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EDITORIAL : JUDICIAL TRIAGE MOST CRIMES ARE NOT CAPTURED ON VIDEO - THAT'S THE PROBLEM.

THE disturbing and graphic videotape of four San Fernando Valley teen-agers terrorizing unsuspecting pedestrians stirs a much deeper debate.

Few would argue over the seriousness of the crime spree depicted in the video, in which cars were bashed and people were shot with paintballs at close range.

But without that one piece of evidence - the videotape that was inexplicably made by the teens themselves - it's unlikely that prosecutors and the courts would have aggressively pursued the case. It probably would have been much the same way with the beating of Rodney King, had that incident not been videotaped.

Malcolm Boyd, 19, Ruffy Flores and Anthony Skoblar, both 18, and 17-year-old Javier Perez, have pleaded not guilty and will begin the early stages of their trial next month. They face 15 counts each of felony assault with a deadly weapon, which could bring a maximum prison sentence of eight years each.

``The reality is it's much worse with the tape. Now we're talking about state prison, not county jail. With the videotape we have 15 or 16 victims, plus their state of mind,'' said Deputy District Attorney Robert Cohen, who is assigned to the case.

But absent the videotape - and with the same handful of victims coming forward - the teens probably would be facing felony probation with six months to year in jail. And with overcrowded jails, a year-long sentence can equate to only days.

In one recent Van Nuys domestic abuse case, for example, a man sentenced to 300 days in jail served only seven. In a sexual assault case, a man sentenced to a year in jail served only 33 days.

Because of serious overcrowding, it's now commonplace for misdemeanor offenders to be released early by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

So the issue is not just what happens to these four teenagers. It's what happens to those who commit violent crimes that may not be serious enough to merit stiff prison terms, but by any other standard are plenty serious.

A slew of factors, including enforcement of the ``three-strikes'' law and inadequate resources in the courts and prosecutorial offices, have placed a kind of judicial triage on the way criminality is handled. Priorities are placed on the worst crimes, while others tend to get resolved through plea-bargains and reduced sentences.

It's fine to want a safer community, but sooner or later these realities get in the way. Think of all the crimes that receive short-shrift in the courts, and then all the perpetrators who get off with little or no jail time. Where does that leave the credibility of the judicial process?

Law and order does not come cheap and, let's face it, most crimes are never videotaped.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 29, 1996
Words:451
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