An improper attempt to handle a difficult situation |

An improper attempt to handle a difficult situation

Aspen is in the throes of an identity crisis, as it wrestles with the ramifications of a crime spree allegedly conducted by a group of teen-agers, most of whom have grown up here and been part of this town’s social fabric for nearly 20 years.

That, in itself, is difficult enough.

But this week we were greeted with what seems to be a novel and highly questionable tactic chosen by our local district attorney to deal with the multilayered, very complicated tangle of crimes and alleged criminals.

Before describing this tactic, a little background is warranted.

A dozen local young men, at least, have been charged with involvement in a crime spree that has involved the use of guns in the commission of robberies, the burglarizing of a local home and several businesses, the theft of automobiles, and possibly more, over the course of a year or so.

At least a couple of those alleged to be involved in this crime spree are legally minors, and one minor has been charged as an adult.

Every week, it seems, new crimes and new names come to the fore, as local police winnow through their reports and interviews with suspects and issue arrest warrants for those who have confessed or who seem inextricably implicated in one or more of the crimes in this tangled web.

Some of these teens have already reached plea bargain agreements with the district attorney’s office, while others are considering them. It is not known if any of the cases will actually end in trials.

It has been revealed that police believe some of the teens have committed many more crimes than those with which they have been formally charged.

One of those who pleaded guilty, Yuri Ognacevic, was to be sentenced this week, and that is where the DA’s novel tactic made its first appearance.

For instead of charging the teen with all the crimes he is believed to have been involved in, 9th Judicial District Attorney Mac Myers and his local deputy, Lawson Wills, have written a “memorandum” to the judge in the case, citing two crimes Ognacevic has not been formally charged with. The idea is that the judge can take these informal allegations into account in passing sentence on the young man, even though he has not been charged, much less convicted, of the crimes named.

Something is not quite right here.

It may be that the DA is hoping to avoid further drawing out the proceedings against these young men, and to save his office some potentially unnecessary expense in the process.

And it is certainly understandable that the DA is leery of trying to pin a new array of charges on these young men, given the complex community sentiments that have been spawned by the cases so far.

This is a very difficult situation, and the young men involved are from families that have contributed to the bedrock of the community for decades. Crimes have been committed, however, and those who are proven guilty of these crimes must face an appropriate measure of punishment. It would not be right for a young man who is known to have committed a sizable number of crimes to be charged with just one offense – and then, having been convicted or having agreed to a plea bargain, to be sentenced lightly on the basis of that one crime.

This new tactic, however, smacks of unconstitutionality, at the least. It is a shortcut to justice, and it is the kind of shortcut that can only be viewed as being dangerously close to a revocation of the right to face charges in open court and to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

This is a right that is at the heart of the U.S. Constitution, and not to be treated lightly.

To impose sentence for one crime on the basis of other crimes, with which a defendant has not even been charged, is simply not acceptable. A clearer and wiser course of action here would be for the DA to go ahead and file charges in whatever cases he feels are strongest, and forget about the rest. Taking shortcuts is a disservice to those charged with crimes in these cases, and to the community at large.

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