Marathon County courts, jail deal with massive backlog in cases

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) – 13 months into the pandemic, a backlog in court docket circumstances is piling up. Proper now, many individuals sit in jail, victims await justice and prosecutors are overwhelmed by delays.

District Lawyer of Marathon County Theresa Wetzsteon says she’s assured these aren’t low-level offenders sitting in jail. However officers say it’s nonetheless very important to maintain the system shifting like a well-oiled machine. That’s not occurring due to the pandemic.

The Marathon County justice system is going through a troublesome job—ensure courtrooms are secure whereas respecting a defendant’s proper to a speedy trial.

“Lots of circumstances have been lingering, and we are able to’t get to decision,” stated Theresa Wetzsteon.

Till just lately, no jury trials had been allowed within the state due to a directive issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court docket on March 22, 2020. Now, the district’s chief decide created a security plan for one trial at a time.

“We have now one courtroom that is ready to have jury trials versus the 5 courtrooms that we beforehand had, pre-COVID. And jury choice is going down offsite at Marathon Park,” defined Wetzsteon.

They’re capable of conduct a few of court docket over Zoom.

“Different court docket proceedings have been going down, movement hearings, pre-trials, the whole lot as much as jury trials,” she stated.

However modifications and a protracted wait may change the end result of a trial or get a case dismissed.

“A case could be pending for an period of time that may prejudice the defendant. Whether or not or not it’s the stress, anxiousness, lack of proof, perhaps witnesses are now not obtainable. Sooner or later, if a case is pending lengthy sufficient, there could possibly be a constitutional speedy trial problem,” Wetzsteon stated.

She added that many components are at play when weighing security measures with a good trial. She says even having witnesses put on masks may affect a jury’s notion of their feelings.

Proper now, Wetzsteon has eight homicide circumstances on her desk, every with a weeks-long trial deliberate for the long run. She says they’ve by no means had that many pending earlier than.

“It may take us years to get again to normalcy,” she stated. “It doesn’t really feel good.”

There are additionally many lower-level circumstances which might be nonetheless life-changing for victims which might be sitting with no trial.

“These circumstances have to get resolved and scheduled for trial. Individuals have a proper to a trial. If they need a trial, we’ve obtained to attempt to get them scheduled, however so far as priorities go, they could be a a lot decrease precedence,” she stated.

Halting circumstances impacts the Marathon County Jail. Jail Administrator Sandra La Du says they’re not meant to deal with individuals ready for greater than a yr. As soon as individuals undergo the court docket system, jail provides extra alternatives.

“When somebody goes to jail, they’ve the supply of extra programming, they’ve the power to do issues like work and earn cash,” she stated.

Inmates disadvantaged of these alternatives, or freedom in the event that they’re acquitted, can imply worse habits.

“We speak concerning the carrot and the stick. Once they begin to lose these carrots, there’s actually no driver for good habits, after which it will increase the danger right here,” La Du stated.

La Du and Wetzsteon each famous current points with a backlog, even earlier than the pandemic.

“This isn’t actually something new, however now it’s exacerbated by the pandemic,” stated La Du.

Ready years for a trial is nothing new, Wetzsteon stated.

“I had one case that took 4 years to get to trial. Now you’ve added on mechanically one other yr,” she stated.

Marathon County is seeking to open one other courtroom to get extra circumstances via. They anticipate in-person appearances to be again June 21, with a whole reopening tentatively deliberate for subsequent fall.

Copyright 2021 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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