From the time a crime is committed to a potential arrest being made can sometimes take a while, if ever, depending on the case. Although some TV crime shows may condense the period of crime to conviction in a 60-minute time slot, local law enforcement officials say in actuality that justice isn’t quite as swift.
“The tagline should be, ‘Not as seen on TV,’” said Amory Police Department Investigator Andy Long. “If you watch ‘Law and Order,’ you get a crime, a capture/arrest and a trial in 30 minutes to an hour.”
Due to heavy caseloads in Monroe County Circuit Court, waiting in line for state crime lab results and the necessity of solid evidence, the time frame between a crime and an arrest could be lengthy.
A recent example stems back to a case from mid-May when Subways in Aberdeen, Amory and Nettleton were broken into in the early morning hours. Local agencies reported a huge break in the case last week after evidence was compared with that, especially, of an agency in Huntsville, Alabama.
“The Subway case, that led us to Huntsville. They’re expected to have him in their circuit court within the year. That’s unheard of around here unless the speedy process is requested by defense or some circumstance falls into effect that allows that,” Long said.
As far as time frames after a crime is committed, Long said the quicker an agency is on the trail of evidence, the quicker it can get to the next piece of evidence to get the whole picture. Tips from the public are valuable in this process.
“With the Subway incident, tips here, tips there led to nothing. Finally, a group effort between departments and organizations to assist with information sharing, we finally got our break because of another agency. They’ve actually caught these people, and you can’t do anything just because they broke into a Subway. We’ve got to follow up on all that to see if their case matches things in our case,” Long said.
With a person in custody, the agency reviewed the suspect’s cell phone records, which indicated he came through this area during that date and only on that date, which was grouped into other information in the investigation.
With some cases, there are very few details and if no information comes in quickly, the case could potentially never be solved, or it’s solved by a suspect’s mistakes in a crime or a deathbed confession.
Different types of cases, no matter the severity, depend on the same factors such as cooperation and evidence.
“They think it should be solved within 48 hours. They don’t understand it takes a collection of evidence in a case. Even when people give us information, we have to verify it and make sure it’s not just something we can go off of what they say. We have to prove what they say,” said Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Randle.
In the process of gathering evidence, Randle wants to make sure his department has a solid case.
“We don’t want him back out on the street. We don’t want to grab them and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got them arrested,’ and then next week or next month, ‘I thought y’all arrested that guy? Well, he got off because we had insufficient evidence,’” Randle said.
For breaking and entering and theft cases, he recommends for people to take note of serial numbers on items such as tools and electronics to help law enforcement track down stolen goods quicker.
“The homeowner needs to do a little bit more than just buy the product. We don’t live in the ‘Andy Griffith’ days anymore when folks keep their hands to themselves,” Randle said.
He said stolen goods that are recovered must be turned over to law enforcement immediately. Pawn shops are typical starting points when it comes to investigating theft cases. Randle also recommends for people to add extra locks to storage buildings and security lights to deter theft.
Monroe County Interim Sheriff Curtis Knight recalls working one particular homicide case that took four or five years, and it was finally solved due to DNA technology.
“Back in the ‘80s, a lot of people didn’t think about fibers and collecting DNA. The best thing was if the blood type was the same. We try to use anything available at the crime scene as far as forensics,” he said.
Technology has advanced so much, aiding in cases, but it doesn’t always guarantee an open and closed case.
“Folks want you to dust for fingerprints. You have to be able to identify someone. If they’ve never committed a crime or gone through a background check, it may sit for years,” Knight said. “We had a church break-in, and the person tried to take a big screen TV. We saw the most perfect fingerprint you could find and sent it to the crime lab, and they said there was no identifying result.”
Knight said the majority of theft cases are related to narcotics, and communication comes to help solve cases.
“If a patrolman goes in to answer a call and happens to notice an item that was stolen, it’s a start and somewhere to look,” Knight said.
Randle has been in law enforcement since the mid ’90s, and he said advancements in technology have been invaluable.
“Technology has come a long way. With a little old school textbook and getting things done with the technology department, it speaks accolades for what law enforcement can do,” he said.
He said everyone in law enforcement has a specialty such as narcotics and homicide, and narcotic and cadaver dogs have helped in solving cases quicker.
“Normally, the old way would be look to the sky and see the vultures. Now that the cadaver dogs, special teams and technology, you can track,” he said.
Even with recording devices, he said any electronic device big enough to hold a SIM card can be used for evidence, and devices could even be in watches, necklaces or rearview mirrors.
“Being able to show it in court, you don’t really have to say anything if you’ve got it on camera. It speaks for itself,” Randle said.
Judge and jury
Monroe County Circuit Court has three terms each year, whereas Lee County has four terms each year. Law enforcement agencies must turn in cases to the District Attorney’s office as soon as a month before grand jury terms.
With municipal courts, misdemeanor cases may be heard within two to three months. Felonies are heard in circuit court. After arrests are made, justice court judges can set a bond, which doesn’t mean a suspect is guilty or not guilty.
“After the first couple of weeks of September, anything that happened right after or before that won’t be heard by a grand jury until February or March of 2020,” Long said.
Two or three weeks after grand juries meet in the circuit court system, law enforcement learns if a person is indicted, or formally charged of a crime, or not. With the grand jury, agencies are presenting their evidence in a case to a group of people to see if they think there’s enough evidence to move forward with the charges.
If the grand jury thinks the case could proceed, the suspect is put in line with every other case in circuit court. Through the process, cases could be continued by the plaintiff or the defendant in the case to delay trials even more.
“The backlog from the courts could be two to three years before they’re in a position to enter a plea of ‘guilty.’ If they choose to enter a plea of ‘not guilty,’ then you could add potentially from then another two to three years before it’s ready to go to trial,” Long said.
Agencies may opt to forego an arrest until after presenting evidence to a grand jury to ensure it backs the evidence. Randle said his department has been successful in court, thanks in part to having the crime lab and District Attorney’s office being in agreement with the case.
“When you bring your complaint to the police department and the investigators are investigating that case, a good investigator plays devil’s advocate on that case. His or her job is to build that case and attempt to destroy their own case to see how it holds up before it ever gets to a grand jury and a jury for trial,” Long said. “It does a victim a disservice if you just blow smoke.”
After a felony suspect goes to trial, he or she is found either guilty or not guilty. The law states the suspect in a case has a right to a speedy trial rather than the victim having a right to a speedy trial.
Circuit court also deals with civil lawsuits, appeals from lower courts and even some eminent domain cases, adding to the backlog.
“I think it’s important to say if they’re backed up because of the courts, it’s only fair to say why the courts are backed up. It’s not necessarily to say one person’s fault or one section of that court’s fault for the back up. It’s the fact they have so much that comes through there,” Long said.