• 9 Investigates: The wait for justice in local courts

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    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - From DWIs to serious violent charges, thousands of cases are stuck in court, waiting to be heard. 

    Victims are waiting for justice and the innocent for validation, sometimes for as long as a decade. 

    [ALSO READ: Mother continues to wait more than 12 years for justice in son's death]

    Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos investigated why some cases are taking years and the changes people are calling for to speed up the process.

    Adolfo Silva was charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense while driving through Cabarrus County in 2011.

    He chose to fight the ticket, but he never expected his court battle would last so long. Silva waited 7 ½ years for his case to go to trial.

    “It was a lot of headaches,” Silva said.

    Channel 9 analyzed court data from counties across the area and found thousands of pending misdemeanor and felony cases. Some of those cases date back 10 to 15 years.

    There are nearly 65,000 pending cases in Mecklenburg County, more than 22,000 in Iredell County and more than 19,000 each in Cabarrus and Catawba counties.

    Attorney Brad Smith, who represented Silva, said many of his clients are required to show up to court or face arrest, but it isn’t unusual for those cases to be delayed.

    “These folks are, oftentimes having to show up and take a day off work once a month or every other month, and it's hard for them,” Smith said.

    Superior court judges are so concerned about the issue and their resources that they drafted a letter which they plan to send to lawmakers, referencing “significant difficulties in providing adequate assignment of judges."

    In Cabarrus County, the number of district court judges, probation staff and clerks has increased significantly, but the number of assistant prosecutors hasn’t changed in 10 years.

    “It is extremely frustrating, because at the end of the day, criminal courts cannot function without prosecutors,” Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven said. “We're the ones tasked with showing the burden of proof and, ultimately, protecting our community.”

    Attorneys like Vaneekhoven set the calendar for criminal cases.

    She said criminal cases can be delayed by a defendant skipping court or the need to wait for lab results and law enforcement investigations.

    However, she contends that most often, the defense attorneys actually request delays.

    “Delay is often the criminal's friend, and they know that, and they use that,” Vaneekhoven said.

    To make sure cases get heard, Vaneekhoven said her office started scheduling specific time slots for individual cases in Superior Court.

     

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