Man's minor crimes added up over years

In his short adult life, Justin Elmore was in and out of court more often than some lawyers.

Though police never charged Mr. Elmore with a violent crime, the 23-year-old fatally shot by deputies last week appeared to be constantly on their radar.

In addition to three felony drug cases, Mr. Elmore had 12 different misdemeanor cases.

He spent time in jail, but never for very long. That's not a surprise to people familiar with the criminal justice system. Only so many people can fit in overcrowded jails and prisons, and judges prefer to use those spots for criminals who commit violent and major crimes, attorneys said.

Mr. Elmore's offenses mostly dealt with drug possession and traffic violations.

Veteran criminal defense attorney Pete Theodocion said Mr. Elmore's number of arrests might shock some people, but it is probably more reflective of his socioeconomic circumstances.

People in poor neighborhoods have more contact with police, he said. If someone has a proclivity to act out, he is going to be in court a lot, Mr. Theodocion said.

The reality is a college student who uses marijuana constantly is less likely to be arrested than a user in public housing.

"It is what it is," he said.

Still, a dozen arrests is an extreme number, said Augusta attorney Scott Connell, who has practiced law as a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Once a person is known to the police, he can expect more encounters, and if he is hanging out in areas where police know drugs are bought and sold, the chances of being stopped and questioned increase even more, Mr. Connell said.

He agrees with Mr. Theodocion that the police presence is greater in poor neighborhoods. It's also where police are needed more, Mr. Connell said.

But the perceptions residents there have of police are often negative. People in middle- and upper-class areas see a police presence as a comfort, not intimidation, Mr. Connell said.

Richmond County State Court Judge David Watkins sees a lot of repeat misdemeanor offenders. Augusta isn't a very big city, and once a person is on the radar of law enforcement, he tends to remain there, the judge said.

Mr. Elmore owed more than $5,000 in fines on his felony drug convictions and thousands more from his misdemeanor cases. The probation department filed violation warrants numerous times because, for one reason, Mr. Elmore wasn't paying on his fines.

Judge Watkins said he and other judges are willing to convert fines into community service or waive fines if defendants follow the probation rules.

"It's not locked in that someone is set up to fail," he said. "But sometimes it's almost that the system is trying harder to help them than they are willing to help themselves."

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

ELMORE'S YEARS OF TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

Justin L. Elmore's criminal history from age 17 to 23:

NOV. 26, 2002: Arrest on misdemeanor obstruction charge for running from officer

DEC. 3, 2002: Charged with giving a false name

JUNE 25, 2003: Charged with obstruction for running from drug agent

OCT. 22, 2003: Charged with possession of marijuana, obstruction and giving a false name after struggling with a deputy while trying to hide a marijuana cigarette in his mouth

DEC. 29, 2003: Charged with theft by receiving, speeding, driving without a license and disorderly conduct after being stopped for speeding; theft charge dismissed in 2004

SEPT. 3, 2004: Charged with speeding and driving without a license

JAN. 27, 2005: Charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol and violating open container law; he was passenger in car stopped for speeding

DEC. 19, 2005: Charged with possession of cocaine with intent to resell and theft by receiving a stolen 9 mm handgun

APRIL 27, 2006: Traffic stop for improper windshield tint and driving without a license

JUNE 30, 2006: Arrested for driving without a valid license, misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of Ecstasy

AUG. 4, 2006: Arrested for possession of cocaine; released on bond

SEPT. 5, 2006: Bench warrant issued for his arrest after he doesn't appear for arraignment

OCT. 4, 2006: Pleads guilty to three pending felony cases. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet sentences him to five years' probation under the First Offender Act and sets fine and surcharges at $5,550

JUNE 28, 2007: Probation officer files revocation petition because Mr. Elmore had not reported since January or paid on his fines and fees

AUG. 8, 2007: Arrested for speeding and driving without a license

AUG. 15, 2007: Judge signs order to release Mr. Elmore from jail; payment on his fine is made and he is returned to probation

SEPT. 11, 2007: Charged with driving without a license

OCT. 19, 2007: Probation officer files petition asking judge to revoke the First Offender sentence because of arrest on traffic offenses and because he didn't report to probation, do community service or stay employed

NOV. 11, 2007: Judge returns him to probation, increasing the supervision to "intensive" probation

JAN. 29: Charged with seat belt violation and driving without a license

MARCH 26: Driving movement violation, failure to stop after an accident, driving without insurance and without a driver's license

APRIL 21: Traffic ticket because of speedometer not working

AUG. 24: Arrested on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to resell and misdemeanor offenses of possession of marijuana and obstruction

AUG. 27: Judge signs order releasing him from jail; probation officer concurs.

OCT. 29: Judge Overstreet revokes First Offender status. No hearing date is set to determine whether the probation sentence should be changed to a prison sentence.

Source: Richmond County state and superior court records