Tarrant County judges are working on a “rocket docket” to clear up thousands of criminal cases that have piled up since courtrooms all but closed because of COVID-19 a year ago.
According to the Tarrant County District Court Clerk, there were 14,009 pending felony cases in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit.
Last month, that number doubled to 23,701.
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It means defendants have been in jail for an extra year awaiting trial.
"I have a number of clients that want a speedy trial,” defense attorney Bob Gill said. “They want to get their trial over with and we're not able to do anything with them right now."
Tarrant County is not alone. It’s the same story across Texas.
It's a delay for victims, too.
"Some cases are very serious and some defendants need to be in jail until their trial,” Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said. “I'm constantly concerned because our crime victims, I mean, this is just a horrible delay for them."
With courtrooms set to re-open soon, at least to process plea bargains, they're working on a plan.
"The judges have a good plan to knock that backlog down with what's commonly called a ‘rocket docket,’” Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said. “We'll hear these cases, 50 in the morning and 50 in the afternoon over a three-week period using all of our courts."
Wilson said it'll take a lot longer than three weeks to clear the backlog.
"These numbers are unlike anything we've seen before,” she said. “And I don't think setting 50 cases in the morning and 50 cases in the afternoon does anything but churn files."
So for now, the plan is a work in progress.
For victims and defendants alike, justice will have to wait at least a little longer.
"We're committed to finding a way out of this,” Wilson said. “And I think that's going to be with the leadership of the judges. And we're definitely committed to working with them."