MAYVILLE -Chautauqua County’s top prosecutor says his office will no longer make plea deals with individuals facing illegal firearm charges.
On Wednesday Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson appeared before the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee to give an update on policies and initiatives his office is pursuing, including his new “gun done” initiative.
Swanson said many felony firearm charges could lead to a minimum prison sentence of 3.5 years, and that’s the minimum his office will seek when prosecuting criminals arrested on charges related to illegal firearms. He hopes his new policy sends a message to criminals that illegal gun possession will not be tolerated in Chautauqua County.
“These are the kinds of crime that concerns members of our community the most because their safety is involved,” he explained to WRFA following his meeting with the committee. “The potential for some innocent bystander in instances such as these is great, and we wanted to take a position publicly to let those people know that if this is going to happen, you’re looking at significant prison time.”
Swanson said that while his office won’t seek plea deals, the sentence his office will seek in these types of cases will depend on prior history.
“Obviously some of it is driven by their prior criminal history, but the minimums on an illegal possession of a handgun are three-and-a-half, five, or seven – depending on what your criminal history is – and it goes all the way up to fifteen years,” Swanson said. “So we’re going to take a firm position on those and hopefully it provides a deterrent effect and the people that are caught offending are punished appropriately for the severity and the danger that particular crime creates.”
Legislator and committee member Paul Whitford (D-Jamestown, District 13) called the policy overdue.
“I think we needed that for a long time. I’m happy to hear that he’s going to stay strong on that issue and continue working hard to stop the gun issue in Jamestown and in Chautauqua County,” Whitford said.
Swanson also provided an update to the committee and his office and its ability to keep up with the criminal caseload in the county. He said that compared to other counties in the state with similar populations, the Chautauqua County DA’s office is understaffed. As a result, he said he’ll likely come forward with a request for more funding to increase staffing later this year. Swanson also said he’ll be providing biannual updates to the committee – once in January and again in July – during his time as DA.
Swanson’s full 15-minute presentation to the committee will be broadcast on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 19, at 5 p.m. on WRFA’s Community Matters program.