Editorial: Judgment lapsed
July 24, 2010
Court case, work release situation for Utah man convicted of intent to distribute meth was far too lenient, and reveals holes in the judicial and law enforcement system.
The recent court case and work release situation of Utah man Fernando Rojas caught the attention of the Editorial Board at its Monday meeting.
Two Moffat County Sheriff's Office deputies stopped Rojas on Aug. 15, 2009, while driving through Maybell. A search of his vehicle found him in possession of 99 grams of methamphetamine, according to court records.
As part of a plea deal with the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, Rojas pleaded guilty April 26 to possession with intent to distribute. He was sentenced July 15 to eight years of community corrections, most likely to be served at Correctional Alternative Placement Services in Craig.
However, it was also learned that while in custody at Moffat County Jail, Rojas had gained entry into the inmate trustee program, which allows inmates to work off time from their sentence.
Rojas worked primarily around the Moffat County Public Safety Center, performing janitorial tasks, and also helped with Wellness Wednesdays, a program for seniors at American Legion Post 62.
Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz described Rojas as a "model inmate."
First off, let the Editorial Board be clear: Sheriff Jantz has done a wonderful job during his first term leading the sheriff's office.
He is running for re-election this year unopposed, and the board finds his seemingly smooth sailing into a second term reassuring — he was the right man for the job four years ago, as voters wisely recognized, and remains the right man today.
But, board members take issue with a couple of circumstances surrounding Rojas, a man who was convicted of bringing a lethal drug into our county, including his being allowed to work in the community.
But, that's only one part to this multi-leveled failure.
First of all, the deal he received from prosecutors was weak. He was originally charged with three drug crimes, and that was later reduced to one.
Next, his sentence was a sham.
Prosecutors made a mistake in offering Rojas a deal, however they were on point with recommending a long prison sentence.
But, the court dropped the ball and gave him a slap on the wrist.
Lastly, this man, no matter how model of an inmate, shouldn't be allowed in the community. Not around the safety center, and certainly not around older residents at Wellness Wednesdays.
Perhaps he isn't a violent offender, but he was transporting a drug that's roots are in illegal activity, and that activity inevitably includes violence.
It's safe to say that more crime or negative repercussions would have been associated with the methamphetamine Rojas was transporting, whether it be through its' sale, snaring others in its' addiction, or causing other crimes, like addicts stealing or robbing from residents to get it.
Rojas, it seems, didn't care about the fallout from what he was bringing to Moffat County.
Would he have cared about a teenager who bought the meth he brought here? Would he have cared about the law-abiding, hardworking people who lost property to tweakers stealing to get their next fix?
Would he have cared had someone gotten hurt or killed in a deal gone bad involving his meth?
Your answer to these questions is probably the same as ours — not at all.
In return, our community, courts and law enforcement shouldn't be hesitant to hand out appropriate justice for his actions.
Many times these entities stand so firm against meth, a drug that has been nothing short of a plague on our community. This case, however, doesn't meet those standards. It is much too lenient.
Don't misunderstand: this board is advocating for justice, nothing more.
Board members believe in offering people second chances. Mistakes are made and people can learn from them and change for the better.
But, they need to be held accountable first. That doesn't mean going to the extreme, but in this case it does mean finding a fair solution to both the offender and the society he recklessly ignored.