Thursday, May 14, 2009
Grand jury indictments keep county docket full
By SUE WATSON
In the 2007 election year, a third judge (Judge Elliott) was added to the bench in circuit court to help handle the large dockets in District 3 circuit court.
The first order of business, according to Lucy Carpenter at the time, was to reduce the cases on the docket. She had said the district would hold court more the first year to help reduce the docket.
Carpenter said the circuit court did hold court extra time the first year and now circuit courts in the district hold court for three weeks instead of two weeks each quarter.
She said with the extra judge and the extra week of court four times a year, cases are being handled but more arrests and indictments have not curtailed the number of cases the court has to dispense with.
“It’s kind of balanced out,” she said. “We disposed of over 100 cases last term and we’ve done that every court term, but the grand jury indictments keep the docket full.”
Sheriff Kenny Dickerson said there are more indictments each term because his investigative team is constantly working on criminal cases.
“We’re having so many indictments because our group is working hard on crime,” he said. “We still have got a lot of cases on the docket.”
Dickerson said he hopes to hire more investigators and several grants for extra personnel and equipment are available from monies made available in President Barack Obama and Congress’s economic stimulus package.
His office has applied for four investigators, patrol cars and all the tools and equipment needed to outfit four new investigators, he said.
Drug cases - those either directly or indirectly related to drug use - make up about 80 percent of the criminal cases in Marshall County, a statistic that mirrors the national trend, Dickerson said.
He said individuals with a drug addition often resort to stealing to support their drug habit. Two highly addictive drugs that are commonly used illegally in the area are cocaine and crystalmethamphetamine, he said.
Carpenter said recent data she compiled showed that in year 2007 and 2008 a total of 833 indictments were returned in circuit court. Of these, 350 cases or 42 percent of the indictments were true drug cases rather than drug-related, Dickerson said.
A new courtroom has also helped the courts run more smoothly, she said.
“It’s wonderful for jury trials (the new courtroom on Market Street) because we have lots of technology in the building. There is a screen for viewing material collected as evidence and the acoustics are good in the new courtroom.”
A long-time problem with the courtroom upstairs at the courthouse is that the acoustics are not good, so it is difficult to hear court proceedings, and when the air and heat blowers are running, it is very difficult to hear proceedings, she said.
Another problem at the courthouse that needs addressing is filing space, Carpenter said.
“I think that’s true for everybody,” she said. “Everybody is cramped for space.”
Carpenter said with the economy in a slump, she does not expect there will be money to provide more filing space at the courthouse for a few years.
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