There is a delicate balance within our county justice system. The county attorney's office must assure that the constitutional rights of a defendant are respected. When a suspect is in custody, they cannot be held without cause. Reports and documents must be provided by investigating law enforcement within 48 hours and, within that time, the county attorney's office must examine the evidence and make a decision whether there is justification to hold the suspect.
In that short time, it is up to the county attorney's office to assess whether potential charges are valid and whether the case could be tried successfully.
The burden falls squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement who, after an arrest, must find the time to write reports and gather information to be sent to the county attorney. The county attorney then makes a decision, based on what she has.
Is the burden of proof for filing a criminal complaint too high for law enforcement to provide within 48 hours? Are agencies and the county attorney's office too understaffed to adequately deal with their caseloads? Are the courts and the county attorney's office too soft on criminals? Whatever the case may be, something is not functioning well in the system.
One case, in particular, is a local man with a long history of domestic violence. He consistently violates court orders and what is mandated by probation -- he commits offenses whenever he is not behind bars. How many breaks does this man get?
Savvy criminals know their initial run-in with law enforcement is the hard part. Once they bond out of jail or are released on their own recognizance, their main inconvenience is showing up for court and calling their free attorney. Sure, probation is no cake walk, but sometimes jail is the appropriate place for offenders.
Experienced criminals know to hold out for the best plea bargain because a trial is unlikely.
We are empathetic to the difficult task the county attorney's office has, as well as their heavy workload.
Yet, for the law enforcement officers who risk their lives in apprehending habitual criminals time after time, only to see them released again, we have more empathy.
In the end, the result we seek is a safe community. It's hard to encourage victims or witnesses to come forward and risk their safety to report someone, when they know they will be back out on the street the next day.
The solution is heavier consequences for habitual offenders -- trials, plea bargains that fit the crime and include prison time, timely criminal complaints, and bail amounts that cannot be easily posted.
There must be ways of accomplishing this without abrogating an individual's rights, and at the same time acknowledging and respecting victim's rights.
Too much paperwork, not enough jail cells, too little staff -- these are simply not valid reasons for letting habitual offenders go free.
Tell that to the next victim of a habitual offender out on probation ... again.