From 2015-2016, the Albany County Clerk of District Court’s Office saw a roughly 50 percent increase in the number of felony criminal cases filed — particularly with drug cases, which increased by more than 400 percent during that time period. Some cases involved include multiple categories of offenses.
Fifty-nine of the felony cases filed in 2016 involved at least one drug-related charge, such as possession of a controlled substance or unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, up from 14 drug cases the previous year.
Of the 2016 drug cases, 35 were related to marijuana, followed by 14 cases involving methamphetamine. Cocaine was involved in five of the cases, as was methamphetamine, while heroin was involved in two cases, and anabolic steroids and hydrocodone were each involved in one case. Several of the felony cases involved a combination of different drugs.
Many of the felony drug arrests in 2016 stemmed from traffic stops conducted by Albany County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers. Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley said he attributed the higher number of felony charges to two main factors: the legalization of marijuana in Colorado — leading to greater availability of dispensary marijuana and edibles — and the efforts of state and local law enforcement.
“We’ve got a group of deputies that are really aggressive and self-initiating contacts on the highway, if people are driving erratically, if they’re driving too fast or if they have some unsafe lane change or something of that nature,” O’Malley said.
“And they’ve just been very active at working traffic in that matter, and that leads to other things quite quickly.”
He noted his office has also seen a lot of methamphetamine and heroin — drugs he said were likely “here to stay.”
“The opioid issue is national right now,” O’Malley said. “It’s just a huge, huge issue in law enforcement and public safety in general.”
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said she had noticed an increase in prosecution since she took office in January 2015, estimating the number of cases has since tripled in Albany County Circuit Court and doubled in Albany County District Court.
In 2016, 116 cases were filed in District Court, excluding a request to have an old charge expunged, compared to 78 in 2015.
“I have definitely seen an increase in our docket, our municipal docket,” Trent said. “When I took office, we averaged 80-90 cases a month. We are now up to 203 cases a month. On our felony docket, when I took office, I averaged 40-50 cases a month … now we’re up to, in my mind, about 90-100 a month.”
There are many factors contributing to the increase in felony court filings, Trent said.
“Namely, law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office have a positive working relationship, which fosters more offenses being filed with the court,” she said. “Local law enforcement agencies are receptive to new approaches in investigating cases and working as a team with the prosecutor’s office for successful prosecution.”
The number of felony charges related to driving under the influence has declined since 2014. Under Wyoming statute, a fourth or subsequent DUI offense is charged as felony, as is bodily injury caused by DUI.
In 2014, eight felony DUI cases were filed in the Clerk of District’s Office, which dropped to five the following year and three in 2016.
“It could be that we’re intervening more,” Trent said. “We have drug court now, that’s more aggressive, we’ve changed the protocol since I’ve taken office in order to aggressively seek out individuals to be in our drug court, placing individuals on probation.”
However, Trent noted her office has seen a large number of DUIs at the misdemeanor level. As of Feb. 15, there were 48 pending alcohol-related offenses in municipal court, a figure that includes both DUIs and offenses such as open container.
Similarly, while the number of felony sexual assault cases filed in District Court has decreased — three were filed in 2014 and one each in 2015 and 2016 — Trent noted there are multiple pending sexual assault cases that have not yet been charged.
“I have a list on my desk,” she said. “We have case reviews — we meet weekly, and through the case reviews, the attorneys review the cases, and we will introduce those cases and charge them, we have not charged them yet because we’re still gathering evidence.”