The criminal justice system is based on the idea that a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In order to avoid unduly punishing someone who awaits a trial, courts are required to provide a speedy trial; they are not allowed to make someone languish in a jail or prison cell for long periods of time before a trial. While someone accused of a violent crime may expect to spend some time in a cell while he or she awaits trial, recent budget cuts to the criminal justice system is forcing many suspects to spend unreasonably long periods of time behind bars before they even get to trial.
The economic downturn has hit all facets of the economy, including the court system. Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., join the rest of the country in scaling back the size of law enforcement and the court systems. The problem with this is that it is negatively affecting everyone accused, but not proven guilty, of criminal charges. Across the country, district and appellate courts are throwing out criminal charges and convictions because the court system failed to process a suspect in a reasonable amount of time.
In one situation, a court threw out criminal charges against two men who were accused of murder. Police alleged that the men were involved in a 2005 murder in Atlanta, Georgia, but Fulton County prosecutors waited four years before they indicted the men. The two men wasted four years of their lives sitting in a Fulton County jail while they waited for their day in court. Prosecutors claim a lack of resources caused the unreasonable delay.
It is extremely important to process criminal trials quickly but fairly. An unreasonable delay in a trial is grounds to have convictions overturned or charges thrown out. It is extremely important that anyone subjected to a unduly long delay seek out an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to understand his or her legal options.
Source: The Post-Standard, “Criminal justice system faces crisis due to state budget cuts,” Oct. 26, 2011