Pandemic, social distancing restrictions paralyze Alabama’s criminal justice systemMatt Boster
Posted by: Matt Boster
Date: May 20 2020 8:44 AM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The pandemic continues to pose a threat to Alabama's criminal justice system. It's largely been at a standstill for around eight weeks and there’s no clear path to get it back on track.
“It’s a system that is not really set up to deal with what we’ve got to deal with,” stated CJ Robinson, Chief Deputy District Attorney in the 19th Judicial Circuit. “We are really just trying to figure it out on the fly.”
The 19th Circuit covers Elmore, Autauga, and Chilton counties. Eight trial terms have been missed since the in-person court proceedings were postponed in March.
Robinson’s office is working to reconvene grand juries in each of the counties to catch up before their term expires, but they can’t impanel a new grand jury until the fall. Both Autauga and Chilton counties have two grand jury sessions a year, which will be primarily unaffected by the shutdown. Elmore County impanels a grand jury each quarter, and the cases are already piling up.
“Elmore County is where we’re going to have a problem because I can’t make up the grand jury that will be coming in July,” stated Robinson. “I can’t make up the grand jury that we would have in October, if we’re 600 cases behind we’re just going to have to chip away at it.”
The 15th Judicial Circuit covering Montgomery County impanels a grand jury each month which considers upwards of 400 cases. So far the office has missed two grand jury terms while the courts have been under a special Supreme Court order.
“There’s going to be about 2000 cases that we’re going to be behind, and cases keep coming in,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey. “Cases are not going to stop coming in and unfortunately that’s going to create even bigger backlogs.”