Plea bargain shows two sides to every story
Two local law enforce-ment officers are angry and upset at what they see as a flawed plea bargain in a case that came to court earlier this month. Hubbard County Chief Deputy Frank Homer and investigator Jerry Tatro acknowledge the eternal tug-of...
Two local law enforce-ment officers are angry and upset at what they see as a flawed plea bargain in a case that came to court earlier this month.
Hubbard County Chief Deputy Frank Homer and investigator Jerry Tatro acknowledge the eternal tug-of-war between law enforcement and the court system. But, in this case, they say the county attorney's office let them down.
Sharon Martens, assistant county attorney, said that's not the case. The public has been protected.
Year in and year out, law enforcement wishes the pub-lic better understood the distance between them and the courts. Cases like this one are especially frustrat-ing for experienced officers.
The case was that of Conrad Braydon Dickerson, 35, who is required by the court to register as a preda-tory offender as a result of a kidnapping charge on which he was convicted June 3, 2002.
Kidnapping is one of the crimes that requires regis-tration, Tatro explains.
The complaint against Dickerson was filed after a deputy provided Dickerson with a predatory offender registration packet May 24. The packet was to be com-pleted and returned to the Hubbard County Law En-forcement Center the follow-ing day.
On June 4, a deputy at-tempted to contact Dicker-son as the registration had not yet been returned. The deputy was unable to locate Dickerson and unable to contact him via telephone as the telephone number was disconnected.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Predatory Offender Registration listed Dickerson as noncompliant due to this failure to provide an updated address to the local authority.
The charge for the felony offense is a maximum of five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.
According to Tatro, with Dickerson's criminal his-tory, which includes a previous conviction for fail-ure to register as a preda-tory offender, sentencing guidelines call for a 30-month commitment to state prison.
In lieu of the commit-ment, the assistant county attorney agreed to a plea bargain giving Dickerson 90 days in jail with a stay of adjudication, meaning that after five years the record of the incident will be wiped clean, Tatro explains. And Dickerson doesn't have to report to jail until Feb. 1.
Martens said the file was handed to her with a broad outline. She was ordered to meet with the judge and de-fense attorney and was given a certain amount of information at the confer-ence and it was done.
Being placed on a stay of adjudication for five years means a defendant has to have "perfect behavior" for five years, Martens ex-plains. For some, that can be difficult.
Further, she said, it ap-peared Dickerson did have a defense and the decision was made on that basis... a bird in the hand..."
Public comments follow-ing the public hearing on the release of a Level 3 sex offender living in Park Rap-ids are still ringing in Homer's ears. Several resi-dents attending the hearing blame law enforcement and the courts equally for what they perceive as punish-ment that falls short of the crime.
"Once we turn people over to the court, we have no control," Homer said. "This (the Dickerson sen-tencing) is a classic example of an individual who should be doing time for an offense. He was sentenced for a mis-demeanor rather than a fel-ony."
Especially in cases in-volving repeat offenders, Tatro asks what justifica-tion there can be for such decisions.
"Frustration builds and this is a classic example," Homer said. "The public sees law enforcement as part of the problem."
"When the public turns these matters over to us, they see us as part of the problem," Tatro added.
"We feel confident and then get the rug pulled right out from underneath," Homer said.
Acknowledging "catch and release" often comes with the territory for those attempting to enforce the law, Tatro said, "In this case, it is blatantly obvious what should have happened and didn't.
"The message sent," Ta-tro added, "is the sentence is a minor inconvenience for him rather than a lesson learned."
Further, Tatro said, each year, the sheriff's office handles several cases of of-fenders who fail to register. "I just did one an hour ago," Tatro said shortly after the Dec. 10 court decision.
"Criminal sex cases are way up and you have to question what's going on if they go through the cracks like this," Tatro said.
On her part, Martens said, "You go with what you know and what you've been told. As an officer of the court, these decisions are always made in good faith on the basis of the informa-tion that's available."