Superior Court resolving criminal cases sooner

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Compared with more than a decade ago, the movement of criminal cases through Richmond County Superior Court has increased dramatically.

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Jeanne Peterson entered one of 1,832 guilty pleas in Richmond County Superior Court  in 2009. She was originally indicted on murder charges but pleaded to reduced charges.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Jeanne Peterson entered one of 1,832 guilty pleas in Richmond County Superior Court in 2009. She was originally indicted on murder charges but pleaded to reduced charges.

Since The Augusta Chronicle began annual tracking in 1996 of what happens to criminal cases that enter the court system each year, the average time between indictment and disposition has shrunk from 494 days to 115 days last year.

Some cases still linger unresolved for months, even years, but far fewer cases have fallen into a legal black hole since the Superior Court judges were forced into case assignment by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005.

Last year, 3,031 Superior Court cases were open. By the end of the year, 531 cases indicted during the first eight months of the year or carried over from 2008 were still pending. The Chronicle subtracted cases indicted in the last four months of the year because American Bar Association standards concern cases older than four months.

But by the same ABA standards, the pace of adjudication is still too slow. In Richmond County, 82.5 percent of criminal cases were closed last year. The ABA recommends courts close 90 percent of criminal cases within four months and all within a year.

The Superior Court is closer to that goal than at any point since 1996, when The Chronicle found it had the highest backlog of criminal cases in Georgia. In the past, the best efforts still left a backlog of more than 25 percent of all cases for the following year.

Until mid-2005, the Augusta Judicial Circuit courts operated under a trial calendar-based system. The chief judge assigned the judges to preside over calendars and handle whatever cases appear on the calendars.

When the Supreme Court insisted the Augusta judges follow the same rules as courts in the rest of the state, the local judges had to adopt case assignment. Since then, each case is assigned to a specific judge on a random basis. Each judge is responsible for moving his assigned cases through the system.

In 2009, Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet started the year with fewer cases because he closed a greater portion of his cases the year before. Over the year, Overstreet had 554 criminal defendants assigned to him. Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. had the largest number of criminal defendants in the year, 664.

District Attorney Ashley Wright was impressed with the number of cases closed in 2009. In an e-mail, she wrote, "A great many cases are easily addressed in a rapid manner. ... However, some cases are the products of intricacies and complicated factual situations and cannot be disposed of in a similar manner. These cases take more time to develop and prosecute successfully. In order to do justice, the cases cannot be rushed to disposal or placed under a forced timeline."

Of the 1,056 known jailed defendants last year, 18.7 percent remained incarcerated, with their cases still unresolved by the end of the year. The number of people in jail awaiting trial figures into the overcrowding of the jail and the cost to taxpayers. Each day a person spends in jail costs about $50.

Twenty-eight jailed defendants have cases unresolved for more than a year. Three of the defendants in pretrial detention the longest, more than two years, all face murder charges.

As in past years, the largest number of defendants were charged with drug crimes. The second-largest number of defendants were accused of property crimes. Those accused of violent crimes remained relatively constant from earlier years. Last year, 861 defendants faced charges of violent crimes that ranged from murder to terroristic threats.

Of the defendants who were convicted, those most likely to receive a prison term, 55 percent, were convicted of violent crimes. In all, 451 defendants sentenced in Richmond County Superior Court last year received some time in prison. Thirteen people were sentenced to life in prison.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or


Click here to view a PDF of the numbers for individual Richmond County Superior Court judges.


A computer-assisted examination of the criminal cases tracked in Richmond County Superior Court in 2009, without those indicted in the final four months of the year:


Of the defendants convicted and sentenced in 2009:

CRIME No. sentenced Prison Probation
Drugs 608 131 477
Property 570 128 442
Violent 247 139 108
Other 48 16 32
Weapon 33 2 31
Driving 20 7 13
Escape 14 5 9
Misdemeanors* 317 -- --

* No misdemeanor convictions resulted in prison terms, but not all resulted in probation sentences either; some were sentenced as "time served."

Source: Richmond County Superior Court Clerk records


Guilty pleas 1,832
Pending 531
Bench warrants issued 310
Dismissed 181
Inactive 81
Drug Court 43
Trial conviction 25
Trial acquittal 10
Mental commitment 13
Sent juvenile court 4
Not guilty by reason insanity 1
Total defendants 3,031

Comments (9) Add comment
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justus4 01/23/10 - 06:50 am
Blah, blah, blah. The U.S.

Blah, blah, blah. The U.S. criminal justice system is the tool that's being used to "enslave" an entire race of people. The U.S. remains along with Sudan, Iran, & China who murder their own citizens, claiming that their so-called "justice" is being exacted only on those who deserve it. Ha! If minorities are only 12% of the population, then how can the people most likely to be killed by the death penalty be persons of color? Easy. Have a unfair system of prosecution, then have jury rigging, then the fix is already in - giving a facade to justice. (This happens to be the historicial past of the South) So, Tx has probably murdered at least ONE wrong person and guessing his race would be too easy, and now, this article addresses the speed of these "trial convictions" because filling up the prisons ain't happening fast enough - never mind the Constitution - just get 'em through. EXCEPT particular individuals, like those who are caught red-handed, but allowed to escape based on white supremacy prosecutions - that never actually happen. Oh, and why not provide outcomes based on race? Why avoid it? Race actually determines EVERYTHING involving the US penal system. Great country, eh?

airbud7 01/23/10 - 08:18 am
Crime Rates • Blacks are

Crime Rates
• Blacks are seven times more likely than people of other races to commit murder,
and eight times more likely to commit robbery.
• When blacks commit crimes of violence, they are nearly three times more likely
than non-blacks to use a gun, and more than twice as likely to use a knife.
• Hispanics commit violent crimes at roughly three times the white rate, and
Asians commit violent crimes at about one quarter the white rate.

Riverman1 01/23/10 - 08:47 am
The article doesn't get to

The article doesn't get to the heart of the matter until the end of the story. It's the DA's office actions that causes backlogs. After the bad press last year, they seem to be doing better though.

justsoyaknow 01/23/10 - 09:16 am
0 are so demented. are so demented. If the country is so bad, WHY are you still here complaining?? Probably still waiting for the "change"?

fishman960 01/23/10 - 11:22 am
I'm still waiting for the

I'm still waiting for the Adrian Hargrove murder trial to come up.This sick [filtered word] took mt wife's uncle, aunt , and cousin for no apparent reason other than jealousy. Been two years, and still waiting.

ispy4u 01/23/10 - 11:32 am
Amazingly not one time did

Amazingly not one time did this article mention race but the consistent posters on here as predictable as they are went there.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 01/23/10 - 12:12 pm
Justus, head on down to

Justus, head on down to Haiti, they don't have those problems there.

jboy 01/23/10 - 12:19 pm
justus needs a pacifier

justus needs a pacifier

wildman 01/23/10 - 02:30 pm
JUSTUS, I pray for people

JUSTUS, I pray for people like you. I'm not sure if you actually believe everything you write or just trying to get a reaction out of others. Some one has already made the comment and I agree, if you think it's that bad, why are you still here in this area? Some things are never fair but you will find your problem on both sides of the fence, try looking at it from a white persons view, every time something is said that a black person does not like it's racism and I just don't think it's as big a problem as you make it be. At least not in my personal life, that's all I can speak for.

BakersfieldCityLimits 01/23/10 - 05:08 pm
Speak truth to power.

Speak truth to power. President Obama has shown us the way.

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