The Albany County Attorney’s office is hoping the Wyoming Attorney General can provide help in handling an increase in criminal cases coming through the county’s circuit and district courts, Albany County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent said.
“We have seen an increase in filings,” Trent said. “Our felonies have officially doubled (the average number of cases in District Court), and we have also tripled not guilty pleas in Circuit Court, so we are feeling it very much so.”
Of the 191 criminal cases in District Court in 2017 — as of Monday — the majority of them are related to controlled substances, she said.
“Sixty percent of those filings are drug related, taking Circuit Court and District Court combined,” Trent said. “Unlike what I hear from people, these aren’t because of an increase in marijuana prosecutions. We are seeing a dramatic increase in methamphetamine, heroin and opiates.”
Trent said an increase of controlled substance offenses often result in other crimes such as destruction of property or forgery.
“As a result of that, then comes property crimes too that are starting to upswing,” she said. “Mostly forgeries and fraud that we are seeing are resulting from the drugs.”
The attorney’s office has been able to handle the increase of cases so far because of changes made to the office when Trent became the county prosecuting attorney, she said. But restructuring is not enough to manage the cases if the trend continues, Trent said.
“We have been able to accommodate a lot of the volume because when I took office, we restructured the office and how we handle cases,” she said. “We were able to cushion (ourselves) to take on those additional cases, but we are now at a point where we need more assistance.”
Trent said she reached out to the Attorney General’s Office recently to request funding for the county to hire a part-time attorney to handle drug cases and decrease their work load, she said.
“We need an attorney, but we don’t have funds to pay for it, so I reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for assistance,” Trent said. “My hope is that in the next month or two to reach a memorandum of understanding, and they are going to give me a part-time attorney to assist us with drug cases.”
She said the attorney’s office is requesting a part-time position because funding a full-time employee would be too costly for the county and the office is not sure if the trend will continue.
“The problem that is presenting itself is that we have no government funds to pay for it,” Trent said. “What you don’t want to do is hire someone, on a permanent basis, when we don’t know if this is temporary or if this is the new norm.”
Until the county receives assistance from the Attorney General’s Office or the number of cases decreases, the attorney’s office is looking into alternatives to meet their needs, she said.
“I would love a new attorney but, realistically, in these economic times, I do not know how we would do that,” Trent said. “We are trying to use university interns as much as we can and staff what we can to non-attorneys and that seems to be helping us.”