Missoula Attorney Explains Long Delays in Resolving Court Cases
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - In a recent conversation with Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Matt Jennings on the KGVO Talk Back program, he provided an explanation for a listener concerned about how long it takes for cases to make it through the criminal justice system in Missoula.
Delays are not Always the Fault of the County Attorney
“That's not always on us,” began Jennings. “There are certainly things in the justice system that take a really long time. Sometimes it can take a while to complete an investigation and charge a case, and then there are a lot of procedural steps that absolutely take a few months but the bigger problem beyond that is the trial calendar.”
The backlog of cases takes time because each matter must be heard separately before a judge that almost always has a full trial calendar.
“You can only have basically one trial in front of one judge at a time, and they also have all their other criminal cases,” he said. “They have civil cases, they have family law matters, and so to find enough time to set trials and some of these cases can take a really, really long time. It's also sometimes hard to get a plea agreement unless you have a trial date.”
Defendants themselves want to Delay the System as Long as Possible
It’s also understandable that defendants who have cases pending will put off a court appearance for as long as possible.
“It's one of these things where if there isn't kind of an end date where you need to decide the case, then sometimes people drag their feet, especially if they're out of custody,” he said. “You know if you're out in the community but there's a chance that your sentence could result in you being in custody you might not be in a big rush to resolve that one, so there are a lot of delays.”
Jennings also said that his office is still dealing with the after effects of the COVID pandemic when it comes to their backlog of cases.
Some of the Problems can be Traced to COVID
“Some of those delays, too, got a lot longer during COVID, and we were seeing cases that really should take six months that were taking two to three years,” he said. “Some of that's dramatically improving. I think our judges have really tried to prioritize clearing out that backlog. Unfortunately, clearing that out is meant that a lot of things kind of came to a head over the last year. And the system's really been trying to deal with these older cases while new things come in.”
Jennings provided the comments after filling in recently for Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst with the Friday morning weekly crime report.