Suspended trials create backlog in Vanderburgh County courts

Jury trials suspended since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic has created a backlog of cases, including in southwestern Indiana.

Currently around 180 defendants sit in jail awaiting trial in Vanderburgh Circuit Court, an 80-person increase prior to the pandemic, according to the Courier & Press of Evansville.

Judge David Kiely estimated roughly another 90 individuals are in custody awaiting trials in Vanderburgh Superior Court.

“The Constitution provides the right to a jury trial,” Kiely said. “It’s always a concern when people are incarcerated, and they haven’t had their trial yet.”

Cases will start moving through the system again on July 20, but Kiely noted that it will take months before the backlog is cleared.

“Six months would be great, but do I think that’s realistic? I’m not sure,” he said. “It could be a year before we actually pick up the backup.”

Counties around the state are facing similar issues and looking for best practices in resuming jury trials.

In the meantime, County Council transferred $25,000 last week to install a new computer system to enable video streaming in Kiely’s courtroom. This will allow him to lock the doors and allow jurors to observe social distancing guidelines by spreading into the gallery. Court sessions would still be considered open because they could be watched in real-time online.

The new system will likely be set up in a month.

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