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Shelby County adds a third grand jury to reduce case backlog, jail wait times

By Published: April 03, 2019 4:00 AM CT

Shelby County has added a third grand jury in hopes of reducing the length of time defendants wait in jail while also whittling down the case backlog.

The county's 10 criminal court judges earlier this month agreed unanimously to the addition.

With the third panel, grand juries will now meet three days a week instead of two. They previously met Tuesdays and Thursdays, but now a panel will meet Wednesdays as well.

The new Wednesday panel deals with misdemeanor cases, while felony cases will be heard Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The new Wednesday grand jury has met twice so far, March 20 and March 27.

Retired Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Michael Leavitt was appointed March 16 as foreperson of the Wednesday grand jury.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said the additional grand jury means more work for her office, but it means closure for victims.

“Instead of having to prepare cases for two grand juries a week, we are preparing cases for three grand juries a week, but it is still the right thing to do for citizens and the victims of crime,” Weirich said.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris requested the grand jury expansion last year as part of a larger goal of reducing the county’s jail population – one of his top priorities since beginning his first term as mayor in September.

The Shelby County Safety and Justice Challenge Committee recommended the additional grand jury to Harris. The committee is composed of court and law enforcement officials.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge John Campbell, who helped implement the grand jury expansion, said 100 to 120 cases per day go before the grand jury – a process the expansion will expedite.

“Until the grand jury acts on the case, nothing can happen,” Campbell said. 

He said county officials will evaluate the success of the grand jury expansion over the next few months before deciding whether to continue it or go back to two.

“This way, the cases can be presented in a reasonable time,” Campbell said.

Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk Heidi Kuhn said her office welcomed news of an additional grand jury.

“I think the additional grand jury is a good idea,” Kuhn said. “It is going to help expedite cases and make sure that defendants have a speedy trial because it was prolonged before and having this third grand jury is going to help with that cause."

Kuhn said her concern going forward is making sure her office has the staff to help with the additional grand jury.

“Long term, we run the risk of not having that extra personnel in making sure it (the grand jury) runs efficient and effective,” Kuhn said.

She added that she plans to ask the Shelby County Commission for additional staffing.

<strong>Lee Harris</strong>

Lee Harris

<strong>Amy Weirich</strong>

Amy Weirich

Topics

Shelby County Lee Harris Amy Weirich Heidi Kuhn Criminal Justice Criminal Justice Reform

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