Why high-profile murder cases can take years to go to trial

WGN Investigates

High-profile cases taking years to go to trial. WGN Investigates first told you about the case of Alex Daniel. He had been sitting at the Cook County Jail for more than ten years waiting for his murder trial.

Daniel was finally convicted last month but there are other cases that have been working their way through the system for years. This summer WGN Investigates requested a list of inmates waiting longer than five years for a trial. The list included the names of 102 inmates, the majority waiting on a murder trial.

The 102 inmates have served a total of 515 years and at $50,000 per year, it as cost an estimated $26 million. Recently, it took five and a half years to start the trial in the highly publicized case of Hadiya Pendleton. The State’s Attorney and the Public Defender’s Office did not comment on the story.

The Office of Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans issued the following statement:

To fully address time-to-disposition issues in criminal cases, it would take more than the judges of the Circuit Court of Cook County to effect significant changes. All stakeholders in the system would need to examine their internal processes.

Judges are in court every day to hear cases, so no case is continued because a judge is not prepared. In addition, a defendant can demand trial at any time.

All parties have the right to adequate time to evaluate evidence, perform investigative work, prepare and conduct hearings, research and write motions and other legal documents, obtain and review records, and consult experts as needed. These rights must be respected.

The Circuit Court of Cook County has been committed to controlling what it can control in this process. In 2013, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans created the Committee on Felony Case Flow Management, which includes members from all of the stakeholders in the justice system. A few highlights resulting from the committee’s work are:

The Circuit Judges amended a Circuit Court Rule to reduce the time from a finding of probable cause, indictment or waiver of preliminary hearing to the date of the arraignment or assignment for disposition – from 21 to 14 days.

Chief Judge Evans entered a General Administrative Order to require the prosecution to provide to the defense the defendant’s criminal history in all criminal cases even before the initial bail hearing.
The court has also engaged the Chicago Police Department in discussions to address issues that can cause delays, such as: reducing the time needed for producing 911 recordings; requesting that police officers who are witnesses in cases promptly notify the court of schedule conflicts with dates for their testimony; and assuring that officers bring required evidence to court.

In addition, to address time-to-disposition in the Criminal Division, Presiding Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. has implemented a case-flow management system that is currently being used in seven courtrooms in the Leighton Criminal Court Building. Depending on the nature of the case, the case-flow management system anticipates that a case can be concluded in six months, nine months, 12 months or 24 months. The system sets a target trial date on the date of the arraignment, and it also sets deadlines for: the state to tender discovery to the defense; the defendant to file an answer; and pretrial motions to be filed and disposed.