Who gets a jumper? A plea deal? Charges dismissed?

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POCATELLO — There are few stories published on EastIdahoNews.com that elicit more anger than those about a criminal defendant being sentenced to a horseman. Rarely are these stories not immediately accompanied by commentary questioning the integrity of judges and prosecution teams.

But, according to Bannock County District Attorney Steven Herzog, a big consideration goes into the decision to recommend a runner.

RELATED | What is a rider?

As Herzog explained, the majority of cases in which the Bannock County District Attorney’s Office recommends runners involve nonviolent offenses, like drug and property crimes — 78%, he said. .

“Nationally, the criminal justice system has moved away from simply incarcerating people, which most believe does not usually address the underlying problem of substance abuse, and toward a model focused on treatment and rehabilitation. The rider program is a key part of the change,” Herzog said in an email response to questions from EastIdahoNews.com.

What is a jumper

A commenter on a story about Wanda May Mansfield being sent on a jumper for injuring a child has expressed displeasure with the jumper program.

“Of course I’m glad we came up with the rider program,” the commenter wrote, “I would hate for the justice system to do its job!”

According to Herzog however, the horseman is a perfect example of the justice system’s attempts to properly rehabilitate criminal offenders.

“This is a structured and relatively short stint in the prison system, focused on providing inmates with the opportunity to learn new skills to improve their behavior when released,” he said. about the rider program.

Another commenter, on a recent story about Neicon Nicolas Loveless receiving a jumper for a stabbing attack, admitted to their earlier lack of understanding in the program.

“I’m glad they clarified that the runner starts with a year in jail and in one or more treatment programs,” the commentator wrote. “I used to think a runner let them go free. I actually like the idea of ​​jumpers because they encourage the suspect to fully participate in the treatment. Having nine years in prison cut off is a good incentive to do your best to learn and change.

When a person is sent on a rider, it does not mean that they are released from prison and told by the court to complete the programs on their own. The horseman program is run within the prison system.

Additionally, all runners come with an “underlying prison sentence”, which is the prison sentence considered sufficient punishment for the crime.

While the person is in prison, they have to go through certain programs, such as substance abuse treatment and learning job skills. Overall, the programs followed on a jumper aim to curb the “underlying causes of criminal thinking,” Herzog said.

And when a person does not complete these programs, in a way that the courts deem satisfactory, they can remain in prison to serve their underlying sentence.

“If a participating runner behaves in such a manner during the program that indicates they would NOT be a viable candidate for community supervision (i.e. probation), they will not be released and will serve at least the fixed portion of his sentence,” Herzog added.

As Herzog explained, prison disciplinary violations drive the majority of rider failures.

Also, the term “fixed” in a prison sentence relates to the mandatory minimum length of prison. A discretionary sentence is a sentence to be served if the system deems the inmate needs that extra time to rehabilitate properly.

Thus, a rider with an underlying prison term of six to 10 years means the inmate will have one year to complete the prison programs to which they are assigned. If they fail the horseman program in any way, they will spend a minimum of six years in prison and, depending on their actions in prison, up to 10 years.

Since offenders who fail jumpers are immediately transferred to a “completed” sentence, without further legal process, Herzog could not even provide an estimate of the percentage of jumpers who failed.

After passing the endorsement, a judge may choose to place the person on probation. During this period of probation, the person must find gainful employment and permanent residence, along with other guidelines provided by the court and monitored by probation and parole officers. They will also be tested for drug and alcohol use.

Violation of probation may, again, result in the person returning to prison to serve the remainder of the prison sentence – or, on occasion, additional prison time.

Statewide, 1,224 offenders were sent on jumpers in 2020 — up from 1,504 in 2019 — according to information provided by the Idaho Department of Corrections.

By comparison, 7,176 offenders were sentenced to full-term prison terms and sent to prison without a rider in 2020.

In Bannock County, where Herzog and his deputies oversee prosecution efforts, 108 offenders started trooper programs in 2020, according to IDOC Annex research analyst Jeffrey Lojewski. In 2021, this number has increased to 142 people.

What about plea agreements?

As with the Runners, commentators seem frustrated with the majority of plea deals reached with offenders.

A commentator in a story about Jarom Arthur Blackburn expressed his frustration. Blackburn reached a plea deal where a charge of aggravated assault and lethal weapon enhancement were thrown out in exchange for a guilty plea to methamphetamine possession.

