TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Jury trials resumed this week after a statewide pause due to COVID-19 precautions, resulting in a significant backlog of trials.
"It's going to be like the flood gates opening up," says Tippecanoe County Chief Deputy Public Defender Rob Little.
The Indiana Supreme Court placed a hold on trials until March 1 due to the pandemic. That's resulted in longer periods of pre-trial incarceration.
"There's people down there that have been incarcerated since 2019 and they're just now coming up on trial dates in the next two or three months," he says.
As News 18 previously reported, Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington says the backlog will place added pressure on his staff.
Little says eight jury trials are scheduled this month in Tippecanoe County's major felony courts alone.
Superior Court 6 Judge Michael Morrissey says the county's seven courts could see a combined 20 to 30 trials a month.
"We're going to be busy — the prosecutor's office, the courts, defense attorneys — we're all going to have to roll up our sleeves and get this behind us," he says.
But that doesn't mean officials can let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19 guidelines.
"We're still taking precautions: masks, temperature screening, social distancing," Morrissey says.
It's not just the trials themselves but the behind-the-scenes work that's also creating a logjam.
Sheriff Bob Goldsmith says his office will be busy transporting inmates and serving court papers, something his staff does about 50,000 times a year.
"That's our number one priority and if that gets to where we have to have patrolmen doing more transports and serving more papers we may have to do that, but I don't foresee it," he says.
Officials expect the court schedule to return to normal within six months to a year.