Information is power, and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has put that to good use in prosecuting career criminals.
The latest addition to Stone's team is a crime analyst trained by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, and his hiring is an example of Stone's continuing quest for smarter, more productive ways to prosecute.
Dylan Hightower mines the details of past cases to identify "the worst of the worst," as Stone calls them. His access to SLED files opens up resources beyond the rap sheets listing charges and convictions, but no details of the cases, that prosecutors usually work with.
Stone is doing more than successfully prosecuting career criminals -- although that's to be applauded. He's also saving taxpayers money.
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A 2009 Solicitor's Office analysis of those jailed around the five-county circuit showed that about 60 percent were awaiting their day in court and a majority were career criminals. The court system was clogged as a result.
Since the team's creation, the backlog of pending cases has been reduced 53 percent in Beaufort County General Sessions Court. In 2011, 37 defendants in Beaufort County General Sessions were defined as career criminals and had 162 charges among them.That's more than four charges each. Focusing on this group can quickly reduce the number of pending cases.
The approach also helped eliminate overcrowding at the Beaufort County Detention Center. Since December 2009, the county jail consistently has been under its 255-inmate capacity. The jail had exceeded its capacity for about four years before that, reaching more than 400 inmates at times.
The reason: Successful prosecution sends career criminals to the state prison system. The team's prosecution rate is more than 90 percent, Stone says. And the less time they spend waiting for trial, the less crowded the county jail is.
Hightower isn't just helping at trial. He gets information to prosecutors before those early morning bond hearings that determine whether someone arrested the night before is released back into the community.
"What I needed was an objective way to determine who is the worst of the worst and, on a real-time basis, at 7 in the morning," Stone said. "These are not the people you want out -- these are hardened criminals."
Stone's analyses of the judicial system in the 14th Circuit have been the key. Determining how long people sit in jail awaiting trial, tracking the number of cases pending and improving how cases were scheduled for trial have helped him make positive changes in the way our courts and jails operate.
As we said, information is power.