Under pressure from U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, FBI Director Christopher Wray promised to focus on several different areas and stem the violent crime uptick in Georgia.
Initially, Director Wray highlighted “traditional drivers” such as drugs, weapons, and gangs. He also expressed concern about an “alarming uptick” in violent juvenile crimes. Many at-risk children didn’t go back to school after COVID lockdowns ended, he noted.
Fundamentally, the director blamed issues in the criminal justice system. “We are also seeing not everywhere, but an awful lot of places, we are seeing way too many dangerous offenders getting back out on the streets. And the only thing more frustrating to the hard-working men of law enforcement than having to arrest somebody who should have been behind bars, is having to arrest the same person over and over again.”
Jail Release Issues
In criminal cases, everything starts with jail release. Incarcerated defendants often accept unfavorable plea bargains, so they can “get it over with.” Additionally, if jail cases go to trial, most jurors assume people behind bars did something wrong. So, the conviction rate skyrockets in jail cases and goes down significantly in bail bases.
What was once one of the most overlooked portions of the criminal justice system is now extremely controversial. Many pundits claim that it’s almost inhuman to lock defendants up simply because they cannot afford bail. Many other pundits claim it’s almost inhuman to open the cell doors and allow dangerous people back on the streets.
For the most part, the Cobb County jail release system, which now includes more defendant-friendly options, does a good job of balancing these extremes. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer plays an important role in all three major jail release alternatives.
- Own Recognizance Release: If defendants are charged with nonviolent crimes and have no recent criminal records, they’re usually entitled to pretrial release. Qualifications like “nonviolent” and “recent” are subjective. To some people, stalking and DUI are violent crimes. Additionally, there’s no official cutoff for recent criminal activity. The cutoff could be two years or twenty years.
- Bail Bond: A significant number of criminal defendants turn themselves in, especially if they’re charged with violent crimes or court supervision violations, mostly probation and parole violations. A Marietta criminal defense attorney lays the groundwork in these situations. Therefore, many of these defendants simply wait in outer areas while their paperwork goes through.
- Cash Bail: For many people, a $1,500 bail might as well be $15 million. Over 50 percent of Georgians cannot pay cash for a $1,000 emergency expense. At a bail reduction hearing, a Marietta criminal defense attorney convinces a judge to set a “reasonable” bail amount, instead of the generic number the sheriff usually assigns.
All three kinds of release usually include some conditions. General conditions include remaining in the county and reporting to a supervision officer. Offense-specific conditions include IIDs (ignition interlock devices) in DUIs and keep-away orders in domestic batteries.
Criminal Prosecutions and COVID-19
Many of the juveniles who didn’t return to school after the lockdown are just now getting into trouble. Likewise, many lockdown criminal cases are just now getting to the trial stage. Police officers acted much differently during the lockdown, and that different behavior affects criminal prosecutions in 2022 and 2023.
We mentioned DUIs above in the jail release context. DUI arrests are also much different now than they were in the before times. Frequently, a simple change makes a big difference.
This simple change is the window police officers knock on. Before coronavirus, officers almost always approached the driver’s side window. During the lockdowns, officers almost always approached the passenger side window. This change makes it harder to establish reasonable suspicion for a DUI investigation.
For example, if an officer was at the driver’s side window, it’s relatively easy to observe physical symptoms, like an odor of alcohol and bloodshot eyes. These symptoms are harder to see from the other side of the vehicle. If officers don’t have reasonable suspicion to investigate crimes, subsequently obtained evidence, like field test and Breathalyzer test results, are usually inadmissible.
COVID, and specifically some high-profile police shootings during the lockdowns, also affected the way people look at police officers. In the before times, if an officer said s/he saw evidence of intoxication, most jurors were satisfied. Today, public confidence in police officers is barely over 50 percent. In other words, many jurors no longer give officers the benefit of the doubt.
Much like jail release, juvenile crime is a balancing act. No one wants to see children locked up. At the same time, in the words of the FBI director, no one wants to see children “graduate” from petty crimes to violent crimes.
Once again, the Cobb County juvenile justice system does a pretty good job of balancing these extremes. Juvenile arrests have dropped significantly over the past twenty years. This pattern suggests that officers are focusing on violent crimes and repeat offenders as opposed to property crimes and first-time offenders. The rising tide of juvenile crimes may affect this policy. We shall see.
The lack of an official arrest record is a good thing. However, when officers release juveniles to the custody of their caregivers, these juveniles acquire informal arrest records. The next time a child commits a crime, investigators assume a juvenile with an informal arrest record either committed the crime or knows who did commit it. So, these children aren’t out of the woods yet.
The opposite side of this balancing act is bad news for juveniles charged with violent crimes. That’s especially true if the child is affiliated with a gang or has a history of gang affiliation. These children are usually looking at some kind of involuntary detention.
Resolving Criminal Cases
Like a juvenile arrest record, this involuntary detention could be very strict or not quite as strict, largely depending on the skills of a Marietta criminal defense lawyer.
Strict detention could mean incarceration at a remote facility somewhere else in the state. Alternatively, if these defendants receive probation, judges and prosecutors often pile on the conditions, making it almost impossible for these defendants to successfully complete probation.
So, during plea negotiations, Marietta criminal defense attorneys often press for more relaxed conditions. If the prosecutor insists on incarceration, a defense attorney often insists on incarceration at a nearby facility. If prosecutors recommend probation, an attorney may be able to arrange for unsupervised probation.
Law enforcement is much different today than it was before 2020. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.