In 2018, a total of 541 adult criminal cases came up for review by the Office of the Redwood County attorney.
According to Jenna Peterson, county attorney, that number is slightly less than came through in 2017, when 543 cases were reviewed, but is significantly higher than the 2016 number of 467.
While the number of cases remained similar from 2017 to 2018, Peterson said the bigger concern is the fact that there was an increase in the number of felony crimes that are being filed in the county.
In 2016, there were 124 felony cases filed, with that number increasing to 171 in 2017. That number went up again in 2018 when 191 adult criminal felonies were filed.
Peterson presented the statistics from her office to the Redwood County Board of Commissioners earlier this year when she shared with them the review of 2018.
Having been appointed at the end of 2017 to fill out the role of county attorney, 2018 was a learning curve for Peterson, adding each case that comes to her office is reviewed by her before it moves forward or is denied.
“Literally every criminal case comes through my office first,” said Peterson.
In addition to the 191 felony cases, there were 81 gross misdemeanor adult criminal files, which decreased slightly from 88 in 2017, and there were 131 misdemeanor cases – a drop from 158 in 2017.
There were 101 case filed that were denied in 2018, which was up significantly from 76 denials in 2017. Peterson said a denial is made by her office when she deems there just is not enough evidence to proceed.
There were six jury trials in Redwood County during 2018, with five convictions and one acquittal. There were eight jury trials in 2017 with seven convictions and one acquittal.
In addition to the adult criminal cases, Peterson told the county board there were 114 juvenile criminal files that came through her office in 2018, which is a drop from 160 in 2017. There were 135 juvenile criminal files in 2016.
Peterson said she is not certain what led to the decrease in the number of juvenile cases last year, although she surmised that it could simply be that some of the juveniles have become adults.
While she does not have any hard data, Peterson did say she believes the restorative justice program led by Eric Johnson is making a difference, adding that is having an impact on the juvenile cases coming through the court system.
“I know what Eric is doing is helping,” said Peterson.
Among the juvenile criminal files in 2018 there were 15 that reached felony level, which is a decrease form 21 in 2017 and 24 in 2016. Peterson agreed that those numbers seems to be heading in the right direction.
In fact, all of the juvenile crime file areas saw a decrease, with four gross misdemeanors in 2018 compared to 11 in 2017 and 10 in 2016 and 67 misdemeanors in 2018 compared to 90 in 2017 and 70 in 2016.
In total, there were 831 criminal files that Peterson and the staff in her office saw in 2018, compared to 897 in 2017 and 731 in 2016. That number includes all adult, juvenile and probation cases. There were nine civil case filings in 2018, said Peterson, adding this is the first year that data has been kept.
In terms of child support, there were 55 cases in 2018, with 63 in 2017 and 45 in 2016, said Peterson, adding that is a number that ebbs and flows from year to year.
The Redwood County attorney’s office handled 20 child protection cases in 2018, with 35 in 2017 and 34 in 2016, and Peterson said that appears to be another area where things are heading in the right direction.
“We want children to be safe,” said Peterson, adding the staff at Southwest Health and Human Services has been great.
All totaled, Peterson’s office, which also performs legal requests for other county departments and conducts data requests for county departments, there were 1,171 different cases that were reviewed and acted upon by someone in Peterson’s office. That, she said, equates to 3.2 per day.
“I have a great staff in my office,” said Peterson, adding, however, even though all of them do a great job the goal in the end is to see that number go down over time.
A new addition to the office is the crime victims advocate role, which is being filled by Denise Kerkhoff, and Peterson said that has been a great asset for her office. There were 293 contacts made with victims of crime by Kerkhoff in 2018, with those individuals receiving information about filing for restitution, getting assistance with victim impact statements and learning about other resources that are available through which they can receive help. Updated information on victim’s rights can be found on the Redwood County Web site, said Peterson.
Looking into 2019, the Redwood County attorney’s office is proceeding with a truancy diversion program.
While Peterson said her office remains extremely busy, she knows what is being done is making a difference as it meets is mission of helping keep the people of Redwood County safe.