COVID-19 Caused ‘Longest Case Backlogs in Living Memory’

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Almost two years after the U.S. justice system was ground to a halt by the COVID-19 pandemic, district attorneys face some of the longest case backlogs in living memory, defendants languish in jails overrun by the virus, and those released may be contributing to a spike in violent crime that is only compounding the pileup, reports the Washington Post. The recent Wisconsin case of Darrell Brooks, who plowed his car into the Christmas parade in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha after it was revealed he was released twice on shockingly low bail amounts, starkly represents the consequences of an overwhelmed court system that can’t keep up.

A Thomson Reuters Institute survey released in August found that the average backlog in state and local courts had increased by about a third. Attorneys and experts say the impact of delayed criminal cases results in defendants sitting in jail, losing out on employment and means to support their families. And victims of crime who were traumatized face added anguish waiting to see how the cases are resolved as delays can also often result in important evidence going stale and witnesses’ memories fading. Meanwhile, prosecutors report increased pressure to make deals as their case count swells and jail populations climb to or past capacities that were, in many places, set lower in an attempt to stem the tide of coronavirus clusters behind bars. Recently, judges have begun dismissing cases, ruling that defendants have been deprived of their right to a speedy trial.

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