More than 96 percent of Indiana’s Lake Criminal Court defendants charged in drug-related crimes have pleaded their way out of heftier prison time in the last six months, reports the Northwest Indiana Times. Illinois resident Elvin Long hacked his potential 149-year prison sentence for dealing cocaine and marijuana to six years with a plea agreement. Randy Warner, who faced two felony charges of dealing cocaine, was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to dealing a controlled substance.
The Times analyzed six months of drug case dispositions using Lake Criminal Court records and data provided by the Lake County prosecutor’s office. On average, defendants who entered plea agreements with Lake County prosecutors served about half the sentences of defendants who gambled on a jury trial. “If 96 percent are able to plea, it sounds to me that the prosecutors are doing as little as possible to get these people to serve the maximum sentence,” Hammond police Cpl. Kristopher Howard said. Responds Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter: “It’s impractical for anybody to believe we can try even 20 percent of those cases. They would have to hire 20 new judges in 20 different courtrooms and build 20 more prisons.” Lake County’s percentage of plea agreements filed is consistent with state and national trends, Carter said. Defendants who pleaded guilty were sentenced to an average 4.3-year sentence — including all jail, prison, probation and alternative sentencing.