Prosecutor's case load holds steady

Friday, February 2, 2007

Heavy but steady is how the case load handled by the Barry County Prosecutor's Office during 2006 would be described.

A total of 1,534 felony and misdemeanor cases were filed by Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox this past year, which is just 60 less than the previous year. Of the 2006 total, 623 cases involved felonies and 814 were misdemeanors.

Based on those statistics, the local prosecutor's office processed 19 more felony cases in 2006 than in 2005 while handling 76 fewer misdemean-ors. In addition, the prosecutor's office also handled 1,384 traffic tickets in 2006, as compared to 1,550 in 2005.

These thousands of cases were handled by a staff that includes: Cox, who serves as a full-time prosecutor, Pat Sullivan, who is the part-time assistant prosecutor; and full-time clerks Chris Wilyard, Vicki Easley, Debbie Miller and Andie Adkins; and Vern Warren, part-time investigator.

"Our case load was pretty much similar to last year's," said Cox.

Fewer bad checks?

The prosecutor did point out that bad checks cases were down in 2006. Last year, 420 passing bad check charges were filed by the prosecutor's office as compared to 624 charges in 2005, which reflects a 32 percent decrease.

According to Cox, the reason behind this decline is that Wal-Mart no longer sends its bad check cases to the Barry County Prosecutor's Office.

"This was a nationwide decision made by Wal-Mart, not a local one," said Cox. "The Monett Wal-Mart turned over the most bad checks of all area retailers and the Cassville Wal-Mart was number three."

Although some court systems in the country suffered financial setbacks due to Wal-Mart's decision, Cox said the bad check fees collected by his office actually increased in 2006 due to the fact that the state increased the fees his office could charge for prosecuting bad check cases.

In 2006, the county prosecutor's office collected $230,234.50 in restitution for bad checks and $48,808.10 in fees paid to the county on bad check cases. In 2005, fees totalled $36,211.31 and restitution stood at $236,600.20.

According to Cox, his office used to collect fees on a graduated scale that varied by bad check amount. Now, the prosecutor is allowed to charge a minimum fee of $25 on every bad check.

Almost a fourth of the felony charges filed by the prosecutor in 2006 were drug related. A total of 207 controlled substance charges were filed last year, and of that total, 150 were felony cases and 57 were misdemeanor offenses. Those totals are almost identical to 2005 statistics when the prosecutor's office processed 201 drug-related charges, including 162 felonies and 39 misdemeanors.

Ups and downs

Stealing, driving while intoxicated, burglary and liquor misdemeanor cases all increased in 2006 while the number of forgery, robbery, harassment, child abuse and kidnapping cases declined.

In 2006, the prosecutor's office filed 102 stealing and receiving stolen property charges, which was a 16 percent increase over 2005 when 88 charges were filed.

Driving while intoxicated cases increased by 27 percent this past year, rising from 101 cases in 2005 to 129 in 2006. Of the DWI cases filed this past year, 77 were for first offenses, seven were for second offenses and 23 were for third offense.

One of the biggest jumps in cases handled by the prosecutor's office was in burglary charges, which increased from 52 in 2005 to 71 in 2006, a jump of 36 percent.

Liquor misdemeanor cases, which include minor in possession and supplying liquor to a minor charges, more than doubled, growing from six in 2005 to 12 in 2006.

Harassment charges, which include stalking, peace disturbance and violation of an order of protection, were cut in half from 25 in 2005 to 12 filed in 2006. Cases of forgery decreased by 61 percent, going from 47 filed in 2005 to only 18 in 2006, while there was only one robbery case filed in 2006 as compared to four in 2005.

The prosecutor's office handled fewer child abuse cases in 2006 with 14 charges filed in 2006 as compared to 26 in 2005. Kidnapping cases also leveled off, dropping from nine in 2005 to only two in 2006.

Holding steady

Sex offense cases held steady in 2006 with 22 cases filed involving 21 different defendants as compared to 21 cases in 2005.

Specific sex-related charges filed in 2006 include: child molestation in the first degree, 4; forcible rape, 3; sexual misconduct, 4; statutory rape in the first degree, 2; statutory rape in the second degree, 5; sexual abuse, 1; and statutory sodomy in the first degree, 5.

Other crime categories that remained essentially unchanged as far as total charges filed are listed below.

• Weapons-related charges: 27 filed in 2006, 23 in 2005.

• Arson-related charges: 5 in 2005 and 5 in 2006.

• Traffic-related misde-meanors: 148 in 2006, 143 in 2005.

• Property damage, trespass-ing and tampering charges: 49 in 2006 and 52 in 2005.

• Domestic violence-related charges: 25 in 2006, 22 in 2005.

Doing time

In 2006, the Barry County Prosecutor's Office filed two homicide-related charges, which was one less than the three filed in 2005. Currently, Cox has one first degree murder and one second degree murder case pending.

In 2006, there were 104 defendants sentenced to prison, which is 13 less than 2005 and seven more than 2004.

Of the last year's total, 48 defendants were sentenced to time behind bars as a result of probation violations, another 56 were sentenced directly upon a plea or finding of guilt and 36 received shock time or institutional treatment.

The majority of sentences handed down in 2006 stemmed from drug charges or property crimes.

The breakdown, as provided by Cox, is as follows: drug-related charges, 35; DWI, 8; property crimes, 34; sex crimes, 15; and crimes against persons, 18.

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