Crime & Courts

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Database shows cases moving through Richmond County Superior Court more quickly

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Since January 2000, more than 19,000 people faced felony charges in Richmond County. Their criminal cases often languished in the court system for months and even years at the beginning of the decade, but in recent years – with exceptions – they moved at a steady pace to final disposition.

For example, in 2000, the judges moved just over 1,700 criminal cases through Richmond County Superior Court. Last year the total was more than 3,000.

District Attorney Ashley Wright believes the case assignment system instituted in mid-2005 is the reason for the big change.

“With case assignment it’s easier to track the progress of a case,” Wright wrote in an e-mail. An individual case could get lost in a stack that includes every case in the county, but in the smaller stacks assigned to each judge, a cases rises to the top sooner and more often, she explained.

The ability to get cases taken care of sooner has also had an impact on the number of cases being dismissed. When the judges divided up the pending cases and started case assignment in 2005, more than 455 cases were dismissed or put into an inactive status. Last year less than half as many were dropped.

Getting cases moved through to final disposition is a concern from the perspective of taxpayers. After schools, the biggest bite of the annual budget goes for law enforcement, and running the county jail devours a big chunk of that budget. People facing criminal charges who cannot make bond or do not have bond set can eat up a lot of tax dollars at an estimated $45 a day per inmate.

Wright and Public Defender Kate Mason said their officers work together to cull the simpler cases that can be dealt with as early as a person’s first court appearance.

There will always be complex cases that cannot be moved into a fast lane, such as a multiple armed robbery case, but in most cases as long as a defense attorney has time to go over the discovery and no legal issues need to be challenged, it’s best to work out a disposition with the prosecutor as soon as possible, Mason said.

Local taxpayers aren’t the only pockets tapped for the criminal justice system. State taxpayers foot the bill for Georgia’s prisons, more than $1 billion annually. The governor has proposed a budget that includes funding for ways to find alternatives to incarceration, and legislators are supposed to address sentencing reform this year.

In Augusta, there is a drug court to pull addicts out of criminal court, and there is a day-reporting center that also provides an alternative to prison beds.

“We have to do something. We can’t lock up everybody,” Mason said.

Since 2000, people convicted of property and drug crimes have become more likely to serve probation sentences than prison terms. For example, in 2004, about 33 percent of the people convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to sell in Augusta were sentenced to prison terms. Last year that number was 21 percent.

“I have noticed the trend of more probated sentences before a defendant is actually sent to prison,” Wright said. “We have a few more options now … These can be good options for lower level offenders who want to change, but they also house those who want to take advantage of a good opportunity to get back to the old way of doing their business.”

Overall, of the people convicted of felony crimes in Augusta between January 2000 and December 2011 who had known previous convictions, 60.5 percent of them received prison sentences. Repeat offenders whose newest crime was a crime of violence were most likely to do time in prison, at 93 percent.

One crime that has increased tremendously over the past decade is the illegal possession of prescription drugs. In 2000, there were fewer than 20 cases in Augusta. Last year, there were more than 80. As the number of cases has increased, so has the number of people sentenced to prison.

2011 FELONY CASES

In 2011, there were 3,234 people facing felony charges in Richmond County Superior Court. The outcome of these cases were:

  • Acquittal: 11
  • Committed to mental health facility: 10
  • Trial conviction: 29
  • Drug court: 10
  • Put in inactive status: 79
  • Bench warrant arrest pending: 18
  • Prosecutor dismissed: 144
  • Guilty plea: 1,955
  • Pending at the end of December: 978
Comments (4) Add comment
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dichotomy
32970
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dichotomy 01/22/12 - 12:04 am
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Yeh, they move through the

Yeh, they move through the court and right back on the street at the speed of light nowadays. Which explains why we always seem to have mug shots on file for the latest punk arrested.....because he is a repeat offender doing the same thing he was arrested for the first time, or worse. We don't have a justice system. We have Let's Make A Deal. I agree with Joe Arpaio. Build high fences, put up GP Medium tents, feed them bologna sandwiches, and make them serve their full sentence. We could quadruple our prison space and cut the cost to $10 a day. Let's Make A Deal is a game show and so is our Richmond County court system.

corgimom
32459
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corgimom 01/21/12 - 08:38 pm
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"For example, in 2000, the

"For example, in 2000, the judges moved just over 1,700 criminal cases through Richmond County Superior Court. Last year the total was more than 3,000."

So how is it that crime is decreasing?

Asitisinaug
3
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Asitisinaug 01/22/12 - 07:39 pm
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Plea bargains for any violent

Plea bargains for any violent crime and for any crime against law enforcement need to end immediately. Just because you have plead the case down and sped up the court system does not mean you have done right by this community or society.

The dropping of the 3rd felony incarceration rule in many cases to obtain a plea is also lazy work and allows for many repeat criminals to use our justice system as a revolving door which must end.

Jail overcrowding is being used as a ploy - if the feds are not requiring you to release them then it is only done so due to local budgets, etc. such as the 1.5 million our RC commissioners just cut from the Sheriff's Office.

Judges need to get serious - we know all of the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are lawyers and many are friends, at least socially. However, we elected you to help keep us safe and that means putting violent criminals behind bars as long as humanly possible.

Legislators need to look at specific violent crimes and remove access to various plea deals, bypassing of the 3 strikes laws and if necessary have mandatory sentencing that judges cannot lower.

Fast justice is nice but not if it becomes no justice at all.

dstewartsr
20389
Points
dstewartsr 01/24/12 - 04:10 pm
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Our 'justice sytem' reminds

Our 'justice sytem' reminds me of trophy fishing; catch and release.

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