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Pandemic Slows Justice In Idaho And Around The Mountain West

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As the pandemic continues to slow down the court system around the U.S., the situation in Idaho stands out.

"The number of pending criminal cases has increased by 22% since January a year ago, and there are currently over 40,000 cases awaiting disposition," Idaho State Supreme Court Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan said during his recent State of the Judiciary Address.

He also said the number of case filings decreased by 10% and case closures have decreased by 21% since April. 

That kind of filing slow-down was noted in other Mountain West States like Montana, but many states don’t have access to the same year-over-year court data as Idaho. 

And even Idaho may not have the full picture. Nate Poppino, a spokesperson for the Idaho Supreme Court, said some may be holding off on filing cases.

"One example is evictions," Poppinom said. "Once landlords are able to file for those, more of those may show up in the case system."

Depending on the state, certain kinds of trials are still required to happen in person, like jury trials. According to the National Center for State Courts, Idaho jury trials were delayed 297 days between last March and this January. Similarly, New Mexico faced delays for 290 days. 

And that points to a difficult decision between forcing people to come in person and delaying justice. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau at Boise State Public Radio.