Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett on Thursday announced a new program designed to get some nonviolent offenders facing probation through court quicker.
Bennett said he hopes the Initial Assessment Docket will help relieve the backlog of criminal cases awaiting prosecution in Sedgwick County District Court.
As of last week, about 900 cases were on the jury trial docket, he said – more than the court officials can handle expediently using current means.
“We were trying to get people moved through the system sooner,” said Bennett, who discussed the program Thursday during the first of weekly press conferences to be held to promote transparency and public accessibility to the district attorney’s office.
“We know that a vast majority of cases are resolved by way of a negotiation. … Sometimes all it takes is someone paying attention to these cases right off the bat” to get defendants through the courts faster, he said.
Program goals also include lessening jail overcrowding, reducing repeat subpoenas issued to victims and relieving stress on the courts, he added.
Under the IAD program, the district attorney’s office will assess any restitution owed, criminal history and facts in a case before it is filed. A defendant then is offered the best plea deal and returns in about two to four weeks to enter a plea after consulting with a defense attorney.
Those eligible face misdemeanors; some drug charges, including felony prescription drug cases; theft or burglary; criminal property damage; arson; forgery; identity theft; some financial crimes; or fraud.
Defendants charged with a felony against a person, sex crimes, domestic violence, crimes against children or the elderly or cases involving documented gang members or public officials are among those ineligible.
During the first quarter of the year, the district attorney’s office filed 1,993 counts in 799 criminal cases, including 543 for property crimes, 462 for traffic offenses and 380 for drugs. Bennett said two of the first three defendants who participated after the program was introduced March 19 on Thursday pleaded guilty as charged.
“They didn’t get some sweetheart deal here. We weren’t giving away the farm,” Bennett said. “It’s just paying attention earlier in the system.”