Drug sweeps through Pioneer Park and the growing popularity of methamphetamine are being blamed for a staggering 68 percent rise in drug charges filed against Utah adults.
Presiding 3rd Circuit Judge Robin Reese says illegal aliens and vagrants nabbed in the sweeps account for most of the drug cases in his courtroom.Attorneys in the Legal Defenders Office and Administrative Office of the Courts also fingered the Pioneer Park sweeps as a chief source of the increase.
But while the increases are stunning, the busts themselves are not, the attorneys said.
The state has seen an increase of 2,985 drug cases in the past year. The Legal Defenders Office created a drug team, asking half a dozen attorneys to grapple with the stacks of new cases.
Team member Susanne Gustin-Furgis says the sweeps drive hundreds of frightened illegal aliens through their doors.
But not the Salt Lake dealers who hired them to push the drugs, she said.
"A lot of my clients come in and say, `I'll turn my source in,' but the cops aren't interested," she said. "They are overworked and overwhelmed and don't have time to
follow up every lead."
Police like the Pioneer Park sweeps because they are quick, productive and highly visible, she said. Fifty or 60 people holding drugs can be caught in a few hours.
But most of them had a little marijuana, diluted cocaine or dirty paraphernalia on them, said defense attorney Ed Brass.
Like Gustin-Furgis, he doesn't see the kingpins being caught anymore.
"I'm seeing much smaller quantities of everything. The drugs are less pure. The real large cases of
high quality, pure drugs aren't as commonplace as they once were. You see the small-time people a lot more now."
Methamphetamine, a highly addictive homemade upper, can also be blamed for the rising tide of charges, several attorneys said.
Meth is cheap compared to other drugs, and its ingredients are fairly easy to get, said defense attorney Patrick Anderson.
"It's so popular now," Gustin-Furgis said. "It has really changed things."
Including people's lives. "It makes people crazy," Gustin-Furgis said. Methamphetamine addicts "look like they are mentally
ill. It's very addictive. So, with a meth offender, you see a lot of repeat offenses. You know if your clients get out, they are going to be coming right back through the system because they are so addicted they will do anything."
Other factors may contribute to the drug cases clogging the courts. "Federal drug prosecutions have dropped off," Brass said. "The penalties in federal court are so severe that maybe, as a policy matter, more cases are being taken to the state courts."
Maturing juveniles across the state who carry their drug habits into their early adult life may account for a large part of the increase, said Eric Leeson, director of information services for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The troubled teens who have terrorized the juvenile courts with their vast numbers are growing up. Maybe they are rattling the grownups' court now, he said.
Deseret News staff writer Chip Parkinson contributed to this report.
Increases in the following categories fueled a 20 percent rise over last year in all criminal charges filed against Utah adults.
DRUG CHARGES 68%
SOURCE: ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS