If you're caught with only enough marijuana to warrant a misdemeanor charge, it's still on your criminal record and can still cause you a lot of problems. But Beadle County prosecutors are testing a new program that could give such offenders a second chance to wipe the slate clean, if they’re willing to work for it.
Beadle County State's Attorney Mike Moore says he'd like to see good behavior, rather than a criminal conviction, follow someone through life. That's why he's hopeful the Community Accountability Program he recently brought to the county will do that and save taxpayer money.
Rather than sitting in jail, misdemeanor offenders in Beadle County could find themselves taking accountability classes, completing community service and facing other requirements for four months. In exchange, a conviction for their crimes won’t be on their record.
Moore’s office started referring people to the voluntary program this month.
"If you look at going to court or going through the program, I think going to court is easier. The program's a little bit harder because it demands a lot of the person. But I think that will be good for them for the long run in life," Moore said.
Moore says certain misdemeanor convictions can affect someone's financial aid for college and future employment options. He believes catching someone committing a lesser offense and putting them through an accountability program could prevent them from re-offending.
"Sixty percent of my cases are repeat offenders. If we can prevent that, society is safer," Moore said.
Having to spend less money funding repeat trips through the courtroom also benefits the county. The accountability program costs between $350 and $500 per participant, but it's the participants, not the county, who pay for it.
Moore says others in the justice system in Beadle County, including judges and law enforcement, are also on board.
"Maybe this is a break where they can go and prove themselves and we all can come out on the winning end," Beadle County Sheriff Doug Solum said.
Moore has talked with prosecutors in other states who've had success with the program so he's hopeful for positive results.
He expects to know within about a year if the program is successful in Beadle County. It's voluntary, so he'll monitor how many people are signing up for it, how many of those are completing the program and how many are re-offending.