The legal system in Colorado has been greatly taxed in recent years, with a mounting backlog of cases slowing progress down to a crawl. This can be frustrating for those accused of crimes, especially those who may not have the financial resources for bail.
There are a number of factors behind the growing backlog in cases, including delays in processing digital evidence and the interruption of the pandemic. But the largest factor in slowing down the legal system’s criminal defense cases is the shortage of judges and lawyers.
Critical shortage of lawyers and judges
Without lawyers to argue cases and judges to oversee them, nothing of consequence can occur within the criminal justice system. Therefore, shortages in these roles can slow the system to a crawl.
While there are shortages of all of public defenders, prosecutors and judges, even a shortage in one area is enough to grind criminal cases to a halt even if the other two are staffed adequately. So, tackling this problem requires addressing all the reasons for the shortages, which are different in each case.
Why these shortages exist
In the case of public defenders, low pay and heavy caseloads is a critical factor. And this is a self-reinforcing problem, as when one public defender quits, the caseload for others naturally increases.
In the case of prosecutors and judges, federal and state funding often restricts the number of lawyers or judges able to be hired. Sometimes, these funding levels are from decades past and bear very little relevance to the current legal system’s situation.
Other times, state law mandates that there can be no more than a set number of judges statewide or within a given district. Again, those rules may have been established in a different time when the legal system’s needs were less demanding.
The state of Colorado has been dealing with an enduring backlog of cases, slowing down progress for all involved. The main factor in this slowdown is a shortage in lawyers and judges, without whom the system can’t function.