COVID-19 Leads to Backlog of Criminal Cases

Justice delayed is justice denied | The Daily Star

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald discusses how Whatcom Superior Court now faces a considerable backlog of unresolved cases due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“For prosecuting attorneys and for public defenders, this means higher caseloads and for defendants and victims, it means delayed justice,” reported Pratt.

According to Pratt’s article, we’ve seen a decreased number of cases that would normally resolve at trial by dismissal or plea bargain. Caseloads have risen. According to Pratt – who interviewed Whatcom County  Prosecutor Eric Richey – the eight felony prosecutors had caseloads of roughly 150 open cases prior to the pandemic. They now have around 250 cases each.

Also, according to Stark Follis – the Director of Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office – of the 11 felony attorneys on his staff, each one has a caseload of 100 or more cases. Some attorneys now carry twice their pre-pandemic caseloads.

“There’s an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied and there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Victims don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, defendants don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, and the more pending cases you have in front of you, the less time you have to spend on any one particular case. There’s nothing good that comes from a backlog.” ~Whatcom County Public Defender Starck Follis.

My opinion? All of the above is true. Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, every state has canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stem the spread of the virus. This has resulted in literally thousands of Defendants waiting for trials and other resolutions, while creating a cascade of civil rights issues for the accused.

More defendants – especially those with health problems – are striking plea deals to avoid sitting in jail for an undetermined amount of time. And virtual courts are exposing the disadvantages of the poor, who are less likely to afford Internet access for court dates, as new criminal cases stack up.

We need to resolve these cases.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.