9th Circuit sees fewer case loads

Published 11:04 am Saturday, January 14, 2017

The criminal caseload for the 9th Circuit District Attorney’s office has been declining district-wide for the past five or six years, District Attorney Ricky Smith said Thursday.

The 9th Circuit District includes Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties.

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“In 2012, we had 928 individual cases, and had 424 charges through an indictment or bill of information (where someone waives their right to have a grand jury hearing and pleads guilty to the charges filed),” Smith told Port City Kiwanis. “In 2013, we had 717 and brought 343 charges, and in 2016, we had 600 cases and brought 289 charges.”

Also in 2016, he said, “We gave out two sentences of 80 years, one of 50 years, one of 70 years, and got a life sentence plus 50 years,” and just missed two life sentences.

Smith said the case numbers were determined using information from the statewide Cyber system, a computerized system that tracks pending criminal cases. Smith said people entered into the system receive a number. If several people are involved in one crime, he said, all of them are included in the indictment for that crime.

“There could be any number of reasons why the number of cases sent to my office has dropped,” he said. “You can determine we’re actually making an impact on crime, or we’re not doing our job. It all depends on how you look at the numbers; I prefer to think it’s the first one. The sheriff’s office and the police department are doing a very good job.”

One reason for the drop, he said, is House Bill 585, which passed during the 2016 session of the Legislature.

The statute, Smith said, raised the jurisdictional level (the threshold amount for a felony) for property crimes (like theft) from $500 to $1,000.

“It significantly reduced penalties for drug offenses,” he said.

The bill also added the charge of second-degree murder, and provided guidelines for what constituted a violent crime. “MDOC (the Mississippi Department of Corrections) was not treating manslaughter (the unintentional taking of a life) as a violent crime,” he said.

Smith who is a former president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, also discussed the organization’s goals for the present term of the Legislature.

One goal is a witness protection program to protect witnesses called to testify in criminal trials.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years on both sides,” Smith said. “At one time defendants were respectful in court. I can remember seeing people who were some of the meanest, toughest people you’d want to see, and in court they’d get before the judge and you’d hear ‘Yes sir,’ and ‘No sir.’ That’s changed. In the past few years, we’ve seen a different type of defendant.”

He said a witness in one of his office’s cases was shot because they were going to testify, and in Yazoo County a witness was shot and killed.

“The penalty for intimidating a witness is five years,” Smith said. “We want to change it from five to 15 years.”

He said prosecutors also want to be allowed to move witnesses to safe areas to prevent intimidation.

The prosecutors also want to amend the state’s sex offender registration statute.

“People think of prosecutors as trying to put people in jail. We also try to help people,” he said, adding the prosecutors want to reduce the mandatory reporting time for people under 21 who are charged with a sex crime to 10 years instead of up to life. He added the proposal could bring criticism.

“Right now if you’re 18 or 19, and you have a 15-year-old girlfriend, if you do something you can be charged with statutory rape. You will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. We want to reduce that reporting period and give you a second chance.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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