Morrow County Courts handle drug trafficking cases

Part of our series on how the area drug problem is being handled

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

With the high profile arrests and warrants for 21 drug offenders and traffickers in Morrow County in late February, many are asking what happened after those arrests.

Greg Thomas, who is Court Administrator and Chief Probation Officer for Morrow County, went through the process taken with drug offenders to give a snapshot of what happens after they are arrested.

All those arrested on Feb. 23 were put into the Morrow County Jail. They then had a bond hearing, which is required by law. This determines if they were a flight risk among other things. At this time the Judge makes an initial decision on the route each arrested person will take through the court system.

Most of these offenders were not violent, nor did they resist arrest. There was a large variety of drugs trafficked – the majority were prescription opioid drugs and methamphetamines with a few of marijuana and heroin. Amounts were in the low category of felony trafficking.

Of the 14 arrested in the February drug bust, four are still in jail, some are on pre-trail release and there are still warrants out for some who were not arrested with the first group.

At the bond hearing it is determined if they are able to be released from jail, pending further hearings. These offenders can hire an attorney, of if they can’t afford an attorney they have one appointed to them. Those released on bond are placed on Pre-Trial Services.

Pre-Trial Services then supervise these offenders with many court ordered stipulations. Stipulations include, but aren’t limited to: meeting with a Pre-trial Probation Officer, being drug tested, completing an alcohol or drug assessment, completing a mental health assessment, attending counseling sessions with treatment providers and not being allowed to leave the state. Some offenders on Pre-trial are court ordered to have an ankle monitor, which tracks where they are at all times.

Thomas and Magistrate Sara Babich said that the judges are very strict with the rules for drug offenders who are assigned to pre-trial release. If they don’t comply with all conditions of pre-trial release, the case is sent to the prosecutor for revoking their bond and they are returned to jail.

Some situations that keep them in jail before trial would be violence, resisting arrest and not complying with the rules of pretrial release. Individuals who have employment are candidates for pre-trial release so they won’t lose their jobs. However, they still must comply with having drug testing, ankle monitor and meet with a pre-trial officer. When they don’t follow the rules, they are often returned to jail.

From the time of arraignment to sentencing depends on the seriousness of the charges. For example, drug trafficking combined with burglary is a greater offense. Offenders remain on Pre-trial release until their sentence hearing. This can last a few months depending on different circumstances and factors. All parties involved, including the judges desire that the process moves as swiftly as possible.

Offenders have a right to a trial by jury or a bench trial with a decision by the judge. Nearly 90 percent have a plea agreement. There is a pre-sentencing investigation report for the judge. It includes prior criminal offenses, employment, social history and health issues.

Both Babich and Thomas commented that Judges Hall, Elkin and Hickson make every effort to consider what is best for the community, the victims and the criminal in making their decisions. They added that the judges spend a great deal of time and often work late into the night because they are concerned for both those who are addicted and for the community.

After the conviction the offenders may be sentenced to prison or drug court. Morrow County is one of the first counties in the state to establish a specialized probation program called Drug Court. It began under the oversight of Judge Howard Hall in 2001-2002. It continues at present with Judges Hickson and Elkin. There are now four drug court dockets In Morrow County. They are Felony, Treatment-in-lieu, Family and Juvenile.
Part of our series on how the area drug problem is being handled

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel

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