The impact of COVID-19 pandemic can be seen on the Kansas courts in the form of pendency of jury trials. The backlog of cases has topped 5,000 cases as per a legislative estimate. The newly signed legislation in Kansas aims to address this problem.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said, “We’ve been open for business. We’ve done everything we can possibly do in terms of resolving cases and holding hearings”.
He further explained that while arraignments, sentencing, probation hearings and plea agreements have moved forward, jury trials remain at halt. He explains, “You can’t do it by Zoom, you can’t do it by conference calls. We have to be in a courtroom and for the last year, that’s been an impossibility”.
Marc mentions that there are around 2,000 cases in various stages of legal procedure in Sedgwick County itself. Expressing his satisfaction with the new statute, he remarked, “This statute allows two years to get this resolved, and I think once we get back online in amore formalised courthouse-wide way, then the cases will start to flow”.
The legislation mentions suspending state’s statutory right to a speedy trial for two years. On the question of whether it interferes or suspends citizens’ constitutional rights, he remarked, “Suspending people’s constitutional right? No, that constitutional right will always be there. I’m just talking about the frankly arbitrary number that we set in stone years ago, decades ago in Kansas that 150 or 180 days, if you’re out of custody”.
Bennett explained that if the speedy trial isn’t suspended and it is not completed within the given time frame after the defendant asked for one, the case is dismissed with prejudice and becomes ineligible for another trial. He also mentioned that it is not possible to call all these cases within 150 or 180 days. He also mentioned a few instances where jurors were tested positive for COVID-19.
He also displayed his faith in COVID-19 vaccine for speeding up the process. He explained that the main objective behind this new legislation is to, “Get this done in a rational approach to it instead of katy bar the door and try to squeeze everything in”.