Backlogged courts mean long waits for trials in Madison County

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. -- If you are charged with a crime in Madison County you may spend years waiting for trial. Madison County Assistant District Attorney, Tim Douthit, said the courts are backlogged.

"You have a right to a speedy trial, that's in the constitution," Douthit said. "But that is a relative term."

He estimated it usually takes about eighteen months from the time of the crime to get to trial. He said there is no time limit, as long as no one is being negligent.

"Once you hit the point where witnesses start dying, or evidence is lost. Then your right to a speedy trial has been violated," Douthit explained.

He said they have the heaviest caseload per district attorney, of any jurisdiction in the state. They push through about 3,000 felony indictments through grand jury each year. Those 3,000 indictments, many of which have multiple charges, funnel down to around 15 felony prosecutors, then down to about seven or eight judges, who can each only try one case at a time.

"We are all trying to get these cases to trial. There's a bottleneck between the prosecutors and the judges," Douthit said. "We are doing as much as we can, as overworked as we are. It's not shenanigans, it's just the way the system is."

Most judges have two trial weeks each month, and they can only try one or two trials in a week.

"So anytime you miss a week, because somebody's ill or because something has to be continued, or because you have a mistrial, that's a twelfth of your year almost, that's now gone," Douthit said.

The longer it takes to get to trial, the longer the accused spend in jail. Douthit said the judges in Madison are pretty good about giving people bonds, so they aren't waiting in jail the entire time.

"Now granted you've got a felony hanging over your head for a year and a half. But, like I said we're doing the best we can. I mean it sucks," Douthit said. "The alternative is to let everybody go, and we can't do that."

He said really the only way to fix the bottleneck is to hire more prosecutors, and more judges which would take money, and an act of the legislature to create a new judge position.