Not one day is the same as the next for Seneca County Prosecutor Derek DeVine. Between preparing criminal cases and representing the elected officials in the county and the county's townships, DeVine and his staff are always on the go.
"Every day is different," he said. "That is absolutely true. You never know what's going to happen. What we do is so diverse."
DeVine said some days, one of the 15 townships may need help with a zoning issue and the next, the county commissioners might seek assistance with wording for a proposal.
PHOTO BY ERIKA PLATT-HANDRU
Assistant prosecutors Rhonda Best (left) and Heather Jans (right) are two of the three assistant prosecutors who aid DeVine.
Preparing and representing the state in felony criminal cases also takes up a large part of DeVine's schedule.
"When you think of a prosecutor, you think of them going to court," he said. "It's a very big part of what we do."
Three assistant prosecutors - Rhonda Best, Jim Davey and Heather Jans - help DeVine with the felony cases that often number around 200 each year.
Last year, 195 people were indicted on felony charges in Seneca County, a process that begins with a grand jury.
DeVine said a Seneca County grand jury is selected every four months, and it meets every other Wednesday to determine whether charges are suitable for an alleged crime.
"Grand jury is a process where we present cases from law enforcement to a grand jury and they make the decision whether charges are appropriate or not," he said. "It's a secret part of the process."
The grand jurors hear only one side of the case from law enforcement, and the defendant is generally not present, DeVine said.
So far this year, 137 people have been indicted.
"A large percentage of criminal cases are drug-related offenses or offenses involving people getting money for their drugs," he said. "That's what we seem to see a large number of."
DeVine said the prescription pill epidemic has been a huge problem locally and has led to many of the indictments.
"In the early part of 2008 is when the (Seneca County Drug Task Force - METRICH Enforcement Unit) really saw prescription pill abuse escalate," DeVine said. "It really accelerated in 2009 and 2010."
Because prescription pills are expensive, a lot of abusers turn to heroin, a less-expensive high.
"People then end up using more heroin, which is an incredibly nasty and addictive drug," DeVine said.
Along with drug-related offenses, the prosecutor's office also deals with a lot of sex-related crimes, including a recent one involving an ultrasound technician who had secretly photographed and videotaped women and girls undressing at his workplace. Many of the images were found on his cell phones and thumb drives.
"That was a huge volume of troubling images," DeVine said.
Jaime Aguirre, 44, of Willard, was indicted last year on 13 counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and 59 counts of voyeurism. During a court trial earlier this year, he was found guilty of 12 counts of illegal use of a minor nudity-oriented material. One of the counts was dismissed. Aguirre also pleaded guilty to the 59 counts of voyeurism and was sentenced to a total of eight years in prison.
DeVine said technology, including text messages, along with DNA, helps law enforcement piece many criminal cases together.
"It gives us a lot better evidence. It's a difficult case to prove when it's one's word against another. Ten years ago, no one had text messages."
DeVine said the case he is most proud of - and one that relied primarily on DNA evidence - was a stabbing from 2004.
The defendant, Michael A. Dodson, 36, of Tiffin, was indicted on charges of aggravated robbery and attempted murder in 2009, five years after the crime, thanks to DNA collected from a napkin.
"The DNA from a napkin made things crystal clear for jurors. When you have a piece of evidence that's that reliable and scientific, it makes proving cases much more thorough and definitive. A lot of time passed, and instead of relying on memory, we relied on scientific evidence."
Dodson was indicted on charges of robbing Subway in Fostoria and stabbing the clerk, Shanna Long, more than 27 times.
"The victim was brutally traumatized," DeVine said. "She suffered tremendous physical and mental pain."
DeVine said he's proud of the case because he was able to send the person who caused such anguish to prison.
"It's good for her and the city of Fostoria. It's good for all of Seneca County to have that type of offender convicted and off of the streets," he said.
Unlike the cases of Aguirre and Dodson, many other criminal cases never reach a trial.
Defendants often change their plea shortly before the trial is scheduled to begin, DeVine said.
"A very high percentage of cases get resolved without a trial taking place," he said.
DeVine, who has enjoyed the transition from a private law practice to representing the state at criminal trials and days full of uncertainty, says he plans on running for a second term at the end of 2012.