Jan. 20-In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered courthouses and canceled court proceedings. As a result, the number of criminal indictments issued by the Daviess Grand Jury fell sharply, compared to the number issued in 2019 and 2018.
In 2021, although the pandemic continued, courts reopened, and the number of felony indictments in Daviess County went back to near pre-pandemic levels.
Commonwealth's Attorney Bruce Kuegel said grand jurors issued 1,122 indictments last year, compared to 760 during 2020.
In 2019, there were 1,408 indictments issued by the grand jury. In 2018, 1,394 felony indictments were issued.
Kuegel said the grand jury session didn't meet each month in 2021. The March session was canceled due to COVID-19.
"We may have lost three to four days of grand jury; you could easily be talking about 200 cases" the grand jury didn't hear, Kuegel said.
If the grand jury had met that month, the total for 2021 would have been closer to the average, he said.
"We are looking at 1,300 to 1,400 cases a year," Kuegel said.
In July, a new state law raised the threshold for felony theft from $500 to $1,000. Now, any theft under $1,000 is a class A misdemeanor.
Kuegel said the new law has had no impact on the number of theft indictments being issued by the grand jury.
He didn't know what impact any future criminal justice reforms would have on the number of indictments, but said, "I don't think the theft cases slowed down much when they took (the threshold) from $500 to $1,000."
Kuegel said changing the threshold for when theft becomes a felony didn't impact the number of thefts.
"You still have the same problems out there," Kuegel said. "You are just reporting them differently."
The way to address the number of people charged with felony theft is to work on the underlying problems, he said.
"We still have a drug issue; that hasn't subsided," Kuegel said. "We are still going be dealing with people breaking in, stealing, doing whatever they have to do" to support their addictions.
"You're not addressing the problem" by changing the law in the hope of reducing felony cases, Kuegel said.
Also, the change in the felony threshold only changes where a person is incarcerated.
"It's whether you're going to the penitentiary or whether you're going to the overloaded ... jail system in Kentucky," he said.
During the pandemic, law enforcement began citing people to court rather than arresting them for certain violations. Sheriff Barry Smith said the sheriff's office is back to arresting people who would have been cited during the pandemic, for violations such as failure to appear in court.
"We've always had the leeway to cite rather than arrest," Smith said. "When COVID started, we had court orders from the District courts to not arrest people" on certain warrants.
Those orders were lifted in early 2021, Smith said, and deputies have resumed arresting people on outstanding warrants for failure to appear and other court violations.
"The warrants say we 'shall' arrest," Smith said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse