Criminal justice system dealt another blow with jury trials on hold until March
BATON ROUGE - Defense lawyers and prosecutors said another pause of jury trials has created a logistical nightmare for an already taxed system.
Criminal defense lawyer David Rozas said he has at least four cases that were set for trial over the next couple of months. Those have all now been placed on hold. At least one of his clients has had four unrequested continuances due to unforeseen circumstances.
"For almost a year, he hasn't been to court at all," Rozas said.
It's not a unique situation, as defendants across the state are affected by the Louisiana Supreme Court order.
"Who gets hurt by it are defendants awaiting trial and indigent defendants and those who are not able to pay bond who are in jail waiting," Rozas said.
This is the second shutdown that has occurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. When trials resumed in June, District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office had to determine which cases they'd tackle immediately.
"Certainly we have to look at the age of the cases, what is the status of the witnesses and the age and their health," Moore said. "Are people leaving town? Is the defendant in jail or out of jail? All of those things go into what cases are tried first."
Since trials resumed, at least five have been held in the large courtroom in Baton Rouge. East Baton Rouge is one of 10 parishes that was doing them in the state.
"We would like to have justice that is swift, certain and fair," Moore said. "That's what everyone wants. Problem is, when we have the volume that we have and the backlog, it's hard to give swift, certain justice."
Rozas said the effectsof this shutdown will be felt for a long time.
"We are unable to get witnesses, we are unable to move cases forward," Rozas said. "I think also that a lot of people don't see is that the justice system is already overcrowded, and the system is already at the brink of implosion and you're pushing these cases over a year on to the next year."
The order that came down from the supreme court does not impact grand juries. The order encourages courts to do as many things remote as possible.
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