Grand jury helps to speed up hearings, cut back on costs for Lawrence County

Steve Chapman

Alms case one of many considered by recently formed, possibly first, county grand jury
The Lawrence County Prosecutor’s office is currently using a grand jury to help clear up a backlog of criminal cases. Prosecuting Attorney Don Trotter said it may be the first grand jury to ever meet in Lawrence County.
“I’ve never heard of one before,” he said. “Nobody in living memory can remember one.”
The grand jury is made up of 12 people from Lawrence County. Their identities, as well as the times and dates they meet are highly confidential; the cases they hear are also confidential up to the point an arrest is made.
The grand jury can help Trotter decide whether or not to bring a case to trial.
“I or somebody from my office will present evidence to them and bring in witness testimony, and they’ll listen to the witness testimony, and they will be the ones who decide on who’s being charged,” Trotter said.
One of the cases the grand jury recently heard involved Thomas and Laura Alms. The grand jury recommended Thomas Alms be charged with felony stealing and arson, and that Laura Alms be charged with felony stealing, arson, witness tampering. Trotter said he used the grand jury to help him decide whether he could make a case against the two.
“The Alms case has … a lot of circumstantial evidence,” he said, “and I just needed to see what 12 people would do with the type of circumstantial evidence (there) is (in that case), because I just didn’t want to go out and just charge them based on my beliefs. There are times I’ve had jury trials here where I don’t always think the same as the jury, and there are things I know that they don’t, and I need someone at their level telling me (what they think).”
Trotter said the county’s use of a grand jury reflects a trend which is currently happening across Missouri. More and more, counties are using grand juries to cut back on the time it takes to bring defendants to trial.
“There are multiple counties right now that are getting grand juries convened, and they’re just running all of their charges through grand juries,” he said. “There are some that have grand juries convened; they don’t run all their charges, but they run all their child sex crimes and domestic crimes through the grand jury system. It’s just a more streamlined system; it’s easier on the victim.”
 Trotter said the Lawrence County grand jury has cut back on the amount of time needed to hear many cases.
“Due to the fact that we have an overcrowding situation over at the jail, it speeds a lot of the cases up … by some as much as four to five months on average; some to as much as … eight months to a year,” he said. “The intent is to lower the population of the jail down.”
Not only do grand juries help bring cases to trial faster, but they also save money. Trotter said the county has saved $16,000 in transportation costs alone, not including the money needed “to bring witnesses in from out of state and (other expenses).”


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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