Sean Leuthold would rather see have his two nieces in prison than in society if they were mixed up with heroin.
It emphasized the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas judge’s commitment and tough stance on heroin addicts and dealers. About 80 percent of the cases the county had this year were drug-related with nearly three-fourths of them heroin related, Leuthold said at a Galion Area Betterment Commission meeting Monday afternoon.
The judge wants to continue weeding out the drug dealers that come from major areas such as Detroit and Chicago.
Those dealers, he says, usually sell heroin in quantities containing a tenth of a gram, which usually bring on lower felony charges if caught.
“It’s all about the amount that is involved,” he said.
But under Ohio law, judges are required to sentence first-time offenders, of whose highest charge is a felony of the fourth- or fifth- degree, to probation. That doesn’t consider prior misdemeanors or if the accused has multiple felony charges below the third degree.
“It’s created one of the biggest problems we had to deal with in this county,” he said.
Additionally, judges would have offenders go through the intervention in lieu of conviction, or ILC, program. Offenders would plea guilty but instead of a felony conviction would undergo a two-year program, which included counseling and treatment. But after completing the program, some offenders came back with another drug-related felony in the fourth or fifth degree, making them not eligible for prison.
That increased the number of people on probation, which was difficult for the court to keep track, Leuthold said.
Last year, the court had about 400 to 450 people on probation with 60 sentence to prison inlcuding five who who had a sentence greater than five years, he said.
Drug dealers also knew the system well enough to take advantage of it such as the ILC.
“So we began to become a Mecca for drug dealers (and) drug users,” Leuthold said.
Leuthold made changes after he took the bench in February. So far this year, nearly 350 people in the county were sentenced to prison with about 275 people on probation and more than 30 that have prison sentences greater than five years.
There’s now a 98 percent chance for those prison-eligible to be sentenced to prison and a 95 percent chance for probation violators, he said.
Leuthold also made changes to probation, adding new conditions such as prohibiting alcohol consumption. Violating those conditions could result in prison time.
“Probation is now a privilege, not a right,” he said.
Leuthold also discontinued the ILC program and replaced it with another option, which still provides counseling and treatment. Offenders that fail the program are sentence to 30 days in jail but can resume the program. A second offense would likely result in a prison sentence. The new program has a 50 percent, he said.
Heroin addicts, Leuthold says, should be in recovery, in treatment or incarcerated. He believes his No. 1 job is to protect the public and not neccesarily to help the addict.
“One of the things I was told, over and over again, we’re never going to arrest our way out of this problem,” he said. “But I been saying we can’t treat our way out of this problem either.”
Galion Police Chief Brian Saterfield, who was not at the commission meeting, said Crawford County as a whole has worked well together on the drug problem, which is not as prevalent compared with the past few years. Instead activity has shifted to other areas outside of Crawford, he said.
Saterfield said Leuthold has set out what he promised to do when campaigning for the position and that court system has shown more teeth to the heroin problem.
The chief believes the system cannot arrest its way out of the problem but requires many different resources from faith-based organizations to government services in the community.
“We have to reduce the demand (for heroin),” he said.
Leuthold would like to see the Ohio legislature give judges more discretion to sentence drug traffickers to prison such as making drug trafficking a third-degree felony.
“We’re not going to solve this problem without some level of incarceration,” he said.
State Sen. Dave Burke, of Marysville, R-26th, also not at the meeting, said the senate is working to pass legislation that would make five milligrams or more of fentanyl or any amount in a mixture constitute as a bulk amount when it comes to drug offenses.
That’s in response to recent events of heroin mixed with the substance that’s caused several overdose-related deaths, he said.
He’s hoping Senate Bill 237 will pass by next summer.
But Burke said he didn’t see the point in making heroin more illegal, at least effective enough to dissuade drug dealers and drug users.
With prisons overcrowded, Burke didn’t see the value in incarcerating more offenders because the capital and resources needed would require higher taxes. A convict would have a difficult time to find a job after serving time in prison, he added.
Burke said there were also discussions of giving judges the option to sentence addicts in Community Correctional Facilities – prisons that are more program-oriented.
He added that judges know the people better in their communities and can determine who needs prison. He also welcomes any input from judges.
“Giving him (Leuthold and other judges) some flexibility would be a good thing,” he said.
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.