OUR VIEW: This sentence sent a message
Don't deal drugs.
That seemed to be the loud-and-clear message Judge Glen Eng sent when earlier this week he sentenced a Mitchell woman to four years in prison and fined her the maximum $14,000 for charges of possessing and distributing marijuana.
For many, this was a surprising sentence, and there's no doubt it was meant to send a message to anyone dealing drugs. And while we're not standing up for or against Eng's opinion, it's worth speculating his intentions when issuing what many perceived as a harsh sentence.
The woman, 23-year-old Kaitlin Minder, lived on West Elm Street, where court documents state police found several drugs, including a quarter-pound of marijuana, cocaine, molly — also known as ecstasy — and drug paraphernalia.
During an August search of the house, the Mitchell Police Division also found $33,212 in cash, of which $31,000 was found in a hidden safe mounted inside a wall that was disguised as a furnace vent. Police also found numerous empty pill bottles, two digital scales, a vacuum bag sealer and several plastic bags.
Important to remember in this sentencing is the criminal justice reform enacted by the state legislature in 2013. Touted as the "Public Safety Improvement Act," the law was to roll out drug courts to help rehabilitate users but severely punish the dealers to get them off the street.
Since the law was signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, we don't remember a case in our area in which a dealer has landed significant time in prison. In fact, we've seen some dealers get a light prison sentence, only to be released and arrested soon again.
The law was supposed to go after the people who were dealing strictly for profit, which in Minder's case, seems to be likely. During sentencing, Judge Eng used words like "conspiracy" and "major distribution" and assumed the money would be laundered through a new business.
Jordan Muntefering, who was arrested at the same time as Minder, also lived at the residence, but has pleaded not guilty to several felony charges.
While we'll keep a close eye on his case and report its outcome, we can't help but wonder what all the people who deal drugs in Mitchell are thinking following this sentencing.
Was Minder made an example of so others think twice before dealing? Perhaps.
But that's one of the major purposes of the Public Safety Improvement Act, to significantly slow the distribution of drugs in our state.
Judge Eng had a purpose with his sentence, and that was to send a message that distribution won't be tolerated.