Christmas 2017 is now a memory, and is Spring coming at us early, and although temperatures will be getting near eighty degrees this week, be very careful: winter is not done for another month. You may still need that heavy coat
Judge David Lyles has finally begun to hear criminal matters, so we now have all three Superior Court judges addressing our cases, which will move more business. Last year, as I reported before, Judge Lyles did not handle any criminal cases, and we transacted all our business – jury trials, motions and pleas – before Judge Bucci and Chief Judge Beavers.
We began 2018 with successful trials in January, with guilty verdicts in all but one of the cases which were submitted to the jury. Our newest Assistant District Attorneys were able to go to trial and were mostly successful; our case-count continues to improve as we handle most criminal matters with negotiated pleas and some appropriate cases sent to our Pretrial Diversion program without the necessity of a trial. Our Pretrial Diversion program is used when we believe that it is better to “get a Defendant’s attention” rather than slam him or her for a minor infraction. My best example is the case which I sent to Pretrial Diversion more than seven years ago: two 17-year-old girls got into a disagreement on their school bus, and when they got off, got into a physical fight. The Paulding County Sheriff's Office properly charged them with affray (O.C.G.A. § 16-11-32). Rather than prosecute such an altercation, we sent it to Pretrial Diversion, the girls each paid supervision fees and were on a form of probation for six months. We made our point and an impression on the Defendants without wasting taxpayer money on further prosecution.
On January 15, 2018, I attended the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, at the invitation of the Reverend Doctor Johnny E. McBurrows, pastor at Shiloh. The Honorable Judge David Lyles was listed as the keynote speaker, but he was unable to attend and I filled in for him at the last minute. It was a great celebration and a tremendous opportunity to hear the Reverend Doctor McBurrows preach.
In early January, I attended the Prosecuting Attorneys Council’s winter conference in Athens, which began in the middle of the week following the horrendous snowstorm (horrendous for anywhere in Georgia – for my relatives in Minnesota it would have been routine workdays and weekends, and a good day to wear short-sleeved shirts). Driving from Hiram to Athens was a great deal of fun and extended the trip to four hours instead of the usual almost two hours. The start was delayed because of the weather, but began just two hours later than originally scheduled. I was a crafty wizard and parked at the hotel and then walked to the conference each day, not moving the Tahoe again until the conference was over three days later.
Several of the invited speakers were not able to make the trip to Athens, but we had good substitutes, including one especially relevant class on the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute. This statute increases the statute of limitations for criminal activity if it fits within the parameters of the law.
Other classes included information on recent appellate court decisions (“case law update”) as well as changes in Georgia law from the 2017 session of the General Assembly and proposed legislation in the current 2018 session, now ongoing. We also were schooled in use of force for law enforcement – which information we prosecutors must have in order to properly assess officer-involved shootings and other cases where officers have used force in making an arrest, whether or not weapons were used. There were also presentations on ethics and professionalism, featuring Vic Reynolds, Cobb County District Attorney.
In February, one of the new Assistant District Attorneys and I attended the three day Gang Prosecution Conference at the Prosecuting Attorneys Council headquarters in Morrow, Georgia. There was another presentation on the RICO statute, but this time integrating it with the Gang Act, and pointing out how the two can be used together to attack the increasingly difficult and serious problem of gang activity in our community and in our schools. The one statement that made the most impact on me was an off-hand comment by a gang specialist (with the Atlanta police department, attached to the FBI’s gang unit) that “… gangs pretty much run our state prison system.” That’s a scary thought and deserves some analysis.
Last fall, I was approached by Share House, the battered women’s shelter in Douglasville, about establishing a facility here in Paulding County. I was able to direct them to space for rent here in Dallas. The Criminal Justice Coördinating Council and Share House personnel came out on October 13, 2017 to look over the space and discuss funding, and in January of this year the office is now open and serving the needs of people who are victims of domestic violence here in Paulding County and who are not able to be served by Mrs. Melton at Shepherd’s Rest Ministries, which is almost always at capacity.
In 2016, the General Assembly modified the law regarding investigations by a Grand Jury. Instead of asking the Superior Court Judges to empanel a special purpose Grand Jury to investigate the recent officer-involved shooting in Paulding County, I will ask the January 2018 Term Paulding County Grand Jury to pick a specific date and present all our evidence for its consideration. After hearing all the evidence adduced, the Grand Jury shall make recommendations to this office as to whether a Special Presentment should be prepared and submitted for its further consideration, if the evidence supports such action.
A busy winter so far – and not yet done. We are looking forward (well, I personally am looking forward) to a little more cold weather and the slow slide toward Spring. Although I’m seeing some weak sunshine out my courtyard window today, it’s still not Spring and Winter is not over.
Your support of this office and our hard-working staff members means a great deal to all of us; it keeps us going. Thank you, and have a great and safe slide into Spring.