CADDO PARISH, La. (KSLA) – Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart Sr. said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious delays in the criminal justice system that must be addressed “honestly and candidly.” “.
Stewart says this downturn has happened not just in northwest Louisiana, but across the state and country. He says this effect needs to be addressed honestly and candidly by criminal justice leaders.
“We have a direct employee, defendant court staff who get it and we have the indirect effect when a family member of someone, especially children with COVID,” he said .
Stewart said whenever there was a new variant, the cases were saved.
On March 16, 2020, shortly after the pandemic was first declared, all in-person court proceedings in Caddo Parish were suspended due to the public health emergency. Proceedings have been suspended until May 18, while jury trials have been suspended until June 30. But COVID isn’t the only thing that has caused delays in Caddo Parish.
The courthouse was closed for six days in January and February 2021 due to unprecedented winter storms in the region, causing further delays. Additionally, jury trials have again been suspended until March 1, 2022.
The continued appearance of new variants, such as delta and omicron, has resulted in restrictions, adjournments and other orders affecting proceedings, particularly jury trials, according to the DA.
Stewart says in Caddo Parish alone over the past two years, 42 jury sessions have been lost. This resulted in 210 unused hearing days. Other COVID-related delays have been caused by defendants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, and judges who have contracted the virus. Limitations on transporting detainees to court have also caused delays. The DA says Caddo Parish is not alone though; similar delays affected other major parishes in the state like East Baton Rouge, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany.
Although there have been many delays in the criminal justice system due to COVID-19, crime has not taken a break. This adds to the number of cases to be heard by the courts and further aggravates the situation. Stewart says the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office has led the state in criminal jury trials despite numerous setbacks in the justice system.
“We continue our unwavering efforts to bring those accused of crime to trial as quickly as possible for justice and for victims of crime,” Stewart said in a statement on Wednesday, February 2.
Kristy Martin lives in Bowie County and said her husband was hit by court delays last year.
“He had his first semi-court appearance, I think it was in early 2020, then it was delayed, then delayed again, and it wasn’t until June that he was able to appear before court,” she said.
Caddo judges have currently suspended jury trials from January 10 to March 1.
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