COVID-19 slowing down courts, concerns mount over bottleneck of cases in 2021

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 5:42 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Over the last nine months the court system has had a tough balancing act of weighing the risks of COVID-19 while also upholding a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

This balance, becoming an even greater challenge as COVID-19 cases are rising.

10/11 NOW obtained the County Attorney’s quarterly reports from the last three years. Those reports show how many cases have been filed and disposed in the county.

Overall, the data shows the number of cases filed in the Lancaster County Court system has dropped by 12 percent for felony cases and six percent for misdemeanor cases.

The bigger change is in how fast cases are progressing.

“It’s slowed down some, because we don’t want to risk exposure to people,” Pat Condon, Lancaster County Attorney said.

The number of cases that have been sentenced so far this year dropped 35 percent and the number of cases bound over to the district court has dropped 48 percent.

Condon said there are a few reasons for this. One, is an increased number of cases being continued.

“If an attorney comes in and says my client is being tested for COVID we’re not going to have them in buildings,” Condon said.

Two, between 1-2,000 warrants, like those for shoplifting or disturbing the peace were suspended for several months.

“Those are serious but not as serious,” Condon said. “So we avoided the possibility of someone being arrested on a warrant and going into jail and risking that population.”

Sentences themselves have also been impacted.

“I think we saw more house arrests, more deferred sentences, things of that nature,” Condon said.

So far, Condon said these fluctuations in numbers haven’t caused any problems, but as the pandemic wanes on, there are concerns of what the future holds.

“We’ve continued a lot of things in county court that are just now getting into district court,” Condon said. “So we may see a bottleneck in district court.”

On top of that, Condon also said district court prosecutors have a heavy caseload with 20-30 homicide cases on their plates.

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