Plea deals for charges relating to illegal drugs or substances are a common occurrence in the Whitley County Circuit Court.
Whitley County Prosecutor D.J. Sigler advised that a large majority of plea deals that come through the court involve possession or dealing in controlled substances. Sigler emphasized, though, that despite the extra attention recently being paid to criminal drug cases, there has been no change to how both sides in a case come to these plea deals.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent for the last several years,” Sigler said. “I don’t think there’s any real difference or change in the way we approach those. I think there are more criminal cases, so I think that always gets people’s attention.”
Sigler also pointed out that plea deals have always been a common resolution, with an estimated 90 percent of criminal cases ending in this way. The main reason is usually the fact that there is an abundance of evidence that implicate someone’s involvement with a crime. In regards to drug investigations, Sigler said that local law enforcement and agencies in surrounding areas are regularly evaluating and improving their practices to ensure such investigations yield reliable evidence.
“It’s not a flip of a coin where sometimes you’re guilty sometimes you’re not,” Sigler said. “When you do a good investigation, and with that as your foundation, people are going to plead guilty because they know the strength of the evidence against them.”
Another issue that has reared its head amidst the ongoing opioid crisis is the issue of jail overcrowding. County jails across the state are finding that they simply do not have enough room to house all of the inmates coming in, Whitley County included. Sigler predicted that the majority of people currently held in the Whitley County Jail had some involvement with substance abuse, but usually at lower levels than the high-profile dealing cases law enforcement sometimes encounter.
“We’re talking about these drug dealers, those with longer sentences, they are being held locally while awaiting resolution,” Sigler said. “Once a case is resolved, generally speaking, they’re moving on to the DOC. I do think that drug-facilitated crimes, substance crimes, dealing crimes do add to the overall level of jail population.”
While there may be more people in jail serving time for drug crimes, it’s clear that addiction is still tearing through communities all across the country. There continue to be people fighting every day with addiction, and there continue to be people who seek to profit off these addictions. Such a distinction, Sigler noted, is an important one to keep in mind when looking at sentences for drug crimes.
“We distinguish between people who occasionally use drugs and people moving it in large amounts into the stream of commerce,” Sigler said. “We have people with substance abuse problems, terrible addiction problems and those people should be treated differently than people creating these marketplaces for drugs and putting a large amount into the community.”
In that same line of reasoning, Sigler felt it was important to add that the people that do go through the judicial system and may end up serving time for drug-related offenses are not inherently bad people, just people who have lost their way.
“A lot of times, they are good folks that want to do good things,” Sigler said. “They just don’t know how. So to the extent we can correct their paths, then good on us as a community.”