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West Jordan Journal

The struggle to prosecute domestic abuse, drug abuse

Jun 29, 2018 03:34PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Some crimes are difficult to prosecute because victims are not required to testify if they are a spouse or the if the crime is a secondary offense. (Stock photo)

By Erin Dixon | [email protected] 

Crime, prosecution, punishment: Law enforcement seems simple, but in reality, following through and correcting a problem is far more complex. Domestic abuse and drug abuse are two such public plagues that are difficult to deal with. 

In a presentation May 23, Judge Ronald E. Kunz gave statistics on crime for the years 2010 to 2017. 

Domestic Abuse 

 Kunz said even though there are charges brought against domestic abusers, 80 percent of those charges are dropped. 

“One of the big things in our community is domestic violence and trying to eliminate that,” Kunz said. “Eighty percent of cases that are filed are dismissed. The problem is that we need a victim to testify when it comes to court.” 

The Utah Constitution, Article 1 Section 12 states that, “a wife shall not be compelled to testify against her husband, nor a husband against his wife…” When a spouse is a victim, he or she cannot be forced to give evidence against his or her accused spouse. The prosecution has no choice but to drop the charges. 

Another way charges are dismissed is through a plea advancement. 

“[What] we call a plea in advance where they enter a plea before: If they pay an advance fee and get some counseling then have no further violations, it gets dismissed,” Kunz said. 

Some domestic abuse cases are successfully prosecuted, but the rate of successful prosecution are dismal. In 2017, “14 percent end up pleading guilty to the charges,” Kunz said. “Four percent don’t appear and go to a warrant. One percent go to a non-jury trial. Two cases went to a jury trial and were found not guilty. Two cases went to a jury trial and were convicted by the jury.” 

However, the total number of domestic abuse cases in West Jordan has fallen from 1,256 in 2014 to 574 in 2017. 

Drug and Alcohol Crimes 

Drug abuse is difficult to track, and even when it is present in a crime, it is not the primary offense that is prosecuted. 

“I would guess that 80 percent of the criminal cases that I see are somehow drug related,” Kunz said. “It’s a big problem in our society, and it affects all of us in different facets of our lives.” 

If the majority of the crimes are under the influence, and drug abuse is rising, then the crime will follow. 

“The drug problems that we have in our society doesn’t always reflect drug charges,” Kunz said. “The thefts, the assaults, controlled substances—all of it is up.” Crimes related to alcohol and controlled substances in West Jordan has risen from 553 in 2015 to 710 in 2017. 

West Jordan Police currently has three positions for narcotics detectives, and only two of those are filled. There was only one detective in the position until halfway through 2017.

Future of crime 

For any of the problems to be solved, there needs to be a police officer to handle it. 

“I understand they’re having trouble hiring good police, but I would say that in the next three to five years, we’re going to see an increase in crime,” Kunz said. “And we’re going to see an increase in the way that affects our standard of living in this bedroom community. I just don't see an end to the opioid problem.”