The Anoka County Attorney’s Office acknowledges merit in the surface theme of Grier Weeks’ “How is court handling sexual violence cases?” (Opinion Exchange, May 22). Sex crimes are abhorrent, and we’d like to see justice served in every case.
We disagree, however, with the undercurrent of Weeks’ commentary, which implies prosecutors are disinterested in actual justice, so long as they are re-elected.
The argument is difficult to follow as the writer jumps from one issue to another, beginning with “child sexual abuse and rape,” to the broader “sexual assault,” then back to “victims under 13,” and finally landing on “sexual exploitation crimes.” This misdirection has a dizzying effect.
Weeks highlighted statistics from a handful of Minnesota counties, including Anoka County. He wrote: “Taking sexual violence seriously is about more than prosecution rates alone. Ramsey County and neighboring Anoka County prosecuted sexual assault at similar rates but with dramatically different outcomes. In Ramsey, 72% of sexual assault cases against adults brought by St. Paul prosecutor John Choi and his predecessor resulted in prison sentences. In Anoka, under prosecutor Tony Palumbo, just 33% did.”
The author conflates prosecution and conviction rates. A prosecution rate is the rate at which referred cases are charged. Conviction rates refer to charged cases resulting in convictions. But Weeks takes the confusion an extra step and offers instead a sentencing statistic.
He inaccurately states that Anoka and Ramsey counties “prosecuted sexual assault at similar rates.” In Ramsey County, according to their 2018 report, about 30% of reports reviewed by law enforcement were referred to the county attorney’s office, and 37% of those were charged.
Anoka County law enforcement agencies refer 100% of criminal sexual conduct cases to the County Attorney’s Office. Our prosecution rate is 42%.
Using the same data Weeks used from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, here’s the Anoka County breakdown for 2007-2016:
• Total charged criminal sexual conduct cases: 254.
• Cases counted by Weeks: 30.
(Why? Out of the total 254 cases, 88% involved juvenile victims. Weeks, here, counts only adult victims.)
• Cases with a presumptive stayed sentence: 13 (43% of the 30 cases).
• Presumptive prison commit: 17 (57%).
• How many went to prison: 10.
(Of the seven cases in which the defendant was presumed to go to prison but didn’t: One violated probation and is now in prison; five were ordered to years of supervised release, predatory offender registration and sex offender treatment; and one received a stay of execution following his co-defendant’s acquittal.)
The 33% prison rate offered by Weeks represents just 10 cases.
Using the same data, in which 224 cases involved a juvenile victim, 94% of defendants were adults. There was a presumptive stayed sentence in 55% of those cases and a presumptive commit in 45%. Of the 95 defendants presumed to go to prison, 70% did.
This office received 2,600 felony referrals last year and charged 84%. Only 4% of those were sex crimes.
Raw numbers do not explain the complex decisionmaking process involved. Cases referred to our office are reviewed by at least two experienced prosecutors. We consult victims to help us determine how to proceed. Minnesota law dictates sentences and judges have final say in its interpretation.
Weeks’ blanket criticism centers on the lack of prison sentences in some cases.
In Minnesota, a person sentenced to prison spends two-thirds of the sentence in custody and one-third under supervision, and then they are no longer supervised by the criminal justice system.
This is why prosecutors often offer plea agreements where the maximum prison time is stayed (hanging over the defendant’s head) in exchange for more intense accountability, including predatory offender registration, sex offender treatment, and many years of supervised probation.
Weeks no doubt found an area of criminal justice that is rightly subject to scrutiny. But he is using misinformation and half-truths.
We are transparent. Our numbers are public. We simply ask anyone using that data to do so fairly and honestly, without misrepresenting our work.
We also invite Weeks to Anoka County to learn how these cases are handled and why these decisions are made.
Tony Palumbo is Anoka County Attorney.