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New prosecutor learning her job

December 20, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

While Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Viki Pauler is getting used to her new job as the county's violent crime prosecutor, law enforcement officials are holding high hopes for her latest position.

Pauler, 29, will be the state's attorney who handles the majority of violent crimes in the county. She will be on call for homicides, robberies, rapes and serious assaults, and follow the case from beginning to end.

The tactic is a shift in how most cases have been handled until now.

There are two prosecutors who handle felony drug cases, but aside from high-profile homicides or other major cases, case files generally shift from prosecutor to prosecutor as they move through the judicial system, which usually is over the course of several months, and sometimes more than a year.

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Attorneys may not have the time to become familiar with the intricacies of the cases, and some details learned by prosecutors, or relationships built with victims or witnesses, can be lost.

After Pauler's first week on the job - her new title was effective Monday - she said she's looking forward to see how things play out.

"I'm excited all around and eager to get the ball rolling," Pauler said.

"I'm able to be there when the trauma is occurring, when the incident is happening, so they (victims) know that we do care ... and even though we're strangers, we are there to be on their side," she said.

Pauler's boss, Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr., and local police agencies hope cases can be prosecuted more quickly, and cases will be stronger against the criminals.

"It's a new era here," said Hagerstown City Police Lt. Rick Johnson, the agency's criminal investigations commander.

"We feel it's actually going to be very beneficial ... whether we need a search warrant or whether it's a Miranda issue," Johnson said.

Johnson said violent crimes often are connected to local drug trade, and he thinks the new position will help bring more charges against offenders.

"It's obviously going to help us convict more criminals involved in violent crimes," he said.

Pauler also will be available to other police agencies in Washington County. Her position is funded through a renewable grant, Long said.

Long said in addition to being available for legal questions, Pauler will be able to identify more obscure violations within a case, such as some weapons charges and subsequent offender statutes.

Another hope is that some cases will be able to be resolved sooner through plea agreements, Long said.

Defendants enter guilty pleas to guarantee a shorter sentence than they could face if they took their case to trial. Prosecutors benefit through agreements by gaining information helpful in prosecuting other cases.

Pleas "might create an incentive to that witness to testify," Long said.

Pauler, who has been in the Washington County State's Attorney's Office for two years, said her job boils down to better and more efficient prosecution.

"We feel that the faster we can wrap a matter up in a way that's fair to the state, the people of the community, as well as to the defendant ... we can save taxpayer money, we can save court time," she said.

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