County attorney involved in new law addressing trial backlog

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth County’s top prosecutor says he had a hand in a new law that suspends the state’s speedy trial requirements until 2023.

County Attorney Todd Thompson said the suspension of the speedy trial requirements is necessary because of the backlog of criminal cases that has developed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a large backlog of cases that we haven’t had resolved in over a year much less all of the new cases that will be coming as well,” County Attorney Todd Thompson said.

Leavenworth County District Court has not had a jury trial in about one year. But jury trials are expected to resume in June with measures in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

As the president of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, Thompson said he worked with other prosecutors and legislators to create legislation to address the issue.

Normally, state law requires a criminal case to be brought to trial within 150 days of an arraignment if the defendant is in custody or 180 days if the defendant is not in custody. However, defendants can request continuances which may delay trials past the deadlines.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert has used her authority to suspend speedy trial deadlines during the pandemic.

But a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Laura Kelly suspends the requirements until May 1, 2023.

Thompson hopes the two-year suspension will provide enough time to work through the backlog of cases.

“There’s many things that could factor into that,” he said.

Legislators will be briefed on the progress being made in the state to resolve the backlog of criminal cases.

The new law requires the Office of Judicial Administration to submit reports in early 2022 and 2023 to the judiciary committees of the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives regarding the pending number of criminal cases.

Thompson said the law suspends statutory requirements but not constitutional speedy trial protections. He said a constitutional requirement for a reasonable standard remains.

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