The Evansville Town Council will consider on Monday an ordinance that would allow law enforcement to charge certain drug crimes through the town’s municipal court, rather than in Natrona County Circuit Court.
The details of the proposed change were not fully clear by Friday. Evansville Police Chief Mike Thompson at a work session last month asked the town council to consider creating a local ordinance covering misdemeanor methamphetamine possession, which would then direct fines upon conviction to the town’s coffers.
On Friday, he said through an agency employee the proposal will encompass a number of controlled substances and not pertain only to meth. Thompson did not respond to a follow-up question requesting further details of his proposal, which he said is slated for Monday evening’s Town Council meeting.
It remained unclear Friday which other controlled substances would be covered by the ordinance. The town already has an ordinance on the books allowing it to charge marijuana possession cases.
Scott Murray, a Casper lawyer who is tasked with handling the town’s legal questions on the potential ordinance, said Friday morning he couldn’t speak to the language of the ordinance or any motivation or inspiration behind it. The lawyer said, however, that he expects it will expand the town’s ability to cite people for possession without officers needing to make arrests.
Such a change could mean a decrease in the town’s upfront expenses.
Generally, when municipal governments institute ordinances that overlap with laws already on the books, their law enforcement agencies will charge those crimes in municipal court. When municipalities make an arrest and book a person into county jail, they are then responsible for paying the county for the bed. It costs a municipality about $100 a night. If a municipality instead cites a person and orders they appear in court, it doesn’t have to pay for jail time — unless it seeks a conviction and incarceration.
In Evansville, the town court is in session only once a week.
Drug cases already take a large chunk of courts’ time: About half of all criminal cases in Natrona County District Court are directly drug related, District Attorney Dan Itzen said. In circuit court, where misdemeanor cases are handled and from where a town ordinance would redirect cases, the proportions are different, but drug cases remain prominent.
Itzen doesn’t collect statistics by drug involved, but he said typical dockets tend to feature some drugs more prominently than others.
“Methamphetamine is pretty prevalent obviously,” he said.
The DA’s office is responsible for handling methamphetamine possession cases countywide, except for those falling under federal jurisdiction.
Passage of a possession ordinance might take some cases off Itzen’s hands. If charged through municipal court, the town would be responsible for their prosecution.
Itzen said, however, that any ordinance would be unlikely to affect his office; only a small number of the office’s cases come from the Evansville Police Department.