×

Prosecutor’s office sees increase in caseload

This graph shows the amount of felony cases requested from law enforcement in comparison to cases authorized by the prosecuting attorney in Marquette County as well as the projected number of felony cases to be filed this year. (Graphic courtesy of the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office has seen an exponential increase in its overall caseload in the last seven years.

Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said there were 427 authorized felony files in the county in 2012, and the projected number for this year is 681 felony filings. But Wiese predicts there will be more.

“I started to ask myself, well, are we doing something differently? Are we charging more?” Wiese said.

But when looking at the number of cases requested by law enforcement officers and number of cases authorized by prosecutors, numbers have stayed consistent, he said.

“I know people say we overcharge, but over the last seven years it’s been consistent that we screen out a lot of cases, about 18% of them,” Wiese said.

Charges may not be authorized due to an unlawful search by officers, false allegations, lack of proof and other reasons.

Methamphetamine is one factor behind the rise in cases.

“We’ve noticed that especially in the last three years a huge increase in the methamphetamine felony cases,” Wiese said. “Those are typically 10-year possession of methamphetamine or 20-year possession with intent to deliver or delivery of methamphetamine. We’ve never had over 100 meth cases up until last year.”

There are projected to be over 200 methamphetamine felonies this year, he added. In previous years, cases were dealing with individuals who were manufacturing their own meth, which has become almost non-existent. Now cases are dealing with cartel meth made in drug labs, Wiese said.

“The availability of that and the already existing addictions that we had to that drug in the community, it’s like the perfect storm,” he said. “It’s just amazing that we have so many people involved with methamphetamine. And then people who can’t afford to buy it will typically commit larceny-type crimes to try to get money so they can buy the methamphetamine.”

Prosecutors have also seen a rise in sexual assault crimes both in children and adults. Wiese believes this rise is due to more reporting and more awareness surrounding this type of crime. There has also been an increase in domestic violence cases filed with more serious offenses such as strangulation. This increase can also be attributed to increased awareness as well as more recent officer training, which encourages authorities to look for signs of strangulation in victims of domestic violence, he said.

“It’s not so much an increase in cases, I think it’s an improvement in the approach to how they are handled,” Wiese said.

While the office has seen a rise in felony cases, misdemeanor charges have gone down steadily since 2012. Similar to the authorization rate of felonies, the authorization of misdemeanor charges has stayed consistent despite the drop in overall charges.

“So why’s that down? Well, possession of marijuana is no longer illegal, use of marijuana is no longer illegal. Minor in possession of alcohol was a misdemeanor; it’s no longer a misdemeanor, so a lot of those cases have gone away,” Wiese said.

Mental health hearings have also increased with two to three jury trials taking place this year. An individual may be petitioned into the court if they pose a danger to themselves or others. The goal is not to keep them in the system, but instead get them mental health help as quickly as possible, he said.

The overall rise in felony filings increases the caseload of the prosecutor’s office further than just authorizing charges as officials may have to build a case afterward. They also are responsible for handling mental health hearings, juvenile offenders, child abuse and neglect cases, assisting law enforcement with warrants and subpoenas, and meeting with witnesses. Handling the charges of those booked into the county jail is the top priority each morning as every individual has a right to be charged within 24 hours.

“We’re just feeling the pinch of all these things going on,” Wiese said. “We’re handling it. We could use a little more help. We’re going to get the job done. We’re going to make sure that we take the most serious cases first and give them the highest priority.”

To help handle the increasing caseload, Wiese hopes to get a part-time assistant prosecutor position approved by the Marquette County Board, which would allow the office to have six full-time attorneys who can take on work. The position would have to be funded with local dollars and grants, which he has already started acquiring.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.