Court cases across Oregon are taking longer and longer to resolve. This has a variety of consequences, including the fact that pretrial defendants are spending more time behind bars.
It’s a particularly acute problem in Multnomah County, according to Oregon Judicial Department reports reviewed by WW. Less than half of criminal cases in Multnomah County Circuit Court are resolved within state “timely disposition” goals. Those benchmarks measure the percentage of misdemeanor and felony cases that resolve within 90 days and 180 days, respectively.
The goal is 90%. For felonies, Multnomah County is at 48%, the lowest rate of any county in the state. For misdemeanors, the Multnomah County rate is 37%—only Clatsop and Columbia do worse.
The goals were set in 2018 based on recommendations by the National Center for State Courts. “The intent is to encourage the fair disposition of cases at the earliest possible time,” the center says.
There are two major drivers of this trend, explains Multnomah County trial court administrator Barbara Marcille: the pandemic, when court proceedings slowed as everything transitioned online, and a reduction in misdemeanor filings.
“Those lower-level criminal cases typically resolve more quickly, and more are dismissed due to plea negotiations and diversion programs,” she tells WW. In other words, the court is dealing with a greater proportion of felony cases, which suck up more time, and leave fewer resources to mop up the misdemeanors.
But most misdemeanor cases resolved in 2022 were filed prior to 2021, she says. In short: The court is playing catch-up, and defendants are being forced to wait as a result.