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Legislature needs to stop going soft on heroin dealers

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Meet the man who has spent 20,000 of your tax dollars sitting in jail

By BEN CARLSON

 

Column as I see ’em …
Having the federal government stick its nose in local affairs usually makes me cringe, but not this week.
I was delighted that federal charges have been brought on suspected heroin dealer Phillip Warmouth, who apparently drew the scornful eye of the local police once too often and is finally now in legitimate trouble.
It’s a shame it takes the federal DEA guys to show up and kick some suspected drug dealer fanny these days, because we certainly haven’t been able to rely on our own state legislature to get that job done.
Yeah, I said it and I’ll say it again. Our state legislature needs to pull its undersized head out of its oversized sized backside and instead of talking tough, start acting tough on the slime-balls who peddle this poison.
Oh, you hear legislators from both houses and parties prattle on about how they’re going to attack this epidemic with treatment centers here and clean needle programs there, yet when they actually get a chance to do something, too many of them fold like a cheap suit.
Remember the now-infamous House Bill 463, the lousy piece of legislation that let hundreds — and by now, thousands — of convicted criminals out of the state’s overcrowded jails?
That legislation (if you can call it that) was passed in 2011 to help stave off escalating jail costs and help keep non-violent criminals from crowding the crowded jails.
(I’d point out that it was nearly the same time as the state needed millions to jump into Obamacare, but that would just be viewed as a cheap shot).
What HB 463 also did (and what legislators don’t want you to know) is reduce the charge for low-level heroin trafficking from a Class C to a Class D felony, meaning those convicted will almost never, and I mean ever, pull actual prison time for doing so.
Don’t take my word for it. Warmouth is a classic example of how Kentucky has gone soft on those convicted of peddling dope. A short search through the Franklin County Courthouse shows that Warmouth got busted for crack cocaine (he was smuggling it into the jail there, of all things) in 2006. Apparently smuggling crack into a jail isn’t a bad enough crime to actually spend any time in jail, and he was given three years’ probation.
Oh, goody.
In 2007, Warmouth again pleaded guilty to a mess of narcotics charges, and tossed in a marijuana bust for good measure.
His punishment? A guilty plea in exchange for three more grueling years of probation, which apparently allows forging about $1,000 in checks without being sent to prison, as he was convicted of that year, too.
Thankfully he is now property of the federal government, where sentences for peddling heroin aren’t negotiable and there is no prison credit for “time served.”
To be fair to the legislature, every year since HB 463 was passed the state Senate, having seen the error of its ways, has passed a measure to restore trafficking to a Class C felony, which doubles the sentence for doing so.
Of course the state House, in all of its dysfunctional glory, refused to even bring the measure to a vote.
Perhaps things will be different this year, but something tells me that legislation will have a hard time getting through the House, new leadership or not.
Too often even the most strident anti-drug forces fall victim to the increasing school of thought that heroin use is a disease while ignoring that, first and foremost, use and possession is and always has been a crime.
No, we can’t arrest and incarcerate our way out of this epidemic, but we also will not beat it back with softer punishment for those who get caught selling it.

Speaking of jail costs …
You probably don’t know Roberto Montalvo, but you should.
To date, you and the rest of the taxpayers in Anderson County have spent roughly $20,000 to keep Montalvo in jail, with apparently no end in sight.
His crime? Allegedly being drunk and smacking into a Ripy Street family near the foot of the Tyrone Bridge back in June of 2015. Doing so got him charged with felony assault and DUI and ordered held in jail on a $25,000 bond.
A serious charge, to be sure, but one that would normally be cleared up in about six months, with Montalvo likely placed on several years of probation with credit for time served.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. With no one apparently able to spring him on bail, Montalvo has spent a whopping 18 months in the Shelby County Detention Center and is due for what seems like his 100th appearance later this month in Anderson Circuit Court.
No, I don’t know what’s taking so long, but experience guided by intelligence leads me to the following theory.
Montalvo was ordered to undergo what amounts to a competency exam to determine if he’s fit to stand trial. That order was issued in May and, as of last Friday, the results were noticeably missing from Montalvo’s criminal file in the courthouse.
I’m told those exams are like waiting for paint to peel but c’mon! The guy is either able to stand trial or not, and is costing local taxpayers a small fortune.
If the state psychiatric board can’t get its act together, administer this test and report back to the judge, perhaps instead of Anderson County footing the bill for Montalvo to sit in jail, the state government should chip in.
I don’t forsee that happening, either.