Frequent changes in court scheduling impacts cases

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CHEYENNE, Wyo.- The Laramie County District Attorney's Office says the resources available and the record number of cases they receive throughout the year requires cases to be moved frequently.

District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg said, "For the month of December, we initially had 101 cases set for trial." He added, "Of those 101, not a single one went, but it wasn’t because the state wasn’t prepared and wouldn’t have been prepared, it was because the defense either asked for a continuance, the case was resolved, or the individuals that were set for trial did not appear.”

Sandburg says one of the main reasons cases get moved around continuously is because of a lack of resources. He says not only does District Court need a fourth judge, but he believes there's also need for more district attorneys and public defenders.

Sandburg said, "When you have a 101 cases set for trial in a two-week time span, there’s a very limited number of cases that the court can actually try.”

In 2016, Sandburg says they saw a record number of felony cases. He said the number almost reached 700, and believes that number will be higher this year. Sandburg also said they saw a record number of criminal prosecutions last year. The District Attorney said, "When we talk about record numbers in the criminal docket, we’re also seeing, to my understanding, is record numbers on the civil side as well, again because of the increase in population and it’s gotten past the point of our current resources to handle.”

Preparing for multiple cases that get shifted often has caused stress at the District Attorney's Office. Sandburg says in a single year they had a turnover of about 40 percent. Their office will often spend the weekend preparing for a case that gets moved.

And it's not just the prosecutors who have their challenges, but Sandburg says law enforcement who are witnesses for a case will have to cancel vacation, time spent with family and training multiple times to continue to be prepared and available for the case.

Sandburg said, "We won't know until the scheduling conference whether or not the defense will be ready for those cases, and so we have to start getting subpoenas out and people lined up, making sure we're ready to go either way."

However, Sandburg says sometimes the shift can be harder on the victims involved. He said, "When their case continues to roll over from month, to month, to month… they’re beginning to question, 'Am I ever going to have closure in this situation?'"

Sandburg says we're on the verge of becoming a large jurisdiction and have attempted dividing the court into a hybrid system of criminal and civil. However, he says we are not there yet.

Laramie County voters have agreed to funding the space to house a fourth judge and the Wyoming Legislature has approved the position, but Sandburg says it could be some time until Legislature makes a decision on funding.