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Meth: Costs to courts, law enforcement continues to rise

WORTHINGTON -- Among the highest costs associated with rising methamphetamine use in southwest Minnesota are the increased need for law enforcement officers and court-related expenses in prosecuting addicts.

In Nobles County alone, County Attorney Gordon Moore said his office has seen costs jump more than $100,000 in a two-year period -- from expenses of $352,295 in 2003 to budgeted expenditures of $500,121 in 2005. Accounting for a large part of that budget increase was the addition of two employees in July 2003 to work primarily on City of Worthington cases. Still, a substantial cost to counties comes in the prosecution and incarceration of individuals on meth-related convictions.

Since December 2002, the county attorney's office has opened 660 felony cases, of which 130 involved adults in controlled substance crimes. Meth use accounted for 103 of those cases, occupying a substantial part of one attorney's time. Eight cases in that same period involved juveniles -- three of which were meth-related.

Breaking the numbers down further, Moore said of the 103 meth-related adult cases, four were tried in a local jury -- resulting in two convictions and one acquittal on meth charges (the individual acquitted was convicted of lesser charges). Nineteen cases were transferred to federal court due to the amount of meth involved; 51 cases involved a guilty plea by the defendant on felony drug charges; seven cases were dismissed pre-trial as part of a plea bargain; and 22 cases are still pending.

Sixteen of the defendants in meth-related cases were sent to prison, totaling 964 months of incarceration -- an average of 60 months per defendant, added Moore. However, those sentences may be reduced if the individual qualifies for early release to attend a boot camp for drug offenders.

"Also, under state sentencing guidelines, defendants serve two-thirds of the sentence in prison and one-third on supervised release if they behave themselves," Moore said.

As for the ethnicity of those sent to prison from Nobles County for meth-related crimes, 11 were Caucasian and five were minorities -- also, 13 were male and three female.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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