AUGUST 27, 2008
Dozens of criminal cases, including serious felonies, have been dismissed by an overwhelmed court system in a large southeastern California county because there aren’t enough judges to fill the benches.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants speedy trials and, because cases cannot be heard in a timely manner, they must be dismissed. As a result, criminal defendants are repeatedly set free in Riverside County, which spans about 200 miles and has a population of more than 2 million.
This month 25 criminal cases have been dismissed, nine of them this week alone. Last month there were 22 speedy-trial dismissals and the crisis will only worsen because there aren’t enough judges to handle the case load in the Riverside County Court system which has 12 divisions and 13 facilities.
The overwhelmed system has struggled with a major judge shortage for years, but the problem has gotten out of control in the last few months. The county has 76 judges and needs at least 57 more to efficiently hear its skyrocketing criminal case load. The jurists make $171,648 a year.
California’s Hollywood star governor appointed a few judges in the last few months, but it barely made a dent on the problem. In the meantime, criminals will be set free. Among those released this week were defendants charged with felonies such as child molestation, assault and robbery and drug possession.
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