Overburdened courts = cursory process.
As the number of criminal prosecutions has ballooned over the last forty years, courts have struggled to fit them all in. A defendant’s right to speedy trial and her right to a full, deliberative process are both sacrificed.
Most judges presiding over criminal cases have crowded dockets of every kind of case – from minor trespassing and shoplifting to rape and murder. In a system framed by cash bail and mandatory sentences resulting in pretrial detention and post-trial imprisonment, judges are pressured to move their dockets as expeditiously as possible. Often, expeditiousness is at odds with a thorough criminal process.
If a judge’s docket is overrun by petty misdemeanors and low-level felonies, the time a judge has to devote to a motions hearing in a murder case is not any more than the time she has to preside over a motions hearing in a drug case. Less time and lack of attention deprives defendants facing serious charges from a full and fair examination of the State’s evidence. This results in pressure to come to plea agreements and an expectation of quick process.
Appellate courts are equally stretched. In the 1980’s many states created entirely new layers of appellate courts to deal with the increased number of criminal cases that were being appealed with the rise in prosecution and imprisonment. A 2014 study conducted by the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the number of judgeships in the courts of appeal may be insufficient and that a workload imbalance exists. These courts now with excessive dockets can give only brief consideration to the legal issues raised.
IPNO believes that trial and appellate courts should have the time and resources to provide deliberate, careful process to each defendant that appears before them.
IPNO advocates for fewer prosecutions for minor offenses related to poverty, mental health and addiction, which would result in a reduction of the number of cases that judges must handle. This would afford courts the time and resources necessarily to preside over serious cases as unhurried, unbiased adjudicators.