BEAUFORT COUNTY (WSAV) – It’s been almost 12 full months without trials and without in-person hearings.
Which has led to a massive backlog of cases throughout the 14th Circuit.
“It will take us about 4 and a half years to get back to where we were,” said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.
Duffie Stone says that’s just how far behind his office now is after COVID-19 shut down courts for nearly 12 months.
3800 cases at the end of 2019 have turned into nearly 5300 pending trial in 2021.
“You took an entire year off of disposing of cases, you didn’t take a year off of bringing them in,” said Stone.
14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone says that the number will change soon, as courts will open again in April.
While he wants to get through the cases on backlog-he says he won’t do it at the expense of the law.
His prosecutors haven’t had time off, they’ve been using it to prep every trial that’s coming.
Stone says his office’s Hurricane preparation years ago actually made a difference for his staff during the pandemic.
He put all the evidence and witness statements on the Cloud. Allowing every member of his team to access everything they need no matter where they were, home or the office.
“That time has helped them prepare for the larger number,” said Stone. “So I think once we get back they’ll be ready for that. I think the technology has allowed them to have access to their caseloads and the evidence associated with that. Once the gate is lifted and we can go back to court, then i think we will be prepared.,”
While they are all “itching” to get back in court, Stone says no one will hurry along a case.
“My emphasis has always been how you handle those cases much more than how fast you handle those cases,” said Stone.
“We are not going to take a different approach. We are going to prosecute the cases the same way we did before covid. And I expect the juries will react the same way.”
“The emphasis will be on, as it always has been, on the career criminals on the people that have caused the most damage to our community. and those are going to be our first priorities.”
At the beginning of April, 5 different County Courthouses in the Solicitor’s district will be back open. Each one different, all having to deal with the new, COVID-19 norms.
“Your big challenge is you have 200-300 people you have to bring in for a jury panel just to get 12,” explains the Solicitor. “Where are you going to put them, how are you going to space them out. So every county is going to have a little bit of a challenge.”
Challenges Stone says that are not unique to our area.
“It’s exactly the same things that are happening in the 16th Circuit and the 2nd Circuit and the First Circuit,’ said Stone. “You have these circuit court judges coming from all around the state. They are covering every one of those court weeks no matter jurisdiction they are in.”
In this jurisdiction, Stone says the law will be followed in every case and every criminal, if guilty, brought to justice.
“We have to stay determined to do it the same way we always have,” said Stone. “Which is find the truth, apply that to the law and prove it to the jury. that’s your job and do it the right way.”