Wise County

Criminal case overload in Wise County

Criminal case overload in Wise County

WISE, Va. - You have the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment of the constitution. But a new report from Wise County shows growing case loads, which means longer waits in the justice system.

The criminal cases keep coming in to circuit court clerk's office. Despite new technology enabling lawyers to file electronically, the cases are increasing. "34 percent. We've gone from roughly from 2,700 criminal prosecution cases in 2012 to the prosecution or initiation of about 4,100 in 2013," Wise County circuit court clerk Jack Kennedy said.

Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins points to one reason for the increase in criminal court cases. "We certainly relate a lot of what we are seeing in my office to the downturn in the economy with the coal business locally and layoffs," he said. "We've seen a significant increase in what we call property crimes, theft crimes."

Even though an additional judge has been approved for the district, the position has yet to be funded. "We don't have sufficient judicial decision makers for the number of cases we have. Obviously with a 34 percent increase in criminal cases, we haven't had an additional judge to accommodate hearing those cases," Kennedy said.

"We've been approved for another circuit judge for quite a while, it's just not been funded. I think that with last year's caseload we could have used another circuit court judge," Elkins adds.

To help with the situation, a continuing education class will be offered for lawyers to help them with their case management to help speed things along.

We checked with circuit court clerk Jack Kennedy to find out how long it takes for cases to be resolved. Criminal cases are supposed to take a maximum of 180 days, but if you waive your right to a swift trial you may wait two years.

Half of Wise County's civil cases are complete in 18 months, but the rest can take up to four years.

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