EDITORIAL: Felony charges made too hastily

Charging someone with a felony crime is a serious matter. To do so six times suggests that there is substantial evidence that the target of the police and prosecutor’s investigation is a serious danger to the community. When the charges all fall apart, it leaves the public wondering what happened.

This describes the case of a 27-year-old Navy man, who saw all six felony charges against him dropped earlier this month by the Island County Prosecutor’s Office. Three counts of first degree rape, one of assault with a deadly weapon, one of felony stalking, and one of felony violation of a protection order were dismissed. All were related to domestic violence allegations, to which the man pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of violating a protection order. Case closed.

Prosector Greg Banks was obviously chagrined by the turn in the case, admitting that it “looks bad” and attributing the excessive charges to a former deputy prosecutor whose “charging decision was made a bit hastily.”

Six felony charges resulted from a hasty decision? One can only feel sorry for the victim of this hasty decision, but beyond that the case undermines public confidence in the county’s legal system.

The defense attorney in the case said his investigators “turned over a lot of stones” that had been “unchecked” by both the Oak Harbor police and the deputy prosecutor.

The prosecutor’s office should be able to rely on police investigations being complete. On the other hand, charges shouldn’t be made unless there is some confidence they can be proven in a court of law.

Banks was opposed in the last election by some police officers who felt he was too inclined to “plead down” serious charges to lesser charges. This doesn’t appear to be such a case, as evidence for the original charges was apparently scant. It boils down to a poor decision by a former deputy prosecutor.

But for everyone involved in the county’s law and justice system, the case should be a lesson about the potential for misuse of power. Just as it’s important not to plead down serious cases, serious charging decisions should never be made hastily.

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