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Court officials concerned about budget cuts

Posted on March 16, 2011 3:00 AM EST

Court officials and judges alike are concerned about the budget proposals that will be discussed when the legislation meets this month. The reduced funding and budget cuts have already severely affected the criminal justice system in South Florida and Miami-Dade County. Some are worried that further budget cuts could cause the system to come to grinding halt. Miami criminal defense lawyers are finding longer lines at the clerk's offices and larger dockets on the judges' calendars. Some people will benefit from the delays while others will suffer as a result. Victims seeking domestic violence injunctions will wait longer to present their cases to magistrates. Defendants will benefit because delays in criminal cases always benefit the defense to the detriment of the prosecution.

The general rule is that the longer a defendant can delay a case, he or she will receive a better result. First and foremost, cases involving civilian victims and witnesses often fall apart over time. Victims and witnesses alike lose interest in criminal cases over time. Examples of these types of cases involve charges of aggravated battery and aggravated assault. Domestic violence cases also tend to fall apart as victims and defendants have time to reconcile their issues. Generally, all types of narcotics cases from drug trafficking to drug possession get better over time. Detectives memory fades regarding facts surrounding arrests and the investigators tend to lose interest in cases over time.

The budget proposal submitted by the governor recommends a $40 million cut from last years budget. The cuts involve reducing the payroll by about 600 jobs. Most of the job cuts include staff attorneys or judicial assistants (JA's). JA's act as judges' secretaries and are responsible for calendaring motions and hearings on the court's docket. Currently, each judge is assigned one JA. Under the proposal, one JA will be assigned to two or three judges. This in and of itself will jam up the current court docketing system, causing delays in resolving cases. Miami-Dade Chief Circuit Judge holds the same opinion and was quoted as saying, "The current proposals will create a never before seen level of inefficiencies in our court system."

Public defenders offices across the state are also concerned. Already overworked and underpaid, a reduction in the number of criminal defense attorneys acting assistant public defenders will also jam up the criminal justice system. The reductions could also cause cutting the number of assistant state attorneys prosecuting cases across the state. The reduction in the number of assistant public defenders and assistant state attorneys will delay cases as fewer attorneys will be available to complete the discovery process at the current pace. Opponents of the budge cuts complain that the reductions will jeopardize the safety of citizens throughout the state. The true ramifications of the new budget will only be known after the legislature decides how best to spend the taxpayers money.

Judges, Court Officials Warn of Justice Delayed if Judicial System is Cut Significantly, TCPalm.com, March 7, 2011.
Categories: In General