Criminal court cases rise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 4, 1999

The number of gross misdemeanor driving while intoxicated cases in Freeborn County more than doubled last year.

Sunday, April 4, 1999

The number of gross misdemeanor driving while intoxicated cases in Freeborn County more than doubled last year.

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The 65 cases filed in 1997 shot up to 142 in 1998.

Gross misdemeanor-level DWIs are those in which the suspect has already been convicted of a DWI charge. The number of first time DWI arrests actually dropped last year to 241, from 278 in 1997.

According to the annual report by Freeborn County’s court administrator, Chuck Kjos, the increase in gross misdemeanor DWIs accounts for the largest part of the 47 percent increase in major criminal cases last year.

&uot;That’s up more than we’ve ever had,&uot; Kjos said of the felony and gross misdemeanor crime cases.

While the number of actual court cases filed during the year only went up by 1.5 percent, or 157 cases, Kjos said the increase in major criminal cases has resulted in an increase workload for judges, lawyers and court personnel.

Using a caseload formula, Kjos has determined the county’s judge need has increased from 1.85 in 1997 to 2.06 last year.

While the number is technically higher than the two existing district court judges, Kjos said it is doubtful that the county will get another judge.

&uot;They are handling the work,&uot; he said of Judges John Chesterman and James Broberg.

Still, he noted that court staff is also feeling the effects of the extra work.

With felony and gross misdemeanor cases, there are more court events and paperwork handled, creating the extra work.

&uot;With all that, there is more time involved,&uot; he said.

In other types of cases, major civil cases filed dropped 4 percent and minor civil case rose by nearly an equal percentage.

The change in major civil cases is marked by a 17 case drop in contract cases to 23 for last year and a 10 case drop in harassment cases, from 102 to 92.

Several small rises in major civil cases were seen. Wrongful death cases were up two from three and a single malpractice case was an increase from the absence in 1997. Property damage suits doubled with two cases and condemnation cases rose to three from none.

The rise in minor civil cases was seen mainly in a 16 percent increase in conciliation court cases filed, up from 453 to 524.

Juvenile cases for the year increase 16 percent, with status offenses showing the largest climb in cases, from 338 to 423. Status offenses are juvenile crimes that wouldn’t be a crime if the person were an adult. An example is smoking.

Delinquency felony charges rose from 47 to 66 in the year and suspected gross misdemeanors by juveniles climbed 56 percent to 28. Misdemeanor delinquency cases dropped by 23 to 129.

Probate cases for the year rose three percent to 156 cases and family cases filed rose 14 percent to 357.

Kjos said some of the increases in cases filed last year may be in part due to the change in judges. Noting there was a gap in service, he said attorneys may have held cases back in 1997 when only one judge was on the bench.

&uot;I think a whole lot of attorneys held files back,&uot; he said.

But he also said he feels much of the increase will continue to be felt in the current year.

That means there is some need to look at court staffing to make it most effective. He said no changes are currently planned.

One change in 1998 amounted to an increase of nearly $12,000 in fines collected.

Judges implemented a $50 assessment for defendants who failed to appear for court and had a bench warrant issued in their name. The assessment started in April 1998 and generated the increase for the year.

While more money was collected through the new assessment, the total fines and forfeitures dropped $67 last year.

The Albert Lea Police Department showed a $6,000 increase in collection, but State Patrol fees dropped $9,000 and sheriff department collections dropped by more than $13,000.

Civil court fees for the year increased by $3,000 and other court charges rose by nearly $15,000.

In all, court revenue rose by nearly $22,000.

Kjos said the increase is in direct correlation to the increase in criminal and juvenile court activity for the year.

&uot;Every line item that shows increases can be directly connected to services required to provide the court in dealing with the defendants and juveniles,&uot; he said.