Washington DC

US Attorney Shares Reasons Why Two-Thirds of DC Arrests Aren't Prosecuted

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News that more than half of people arrested in D.C. are never tried for the crimes is outraging people who live in, work in and visit the city, but the U.S. attorney says that number does not tell the full story.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, 67% of arrests were not prosecuted in 2022, up from 31% in 2016.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves noted that percentage is an aggregate of all the crimes his office prosecutes. He said it’s a reflection of the newer difficulties his office encounters with arrests involving gun possession, low-level drug offenses and misdemeanors.

Graves pointed to new and changing D.C. probable cause laws.

He also said well-documented problems with the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences and the need to use outside labs is making the prosecution of gun and drug cases especially challenging.

"Since DFS lost its accreditation two years ago, the District has not had a way to test suspected drugs," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement to News4 Thursday. "This has greatly reduced our ability to charge felony and misdemeanor drug cases. While the DEA agreed to do testing for our most serious drug cases, the DEA does not have the bandwidth for the volume of arrests."

The U.S. Attorney's Office also said there's "limited capacity for DNA testing through private labs."


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Graves said police body-worn camera video, once thought to be a casemaker, isn’t always seen that way by a jury.

"They do not capture everything an officer sees, particularly when officers turn their heads," the statement said. "We are seeing more and more instances, though, where courts and juries are taking the position that: if it is not captured on the body-worn camera, it did not happen." 

D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kathy Henderson represents part of the Benning Road NE corridor hit hard by crime in the past 36 months.

“Violent crime is still violent crime, and the people who commit violent crimes are not doing it in a more significant way,” she said. “They are more brazen, more lawless, and we need to do everything in our power to stop them in their tracks.”

Former ANC Denise Krepp said the prosecution numbers should be easily available.

“I had to sue them, remember?” she said. “I asked them questions, and they kept saying we don’t have it, so I FOIAed them, so I appealed the FOIA, and then I had to sue them. So again, to claim that it’s MPD’s fault, I don’t believe you.”  

Graves said he maintains a good working relationship with D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee.

“The community should be assured that we continue to prosecute violent felonies as aggressively as ever, and we will continue to do so," the statement to News4 said. "The increase in declinations is being primarily driven by challenges unique to misdemeanors and some of the unique factors related to non-violent drug offenses and weapons offenses.”

“This approach has resulted in fewer cases being dismissed by the court, meaning the United States Attorney’s Office is spending more time on cases where those charged are being held accountable,” the statement said.

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