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Backlog reduction benefits criminal defendants

Four years ago, the Allegheny County criminal charge backlog had added up to nearly 15,000 cases. Now, the region is improving its dedication to timely criminal proceedings by setting aside special courtrooms three times each week to handle minor cases. The new system has cut the waiting time from charge to disposition of minor crimes from 481 days to just 209. The reduction in the criminal backlog is part of a comprehensive effort to improve the way criminal proceedings are handled in the area. Many criminal cases require just five minutes’ court time from start to finish, involving only a short statement from the prosecutor and defense attorney and culminating in a pre-arranged sentence from the judge. By speeding up the courtroom activity related to these cases, an estimated 6,000 criminal cases will be pushed through the system without incident. Judges and officials also credit the development of so-called specialty courts – Mental Health, Drug, Veteran’s and DUI, for example – in shortening the wait for criminal defendants. Further, these targeted courts are able to reduce recidivism rates by providing targeted solutions to defendants’ individual problems. Shorter prison times focused on rehabilitation and education are becoming increasingly common; area leaders say they are releasing inmates into the general population who are more skilled and healthy than when they entered the system. The targeted courts also provide defendants with easier choices; either they can accept a pre-arranged plea, or they can continue on into a courtroom trial. Most of the cases handled in this fashion only include probation as a punishment. The quick handling of these minor cases by special prosecutors frees up other professionals to consider the more high-profile cases. Not only are criminal defendants entitled to a speedy judicial process, but victims of the cases also deserve quick resolution of criminal cases. Proceedings that drag on over months or years are not beneficial to any of the parties involved. Source:  www.post-gazette.com, “Allegheny County’s court programs expedite cases, cut backlog” Paula Reed Ward, Sep. 08, 2013

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