COVID-19 pandemic prompts criminal-case backlog in Kansas City metro

Leavenworth County Attorney Office
Posted at 9:04 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 00:14:01-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Prosecutors across the Kansas City metro are facing a backlog of criminal cases as they wait for in-person hearings to resume.

Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, every state has either canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stop the spread of the virus.

“Right now, we’re talking anywhere from 300 to 400 felony cases, sitting on pretrial dockets waiting to be tried,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said.

Howe’s office just received $1 million dollars from the county to hire three new attorneys and a trial assistant.

In addition to the 300 felony cases waiting to go to trial, there are 400 domestic violence cases, 200 DUI cases and 54 severance of parental rights cases on hold. There also are new cases coming into the office daily.

“As we try to erode this backlog, we are still continuing to see caseloads come in the door," Howe said, "and that’s the pressure prosecutors, and, quite frankly, the judges, are facing is trying to start whacking away at that backlog so we can get back to normal numbers."

To help prosecutors with the backlog in cases, Kansas lawmakers suspended a law for two years that protects a criminal defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

Prior to the pandemic, Kansas law required jury trials to take place within 150 days of an arrest if a defendant was in custody, or 180 days if a defendant was free. If a defendant was not tried in that time, his or her case was dismissed without the possibility of being refiled.

“We have two years where we have to dig out,” Howe said.