Friday, August 8, 2008

A judge’s perspective on crime

Elgee discusses increased crime rate in Blaine County


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County 5th District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee gives serious consideration before sending someone to prison. Photo by Mountain Express

Judge Robert J. Elgee, a 16-year veteran on the bench, sees crime from a well-informed perspective. He's one of the guys that passes judgment and pronounces sentence.

Does the possibility of a prison sentence serve as a deterrent to crime?

"You hope it does, but that's always the immeasurable," Elgee told the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday during an interview on the increased crime rate in Blaine County.

"How many people are deterred from embezzling because they see people going to prison?" Elgee asked.

"Boys with underage girls don't seem to give it much thought," he said. "And it's not just boys. Sometimes it's men who ought to know better. Drug dealers tend to be short-term thinks, so the deterrent effect on those people seems to be diminished.

"How many people don't behave criminally because of the possibility of punishment? My own view is that most people don't commit crime because they have a strong moral code. I don't know if psychologists or sociologists would agree, but I suspect they would."

Idaho State Police reported last month in its annual crime report that serious offenses were up 27 percent in Blaine County in 2007 compared to 2006.

Statewide, serious crime declined by 3.1 percent in 2007

ISP listed the offense rate in Blaine County for 2007 at 3,993.8 per 100,000 population, more than twice the statewide average of 1,971.9 per 100,000 population.

So what's going on in Blaine County?

"It's hard to gauge off the cuff," Elgee said.

"I know we're seeing an increase in lewd and lascivious cases. They're just up, with minor girls in particular. It seems like those are not lack-of-consent cases. I think there's more happening and I think they're being reported more. And, if I have to guess, I'd say that some of it has to do with the young ladies because they're not forced, they're not attacked. It's hard to quantify, because if we have 10 in a year, that's a jump.

"Drug cases? My presumption is that's stayed the same or gone even lower.

"I would say overall, that Blaine County does have a violent crime problem. It's usually a drunk or something out of anger. People usually know each other. It seems to be that kind of thing. A lot are alcohol related and someone will punch someone and get an aggravated battery charge. That's not infrequent.

"We don't have the victim-unknown random violence around here. Those are almost non-existent."

On the bright side, Elgee said, drunk or drug-impaired driving offenses are only about half of what they were in the 1990s.

"I suspect it's because baby boomers are growing older. Children of the '60s are not going to the bars and getting drunk and driving home as much. Public education is a factor. I think kids know better these days. That's gone down, and that's a good thing."

Elgee has lived in the Wood River Valley since 1992, when he was appointed as Blaine County 's Magistrate Court judge. He was appointed a district court judge in 2004.

Before taking the bench, Elgee was an attorney in the Boise area, where he says he served as counsel on everything from "soup to nuts."

"My clients ranged from banks to bank robbers," he said.

He's served as a public defender and as a prosecutor.

"I love it here," he said. "It's a good spot. It's expensive, but it's wonderful."

Back to the crime rate, Elgee said growth often brings more crime with it.

"You get a larger population, you get more crime."




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