Questions raised about local man with long criminal history
WILLMAR -- A Montevideo man was sentenced Thursday to nine months in jail after pleading guilty to a felony charge. James Robert Jones, 26, was charged with felony counts of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle and criminal damage to proper...
WILLMAR -- A Montevideo man was sentenced Thursday to nine months in jail after pleading guilty to a felony charge.
James Robert Jones, 26, was charged with felony counts of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle and criminal damage to property in the first degree after he led Willmar police officers on a 10-mile high-speed chase Sept. 30 that ended an eighth of a mile into a corn field.
Jones pleaded guilty to the charge of fleeing a peace officer -- his third such in the past five years. As part of the agreement, the remaining felony charge, a gross misdemeanor and two misdemeanors were dismissed.
But the four dismissed charges join a laundry list of former charges against Jones, many of which were dismissed. Since 1998, when Jones got his first speeding ticket, he has racked up 40 charges across 13 different files.
What makes the situation even more frightening is that Jones' crimes have put regular citizens' lives in jeopardy.
Police pursuits are inherently dangerous, said Jim Kulset, Willmar police chief. It's a situation police officers don't want to be in, he continued. Even though the violators initiate the pursuit, the high speeds and reckless driving are a recipe for disaster.
"That exposes not only the officer to danger, but citizens to danger," Kulset said.
Not to mention the potential monetary costs that can come with the pursuit. "Some don't cost anything and some cost millions," he said.
Jones has been caught driving under the influence on three separate occasions, faced charges of careless and reckless driving, disobeyed stop signs and led police on three high-speed chases. Traditional disciplinary measures also failed to faze Jones as he racked up six driving after revocation charges.
Yet, even with his wrap sheet, after his third charge for fleeing a peace officer in September he was released conditionally on a $10,000 bond.
"It's time to lock him up," Kulset said. "(His) record's just unbelievable."
Kulset testified at Jones' sentencing hearing Thursday. According to court documents, Community Corrections recommended a 180-day sentence and $1,000 fine. Although the state and Kulset both opposed the light sentence, Jones was only sentenced to 270 days and fined $1,000 in addition to the 17-month stayed prison sentence.
Shane Baker, prosecuting attorney, said that state guidelines called for the 17-month stayed sentence. Jones' plea agreement may have also prevented Judge David L. Mennis from issuing a harsher sentence.
A 2004 court decision known as Blakely v. Washington prevents judges from enhancing sentences beyond the state guidelines unless the defendant was convicted by a jury, or waived his right to a jury trial. Because Jones was neither convicted by a jury nor did he waive his right to a jury trial, Mennis had to abide by the state guidelines.
"When that's the case the judge can't find aggravating factors and send him to prison," Baker said. "If there's aggravating factors a jury must decide that."
Now, in nine months, Jones will be free to test the law again.
Kulset described the sentence as a "sweet-heart deal" for Jones. If a judge doesn't have the ability to sentence someone based on their previous actions, "then there's something wrong with our system," he said.
"Do we wait till he kills or maims somebody," Kulset asked. "Cause that's what's gonna happen."
While Kulset admitted he is all for giving people second chances, he was adamant that at some point a maximum sentence needs to be handed down. He was also unwavering on who was at fault -- the defendant and the system.
"I want to put blame right where it belongs," he said.