Felony cases rise in Marquette County

By KELSIE THOMPSON

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office has reported an influx in felony cases, including those related to drugs and sexual assault.

“We’ve had an incredibly large spike in criminal cases over the last couple of years,” said Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese. “We average about 300 to 400 felony cases a year. Last year we had almost 1,000.”

According to Wiese, his office authorized 919 felony charges in 2015 – a 40 percent increase from 2010, when there were 548.

“We were already 10 percent ahead of pace from last year at the midway mark,” he said, anticipating the numbers might reach a record high in 2016.

This year, between Jan. 1 and June 28, 396 charges were authorized, compared to 359 during the same period in 2015, according to county crime statistics.

A majority of the cases that come through his office, Wiese said, are related to controlled substances.

“I believe it’s over half of our cases,” he said.

Felony drug cases, including those involving methamphetamine and pharmaceuticals, are on the rise.

“Prescription drugs are just so very prevalent in our society,” he said. “These are legally produced and manufactured … but they are being used or possessed in an illegal fashion.”

In 2010, there were only four charges involving methamphetamine authorized in Marquette County. In 2015, there was a total of 59.

Criminal sexual conduct cases are also becoming more widespread.

In 2014, Wiese said his office handled 25 sexual assault cases. In 2015, that number doubled to 50.

While the numbers could be perceived as shocking, Wiese said it’s most likely due to an increase in reporting in recent years.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics, about 30 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.

“There’s been, perhaps, an increase in awareness that these cases are being taken seriously. They are being prosecuted, and we’ve had an increased success in obtaining convictions,” Wiese said. “The more society accepts that these types of things happen, the more likely the jury will accept the charges and find them guilty – if we can prove it, of course.”

Most sexual assault crimes, said Wiese, are committed by someone who knows the victim.

“To stress for the community, these are not stranger rapes,” Wiese said. “It’s usually an acquaintance.”

When looking at the increase in the number of criminal sexual conduct cases, Wiese said it can be viewed positively, as it shows that rapists are being held more accountable for their actions.

“It’s a good sign that our criminal justice system is working well,” he said. “There have been some bumps with the increases … but they are getting processed, and we’re getting very good results.”

While caseloads are increasing, Wiese said there is not room in his budget for additional staff members.

“I think it would be irresponsible for me to go to the (Marquette County Board) and say we have a crisis and you need to help. We’re going to take the more responsible route,” he said. “Let’s see how we can make adjustments … if we still find ourselves in this situation, then maybe we’ll approach them. But not immediately.”

Wiese said his office is currently working to find ways to streamline procedures and become more efficient. They’re in the process of implementing a new computerized case management system, he said, which would ultimately save time and money.

“Money is short everywhere,” he said. “Revenues are down. We have to figure out ways to do this in a very proficient way. … to handle these cases and still make sure we’re getting a good sense of justice in the final analysis or final result.”

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.