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Prosecutor: No Sign of Heroin Epidemic Slowing Down

Each week The River City News talks with Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders about his weekly e-newsletter that highlights who was sent to prison or got probation in the previous week. At the bottom of this post you can find a link to that newsletter. Here are this week's questions and answers:

RCN: When RCN first reported on Waheed Rahman's his arrest in July, police said that he was accused of forcibly taking a 17-year old girl into an apartment and sexually abusing her. He was charged with first degree sex abuse and kidnapping, according to the report. He pleaded guilty in December to "unlawful transaction with a minor". What changed in this case from the time of Rahman's arrest? Also, can you explain his sentence of ten years probated for five years? Is that probation with the threat of ten years should there be a violation?

SANDERS: Rahman and the victim knew one another and were communicating via text before the incident. The Defendant maintained the victim entered the apartment voluntarily.  The victim maintained she was not allowed to leave when she wanted to. The grand jury indicted Rahman for sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment, not kidnapping.  The victim was very adamant she did not want to come to court.  To complicate things even more, a computer malfunction at the police department deleted the police interview with Rahman.  Ultimately it was a combination of reasons that led to the plea agreement.  Rahman will be on probation for five years but if he violates it, he will go to prison for ten years.

RCN: Lots more heroin-related convictions/guilty pleas. No sign of this epidemic slowing down, then?

SANDERS: To the contrary. I think the heroin epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better.   I don't think Frankfort will start to appreciate the need for help with both crime fighting and treatment until more of Kentucky is inundated with the drug like Northern Kentucky has been. Heroin is officially in Louisville and it is starting to appear in Lexington, but until it shows up in eastern and western Kentucky, there probably won't be enough support to fund an effective fight.  The good and bad news is, it's only a matter of time. Once heroin hits eastern Kentucky, however, overdose deaths are going to skyrocket.  It will redefine the term "epidemic."

RCN: The General Assembly is heading back to action this week in Frankfort. Are there any issues that you and other prosecutors/law enforcement professionals are paying particular interest to?

SANDERS: There will be revisions to last year's "Pill Mill Bill" that will probably be the most high-profile issue. Although many legislators and the governor have said the Pill Mill Bill will be revised, no one is really talking about what they have in mind.  Overall, I think prosecutors were pleased with the Pill Mill Bill because it's at least a good start, though we would prefer more teeth in it.  We'll be watching to make sure it doesn't get any more hollow than it already is, while remaining optimistic that perhaps it will be strengthened.

House Bill 463 gutted punishment for many criminal offenses and hamstrung law enforcement altogether on most misdemeanors.  Thanks to HB463 we now have more drug dealers coming across the river from Ohio to sell heroin where they never did before because our punishment was significantly higher.  It's also the reason Covington Police have to resort to arresting prostitutes for city violations as opposed to misdemeanor offenses that now call for police to "cite and release." Public defenders, however, still seek to further water down Kentucky's criminal code via HB463 revisions.  I think prosecutors are mostly interested in damage control.  There are certain portions of the criminal code, such as persistent felony offender laws, that we're adamant about preserving and maintaining because they give us the tools to adequately deal with repeat offenders.  I know several Northern Kentucky legislators are fed up with the heroin and have indicated to me they want to return punishment for drug dealers to the pre-HB463 levels but I don't know if they will get the needed support until the rest of the Commonwealth has been overrun with heroin like Northern Kentucky is.  I hold a slim hope they'll be successful but I'm not holding my breath.
 
Kentuckians need to keep a close eye on any bills regarding the Corrections budget or the "cost of incarceration" because that's code for reducing punishment for felons.  My approach is simple.  I just want the legislators to be up front with the public and vote to reduce the punishment on any felony they think we are punishing too much.  Instead, they usually back-door the reduced punishment by doing things like reducing parole eligibility and increasing good time.  Both mean less prison time for felons.  Everyone should also be cautious about use of the phrase "non-violent offender" because, under Kentucky law, that includes burglars, drug dealers, arsonists, and even defendants convicted of attempted murder so long as no one is seriously injured.  It is not just the petty criminals the defense attorneys would have you believe.  I think the better approach is to look at the Department of Corrections costs and ask where money can be saved.  I have yet to see the legislature ask the DOC how they calculate their "cost of incarceration" or why certain costs are so high.
 
Other bills we will keep an eye on are the annual bill to abolish the death penalty and the push to increase the punishment for human trafficking.  I don't think the death penalty is going anywhere and I doubt anyone will oppose the human trafficking bill but we'll see.
 
See the full list and mugshots of those who were convicted of felonies in Kenton County Circuit Court at the link: This Week in Kenton Co. Circuit Court
 
Photo: Rob Sanders is sworn in for his second six-year term as Kenton Co. Commonwealth's Attorney/Sanders's office
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