Sheriff voices concerns on circuit court system

Franklin County

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — While the sheriff’s office in Franklin County is cracking down on repeat offenders, Sheriff A.J. Smith doesn’t think the justice system is doing the same.

He says he’s frustrated with the way their circuit court system is ran.

Currently, a Circuit Judge from Tallahassee visits Franklin County twice a month. This schedule has been in place since 2001.

Sheriff Smith says this system is too slow and keeps the jail full.

“We certainly want everyone to have their day in court but it needs to move quicker,” Smith said.

On Tuesday, Smith sat in the courtroom, waiting to see who would get sentenced but most of the cases were continued.

“They were moved to next month and they were moved to December so there are cases that are not getting resolved in a timely manner,” Smith said.

Smith says another concern of his is the type of punishment that’s being handed down.

“Probation being administered too many times. We have probation officers if it’s circuit probation, that works out of Tallahassee. We don’t have any that live here so sometimes it’s hard for us to get them down here. There are other things they can do. They can search a house. They can make sure they’re in there. We can’t do that,” Smith said.

A majority of the cases seen before Circuit Judge Charles Dodson were drug-related. While Smith is focused more on the repeat offenders, he says he’ll give a second chance to anyone who wants it.

‘At the jail, we have a fresh start program. It’s a rehabilitation program and of course as you know, we’re trying to get the old work camp here to start another rehab program for people who want to get clean,” Smith said.

Mostly though, Smith says he wants to keep these repeat offenders out of the neighborhoods.

“I want those people somewhere else so the good people of Franklin County don’t have to worry about their kids when they go out on the street. A lot of times, well there’s something going on, probably drug dealing or some of these people that continue to commit crimes. I don’t want to send my children out. I don’t want these neighborhoods to be that way. I want people to feel safe,” Smith said.

The sheriff says he’s open to talking with Chief Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom about some changes he’d like to see in the county.

“I like to see our cases moving through quicker. I would like to see less probation and make the punishment fit the crime because the bottom line is, my job is to protect the health, welfare, and safety of people in this county and I think the court system needs to do as well,” Smith said.

News 13 reached out to Chief Judge Sjostrom’s office for a response to these concerns. His office provided the following statements:

The Second Judicial Circuit has authorized 16 circuit judges and comprises Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla Counties.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson is assigned primary responsibility for circuit cases in Franklin County, with a workload of approximately half of a full-time circuit judge.

Franklin County has also authorized a full-time county judge who hears some circuit court matters, for example, uncontested circuit court matters such as adoptions, name changes, dissolutions of marriage, etc.

The current assignment order is likely effective until 30 June 2020.

As in all criminal cases, the prosecutor, representing the State of Florida, and the defense attorney, always have an opportunity to be heard.  Concerns about any particular case may be addressed on the record in open court by either of these parties.  Additionally, litigants have many remedies under the law if they disagree with a decision in a particular case.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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