Attorneys say pandemic is causing backlog and delay in trials

Local News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it certainly isn’t making things easy for the criminal justice system. Trials that were on hold recently are facing many new challenges which is also creating new delays.

Public defenders and prosecutors say moving forward with trials under the current circumstances is creating challenges they’ve never faced before.

“While we want to move forward for our clients, we’re also concerned about the way that it’s moving forward… I mean if you are sitting at a table with a plexiglass shield between you and your client, how are you supposed to talk about what’s going on in the trial? If a witness is wearing an opaque facemask, how are you supposed to look at their facial features to see whether what they’re saying is trustworthy?” said Bennett Baur.

Bennett Baur, the Chief Public Defender for the state says right now those who work in the court system are dealing with unusual circumstances. Bernalillo County District Court held it’s first jury trial last week.

Judge Cindy Leos recently filed an order for continuance in the Darian Bashir murder trial. He’s accused of shooting and killing a University of New Mexico baseball player last year.

A District Court spokesperson said that case specifically has out of state witnesses and the trial would take at least 10 days. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office says they have concerns about being able to seat jurors for more than two to three days.

“There’s a backlog not only in-jury trial settings not happening but all of our court settings, just because we’re not able to conduct business as usual. There hasn’t been the dip in crime that has been disrupted due to the pandemic,” said Joey Montano, the Deputy District Attorney for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.

Montano also said they have not been able to hold a grand jury and cases are only moving forward through preliminary hearings which are essentially conducting mini-trials. The office of the public defender says some district attorneys are agreeing to more plea deals.

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