“Soo you still fed up??” the commenter wrote. “Do you want that violent, drug-dealing felon out on the street where your kids are playing? Enough already, the Bannock County District Attorney’s ‘Woke’ Justice Department!”

As Jefferson County District Attorney Mark Taylor explained to EastIdahoNews.com, a plea deal is offered when law enforcement and the district attorney’s office conduct a successful investigation.

“A plea deal doesn’t let anybody off the hook,” he said. “A plea deal means everyone has done their job well.”

When a case goes to trial, he continued, it means there are holes in the evidence.

Although Herzog hasn’t spoken to them directly, there are plenty of reasons for the decision to offer a plea deal — and to drop some charges.

Double-Jeopardy is included in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and prevents anyone from being prosecuted multiple times for the same crime.

“Each crime has specific elements that must be proven at trial beyond a reasonable doubt,” Herzog said. “If the evidence is missing or weak (on) one or more items, we will not press charges. However, we can always reconsider the case if additional evidence is uncovered that strengthens the strength of the case.

There are also cases where a witness essential to the conviction of an alleged offender chooses not to testify or does not appear in court. In these situations, a prosecutor may decide not to pursue these charges at that time because other evidence or testimony is being gathered.

In many cases, a prosecutor will dismiss a charge if other charges, which will result in jail time, exist. Another thing to consider is the Idaho Penal Code and the maximum potential penalty for crimes.

To use the aforementioned case involving Blackburn, Idaho’s maximum penalty for possession of a Schedule 1 narcotic is seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. The maximum sentence for aggravated assault is five years and $5,000.

So, by offering to dismiss the crime carrying the lesser penalty in exchange for a guilty plea to the crime carrying the greater penalty, Herzog’s office proved his guilt without a trial — and the costs that come with said court case.

No charges, charges dismissed

EastIdahoNews.com has repeatedly received messages expressing frustration with prosecutors’ decision to dismiss charges or not press charges at all.

Kerri Caster, who told EastIdahoNews.com that her son was attacked by a man named Ceaser Ramon Rodriguez, was one such commentator.

Rodriguez was charged after a chase in which he drove officers through residential streets in Pocatello before crashing into one of the police cruisers. He was eventually sentenced to probation.

Caster’s frustration was that Rodriguez was never charged with crimes related to an attack that left her son eating through a straw, which she called a “miscarriage of justice.”

That attack, she said, happened minutes before the chase and complaints were filed with Pocatello police.

“My property taxes have skyrocketed to pay their salaries, but they don’t protect me and mine,” Caster told EastIdahoNews.com of local prosecutors. “It just seems that these days they just want to give in.”

Herzog declined to comment on specific cases, but answered a question about the process by which his office decides whether or not to file charges.

What Herzog said is that his office determines whether or not to file charges based heavily on probable cause provided by evidence gathering and witness or victim statements.

If there is not sufficient probable cause to convince a court of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, no charges are brought.

Herzog provided examples of situations where his office would decide not to press charges or to dismiss charges.

Some of the examples provided include domestic disputes, where the victim decides not to press charges after filing a police report; crimes involving young offenders who would benefit more from the system without criminal prosecution; crimes involving theft, in which the offender agrees to pay full restitution for charges not filed or dismissed; and, of course, in cases where the prosecutor does not believe that the available evidence would support a guilty verdict.

Once guilt is determined, whether through a jury trial or plea agreements, the sentencing process begins.

As Herzog explained, the prosecution will argue for what they believe is the most appropriate sentence — based on the offense, its impact on the community, and the likelihood of reoffending.

Ultimately though, a sentence is decided by the judge, with a recommendation from the (Idaho) Department of Corrections, Taylor said.

Prior to sentencing, IDOC files a pre-sentence hearing, which includes the recommended sentence.

“(A PSI) reviews the defendant’s criminal history, the facts of the case itself, any drug, alcohol or mental health considerations, and ultimately the IDOC’s view of whether the protection of society can be accomplished with the accused remaining in the community,” according to Taylor.

Although a judge has discretion over sentencing, he mainly follows the recommendation of IDOC – the department responsible for overseeing the sentencing determined by the court.

In many cases, Taylor continued, the lack of prison beds plays a key role in pre-sentence inquest recommendations.

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