MASSENA - The district attorney says the size of St. Lawrence County impacts her staffs ability to be present at every criminal arraignment in the county.
District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé says her office does not have enough staff to cover each of the 50 to 60 judges that hold courts at both the town and village levels, making it more difficult for her office to be involved in every criminal case that takes place in the county. She called it an enormous struggle to juggle which courts her staff can be present at and which ones they cant.
Its a county of enormous size with a great number of courts. The courts meet more often than I have people to cover them, Ms. Duvé said.
Ms. Duvés remarks were in response to a letter written by Police Chief Timmy J. Currier, in which he asked what is wrong with the justice system in the county. Mr. Currier pointed out that about 27 percent of felony charges and 41 percent of violent felony charges result in incarceration in the county, which is well below the incarceration rates in neighboring counties.
I respect that one of goals of the justice system is to rehabilitate individuals, but we also have to protect our community, and one of the steps to do that is to lock up repeat offenders, Mr. Currier said.
Mr. Curriers comments were largely prompted by a New York City mans arrest on unlawful imprisonment charges last week - and his ability to post $6,500 cash bail and be back on the streets literally minutes after his arraignment on criminal mischief and unlawful imprisonment charges.
St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Viacheslav Mareyev was present at Lloyds arraignment and had recommended bail of $2,500 cash on the unlawful imprisonment count. He noted Lloyd had an address history in Manhattan and suggested he was a substantial flight risk. The court set bail at $5,000 on that charge.
Mr. Currier said Lloyd has 25 arrests, including 11 felonies, on his rap sheet, most of which occurred in other counties.
Lloyd was charged last week with felony first-degree unlawful imprisonment and misdemeanor third-degree assault, stemming from a Feb. 16 incident in which he and 18-year-old female accomplice Miranda M. Green allegedly attempted to abduct 17-year-old Catherine A. Berry. Both females in the case are Massena residents.
Supervisor Joseph D. Gray acknowledged the size of St. Lawrence County could very well be part of the reason for its lower rates of conviction and incarceration than neighboring counties. According to the justice department, the countys conviction rate for felonies was 72.5 percent and 70 percent for violent felonies in 2011. That rate is far below the conviction rate of neighboring counties, such as Lewis and Franklin, for that year.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence County is geographically the largest county in New York state and one of the largest in the continental U.S. east of the Mississippi River, with population density of about 40 people per square mile, according to the 2010 census.
Mr. Gray, who criticized the DA for offering a too many plea bargains and demanding too little jail time, suggested county officials look at dissolving town and village courts, and instead set up a small number of regional courts. Mr. Gray said that several decades ago an attorney from Massena broached the idea of dissolving town and village court offices and setting up about six regional courts in their stead.
That idea made sense then and it makes even more sense now, Mr. Gray said.
Ms. Duvé said ongoing cuts in state and federal funding may affect her offices ability to prosecute court cases throughout the large, rural county.
I dont think anything is going to better. Everyone is trying to pool their resources to do the most they can, she said.