Criminals Go Free as Court Backlog Keeps Growing
COVID-era criminals go free: Prosecutors dismiss cases as backlog mounts
The pandemic slowed the criminal justice system to a crawl in much of the U.S., and now an increase in violent crime is straining the system even further.
Why it matters: COVID-19 has caused backlogs in criminal cases across the U.S. to swell, forcing district attorneys to focus on the most violent offenses — and decline, delay or deal down a slew of other cases.
- “For the prosecution, the older a case gets, the tougher it gets to prove in a lot of cases,” said Billy West, president of the National District Attorneys Association and the D.A. for Cumberland County, N.C.
Details: Prosecutors in Chicago are pleading out or dismissing cases to help shrink the courts’ backlog. And in Oakland, Calif., they’ve had to dismiss old cases amid an uptick in violent crime, Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley announced in June.
- The number of criminal cases pending before courts in Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, rests at more than 94,000. The Houston Chronicle reports it would take judges a year or more to clear its dockets.
By the numbers: The number of violent crimes in the U.S. rose by 5.6% in 2020, according to FBI figures released Monday — the first increase in years.
- The estimated number of aggravated assaults rose 12.1%, while murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4% — the highest single-year spike in U.S. murders in at least six decades.
What they’re saying: “Without a substantial change, we are facing the very real possibility that it could take more than three years before some violent crimes make their way to trial and even longer for homicide cases,” Spencer Merriweather, the D.A. in Mecklenburg County, N.C., said earlier this year.
- Merriweather stopped prosecuting low-level drug offenses in February 2021 to focus on homicides and violent crime, Axios Charlotte’s Michael Graff reports. As of this summer, Merriweather’s team of about 85 prosecutors had 110 murder cases awaiting trial, following two of the city’s deadliest years on record.
- Beyond those cases, the office is also prioritizing defendants with a history of violent crimes, especially gun crimes, because many homicides are carried out by repeat offenders.
Courts in many parts of the country were closed for part of last year, and virtual hearings didn’t make up for that lost time.
- The virus can still slow things down now — the trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was delayed last month because a juror might have been exposed to COVID.
Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, Has Been Diagnosed with Terminal Cancer
This follows his transfer to a medical facility in December
The new comes from a letter he wrote:
Foreign-born population soars to new record under Biden; highest rate of immigrants since 1910
The U.S. has had a massive surge in immigration this year, with as many as 1.5 million newcomers and a record 46.2 million foreign-born people, according to a report for the Center for Immigration Studies.
After a deep trough last year, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel and migration restrictions imposed to control the spread, the flow of people rebounded around the time President Biden was elected.
In numbers never seen before, they are coming legally through airports and land border crossings and illegally across the Rio Grande and remote regions of Arizona and California.
“There was pent-up demand for legal immigration, and illegal immigration has exploded in one of the greatest surges, if not the greatest, we’ve ever seen,” said Steven A. Camarota, the demographer who was the chief author of the report. “It’s driving the numbers up and up and up.”
As it stands, 14.2% of the U.S. population is foreign-born, or 1 out of every 7 people. That is the highest rate of immigrants in the population since 1910, when the number was 14.7%. At current trends, the government says, the U.S. will break that record well before the end of this decade.
Those numbers are even starker given the reversal of trends.
The data showed a drop of 1.2 million immigrants from February to September 2020, likely the result of coronavirus restrictions blocking new entrants, even as outmigration continued. That left the population of the foreign-born — the Census Bureau’s term — at 43.8 million.
It was up to 45 million by January and marched steadily to the current 46.2 million total shown for last month.
In the year after President Trump’s election, the immigrant population flattened.
Biden Vaccine Mandate for Contractors Blocked Nationwide
- Mandate one of a set of Biden vaccine initiatives
- States say contractor requirement violates Constitution
The Biden administration’s mandate for federal contractors’ employees to be vaccinated will be halted nationwide, amid a slew of challenges from states that say the president overstepped his authority in requiring the Covid-19 shots.
Led by Georgia, the seven states that challenged the mandate set to take effect on Jan. 4 are likely to succeed in their lawsuits against the administration’s order, U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia said in an order issued Tuesday.
The Biden administration mandate applies to roughly a quarter of the U.S. workforce and affects companies that do business with the federal government, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.‘s Google, and General Motors Co.
Baker’s order follows a Kentucky federal judge’s grant last week of a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit involving Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. Baker echoed what his Kentucky counterpart said, that blocking the mandate didn’t indicate that the vaccine wouldn’t be effective to stopping the spread of Covid-19, but rather that Biden didn’t have the power to issue such an executive order.
Representatives from Georgia universities testified during an injunction hearing earlier this month, arguing that implementation of the mandate would be expensive, onerous, and cost them valuable employees who haven’t yet presented proof of vaccination. Those schools receive millions from the federal government.
The court found that the states could likely prove that Congress didn’t clearly authorize the president to issue the mandate, and that it “goes far beyond addressing administrative and management issues in order to promote efficiency and economy in procurement and contracting.” The 2017 nominee of President Donald Trump said, instead, the executive order works as a “regulation of public health.”
Neither the lawyers representing the state coalition nor the U.S. government immediately responded to emailed requests for comment.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little cheered Tuesday’s ruling in a statement. The state is part of the Georgia-led contractor mandate challenge, as well as lawsuits against the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration’s shot-or-test emergency regulation for large U.S. businesses, and another inoculation rule for healthcare workers.
“Yet another one of President Biden’s vaccine mandates have been temporarily shut down because the states—including Idaho—took a stand against his unprecedented government overreach into Americans’ lives and businesses,” Little said in the statement. “All three mandates are now completely stalled. We will continue to press forward in our fight against the federal government’s bad policies.”