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Drug cases dominate felonies filed in municipal court

Cary Ashby • Mar 25, 2019 at 9:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in a three-part series about the 2018 Norwalk Municipal Court annual report.

 

Norwalk Municipal Court had 12,734 total cases filed in 2018, the highest number in five years. 

“The numbers contained in our 2018 annual report certainly reflect the fact that we are typical of many courts in Ohio (that) are seeing an increase in the number of cases filed,” said Judge Eric Weisenburger, who has been on the bench since May 31, 2013.

Weisenburger said looking at a two- to three-year group of statistics is most helpful when looking at numbers in the annual report. With 10,834 total cases filed in 2016 and 11,835 in 2017, the 2018 number — 12,734 — represents a nearly 2,000-case jump since 2016.

“That’s quite an increase,” the judge said. 

The largest increase was 362 felony charges being filed in 2018; 274 were filed in 2017.

“A large percentage of the felonies are drug charges. We have seen an increase in methamphetamine and fentanyl cases. These cases are usually sent up to Huron County Common Pleas Court after a short time in Norwalk Municipal Court,” Weisenburger said.

Felony cases generally are in municipal court long enough for the defendants to have a preliminary hearing. That’s when the state has to prove there is probable cause a person committed a crime. If so, Weisenburger has the case transferred to common pleas court to be reviewed by a Huron County grand jury for a possible indictment.

Weisenburger attributed the increasing number of felony cases to the ongoing drug issue in the area.

“The majority of the felonies that we do have are either direct drug charges or drug-related,” the judge said, referring to break-ins, burglaries and thefts. “Frankly, the felonies are not something we hear a whole lot (of details) from … for the reason that they’re in and out of here in seven to 10 days.” 

The amount of driving-under-the-influence (DUI) charges filed stayed fairly consistent: 370 in 2018 compared to 391 in 2017. The lowest amount in the last five years was 285 in 2015.

“The Ohio State Highway Patrol remains the local agency with the most DUI filings,” Weisenburger said. “The court saw a small increase in misdemeanor numbers, with 1,642 being filed in 2017 and 1,666 being filed in 2018.

“We have a wide variety of (misdemeanor) cases. We have a fair amount of thefts, which includes everything from a small item (involved in) shoplifting to a large TV being taken out in a shopping cart from a local retailer,” he added. “We have thefts from vehicles occasionally; we do have those which I consider to be a serious matter.”

Traffic cases being filed increased from 7,493 in 2017 to 8,138 in 2018.

“I think that’s across the board,” Weisenburger said, referring to municipal courts in Ohio. “If you look at it from a two-year perspective, we see quite an increase — 6,820 (in 2016) to 8,138 (in 2018); that’s a meaningful percentage.”

In 2014, there were 6,266 traffic cases filed in Norwalk Municipal Court and according to the annual report, that number reached 8,138 in 2018.

“From a general perspective, that’s what we’re seeing on a state-wide basis in municipal courts. It is starting to crawl back up again,” Weisenburger said.

The court heard and resolved/disposed of 12,462 cases in 2018.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, there were 682 total pending cases and as of Dec. 31, there were 903. According to the annual report, there were 351 felonies pending in 2018 compared to 282 in 2017; there were 365 pending DUI cases last year while there were 394 in 2017.

“Disposed are, just as you said, cases that are completed or resolved,” said Weisenburger, again stressing the importance of studying annual statistics “from a historical perspective.”

“You can’t go year-to-year; you have to take it in a couple-year context. Certainly they’e valuable tools to see where you are at that point,” the judge added.

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