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Instant Justice Offers Alternative Sentencing For Offenders

July 4, 2013 11:41 a.m.


Terri Winbush, Deputy City Attorney, Neighborhood Prosecution Unit, Office of the SD City Attorney

Related Story: Instant Justice Offers Alternative Sentencing For Offenders


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, Instant Justice this week for people who misbehave at San Diego's beach communities. The San Diego City attorney's office is once again making a special July 4th holiday offer to people who are caught breaking the law a little and don't want it on their criminal records. The program is called Instant Justice, restoring our community by giving back. Here to explain is my guest, Terri Winbush. Thank you for coming in.

WINBUSH: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I said this program is for people who break the law a little at beach communities over the next few days. What kinds of laws are we talking about?

WINBUSH: We're talking about mostly infractions, the lower-level quality of life offenses like littering, smoking on the beach and boardwalk, having your dog out at the park at the wrong time, drinking in public, or having an open container of alcohol in public, glass bottles.

CAVANAUGH: And they're offenses that would be ticketed or misdemeanors?

WINBUSH: Those normally would be infractions or citations.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So why is the city attorney's office offering this program?

WINBUSH: Just to give us a little bit of the evolution, we currently offer on a monthly basis the beach area community court program. So there's already an opportunity in place for people who are cooperative with law enforcement when they're receiving citations of this type to have an opportunity to come and give back, learn a little bit about how their crimes affect the community, and then go and do a little community service and never have a ticket filed against them. What Instant Justice is is an opportunity for them to do it in a more instant fashion, for those that come from out of town, that aren't familiar with all the laws in the beach areas, people don't always read signs, so we have an opportunity so they can clean up because it's usually a complete mess after July 4th in the beach area.

CAVANAUGH: So it kind of works both ways for people who are perhaps coming here from out of town, don't have a lot of time to come back, and also it helps the city clean up the beaches.

WINBUSH: That's absolutely what it is. There are already some nonprofit programs in place that do cleanups directly after July 4th. But we find there is so much trash there could never be enough efforts in the community to clean up. So we found these type offenders are normally the ones leaving the trash in the areas, they'd be the greatest ones to clean up right after they left it in an area.

CAVANAUGH: Is this instant isn't program offered only in the beach communities?

WINBUSH: It is this year. In years past, we've opened it up to areas like Northpark and even Ocean Beach, but we find that most of the offenses occur in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach areas. And some of the La Jolla coastal areas as well.

CAVANAUGH: Now, how does it actually work? If someone has an open container, let's say, and a law enforcement officer approaches them, how does this work?

WINBUSH: I'll give you the most common example. And people are often surprised. You're walking along with a red solo cup with some beer inside. That telegraphs to the police officers that you're probably walking along with alcohol open in the area.

CAVANAUGH: Now we know!


WINBUSH: Yes, I tell people all the time, they're always surprised. So the officer approaches, and then proceeds the normal citation procedures. Assuming this person is very cooperative and pol jettic, which most people are, they let them know, this is not going to be fatal to your criminal record. What I'm going to offer you is an opportunity to not have this ticket filed against you. You can either go to Instant Justice, which is happening on July 8th, and do six hours of community work service, and the city attorney's office will never file your ticket with the Court, or you can go to a regular scheduled session, a beach area community court and earn the opportunity to never have your ticket filed against you. He then gives them a flier with all the information on where to go, how to sign up, etc, and then the person comes, completes the work, and we never file their case.

CAVANAUGH: Now, does the officer have to offer Instant Justice? Or is it up to the officer's discretion?

WINBUSH: It is up to the officer's discretion. But they are encouraged if someone is cooperative to give them the opportunity for the program.

CAVANAUGH: Why would they not do it?

WINBUSH: It's usually someone who is combative, argumentive, and the reason we don't have officers involved, those types of people, is because I'm gone of the supervisors of the people doing the work, and I won't be there with a weapon or any type of protection. So we want it to be a really cooperative effort giving back to the community.

CAVANAUGH: Now, if -- what is the alternative? If someone says I won't be here July 8th or I don't want to be a part of the program, or someone is unruly and is not offered Instant Justice, what happens to them?

WINBUSH: Well, it's the normal citation procedure. The officer gives them a court date to appear. And so they must appear on their court date and go through the normal court channels, go before a judge, plead guilty, or not plead guilty and go to trial, and they're faced with much higher administrative costs, and they could also end up with this on their record.

CAVANAUGH: How long is this program going to be offered?

WINBUSH: The eligibility period began on June 28th, and then it ends on July 7th, to capture the full July 4th holiday weekend.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what is the penalty on July 8th?

WINBUSH: They will actually have to clean up in the beach area. We 8 give them pickers, gloves, trash bags, brooms, dust pan, they'll be sweeping the boardwalk, picking up Styrofoam containers, they'll be cleaning up after the people who left all their equipment out there when they were grilling. They'll pick up cigarette butts, gum off the sidewalk, things like that.

CAVANAUGH: And for how long?

WINBUSH: They'll do it for a sum total of six hours. We do build in time for either side in a registration period, a dismissal period, and a lunch break. So an actual five hours of community service.

CAVANAUGH: Now, this is one of the reasons it's offered is because a lot of people come here from out of town over the July 4th holiday. But does that mean they have to still until July 8th?

