“There are people in the state of Louisiana who have waited over five years to be tried in criminal court,” Michael Ranatza of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association told a legislative committee. The state’s public defender funding crisis and rules restricting bail may contribute to the problem.
The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association says 1,300 people have been in local jails for four years waiting for their trials, and 70 people have been held for five years without having their case heard, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. “I think the number is actually higher,” says the group’s director, Michael Ranatza. Last month, the sheriffs’ association tallied up how many people were sitting in jails without going to trial or receiving a sentence. The problem is so pervasive that it is eating into sheriffs’ budgets to house the accused for so long, Ranatza said. “There are people in the state of Louisiana who have waited over five years to be tried in criminal court,” Ranatza told a legislative committee this week.
Jay Dixon, Louisiana’s state public defender, said he was surprised the count of people waiting for years without a trial was that high. Public defenders have a system that automatically alerts them if nothing has happened in a case for six months. There could be a number of factors that force someone to sit in jail awaiting trial, including the ability to afford bail, he said. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is troubled by the long waits reported by the sheriffs. “This is huge problem in Louisiana and it is a problem nationally,” said the ACLU’s Bruce Hamilton. He said the state’s public defender funding crisis and regulations around bail, which make it harder for people who are poor to be released while their cases are pending, could be factors.