With Spotlight Comes Scrutiny: Stearns County’s Criminal Division
ST. CLOUD -- With the largest spotlight of any arm of the Stearns County Attorney's Office, the Criminal Division sees a lot of public scrutiny.
From the first moment a suspect's information gets to them, the division goes to work to see what kind of case, and charges they can proceed with. The Criminal Division has to try and live within state-mandated sentencing guideline for each suspect and crime.
These guidelines are what helps attorneys decide just what charges someone will face. Division Chief Ole Tvedten says they have a "charge for trial" policy. That means their goal is to make sure a charge can stick.
"What that means is if we can prove a case, we charge it. We don't avoid charges and we don't over-charge people."
The state's guidelines take into account a criminal history score, ranging from 0 - 5, and crime severity. On the guidelines, severity runs from fleeing police to murder. They set around 500 trials a year. However, only 30-40 actually proceed that far.
The public often doesn't see certain details to try and protect victims, and help bring their offenders to justice. Tvedten says these crimes deal with real people, and often in the worst period of their lives.
"These are real, live people with real problems and a lot of times they had the worst of the worst things happen to them, and they're going to have to talk about that in front of a bunch of strangers."
Since they're dealing with what can be the worst hours or worst days of someone's life, the office's policy is to move cases along as fast as possible. County Attorney Janelle Kendall says it makes the system work better for both suspects and victims.
"[With these cases we're seeing] a few minutes, maybe a few hours in time. So to be able to get that done and get that handled, so that people can move on with their lives and know what the consequences will be, it just makes sense and it makes the system work better."
The county has seen a steady increase in felony criminal filings since 2012 from 917 that year, to 1,186 in 2017. They're on pace for 1,154 this year. Person (assault, murder, trafficking) and drug crimes make up the vast majority of these filings.
Handling all this every year is a team of 17 attorneys, the largest of any division in the office. Those attorneys also have the largest support staff. Eleven people handling anything from victim assistance to data analyzing.