Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Who would have thunk it: Continuances causes delays

Today a Cleveland Plain Dealer article revealed an "excessive" amount of delay at the local juvenile court caused by multiple continuances in delinquency and unruly cases. Unfortunately, the data upon which the PD relies is old: it covers an eighteen month period ending December 2001. The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court says it is making strides to improve the way it conducts hearings and the numbers are promising. Under the current Administrative Judge's leadership, the number of cases that exceed the Ohio Supreme Court guidelines has dropped by almost 6,000 cases. You can check the guidelines in The Rules of Superintendence Form D. Cases exceed the guidelines and are reported monthly to the Supreme Court when the court does not dispose of the case prior to the guideline. Lengthy cases are especially problematic in juvenile cases because of the child's age: Children benefit from getting services, treatment and punishment (such as restitution and community service) quickly and stand a better chance of being rehabilitated.

The article cites a local researcher: "I was shocked at how much time could be saved with reducing continuances," said William Sabol, the lead researcher. "When you see three, four, five continuances at pretrial . . . how many times are you that ill-prepared?"

Even more compelling:

And the three boys accused last August of shocking sleeping homeless men with stun guns have court dates in March 2004, seven months after the incident and beyond the Ohio Supreme Court guidelines for prompt trials. Their 19-year-old companion was sentenced within three months of the attack and will finish his jail sentence before his friends go to trial.

It is a very good article by the Plain Dealer, which is rare. You should take the time to read it before it drops from the website.

The reality is that most continuances are requested by the attorneys and granted by the Judge or Magistrate hearing the case. Granting multiple continuances is absurd and does not serve the interest of the child, who is sitting in an overcrowded detention facility, the victim, who is not having his/her needs addressed, the child's family, which is in limbo, or the public, which wants to see justice done. All parties would be better off with a child who is quickly and fairly adjudicated and given treatment, services and some measure of punishment. Continuances are not in the Court's best interest either as this article points out: continuances detrimentally affect the Court's ability to serve the community, promote justice and rehabilitate these children. What may strike some judges as a far worse consequence: continuances make them look bad. In the end, continuances only seem to benefit the attorneys who request them.

While some continuances are necessary, the Juvenile Court should start to scrutinize requests for continuances more carefully. The Judges and Magistrates need to remember that they have a child in front of them, not just an attorney, and that they serve the public good, not just cater to the legal community.

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