Missoula Attorney Explains Long Delays in Resolving Court Cases

Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) — In a recent conversation with Matt Jennings, chief deputy Missoula County Attorney on the KGVO Talk Back program, he provided an explanation for a listener concerned about how long cases are taking happen to criminals in Missoula’s justice system.

Delays are not always the fault of the District Attorney

“It’s not always up to us,” Jennings began. “There are certainly things in the judiciary that take a very long time. Sometimes it can take a while to complete an investigation and prosecute a case, and then there are many procedural steps that can take quite a few months, but the bigger issue beyond that is the trial calendar.”

The backlog of cases takes time because each matter must be tried individually before a judge, who almost always has a busy hearing schedule.

“They can basically only have one trial before a judge at a time, and they have all their other criminal cases, too,” he said. “They have civil matters, they have family law matters and so it can be a very, very long time before they can find enough time to start court cases and some of these cases can be a very, very long time. It is also sometimes difficult to reach an agreement unless you have a hearing date.”

The defendants themselves want to delay the system for as long as possible

It is also understandable that defendants with pending cases delay a court appearance for as long as possible.

“It’s one of those things where when there’s no end date by which you have to decide the case, people sometimes hesitate, especially when they’re out of custody,” he said. “You know when you’re out and about in the community but there’s a chance your sentence could result in you being taken into custody that you might not be in a hurry to resolve these, so there’s a lot of delays. ”

Jennings also said his office is still dealing with the aftermath of the COVID pandemic when it comes to the case backlog.

Some of the problems can be traced back to COVID

“Also, some of those delays got a lot longer during COVID, and we saw cases that were supposed to be six months that lasted two to three years,” he said. “Some of that is improving dramatically. I think our judges really tried to prioritize removing that backlog. Unfortunately, this means that a lot has come to a head in the last year. And the system has really tried to deal with these older cases as new things come along.”

Jennings provided the comments after recently filling out Friday morning’s weekly crime report for Missoula County District Attorney Kirsten Pabst.

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