TAMPA, Fla. — The pandemic has put strains on every corner of our lives, especially financial. Now there are concerns about the potential impacts to the criminal justice system.
“We’re preparing to get crushed between a COVID backlog and a budget shortfall,” said Andrew Warren, the state attorney of Florida’s 13th judicial circuit.
He’s concerned about the finances as the legislature heads back to session.
“Our concern is that money’s going to be taken out of the criminal justice system to try to balance the budget,” said Warren, noting they’ve been told to prepare for cuts in the millions for next year. “96 percent of our budget goes to salary and benefits of our employees."
Right now, his office is already working through a backlog that built up during delays of trying cases last year due to the pandemic.
“Cutting our budget has a real impact on our office’s work. It means we don’t have as many prosecutors and staff to review evidence and prosecute cases. It means we have to delay the work we do trying to achieve justice for victims,” Warren said.
He’s not alone in his concern.
“We are very concerned about the impact of the pandemic on our budget. Our caseload has increased significantly due to the reduced number of trials that we have been able to conduct over the past several months. However, we are confident that the legislature will provide appropriate resources to deal with the backlog of cases,” stated Jacob Orr, an assistant state attorney in the 10th judicial circuit.
The impact of delays is something Sybille Naude knows too well.
Her brother, 34-year-old Mike Franck, a bystander, was killed during a shooting in South Tampa in 2017 when he jumped between a bullet and two women. The shooting injured four others, too.
“My brother died a hero, which he was my hero,” Naude said.
Though a trial was finally held last fall, Naude said they’re still waiting for the sentencing of the killer.
“It halts the healing process. It definitely halts the healing process,” she said.