Burglary suspect arrested, then set free
Case cannot be prosecuted until July because of state judicial funding shortfallsNews Editor
March 12, 2003 — After Madras police apprehended a burglary suspect last Wednesday, they characterized his desperate effort to kick the window out of their patrol vehicle as an escape attempt.
Little did Joseph Ray Lehman know that his attempt to free himself was unnecessary. The next day, a judge released the 19-year-old and told him to reappear in court on July 1. That's when state judicial officials hope the new biennium will usher in enough funding to restore court operations to a normal level.
Lehman, of 262 S.W. Second St., was arraigned March 5 on second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal mischief charges -- both class C felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison -- then released.
He is accused of chiseling his way into the Madras Elks Lodge through a vent to lift cash and lottery tickets.
Lehman's case is the most serious so far to be postponed due to the state's inability to fully fund court-appointed attorneys or keep its courts open five days a week. Last week, Jefferson County Circuit Court began closing on Fridays and delaying the prosecution of non-person misdemeanors and some lower-level felonies -- burglaries included.
"As long as they don't hurt you, it's going to be a free walk until July," said Madras Chief of Police Tom Adams.
Just after midnight on March 5, officers with the Madras Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office responded to a burglary alarm at the Elks Lodge.
They found Lehman inside and took him into custody without incident, but police said he then damaged their patrol car when he began trying to kick through the window.
Since court cutbacks went into effect last week, the prosecution of at least 25 cases has been delayed until July.
Police said Lehman gained entry through a heating vent in the floor. He allegedly was placing cash, lottery tickets and cigarettes in a garbage bag when police found him. Adams said Lehman is already on probation for an earlier burglary.
"I think the community and citizens are going to find it extremely frustrating," Adams said. "I expect to see situations of repeat violators."
Madras Police booked Lehman on charges including second-degree burglary, first-degree attempted theft, two counts of first-degree criminal mischief, third-degree theft, second-degree criminal trespassing and third-degree attempted escape.
The district attorney's office, however, which has a higher burden of proof, arraigned him only on single counts of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal mischief. Those felonies are punishable by up to $200,000 in fines in addition to 10 years in prison.
Adams said local law enforcement agencies will continue to apprehend suspects despite the court's inability to prosecute them all.
"The budget problems give the wrong message: that a certain amount of this is going to be tolerated," Adams said. "But we'll continue to solve crimes and do our best for the community.
"It's a situation we're just going to have to live through."