Judge calls delays in Shelby County criminal court system ‘catastrophic’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Commission got an earful Thursday on how the criminal court system is operating.

Retired Judge Robert Carter went before Shelby County commissioners after spending several months reviewing the criminal court system in Shelby County.

“These delays are catastrophic to the efficient organization of the justice system,” Carter said.

Judge Carter, hired by former Mayor Jim Strickland last summer, wrapped up his review weeks ago, and now he is presenting his findings to the Shelby County Commission.

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Commissioner Charlie Caswell says this information can directly affect what type of services and money the Commission provides.

“Is it something that’s lacking on our side? If it’s more resources to the courts that need to be addressed or more resources to the District Attorney office that need to be addressed,” Caswell said.

Carter’s report lists deficiencies that need to be addressed, like the number of trials taking place in the County, dropping from 200 a year before the pandemic to less than 40 in 2023, leading to a backlog of cases.

Carter found more than 300 murder cases pending in the ten criminal courts.

“Every week six, seven, or more trials are scheduled to begin. Most weeks, only one or two begin. Many weeks pass with no trials being conducted at all,” he wrote in the report.

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Carter called it a “missed opportunity.”

“A case is taking way too long, and that doesn’t bode well for a prosecutor to put on a good case,” Carter said.

His report says judges must ensure cases aren’t allowed to drag on. The District Attorney must evaluate cases fairly and get them to a jury promptly.

“In some cases, it may be that an individual is waiting on trial. But who in the community can connect them to the resources that we can connect them to? That may mitigate them getting into more trouble before they actually go to court,” Carter said.

The Shelby County Commission is holding a special community summit in March. They said the information from the court study could also be useful during that time.

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