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State Courts Struggle To Clear Post-Pandemic Case Backlogs

Still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, many state court systems are working to clear their case backlogs. Some systems have moved cases faster using virtual court proceedings, court data dashboards and online jury selection. In other states, lawmakers are taking action. The pandemic worsened problems that already had caused state and local court delays. The hurdles include insufficient funding, judicial vacancies, lawyer shortages and delays processing digital and physical evidence, reports Stateline. Some legislators are particularly focused on shortages of prosecutors and judges. In Georgia, New York and Vermont, lawmakers have bills that would increase prosecutor pay, boost the number of judges or streamline procedures to reduce the number of cases. “Managing cases today is much more complex on the part of our courts than it used to be, and the pandemic is just one more complexity,” said Brittany Kauffman of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, an independent research center at the University of Denver.

The bulk of the backlog in most states and counties are criminal trials. Unlike civil or family law cases, they typically cannot be conducted online because criminal defendants have a constitutional right to face their accusers. The backlog poses significant challenges for defendants, whose right to a speedy trial can be jeopardized by extended pretrial detention. Those jailed pretrial may lose jobs and experience housing instability. For crime victims, extended court proceedings can make navigating the already complex justice system even more difficult, said Renée Williams of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “[Victims] are very much facing the justice system alone and kind of left to navigate the best they can, so when we start to see court backlogs, that becomes especially an issue because there might be a lack of communication to them about what’s going on,” Williams said.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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