Felony Cases in Sawyer County Surge in 2017
The last felony charge of 2017 in Sawyer County had a case number assigned to it that read 2017CF000374, which means it was a Criminal Felony charge in 2017, but the significance of this case number is the final three digits. This was the 374th felony charge of the year.
In 2016, the final case was 295. Felony cases in Sawyer County increased 27% in one year. Judge John Yackel said the court system can’t handle another increase like that. If 2018 increases 27% over this previous year, the final case number for 2018 will be 474, that’s 100 more felony charges.
In 2015, the total felony charges were 298 and in 2014, 247. But, there’s been a steady increase through the past decade. For example, the 2017 total of 374 felony cases was more than double the total ten years ago in 2008, when the final felony case was assigned the number 172.
But this trend isn’t just happening in Sawyer County. Chippewa County saw an increase of 23.6% from 2016 to 2017. Counties across the region are seeing similar numbers.
Judge Yackel blamed the increase in crime on the explosion of meth and heroin in our area.
“I’m seeing drug addiction that is fueling other crimes,” Yackel said. “Even when you look at a felony case that doesn’t involve drugs, somewhere along the lines or beneath the details, drugs are involved.”
Yackel said when you see a burglary or someone writing bad checks, most often than not, it’s someone trying to get money to feed their drug addiction.
“It’s all related,” the Judge said. “If it goes up in 2018 by the same numbers that we saw in 2017, we’re going to come to a halt. Our court system does not have the resources to deal with this.”
Judge Yackel said he has explained this to the county board.
“I’m trying to sound the alarm bells, but it seems like nobody is listening,” Yackel said.
Yackel also explained the process of plea agreements. There was a recent case where a woman was charged with heroin possession with intent to distribute and she only received probation. Yackel said the district attorney makes deals with the persons charged and this is done so the system moves along. Yackel said if deals weren’t made and all cases went to trial, the court system would come to a halt.
“If I ignored all the deals the DA and the defendant make, no one would accept the plea and everyone would ask for a trial,” Yackel said. He said with fewer resources, more deals have to be made and accepted.
Yackel made the following statement in response to criticism for the woman receiving probation and not a prison sentence for the heroin delivery charge;
“As I have with the County Board of Supervisors, I invite anyone who cares to come and sit in court on a Tuesday and watch how the system deals with an overwhelming drug problem. For the past two years, I have asked the County and the State to help the legal system here but nothing ever happens.
“As Judge, I am ethically prohibited from speaking on pending cases, but nothing prohibits the expression of my opinion with respect to the legal system.
“If someone makes a deal with the DA’s office and I regularly kick the deal, no one will plead out and the whole system will grind to a halt.
“I have been saying for many many months now, the system needs help from those who control the purse strings.
“Also, if any of you have questions about how and why things happen the way they do in the legal system, please feel free to reach out and ask a question. It is my job to help educate the public about why the system works the way it does!! And to explain how it should work!”
Yackel also said there is a huge cost to keeping inmates in custody. He explained how trials can take up to a year through the legal system and if all inmates are held on cash bonds they can’t come up with, it’s a huge cost to the county that the county just can’t afford.