Vandenhemel gets 30 years of probation
Oronoco man narrowly escapes prison for his meth crimes
By Matthew Stolle
An Oronoco man got a break from a district judge Thursday, receiving probation rather than prison time, after repeated run-ins with the law for making or possessing the illegal drug methamphetamine.
Jeremiah R. Vandenhemel, 18, was given 30 years probation by Olmsted District Court Judge Joseph Chase after pleading guilty to two drug felonies. Vandenhemel was also ordered to serve 180 days in jail, with credit for time served, and to seek chemical dependency treatment.
He could have gotten more than nine years in prison.
Vandenhemel has been arrested four times in the last nine months, in Wabasha and Olmsted counties, in connection with making or possessing meth. Vandenhemel claims to have used the drug 10,000 times since being introduced to it not more than a year ago, court records show.
Chase appeared to be conflicted about whether probation was, in fact, in the best interests of the defendant. Some argue that prison time can be the best remedy for those caught in the vicious cycle of meth dependency.
"Why should I think that treatment will work for you?" Chase challenged Vandenhemel at one point.
"I don't know. I hope it does," said Vandenhemel, who then began to cry.
In the end, Chase opted for probation, arguing that Vandenhemel's youth and stated desire to be free of his addiction warranted the more lenient sentence. That Vandenhemel had never been treated before for his addiction was also a factor in his favor. "I can't say with certainty that treatment won't work," Chase said.
Chase rejected the arguments of Senior Assistant Olmsted County Attorney Lisa Swenson, who argued that in Vandenhemel's case, prison would be beneficial. She questioned whether Vandenhemel had the skill set, discipline and family support needed to escape his addiction and succeed on probation.
She pointed out that while his family members obviously meant well, they had played more the role of his "enablers" by posting bond every time Vandenhemel got into trouble. Each time was followed by another arrest.
By his last arrest, bail for Vandenhemel had risen to $500,000. If the money for posting bond had been used for treatment, she said, Vandenhemel might be in a better situation today.
Swenson also cited his criminal juvenile history, which included assault and damage to property, as reason to doubt his amenability to probation and treatment.
But Vandenhemel's attorney, William Wright, argued that his client's youth, lack of a prior felony record and supportive family members made him a good candidate for treatment.