ESCANABA — The legal system is complex, and criminal cases can take multiple routes on their way to a resolution.
“In order for the criminal justice system to work effectively and efficiently — and economically, really — there is a need to resolve cases at a good rate,” said Delta County Prosecuting Attorney Philip Strom. “We’re not being effective in our job if we’re not having resolutions to these cases for months or years, so if we can resolve cases, we like to do so sooner than later.”
Plea bargains are one way that a case can be resolved. There are many factors that are considered by prosecution when deciding on an appropriate plea agreement. The seriousness of a charge and a defendant’s history are among those.
“Each case requires very serious consideration, where we look at factors like the defendant’s history, what the likely penalty will be, and how strong is our case? How likely will we be able to prove the — prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury? Are the witnesses cooperating?” Strom added.
If a plea offer is not going to be made, a case will go to trial, and trials can be expensive. Expert witnesses are one of the costs handled by the prosecutor’s budget, as such witnesses are generally entitled to fees. For example, Strom said a forensic pathologist may charge $300 an hour.
“If the court approves that, we’re required to pay that expert that fee. We may have the expert here testifying five hours out of the day, so you can see how that would add up pretty quickly,” said Strom.
Strom said that in Delta County, the prosecutor’s office provides input to the budgeting process based on past years’ experience, and then the county board decides on the final budget with input from the county administrator.
Reduced staffing in the prosecutor’s office is a hurdle that Strom is currently dealing with.
“Somewhat recently, we’ve been stymied by the board a little bit in other administrative type of things, and that’s caused me and others in our office to put a lot of time and effort into administrative type of things as opposed to doing what we all got into this for: criminal justice and advocacy for victims of crimes,” said Strom.
ABC 10 attempted to contact county administration regarding this, but they were unavailable at the time.
At the end of the day, the choice to go to trial ultimately depends on the defendant.
“If the defendant wants a trial, the defendant gets a trial. The defendant gets a speedy trial in front of a jury of his or her peers, community members, and the county. Those rights are afforded to the defendant, and we absolutely respect that,” said Strom.