WINBUSH: They don't. What we've found is offering them the option of either Instant Justice or signing up for one of our regularly scheduled sessions of beach area community court, which they can sign up for online or call in on the number that's provided on the flier. If they are leaving town on July 5th, they would be eligible for Instant Justice, but they can't be here on July 8th. They can make it back for our next session at the end of July for BACC, which is the beach area community court, or the August session. So they would sign up and make arrangements that way.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. This also must be a savings for the Court costs in time. Is that one of the motivations too?

WINBUSH: That's absolutely one of the motivations. We have a lot of support from San Diego superior court traffic division. Some of the commissionerce and judges offered the programs to participants who were not initially offered it but have been humbled by the Court process and will now come to have their case dismissed by working it off. The city will get money from the Court processes, etc, but it takes a while, and it filters down, where this is giving back to the city right away, the cleanup efforts from the ticket.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, you said a lot of people come here and they're not familiar with the kinds of rules and regulations that we have in our beach areas. We've got a lot of rules and regulations don't we!

WINBUSH: We do have a lot of rulings. We absolutely do. It's one of the things we always talk about when we have the impact panel of the beach area community court. We talk about how there are a lot of rule, and we have about 900 of those signs posted, park and rec has placed along the beach area. But people still don't see them or pay attention to them or follow the rules, but there are a lot of rules. There are only certain times that you can have dogs there. They must always be on leash unless they're at fiesta island. You have cannot smoke in the area. And that means parking lots as well, which is sometimes confusing to people. They may know the rule but may not know that it also applies to the grass and the parking lots.

CAVANAUGH: Now, someone says, oh, officer! I didn't realize! Does that work?

WINBUSH: No. Everyone knows that phrase, ignorance of the law is no excuse. And it's the same here.

CAVANAUGH: And do we in San Diego have more rules and regulations than in neighboring communities? In other words, somebody comes down from Orange County or some other beach area in California to spend the weekend, are they going to be surprised by all the things perhaps that they can't do?

WINBUSH: No, what I've found in speaking with participants and people from other areas is that it's pretty consistent along beaches and bay areas what the rules are because everyone wants to maintain a peaceful and enjoyable environment when they come to enjoy themselves at the beach. Most of it is pretty consistent. What I have heard from one woman from Australia is that we're really lax on our rules here in San Diego. And I was really surprised to hear that considering the number of rules we have in place.

CAVANAUGH: What can't you do in Australia?


WINBUSH: Based on what she said, you almost can't do anything but just go into the water with maybe a surfboard.


CAVANAUGH: Okay! Now, getting back to Instant Justice, how successful has this program been?

WINBUSH: It's been so successful. I am so proud of the program. Over the last two July 4th holiday, we have had 55 and 54 participants in the program totaling 109 participants who completed the program with 545 hours of community service given back. And we really are proud of what we've been able to do for the community.

CAVANAUGH: I just have to diverge for a moment because we had a program yesterday all about Jeff Olson's acquittal, the guy who was prosecuted for writing chalk on the sidewalk outside of a bank of America. And the neighborhood prosecution unit said they were going to be looking into perhaps changing the way they issue tickets or the way they cite people for doing that. Is that an ongoing thing that you do when the law doesn't seem to actually be mirroring the way that people go about their business? Do you look through these things all the time and reassess?

WINBUSH: Well, what we do is we assess the scenario that we have before us and then try and address it with appropriate sentencing as it relates to that crime. As it relates to what laws are on the books, we don't have control of that in the criminal division in the city attorney's office where the neighborhood prosecution unit is. As it relates to these types of infractions that are allowed into community court, we saw a need for this in the community. The community said, you know, we really want someone to clean up. And it takes a while to get the city involved and having crews come out to clean up. They have to call in, file a report, and assessments have to be made, and an action plan. And the normal government bureaucracy. This is a way that they get it back right away. So we wanted to come up with a program, and it's an appropriate sentencing. It teaches them what are the rules out here. And then it also says your penalty is going to be to clean up what you and others similar situated did in this area during that timeframe.

CAVANAUGH: So you're telling us is that one of the mandates you feel for your particular prosecution unit is to listen to what the community is saying.

WINBUSH: Absolutely. Us, the members of the neighborhood prosecution unit, we attend community meetings monthly, we talk directly with the community. We talk with community, we talk with our City Council representative, with law enforcement, we talk about what the needs are for that community and try and focus our efforts on that.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you know this. How many people were out cleaning the beach last year? In terms of -- to work off their Instant Justice problem.

WINBUSH: Well, last year, we had 55 people participating in Instant Justice for the 4th of July holiday.

CAVANAUGH: Did that surprise you?

WINBUSH: From 2011, there are 54. So it was pretty consistent. And with the 4th of July holiday falling on I believe it was a Tuesday last year, and then the year before it was a Monday, that seemed about right because we have about a 10-day eligibility period each time. So it seemed pretty consistent when we ran the neighbors of the number of people who had been cited in the area.

CAVANAUGH: This encompasses two weekends, right?


CAVANAUGH: So are you expecting more people?

WINBUSH: Not necessarily. We encompass two weekends, but we didn't really expect large crowds already on June 29th, June 30th. But just in the event people came early to enjoy the San Diego sunshine, we wanted to make sure they had the opportunity as well.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. You explained this really very well. And I'll remember about the red solo cups.


CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much.

WINBUSH: Thank you so much.