South Greenville citizens concerned about legal system, related resources

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By Stan Welch

A citizens’ group in South Greenville County has taken issue with the performance of the judicial system in Greenville County, from the cop on the beat right on up to the solicitor’s and public defenders’ offices.

Durant Ashmore, of the South Greenville Citizens’ Group, which has been involved in these issues for several months, understands the ever present problem; the lack of money and resources.

Beginning with the number of county deputies on the force, which averages out to 1.3 deputies per one thousand residents, or .7 deputies below the national average of 2 per thousand, Ashmore says the entire judicial and law enforcement structure in Greenville is behind.

“The county sheriff’s department is badly underfunded, and it doesn’t get any better the further up the chain you go,” said Ashmore in a telephone interview with The Journal. “The solicitor is understaffed, and so is the public defender. A suspect gets arrested and taken to the detention center, where bond hearings are held every six hours. So a great many of these people are out on bond before the deputy who arrested them gets off duty.”

But the real problem is that the shortage of resources in the legal system leads to lag times of twelve to fourteen months between the arrest and the adjudication, which more often than not ends up as a plea bargain, says Ashmore, whose grasp of the overall situation bespeaks many hours attending meetings and public forums concerned with the matter.

While he realizes that more money is needed to hire both prosecutors and public defenders, and is hopeful that two funding bills currently before the General Assembly will provide at least some assistance, he says there is an alternative approach that would have an impact well beyond increased revenues.

Durant points to the fact that committing a crime while out on bail has no consequence, in and of itself. “A guy who is out on bail for burglary, for example, can commit as many crimes as he wants, with no additional impact. He’ll just make bail on the second or fifth or eighth crime, and be back on the streets in a matter of hours. “

There is a federal law that allows for the imposition of an additional ten years, if a felon commits a second felony while out on bail for the first crime. But that requires convictions on both felonies first, and has no impact on whether the suspect is allowed bond between the first arrest and conviction and the second.

A state version of that law died in the judicial committee, due to opposition by Senator Gerald Malloy, a defense lawyer. Ashmore concedes that the senator’s argument that maximum sentences are seldom, if ever, imposed anyway is a valid one.

Durant, whose group is an umbrella organization comprised of nine area crime watch groups, including the Eastview group, located near Pelzer, would like to see more cooperation between groups, especially across the county line formed by the Saluda River.

“Ask any police officer and he’ll tell you that your crooks are our guys and our crooks are your guys. Recently, when there was a criminal who shot three people and led law enforcement on a merry chase, we had members at every bridge in our area, watching for that green pickup. He finally crossed in the Piedmont area, beyond our range.”