LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors and public defenders in north-central Idaho are struggling to keep up with hundreds of felony criminal cases, and the backlog is straining budgets.
Nez Perce County has 330 felonies in its court system and is expecting that number to reach nearly 500 by the end of September, The Lewiston Tribune reported.
Felony public defender Rick Cuddihy said there are several reasons for the increase in felony cases. Courts postponed jury trials for a time during the coronavirus pandemic. Poor mental health can contribute to crime, as can a tough economy, he said.
“All that together, the constellation of factors, have created this,” Cuddihy said.
The strain likely won't lift any time soon, because felonies generally take between six and 12 months to resolve through the court process, said Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman.
“Before a murder trial, two prosecutors are assigned to virtually nothing but trial prep for at least two weeks prior," Coleman said. "When you have 450 other felony cases to juggle among the rest of the office (you) can get overworked quickly.”
State guidelines also limit how many felony cases each public defender can handle at one time, in an effort to ensure that defendants are given adequate representation in court. When Nez Perce County's felony public defenders reach the top of their case limits, the public defenders that normally handle misdemeanors are assigned to the cases.