District Attorney’s Perspective

District Attorney’s Perspective

The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes criminal acts and protects victims that cannot protect themselves. Children are some of the most vulnerable victims in the community, and the District Attorney’s Office participates in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving children from early in the investigation through the entire criminal process.

When a crime is reported to law enforcement that involves children, a countywide protocol mandated by the Welfare and Institutions Code is immediately invoked. This protocol allows a multi-disciplinary team to investigate any incident that involves a child with as little impact on the child as possible. The multidisciplinary team includes the police agency, Child Protective Services, and the District Attorney’s Office. When a police agency receives information that suggests a crime has been committed against a child, they make an appointment for any children with information about the incident to be interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer at the local children’s interview center. The District Attorney’s Office, Child Protective Services, and the police agency’s detective are present to watch the interview. All interviews are videotaped and copies of the interviews are maintained as evidence by the investigating police agency.

In the case against Stefan Knight, the police agency investigating the case will be tasked with completing their investigation before the District Attorney’s Office makes any filing decision. The agency will be responsible for obtaining all of the interviews associated with the case and all of the physical evidence, including the medical records and photographs of the injury. The medical records will have documentation of statements by the family and children at the hospital and also a description of the fractured femur. The detective will confirm that the injury to Miles could be caused by a kick from Stefan Knight to the back of the child. After the investigation is complete, the detective will make an appointment with a specially-trained prosecutor who oversees all child abuse cases in Contra Costa County.

When the case is presented to the District Attorney’s Office for filing, the prosecutor reviewing the case must objectively review the case and only file charges if she or he believes that the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In making a filing decision, the prosecutor is evaluating all exculpatory evidence (evidence that points to innocence), all evidence that inculpates the defendant (evidence that points to guilt), and ensuring that the defendant’s constitutional rights have been protected throughout the entire investigation. In the case against Stefan Knight, the fact pattern is very minimal in statements provided by the children. In an investigation against Stefan Knight, the interviews from the interview center will be at least 30 minutes long and include details from the children of exactly what happened during “the bad timeout.” These facts will be imperative to the prosecutor to make a filing decision. In addition, the allegation of a kick to the back causing a broken femur will be scrutinized and possible pediatric experts will be consulted to confirm that the kick could cause that type of injury. Assuming that the statements of the children and all other witnesses to the crime, support the allegations and the experts confirm that the kick can cause the injury, Stefan Knight could be charged with felony or misdemeanor child abuse. The decision on the severity of the charge will be based on the actual facts as they develop throughout the investigation about the force of the kick and the actual cause of the injury, as well as, take into account the suspect’s lack of criminal record and other mitigating factors.

A victim in a criminal case has constitutional rights protected by the California Constitution. The District Attorney’s Office must protect these rights, as well as, ensure the safety of the child. In this case, the prosecutor will make sure the mother of the victim is protecting her children, not dissuading the children from disclosing the events that occurred at the home, and cooperating fully with Children and Family Services. In addition, the prosecutor will request that a complete stay-away order be issued against Stefan Knight for the duration of the prosecution of this case. The protective order will be requested to prevent against further abuse, and to avoid any potential undue influence by the suspect on the child during the criminal proceedings. Lastly, the prosecution will attempt to quantify any restitution owing to the victim resulting from the crime, including any therapy needed by the victim or family members of the victim. In this case, both Miles and Whitney qualify for assistance by a state agency called the Victim’s Violent Crime Board. This is a program that reimburses victims for certain out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the crime and pays for therapy up front for victims and their families. Both children will be assisted by a victim advocate to receive the services from the Victim’s Violent Crime Board.

In the case, the People v. Stefan Knight, the District Attorney’s Office filed child abuse charges after objectively evaluating the evidence discussed above. The criminal prosecution begins with an arraignment of Stefan Knight. At that arraignment, the prosecutor would request a criminal protective order restraining the accused from contacting the victim. The case would be assigned to a prosecutor to handle the case from the initial appearance all the way through trial. The prosecutor would appear in court at all court appearances and make appropriate arguments regarding any issues raised during the pendency of the case. In addition to appearing in court, the prosecutor will meet with Stefan Knight’s attorney to discuss a negotiated disposition. A negotiated disposition is a change of plea by the defendant to terms that have been agreed upon by the District Attorney’s Office and the defendant that contemplates the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the crime itself and of the defendant. The California Rules of Court provide for the appropriate circumstances to be considered to determine appropriate sentences, terms, and periods of probation. If the defendant, through his attorney comes to discuss a negotiated disposition, the information presented to the prosecutors will be considered, and an offer will be made. The defendant may accept the offer, and the case may plead in court short of a trial. If there is no negotiated disposition, the prosecutor assigned to the case will go to trial and a jury will determine the guilt of the defendant. If the jury finds the defendant guilty of the charged crimes, the Judge presiding over the trial will determine the appropriate sentence and sentence the defendant accordingly.

The District Attorney’s office has committed to the community and the People of Contra Costa County, that we will seek justice, serve justice, and do justice.  This mission includes ensuring that the Constitutional rights of the defendant are protected, the Constitutional rights of the victim are protected, the case is charged appropriately, and the resolution is appropriate for the circumstances relating to this case and this family while also serving to protect the community.

 

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