So much for the Sixth Amendment, which should guarantee a suspect the right to a speedy trial. According to the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, that is just not the case locally, with some 1,300 people being locked up in local jails for four years while awaiting their trials. About 70 people have been waiting for five years, an informal survey from the group noted.
“I think the number is actually higher,” the association’s executive director, Michael Ranatza, said after a budget hearing before state lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee on April 9, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.
Ranatza told the committee that the issue was so widespread, it was eating into the sheriffs’ budgets just to hold people for so long to seemingly no real end.
“I want you to understand that there are people in the state of Louisiana who have waited over five years to be tried in criminal court,” Ranatza told the committee. “There’s a higher number at the four-year level, about almost 1,200.”
However, public defenders appeared shocked at the revelation, with state public defender Jay Dixon noting that there is usually a system that automatically alerts public defenders if a case has been left with no progress or no proceedings for six months.
Dixon also said that there was no easy way to verify the sheriffs’ association’s figures, given that the people included in the survey are not necessarily represented by public defenders. That, and the fact that there are a number of factors that come into play as to why someone would be forced to sit in jail for trial ... such as being unable to pay bail.
As noted before, we are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by the Constitution, with a defendant being able to file a motion for such. Louisiana mandates that such a trial should begin within 120 days for someone charged with a felony, or 30 days for a misdemeanor charge, unless a judge rules that the delay is justified, the news site notes.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana voiced concern about the numbers while noting that the phenomenon is a nationwide issue.
“This is huge problem in Louisiana and it is a problem nationally,” Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney with the ACLU, told the Times-Picayune.