ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Some criminal defendants have been waiting years for their trial, only to meet more delays from the pandemic. Judges are compiling a priority list of criminal cases that will go first when the courthouse reopens for in-person proceedings.
“It really is frustrating for the defendants, their families, the victims. It’s a really frustrating process, but we’re hopeful,” St. Louis County Judge Michael Burton said.
Judge Burton is planning for criminal jury trials to begin this month. He described prioritizing cases – “There are some that have filed speedy trial motions. That means by the constitution they have a right to have their cases prioritized. Those who have no bonds set because of the gravity of the case will have their matter prioritized.”
St. Louis County prosecutors say they’re constantly reviewing delayed cases and looking for those they can close with plea deals. Chris King, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said delays can hinder their path to justice.
“You can imagine why. Evidence goes missing. Witnesses back down. Police officers retire or move away. It’s harder to find people. You have to physically find someone to get them in front of the jury or in front of the bench,” King said.
“If your client is bonded out, there’s nothing but a benefit for you to continue these – so for us to get plea agreements when they can keep pushing it off and going to trial next year at this point possibly – it shows a lot of creativity on behalf of our staff to close these cases.”
It’s not just criminal cases in court.
“You can get a lot accomplished by having these trials by Zoom. On countless occasions, particularly from the family cases,” Burton said.
He said here’s a lot going on in empty courtrooms, adding, “We do so much from a virtual standpoint and many of our dockets, especially in the family court and probate court, it’s as if nothing has changed. I mean they are conducting business as if everyone is here in person.”
They’ve opened a satellite court at The Crossings – formerly Northwest Plaza – to keep up with courtroom demand. It’s right next to the election office. You can appear virtually/in person in one of these eCourt public kiosks that will connect you directly with a judge in a Clayton courtroom. The courts recognized that some people don’t have access to a computer or the computer programs necessary to connect to a courtroom.
You can also now file for an order of protection there at an office they just opened this week. That address is 715 NW Plaza in St. Ann.