CLINTON – The public is often critical of the Clinton Attorney’s decisions, but the trial is individual and difficult to understand for those who don’t see it, said Clinton Attorney Mike Wolf.
Lawyers consider several factors when deciding whether to recommend prison sentences to offenders, both at the time of conviction and in the meantime while awaiting trial or conviction, Clinton County Attorneys said recently.
The court is reviewing a continuum of punishment, starting with the least restrictive sentencing option before moving on to the most restrictive option, Wolf said. When considering whether to recommend imprisonment, Wolf checks whether it was a violent crime and whether the perpetrator is an ordinary perpetrator.
It also takes into account input from the victim. Prosecutors will take some heat for the victim if necessary, Wolf said.
“You would be surprised how many victims have a different attitude than perhaps the public thinks about the crime. And they are private. They are confidential,” said Wolf.
“That’s why we sometimes take a point of view that contradicts what the public contradicts or what we would absolutely recommend,” said Wolf. “But it’s something we put a lot of emphasis on, what the victim wants. And often they have very good reasons, but they want it to be personal and confidential.”
Criminal history is also included in the sentencing recommendations, Clinton Assistant District Attorney James McHugh said. And the district attorneys cannot ignore the strength of the case. This will also be included in the calculation when the district attorneys consider pleadings, McHugh said.
The lawyers are also looking at the recommendations of the Department of Corrections investigation report, Wolf said. The report weights a number of factors including whether the person can be supervised.
“When a person has worked hard in the community and supports a family, that is sometimes an important factor when it comes to suspended sentences or imprisonment … that they take into account,” Wolf said.
“If you take someone’s job away and send them to jail, will they be able to come back to that job later?” asked Wolf. “Are we making them a worse citizen who is now depressed and unable to work?”
Prosecutors need to consider recommending detention if a person has been arrested, awaiting trial, and awaiting sentencing, Assistant District Attorney John Kies said.
Some inmates at the Clinton County Jail have been found guilty and may face jail, Kies said. Others are in custody awaiting trial or serving sentences.
While the district attorneys are looking at punishing crimes committed in the community, they are also keeping an eye on rehabilitation and solving the problem, Kies said. Rehabilitation is said to be an important part of the criminal justice system and is taken seriously by district attorneys.
District attorneys are looking at resources like substance abuse treatment, thug training programs, and programs for alcohol drivers, Kies said.
“Fortunately, in Clinton they are not often very serious. Most of them are offenses,” said Kies. “But the goal is for people not to commit these crimes and learn something,” he said.
“They get drug abuse treatment or they learn something in the Drinking Drivers School or the Domestic Abuse Program or something like that. So that’s what I do and most people probably deal with it,” Kies said.
Every case the district attorney is pursuing is unique, Wolf said. It is easy to stereotype a crime or a perpetrator, but it is wrong to do so, he said.
Deferred judgments are used for behavior deviations and are rarely used by prosecutors, Wolf said. Most of the adjourned judgments are for operations while drunk, first offenses, charges on which the defendant cooperates, had blood alcohol levels below 0.15 and there was no accident, Wolf said.
They are also considered for young people who are non-offenders for the first time and who have made bad judgments. Courts don’t want to terrify their future terribly, Wolf said.
The district attorney’s original position is not to recommend a deferred verdict unless it is an unusual circumstance, McHugh said. Just because prosecutors don’t recommend a deferred sentence doesn’t mean a defendant won’t get a deferred sentence from a district court judge, McHugh said.
Courts primarily consider adjourned judgments when they consider the person’s future job and career prospects, Wolf said.
If the defense attorney convinces a judge that a crime on a defendant’s files will limit the defendant’s career prospects for the rest of his or her life, a judge can act accordingly, Wolf said. “And so often the courts are ready to listen to something like that. Even over our objections. ”
When people are given suspended sentences, the crimes stay on their files, Wolf said. If they successfully complete probation, do whatever they’re supposed to and don’t commit a crime, then society wins because they work, do what they’re supposed to, and move on in their lives, Wolf said.
If they do not successfully complete the suspended sentence, there are consequences, said Wolf. If a person breaks parole, they may be despised for failing to comply with the parole rules, Wolf said.
McHugh said people underestimate the implications of being convicted of a crime.
“Even if it’s just a suspended sentence that comes out of it, it’s going to have a lifelong impact on that person,” McHugh said. “And five years after we’ve all moved on, that person will still be grappling with it five years, 10 years, 20 years later.”
In certain cases, probation required to complete the Residential Corrections Facility program is an option. The program takes about four months to operate under the influence of crime and six months for general crime, Wolf said.
When a person goes to jail, they just lie around doing nothing, Wolf said. Many people would rather go to jail than the Residential Corrections Facility, Wolf said.
Individuals in the Residential Corrections Facility have to wake up early and work late, find a job, pay fines and debts, attend classes, and seek treatment, Wolf said.
Residential Corrections is a highly structured environment, McHugh said. Some people need the structure to get back on track.
If someone doesn’t complete the Residential Corrections Facility’s program, they’ll go to jail, Wolf said. It’s a highly structured and very programmed environment. Taxpayers get their money’s worth, he said.
“You make sure that people are turned around,” said Wolf. “And it’s for the kind of crime in general for younger, more first-time offenders,” he said.
“So you are going to see younger offenders with some serious type of crime, but believe it or not you also create fear of jail. If you take someone and bypass the RCF and put them straight in jail, it’s taking.” sometimes the fear or the edge of worrying about being in jail, “said Wolf.
“So you put them in RCF. You still have this I-can-in-jail-type environment, I-don’t-want-in-jail-like environment, which is good,” Wolf said.
Defendants who are required to complete the Residential Corrections Facility program receive suspended sentences, but they are not simple sentences, Wolf said. Their freedoms are still being deprived, he said. They are still upset because they are separated from the loved ones they are used to, he said.
The Clinton County Attorney’s Office is the people’s office and everything it does is transparent, Wolf said. He suggested that interested citizens should personally observe the judicial system, especially the criminal courts, on Thursdays as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Everything is being done through Zoom right now, but Wolf hopes the county will hold face-to-face hearings again this fall.
“I just invite them to watch and join me,” said Wolf. “And ask your questions as you watch and join in and see what we are doing here in this office and then how they are treated in the court system.”
After residents spend a few Thursdays watching the process, they will have a better understanding of what is going on, Wolf said. “I wish I could convey what’s going on in a more artsy and articulate way, but there are so many nuances. It’s so nuanced,” he said.
“And it is so individual that it is sometimes difficult to give a general description of everything that happens and how it works,” said Wolf.
“But when you see how the process is handled here, you see, I think, at least the care and the time and the consideration and the thought that goes into each individual case.”