DA Higgins to hold community outreach event next week

Jan. 26—Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins will kick off a community outreach campaign next week with a public event at College of Coastal Georgia.

"It's a community dialogue to show people what we do in the DA's office and to be transparent," Higgins said.

Higgins said he would give a brief presentation on where the DA's office fits into the larger justice system and how it can help improve the community. Afterward, he will be available to speak with attendees. His staff will also take written questions and address them at another public event in the near future.

The event is set for 6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 2 in the Southeast Georgia Conference Center at the college.

In particular, he wants everyone who lives in Glynn County to understand the part they play in keeping the community safe, especially when it comes to providing witness testimony in criminal investigations.

"Since I took over, we have had several cases where witnesses were reluctant to testify," Higgins said.

Some are afraid of retaliation from the people they'd be testifying against, Higgins said, but many simply are uncooperative. Some think that they're done once they've given a police statement.

"A statement to the police is not admissible in court," Higgins said. "It's hearsay."

No single instance spurred Higgins to arrange the event, he said.

"We've gotten to a point where the office is fully staffed and we can do things we couldn't before, and one of those is community outreach," Higgins said.

Only four assistant district attorneys remained to cover the five-county Brunswick Judicial Circuit when he took office, Higgins said. It's taken a while to find the right people, but now he employs 15 ADAs and five contract attorneys who handle some aspects of prosecution and case evaluation.

Higgins also sees a lot of misunderstanding as to the DA's role in the criminal justice process.

The DA's office does not make arrests or initiate criminal investigations, he said. His staff evaluates cases brought to them by other law enforcement agencies. If his staff believes enough evidence exists to convince them someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then prosecutors will take the matter to court.

He's beholden to a higher standard than police when it comes to making convictions. An officer can make an arrest based on the probable cause standard, meaning an officer simply has to have a reasonable belief someone may be committing a crime.

Higgins hopes that by holding outreach meetings, the public will come to be more comfortable cooperating with the DA's office.