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Timetables for criminal trialswill change little, Martin says

[11/21/01]Voluntary standards to speed criminal cases in Mississippi won’t do much to cut through the justice system’s bureaucracy, predicted Warren County District Attorney Gil Martin.

The Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously adopted the new time standards Tuesday for circuit, chancery and county courts in Mississippi. The standards set 270 days (nine months) after arraignment as a goal for felony criminal cases to go to trial.

The new standards will take effect Jan. 1, but are really suggestions since there are no new consequences for failing to meet timetables.

“Some cases can be pleaded or tried in that amount of time,” Martin said. “But I don’t know if it will improve the bureaucracy of justice.”

Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman had proposed the time standards in May. The Supreme Court opened up a period of public comment in June.

The standards set goals for concluding civil lawsuits within 18 months of filing, contested divorces within 1 year of filing of a complaint and uncontested divorces, within 180 days of filing.

Pittman became chief justice in January and has embarked on many reforms. “I just believe if there is a lack of timeliness in the courtroom, we destroy the public’s confidence in what we do. We don’t want to make important decisions too late,” he said.

Martin, who is responsible for prosecuting felony criminal cases in Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties, said the standards will make little difference in most felony criminal cases. Most, he said, are delayed by the defendants. Another delay he cited is the time it takes process physical evidence.

“Sometimes it takes that long just to get reports back from the Crime Lab,” Martin said.

The standards do not replace any time periods already in the law, such as the federal so-called Speedy Trial Act.

“Each case is unique and the judges of the courts must, within the bounds of the rules of court and statutes, exercise sound judgment in such a manner as to provide the parties with a fair opportunity to be heard and to allow the court to achieve a reasoned disposition,” justices said in a statement.

Pittman said the standards will “promote the fair and efficient administration of justice.”

No standards were suggested for estate and will probate proceedings, guardianships, conservatorships, commitment proceedings, petitions for name change, petitions for registration of foreign judgments and uncontested adoptions.