The Missoula County Attorney’s Office charged 14 new felony complaints this week. According to Chief Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings, six of those cases involved some form of violence.

“Four of those were family violence cases,” Jennings said. “Those often end up being partner or family member assaults or strangulation cases. One of them was a non-family violence case and the other was an assault on a peace officer. We also had three property crimes and all of those were thefts in the felony realm. That means that the value of the property stolen was over $1,500. We had five drug offenses. Unfortunately, we continue to see meth and heroin in our community, resulting in people getting in trouble and picking up felony charges.”

Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, almost all hearings at Missoula Justice Court are being held by telephone or video. Jennings said that has been a blessing and a curse.

“In some ways it has been great to embrace technology, but it slowed things down quite a bit,” Jennings said. “We did see a little bit of a surge in offenses from about June through September. We were seeing a lot of violent crime and a lot of family violence. It was really disappointing and we were scratching our heads a little bit about what was causing that, whether it was stress from the pandemic or whether it was because we were being a little bit more restrictive on who could be in our jail because of health risks. However, in the last couple of months, things have returned to a little bit normal level.”

A COVID-19 vaccine is one the way and things could start going back to normal even more, but Jennings said that doesn’t necessarily mean video court hearings will end.

“I think our office and our attorneys are going to be back in the office and back in the court rooms, but this video technology has let victims and people in the community watch what is going on in a public court proceeding without leaving their homes or their offices,” Jennings said. “That is a huge benefit. You don’t have to fight for parking downtown and you don’t have to take time out of your work day. You can basically pull up a video on your computer and have it on mute until the case you are interested in comes up.”

Jennings thinks that has given a lot of people the opportunities to engage in our criminal justice system that they didn’t have before.

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