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Our View...Something is rotten in Denmark

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opinion Cloquet,Minnesota 55720 http://www.pinejournal.com/sites/all/themes/pinejournal_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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Our View...Something is rotten in Denmark
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

When Marcellus spoke the memorable line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” in Act 1 of “Hamlet,” he’d pretty much figured out that something had gone miserably wrong in the way the government was being run. It’s one of those lines from Shakespeare that has endured over time and gained some degree of popular notoriety in commenting on a state of affairs that’s less than acceptable.

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Well, there’s something rotten in the state Minnesota when offenders charged with felony crimes post bail and then re-offend in increasingly alarming numbers. In the pages of last week’s Pine Journal, you can read about two such offenders who committed serious drug crimes not long after posting bail and being allowed to return to the streets. In one case, the offender had only been out of jail a little over a week before he was picked up and charged with yet another serious drug crime.

To such people, the terms of their release — and the consequences of violating them — must seem almost laughable. The drug money to be made out on the streets while the time is ripe surely must make it seem worth the risk in the eyes of those who dare chance it. And in many cases, the price to be paid to get back out on the streets is alarmingly low.

In most cases, bail is established according to the degree of severity of the crime, past history, risk to public safety and a number of other factors taken into consideration by the judge. Those factors vary from case to case, depending on the individual. For that reason, local public defenders have been asked to appear for bail hearings, so they can advise the court on any mitigating factors the judge should consider.

The bail amount follows a two-tiered structure that allows the offender to either post bond — a higher amount that a bail bondsman agrees to post in return for a guarantee to the court that the offender will report for his or her court date as scheduled — or a cash amount that is significantly lower, usually only 10 percent of the bond amount. In many cases, the cash bail is well within reach — particularly for those with a source of “income” — and that means the offender is released with no conditions (unless a pre-trial release with conditions is specifically ordered). That means they can be back on the streets very soon, with plenty of opportunity to continue with criminal activity, if they so choose, before having to face the consequences of their previous offense. If that person commits a new offense while out on bail, they risk having their bail revoked and new bail set on top of the old bail — if they’re caught.

If a previous offender is caught and brought back to jail, the district attorney’s office generally calls that to the court’s attention and asks for very high bail to keep that offender off the streets due to the seemingly indifferent attitude toward public safety and continued drug trafficking.  

Drug crimes in particular are accelerating at a mind-blowing rate in Minnesota and in Carlton County, and it’s not just the entry-level marijuana offenses — it’s meth and heroin, and it’s ruining lives, jeopardizing public safety and compromising societal norms.

What’s happening in Minnesota is more than a trend — and it needs to be stopped in its tracks. Though our jails and prisons are filled to capacity and beyond, we cannot afford to let accused offenders, particularly drug offenders, continue to ply their trade while facing criminal prosecution. There are those who suggest that drug court would be a far more focused solution that would give drug offenders the immediate, serious consideration and consequences they deserve. While not all agree that it is the best solution, at least it’s an attempt to address the flawed system that currently exists. Otherwise, Minnesota will have to take a good, hard look at how it can keep closer tabs on accused offenders while still safeguarding their constitutional rights.

Those familiar with “Hamlet” will understand that Hamlet’s sense of honor caused him to be tugged in two opposite directions — one to avenge the dreadful crime committed against his father and the other to remain loyal to the laws and principles of his country. Marcellus believed those principles to be suspect and in need of challenging, however. Perhaps, we should, too.

Wendy Johnson

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Wendy Johnson
(218) 879-1950
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