‘And then the tsunami came’: Court case backlog is central topic of Dawson County budget hearings


Johnson noted Thursday that the region’s population growth over the past few years and an expected 35% increase in call volume from 2020 and a troubling 33% increase in domestic violence-related calls by the end of this year. These calls often require more officers and time to respond, and they are often the most dangerous calls an officer can make, Johnson said.

DCSO’s nearly two-year-old Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (HEAT) unit also made a difference, Judge Clint Bearden said Tuesday.

Since starting HEAT in Dawson County, Bearden pointed out that the district attorney’s office has been “proactive” in charging more people with traffic violations, drug trafficking and misdemeanors. By the prosecutor’s office filing charges before the cases went to a grand jury, prosecutors avoided letting the backlog become “an even bigger tsunami” later, the judge said.

Greer said that while dealing with more cases has proven difficult, it has “made everyone’s life here safer”, adding later that the increase in cases due to HEAT was indicative of a “problem that was always there”.

“They’re not out there saying, ‘I just want to arrest people,'” Greer said of the deputies. ” It’s not that. These are not such cases.

District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley wanted to know how many people committing crimes in Dawson County are local. Probate-related crimes are mostly committed by people living in Dawson or adjacent counties. Locals commit the most crimes, with domestic violence accounting for a third of those crimes.

“Probably less than half” of the people who commit crimes live in Dawson County, Greer said, adding that “virtually none” of the people who rob North Georgia Premium Outlets or deal drugs do reside in Dawson City.

“That doesn’t make it any less of our problem,” Emory Dooley said.

While the pandemic has added to the backlog of Superior Court cases, the assistant attorney said the surge in cases preceded the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2017, Greer said the top court handled 652 criminal cases and 713 defendants.

When 2020 hit, the superior court was closed by court order but still managed to handle 919 cases and 1,006 defendants. At the end of 2021, these figures were 1,029 cases and 1,128 accused.

Before the end of last year, the Judicial Circuit expected Judge Jason Deal to assist with misdemeanor trials and Judge Bearden to handle Dawson County’s criminal case.

“And then the tsunami came,” Stephenson said.

As an example, during the July 29 schedule call, Bearden remained at the courthouse until about 10 p.m. to help sheriff’s office deputies close cases.

“We are on track to have approximately 1,200 defendants this year. This represents a 49.7% increase in the number of criminal cases before the superior courts since calendar year 2017,” Greer said.

The assistant district attorney added that it was more due to a level of “crimes against the person” cases that he “doesn’t know” from his 15 years working in Dawson County.

The heavy caseload has meant more than 100 defendants scheduled for calendar calls and more than 300 for the final weeks of trials.

Greer later added that at the same time, staffing shortages in the court circuit contributed to lawyers working on more issues than one administrator could handle, costing taxpayers dearly since lawyers are paid out of pocket. higher rates.

And that work dynamic, along with the impact of the pandemic, may make it difficult to recruit assistant district attorneys, although one isn’t currently needed in Dawson.

“People want to be here, but with the amount of work being asked to do…no human being with the numbers I just told you could keep up,” Greer told the board.

Greer is particularly concerned about three open murder cases in Dawson County, more than the county has seen in 10 years, and 26 child sex crimes cases “of a nature so serious that the accused could be sentenced to life”.

With the massive lack of time come very difficult decisions about which cases to pursue.

“My concern with administrative issues is that I might miss something and I miss something, I don’t accept that as a possibility in our world. We’re not missing anything,” Greer said. cases for the first time and say…”We can’t process this case. We just have to let it go because of the more serious offences.”

For example, cases of pedophilia should be prosecuted before shoplifting.

“Those are priorities, and kids are priorities in my book, every time,” Fausett said.

Like others at the hearing, Emory Dooley agreed that the most important cases should be dealt with first, and he was also worried about theft-related crimes against businesses.

“If word gets out that we’re late on [prosecuting] that, then people are going to say, ‘Let’s get up here, and we know they can give us a break if we get caught,’ he added.

“That’s not what we want to happen, and it’s a very legitimate concern,” Greer said. “We want strong relationships with our business partners and our citizens. This is what we work for every day, protecting both.

The Dawson County Board of Commissioners is expected to hold a presentation on its full budget later in September, followed by a series of mandatory hearings.

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