A backlog of criminal cases: how the pandemic is impacting the court system

Local News

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on the court system and delaying justice in more than 10,000 cases in Charleston and Berkeley counties alone.

A delay that Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says is causing a real problem.

Since the courts closed in March of 2020, Solicitor Wilson says an additional 2,000 cases have been added to the current backlog of more than 10,000 cases in queue.

“Trials apply pressure,” Wilson said. “Not just to defendants, but to prosecutors, to everyone involved to make a final decision.”

Without that looming deadline, not much can be done to resolve a criminal case.

Defense attorney David Aylor says, in normal, non-COVID times it takes two or three years to get a criminal case to trial. A built-in delay like this can play right into the typical defendant’s strategy.

“The older a case gets more often than not, the better it is for the defense,” said Aylor. “Witness memories, they may pass, they may move and be hard to locate and the officers may leave the agency they were involved with during the arrest.”

Despite the perceived advantage, Aylor is also concerned about those accused of crimes who cannot afford bond or are denied it waiting out the delay behind bars.

“They’re sitting in jail incarcerated- still innocent not proven guilty by a court of law in any form or fashion, serving time and will continue to serve time until – as the cliché goes – they get their day in court,” Aylor added.

Wilson says her biggest concern is the danger of not being able to get in front of a judge on bond revocation hearings. She says there are repeat offenders who are free on bond, still committing crimes.

The solicitor says they are nearing a breaking point, and something will have to give.

“At some point we’re going to have to make the hard decision of, we have limited time, limited resources, what are we going to spend our time on? I think we need to spend our time on the cases that impact our community the most and that’s dangerous people,” Wilson said.

That means some cases will be dismissed, and those defendants given a reprieve.

Wilson says she and her team will use data to guide those decisions, focusing on crimes without victims.

She also asked for more money in the budget to add attorneys to help move cases forward once trials are allowed once again.

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