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Griggers to announce bid for DA

“The last 12 months have probably, in my opinion, been one of the toughest…to be a district attorney in the State of Alabama,” said Greg Griggers, district attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit.

“…One, they’ve taken $45,000 out of our budget that we couldn’t do without….It’s put a strain on us financially. On top of that, with the state cutbacks, you’ve had the Board of Pardons and Paroles letting people out quicker than we’ve put them in.”

Griggers expects to announce soon his intentions to run for District Attorney of the circuit, which includes Marengo, Sumter and Greene Counties.

He is as frustrated as area law enforcement officials are about seeing the same criminals over and over again in the court system. “I get tired of prosecuting the same people they get tired of arresting,” he said.

The problem of repeat criminals in the system has been “magnified….I have gotten notices in the last week where we put people in the penitentiary in September – one with a 25-year sentence – and we’ve gotten notice that they are going to be paroled in April.

“That’s every day,” Griggers said. “I get on average about 15 notices a week in the last 12 months of them paroling people that we’re putting in the penitentiary anywhere from seven to 15 to 25 years. They don’t want them, and they’re not going to keep them. And it makes you feel like you’re going in circles.

“…We’re doing our job, but nobody wants the people that we’re putting in the penitentiary. So they’re putting there back out here for us to deal with again.”

Even a casual observer of court dockets can see more cases moving through the system since Griggers assumed the District Attorney position on Jan. 17, 2003.

“I think there is a misconception among the people…about how criminal court is handled,” he said. “Most people don’t know how many terms of court you have, how many actual trial days you have, versus how many cases you have in one given calendar year.”

Using Marengo County as an example, there are three five-day terms of court. “One day of the five is taken up striking juries,” he said. “That means I have four days to try cases, three times a year.”

The result is 12 days total to try cases a year. Approximately 100 to 150 cases are brought to the grand Jury three times a year. Therefore, up to 450 cases can be put on the Circuit Court docket.

With 12 days to resolve 450 cases, “managing the docket is more than just crucial,” Griggers said. “If you can’t negotiate pleas, if you can’t resolve cases without having to try them, then you can’t keep pace with the number of cases you’re dealing with.

The DA feels his office has kept pace allowing them to pay attention to the cases that are important to the community, he said. These are cases involving “people who present a risk to the community because they are violent offenders or because they are stealing everybody blind or because they sexually abused a child and you’re worried they’re going to sexually abuse another child.

“As soon as you get them through the indictment process and have them arraigned, you can fast track them and put them for trial. If you don’t manage the docket, you can’t do that.”

Without good management, older cases will be neglected, time will go by and “you lose witnesses and evidence gets stale,” Griggers said.

“Not to mention, that all the people on the docket, the largest percentage of them, are out on bond. The longer they’re out there not being prosecuted, they’re just giving them more and more opportunity to commit a crime.”

It all comes down to hard work, he said. “I talk to law enforcement everyday trying to resolve cases. Criminal cases…involve people and facts. Every case is different; every case involves different people…a different crime.

“You have to talk to the people involved and figure out what is a fair resolution in every given case….Some cases can’t be resolved, and they have to be tried. The cases that should be resolved need to get resolved so that you have time to try (more crucial cases).”

Griggers has to be well versed in every case in his circuit. He is aided by assistant district attorneys Nat Watkins (in Sumter County) and Alec Braswell (in Greene County). “I don’t have a problem with the assistant DA’s…negotiating cases for me on the district court level – when we first get them. If there are cases that we need to plead out at that stage and not get on the circuit court docket, they’ve got a blessing and approval.

“I still handle Marengo County.

“…Once they get beyond (the district level) then I’m going to prosecute them.” He must have good working knowledge of all the cases because “I’m still the one the lawyer calls and wants to resolve it – so I’ve got to know it.”

Raised as a child in Choctaw County and as a teenager in the Jefferson community in Marengo County, Griggers received a degree in agricultural business and economics at Auburn University and earned his law degree at the University of Alabama Law School.

He has practiced law since 1993, first in Tuscaloosa and then he returned to Marengo County in 1996.

He became an assistant DA in 2000.

Griggers is proud of his relationship with law enforcement officials in the three counties. “I don’t know how you could do this job if you didn’t,” he said. He works with not only the police chiefs and sheriffs but also the individual officers.

“What they’ve got to know is that they can come sit down with you and talk to you about a case and you understand what was involved in it….They want to tell you about the defendant themselves and why maybe you should be willing to get them a second chance.” Officers might want a plea on one suspect so the DA can concentrate on another more dangerous suspect.