By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
County officials like efficiency. Barton County Attorney Levi Morris offered an example of that to commissioners during Wednesday's meeting. Morris took over the office in December of 2018, opting to file fewer cases since. He was pleased by recent reports that show his office is getting just as many convictions without the hassle of filing more cases.
"In 2018, we filed 584 adult cases, and out of that we obtained 224 adult felony convictions," Morris said. "In 2021, we're still filing 100 hundred fewer cases, and we're getting the exact same number of felony convictions out of it."
Morris said the county attorney's office filed 584 adult criminal cases in 2018, resulting in 224 adult felony convictions. Under Morris, the office filed just 476 cases in 2019, and it filed 474 cases last year with a result of 227 adult felony convictions.
"More importantly, we're actually improving the quality of convictions," said Morris. "We're tripling the number of people who are getting held to a level of accountability. They have to register on the public offense website, so their neighbors and their community members know where they live and where they're at."
Morris spoke of registration for drug, violent, and sex offenses. Virtually all sex offenses and crimes of violence with a deadly weapon require registration on different lists, as do most drug distribution convictions other than those for marijuana.
"We'll call this a class of high-severity level convictions," Morris said, "meaning the legislature said what you did was so bad we want you on a public website."
In 2016-18, convictions resulted in 15, 14, and 15 new registrations, respectively. That number increased to 39 in Morris' first full year as county attorney, dipped to 36 in the COVID-19 year of 2020, and surged to 53 in 2021.
Morris said those registrations not only work to inform the public, but also require accountability. Those required to register must update the state on address changes, job changes, and long-term jobs out of the area. Failure to do so may result in new charges.
Commissioner Barb Esfeld voiced concern that the numbers might indicate a lack of success from the local recovery community. Morris and Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir agreed that convictions often come before recovery.
"These numbers are not a reflection of recovery," Morris said. "These numbers reflect accountability. The sheriff rounds them up, I process them, and then after this is when we start talking about recovery. In my opinion, anecdotally, most people do not pursue recovery, treatment, or sobriety, until they get caught."
The office is on pace for 35 registrations in 2022, though Morris said that could change due to a lag in the processing of those cases.