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Sheriff James Van Beek: The bad guy is arrested. Now what?

An attack happens. You are traumatized. The police are on the scene immediately, and the questions keep coming. Can you remember what he was wearing? You think, no, I was busy fighting for my life. The hospital wants your medical history; do you have any health concerns? Well, aside from my broken ribs and internal bleeding, none.

You are released to go home, and you are told to rest, but every time you close your eyes, you see him, you smell him, you may not remember the color of his shirt but you can describe in detail the look in his eyes. By morning, you finally fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. The phone rings, and the sheriff's office tells you that they have him in custody.

You're thrilled that he's off the street. You finally feel like you can breathe again. He goes in front of a judge, and bail is set. You pray that he does not have a stash of money somewhere, will make bail and will hunt you down.

Now the process begins. Building a case. The sheriff has collected all of the evidence: blood samples, DNA, surveillance footage, witness reports, hospital records. The case is looking fairly solid, but will the charges stick? Will he be released on a technicality? Sheriff's deputies are very careful to adhere to all regulations.

The sheriff's investigators are in continual contact with the district attorney. What charges should be filed? What are the minimum and maximum sentences? What are the parameters of each charge? What specific evidence is required for each charge?

Eagle County is in the 5th Judicial District, and Bruce Brown was elected twice as our district attorney. His responsibilities extend across four counties, prosecuting the most serious of crimes. His primary focus is on seeking solid convictions for felonies, and that process begins before the arrest.

There is a delicate balance between protecting the safety of the community and respecting the rights of the accused. It is imperative that we are certain that the person we arrest and ultimately convict is, beyond any doubt, guilty. Many things factor into that certainty. Witnesses to the same event may have different recollections. In the struggle of a situation, a person may only get a glimpse, and that description may be similar to multiple individuals.

The person who has been identified has a credible alibi. Forensics might place the person elsewhere, yet other evidence seems to line up. The victim decides that they no longer want to prosecute because they are ready to move on with their lives. Does the county exercise its right to proceed? When you are law enforcement, you must be confident that you have the right person; as district attorney, you must be certain.

Privacy. A digital footprint is a reality in today's world of smartphones, GPS devices, tablets, computers, etc. While it's possible to conceal some of your tracks, it's nearly impossible to remove all of them. Recovery is often time-sensitive, yet the information is private. Entering that layer of privacy requires a judge's discretion, known as a warrant.

When requesting a warrant, there are strict requirements. While it is the judge who grants it, the district attorney must review the details to ensure its legal viability. Search warrants are not given lightly. Thus, the district attorney is often involved in cases, even before an arrest.

Upon reviewing the evidence, the district attorney determines which charges are prosecutable, which may differ from the original arrest. Sometimes, investigators uncover other elements of the crime or additional criminal activity. There is also the possibility that despite probability, the evidence is weak.

There is a close partnership between the sheriff's office and that of the district attorney. Law enforcement officers, investigators, attorneys and judges are a team, dedicated to maintaining the safety of Eagle County and assuring that life in our mountain haven remains the safe community we have all come to treasure.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at