The Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office will clean up the backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in a professional manner while providing victims the speedy trials to which they are entitled.
In 2018, this office reduced the backlog by 282 cases. In 2019, we cut the backlog again by another 302 cases. Last year, due to the pandemic, court was cancelled around the country. Crime continued but the prosecution of criminal cases stopped.
As a result of the COVID-19 shutdown, our backlog increased by 1,342 cases last year alone.
So far this year, with court only recently starting back up, we have increased the backlog by another 500 cases. This will take more than six years to get us back to where we were in 2019. This is the biggest backlog that we have ever had in the 14th Circuit.
As the President of the National District Attorneys’ Association, I answered questions on a national level concerning defendants’ rights to speedy trials during the COVID shutdown. As a prosecutor, I must protect the rights of defendants. However, it has been my experience that the victim and the state also want speedy trials and should have a right to them. Generally, delay hurts prosecution.
We need to not only catch up to where we were in 2019, but we and the victims need speedy trials. I have instituted the following changes in the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office:
- No plea deals
To ensure that all cases are handled professionally and to alleviate an extended docket, there will no longer be any plea deals in the 14th Circuit. Instead, our prosecutors will make sentence recommendations. Recommendations are made with senior attorney input, severity of the crime and the offender’s prior criminal history. Sentence recommendations will not change whether the defendant pleads guilty or goes to trial.
- Intake and analysis system
Assistant solicitors are now on a monthly rotation. Generally, within 24 hours of arrest, prosecutors call and meet with officers and victim advocates reach out to victims. This process allows our prosecutors to focus on gathering evidence and preparing cases for trial within the first month of arrest. Working with our intelligence unit, we identify offenders who are appropriate for pretrial intervention, veterans’ courts and drug courts.
- Grand jury direct indictments
On complex cases, law enforcement can now meet with senior prosecutors, primarily from the Career Criminal Unit and the Special Victim’s Unit and prepare the case for direct presentment to the grand jury. This fast-tracks more complex cases and bypasses both the warrant and the preliminary hearing stages.
These initiatives alleviate the need for prosecutors to gather their case information at protracted preliminary hearings. These hearing take hours out of the prosecutors’ day but have no bearing on the prosecution of cases.
- Additional prosecutors
Five additional attorneys have been hired after meeting with the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and our county councils. All are concerned about the effects of the COVID shutdown on backlogs. I believe that there will be additional funds available and therefore I have hired five new prosecutors.
Our office’s active case analysis will be updated each month.