Cherokee DA makes changes within first few months on job
by Erin Dentmon
edentmon@cherokeetribune.com
February 21, 2013 11:35 PM | 2246 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — Cherokee County District Attorney Shannon Wallace has made a few changes to streamline the District Attorney’s Office during her first few months in the job.

Assistant district attorneys, investigators, victim-witness assistants and administrative assistants are now assigned to trial teams together, Wallace said at a meeting of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners earlier this week.

“The biggest concern was that, on any given day, there are three courtrooms, and the assistant DAs were scheduled to be in each of the courtrooms at one time. That was a lot of stress,” Wallace said.

The teams are each assigned to a particular courtroom and judge.

Each team has a mix of seasoned and less experienced prosecutors.

Every part of a case — including bond hearings, trials and probation violations — is now heard by the same judge throughout the life of the case.

In another new move, assistant DAs are now attending 72-hour bond hearings.

“In the past, we haven’t had assistant DAs there to make sure the special (bond) conditions are put in place,” Wallace said.

The conditions are particularly important in domestic violence cases, Wallace said.

Prosecutors are also taking on more responsibility when it comes to probation violations.

“Our office is now taking a more proactive role, working hand-in-hand with probation officers,” Wallace said.

Previously, all assistant DAs would handle their own cases during the indictment process in front of the grand jury, and law enforcement officers, when needed, were called at one of two prescribed times during the day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Now, two assistant DAs handle the grand jury, and law enforcement officers are scheduled to come in at 15-minute intervals.

“We’re trying to help keep law enforcement where they need to be,” Wallace said.

The staff of the DA’s office includes the district attorney, 14 full-time assistant DAs and one part-time assistant district attorney, 11 investigators, four full-time victim-witness assistants and one part-time victim-witness assistant, eight full-time administrative assistants and one part-time office manager.

The state funds the DA, six assistant DAs, one investigator and two administrative assistants. The bulk of the remainder is funded by the county, though grants cover some of the costs.

Each assistant DA has a caseload of about 100 cases at a time. One assistant DA handles appellate cases, and another follows all domestic violence cases.

A total of 2,165 cases were opened in the DA’s office in 2012. Of these, 40 percent were juvenile crimes.

Property crimes made up another 21 percent, and drug crimes made up 19 percent. The office also saw cases involving sex offenses, domestic violence, person crimes, traffic crimes, civil and other cases.

The DA’s office closed 1,984 cases in 2012.

The majority of cases are handled through pleas.

“Sex crimes and crimes against children go to trial,” she said. “Those are the crimes with the most significant penalties, and those are the ones most people aren’t going to stand up and say they’ve done.”

The DA’s office has opened 229 cases so far in 2013 and has closed 161 cases. Juvenile cases, drug crimes and property crimes have made up the bulk of cases in 2013.

Cherokee County has no murder cases pending, Wallace said.

Financial identity crimes have been on the rise recently, Wallace said, with the elderly being particularly vulnerable targets.

White-collar crimes are another area of concern for Wallace.

“White-collar crimes are very, very specialized. We need someone who’s trained in that field,” Wallace said.

Former District Attorney Garry Moss, who did not seek re-election in 2012, is working part-time with the new drug accountability court operating under the Superior Court umbrella.

“A significant portion of our crimes here in Cherokee County are drug-related,” Wallace said. “We’re not dealing with the addictions.”

Wallace said she hopes to begin a pre-trial diversion program aimed at first time youthful offenders who commit low-level crimes.

“This is taking those individuals and holding them accountable, but not necessarily making them come before the court,” Wallace said.

Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said he is particularly concerned about crimes against the elderly and crimes that utilize technology.

“Law enforcement has to be one step ahead at all times,” Wallace said.

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