residential burglaries, drug smuggling, undocumented immigrant smuggling, sexual assaults, arson and murder. The Juvenile Division continues to work closely with juvenile justice partners throughout the county to ensure the highest level of services are available to the youth in every part of San Diego in order to provide appropriate rehabilitative services and reduce recidivism. The juvenile justice system is focused on evidence-based practice and trauma informed care and has seen great success in reducing crime and recidivism. In order to incorporate these theories into juvenile justice, the Juvenile Chief and Assistant Chief attend numerous probation and community programs to include Crossover Youth Project, Positive Youth Justice Initiative, Alternatives to Detention, Graffiti Arts Mural Project, DA Tattoo Removal Program, and Mid-City Restorative Justice Mediation Project. Chief Lisa Weinreb is also a member of the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Counsel and gives regular updates to the Juvenile Justice Commission and sits on the Board of Mental Health America and the International Bipolar Foundation. Assistant Chief Shawnalyse Ochoa presents at Passport to Life and helped create the DA’s free Gang and Human Trafficking Tattoo Removal program.
In April 2018, we held a county-wide School Safety Summit, and all 42 school districts in the county participated. DDA Andrija Lopez worked with San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, Probation Department, Sandy Hook Promise, Crime Stoppers and medical professionals to create a protocol to reduce the risk of an incident of targeted violence in San Diego County Schools, increasing the safety of students, parents/guardians, staff, and community members. Adopting this protocol, many school districts throughout San Diego, as well as other states, have praised our office’s success in creating a clear procedure to address this real and constant threat to our children.
In 2018, DDA Mary Loeb presented to over 2,000 students and over 100 school administrators and teachers to raise awareness of the drug cartels using juveniles to smuggle drugs into our country. She worked with a team, including AUSA, DEA, ICE, CBP and health care professionals to enlighten and equip our San Diego youth with the facts about drug smuggling. Our education programs, crime prevention presentations, and excellence in the courtroom all work to keep the public safe, while encouraging San Diego youth to become law-abiding, productive citizens.
The District Attorney’s Office is proud to report that juvenile case filings have continued to decline. We continue our commitment to crime prevention through our speakers’ bureau where our DAs provide education, traveling to elementary, middle and high schools throughout the county and speaking to students, parents and educators on cyber safety, teen dating violence, human trafficking, and bullying. Additionally, we support the use of restorative practices to resolve low level criminal offenses by promoting this practice in our schools and communities and by participating in restorative circles. We volunteer at local elementary schools through programs such as Success Agents, Power League and Project Lead to support the educational goals of San Diego youth and create positive experiences with law enforcement.