(NewsNation) — The office of Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin handles about 55,000 cases a year. But lately, he knows many won’t even get a hearing, much less a trial.
According to Hestrin, the wheels of justice in the California county are often spinning in place.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. It’s incredibly sad, really that we’ve reached this point, where it’s a collapse. It’s basically a collapse of our criminal justice system for the people of Riverside County,” Hestrin said.
Like court systems everywhere, COVID-19 created a backlog of cases in Riverside County. But in October, Riverside County Superior Court moved to no longer allow the continuance of cases.
“They began saying, ‘Look, this is how many courtrooms have on such and such day, everything else that day gets dismissed,’” Hestrin said.
According to the district attorney’s office, just in the past three months, over 1,600 cases have been dismissed. The majority of them are misdemeanors, but there are 100 felony cases among them. Several of the cases involved charges of child sexual assault.
“We’re the only county doing this,” Hestrin said.
In a lengthy statement, the court said: “Riverside County continues to experience a chronic and generational lack of sufficient judicial resources to serve its ever-growing population.”
The system currently has 89 judges, but the court estimates a need for more than 111.
For Tabitha Davies, the backlog hampered her legal action against a businessman she says delivered a “moldy and defective” new home.
“Criminal charges were done and then the county said we don’t have enough judges and threw it away,” Davies said.
According to law enforcement, the situation is also impacting local policing.
“Just by the nature of dismissals, a lot of them were domestic violence cases, a lot of them were firearms cases, and then recently we just head there were some child abuse cases that were recently dismissed,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said criminals are getting away.
“In this county, criminals are getting away and it’s largely because our bench has let them down and let down the public,” Gonzalez said.
The Riverside Court tells NewsNation that eight new judges have been added since October, but they are currently undergoing training. The DA has refiled charges in the felony cases dismissed, but the process has to start all over. That means, even victims of heinous crimes, have to testify again.