Jury trials are back, but higher-level cases are still on standby

Local

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – After months of empty courtrooms and trials put on hold, some normalcy is returning to Sedgwick County.

The lower level cases are getting worked out, but the higher level crimes are still on standby. 

Last week, the county opened up a second courtroom but said it’s still a slow process. 

Josh Enlow sat on a trial in Sedgwick County. He said the process was slow with all of the pandemic precautions.

“It slowed down the process because everyone who mentioned any symptom, they asked are you still having this symptom,” said Enlow. “They have been really backlogged as you can imagine.”

From COVID-19 questionnaires and wiping down the stands after every witness, to trying to get jurors to stay and feel comfortable in the courtroom, with only two courtrooms available, District Attorney Marc Bennett said it’s been difficult to manage. 

“The problem has been we look at each other and go I don’t know when we can do this, I don’t have a date to give you,” said District Attorney Marc Bennett. “We’re just trying to squeeze in one or two a week, until we can make it three a week, until we can make it four a week, until we can start doing 10 a week, will that be six months from now, if things keep clipping along the way they are, sure.”

While judges are getting through cases, they aren’t able to get through as many trials as they are taking longer with the jury. 

District Court Judge Kevin O’Connor said the challenge is adapting to the lower level cases.

“Before you had a tendency of all the trials all the way to a conclusion, for example, the two trials here today, they started as jury selection but ended up entering pleas,” said O’Connor. 

As for the backlog of cases, Bennett said the county will get through it. 

“We have no choice, I’m gonna have to, yeah,” said Bennett. 

Bennett said the Supreme Court is working with the courts to suspend some of the deadlines to give the courts time to work through each case.

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