Russell County DA’s office clearing 4-year-old court backlog

(WSFA 12 News)
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 11:10 PM EDT
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RUSSELL COUNTY, Ala. (WTVM) - As crime continues to rise across the nation, many courts in the Chattahoochee Valley are playing catch up, getting cases to trial.

But one District Attorney’s office in East Alabama has found several ways to decrease the backlog.

Rick Chancey says the office is four years behind -- finishing up trials for 2018 cases. He says they’re working with judges and prioritizing trials for felony cases with physical injuries.

“We are backlogged in every area of the criminal justice system... not just murders,” said Chancey.

Rick Chancey is Russell County’s Chief Deputy District Attorney. He’s one of the people responsible for sifting through piles of court cases, trying to get clear a backlog dating back to 2018.

“I would love if somebody commits a crime to have them tried within the year they committed the crime. But right now, that’s not possible,” said Chancey.

Aside from a rise in crime, Chancey says COVID restrictions also contributed to the backlog. Jurors catching COVID only made things worse, adding on to the time spent behind bars for some criminals.

“It’s been a logistical problem as to make trials actually happen,” said Chancey.

To get through the mounting piles, Chancey says they’re prioritizing cases involving murders, rapes, drug trafficking and physical or mental injuries.

Another way they’re decreasing the workload is by utilizing specialty courts like drug or family court.

“And if they complete a long series of tasks -- counseling and treatment and maybe community service -- maybe we can resolve that case without going to a jury trial,” said Chancey.

He adds they’re getting through the backlog while also being mindful of repeat offenders.

“I get it and know that there’s people hurting and know that victims want to see justice happen,” said Chancey.

Chancey says they have at least ten trials set for next year.