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New efforts underway to address delayed justice in Indiana

Lawmaker, prosecutor respond to WRTV Investigation
Robyn Matthews has been waiting since 2016 for her alleged rapist to go to trial in Marion County.
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 23, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — New efforts are underway across the state to address delayed justice for both victims of crimes and defendants.

WRTV’s Investigation Justice Delayed revealed the many reasons why justice can be delayed: COVID-19 delays and shutdowns, defense strategy, court and attorney caseloads, as well as the amount of witnesses and evidence involved in a case.

We uncovered no state or local agency appears to be tracking how long criminal cases take.

We took our findings to state leaders to find out what they plan to do to address delayed justice.

“I’m never going to see justice”:  Robyn Matthews' story

Every day is a waiting game for Robyn Matthews.

Since 2016, she’s been waiting for the man she’s accused of rape to go to trial in Marion County.

"After dealing with this for the past six years, I can fully understand why people don't come forward,” said Matthews. “It's a lot to process. Those that have charges against them have the right to a speedy trial, but victims should too."

When WRTV Investigates looked up the case, we found the case summary alone is 34 pages long.

WRTV could not find any state, city or local agency that is keeping track of how long alleged victims and defendants have to wait for justice.

According to the National Center for State Courts, the average time from charges to disposition is 256 days for a felony case. Indiana did not participate in the analysis.

Matthews says Indiana needs to do better.

"There would be more accountability,” said Matthews. “You could see where there are gaps. It needs to happen. We need to be tracking this."

Hancock County prosecutor aims to track data

Hancock County prosecutor Brent Eaton agrees wholeheartedly.

“Anything you measure you're going to become better at," said Eaton.

WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney talks to Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton

Eaton is looking at creating a database for Hancock County using software designed by the nonprofit organization called Measures for Justice.

It could track how quickly cases move through the system, how cases end and what percentage of referrals from law enforcement are actually charged.

“That would be interesting to know,” said Eaton. “I think a database would bring accountability and transparency so people would have an idea of what they’re actually doing based on actual facts.”

Eaton said tracking the length of criminal cases would be a valuable tool to improving public safety.

“As prosecutors we want to try to serve the public,” said Eaton. “We want to try to be the voice for people that don’t have one. If this is going to help serve our communities better—I don’t know that you can put a price on that. Those people don’t ever get that back. They’re counting on us to do that right.”

Eaton also said there’s a cost to the judicial system when cases languish for years.

“If the case pends for a longer period of time, the person that has a public defender will be on the public payroll for a longer period of time,” said Eaton. “That’s just what it is. There may be additional man hours for support staff as you prepare for trial, for law enforcement.”

Eaton is working on getting cost estimates to start up and maintain such a data tracking program.

The prosecutor emphasizes he can only look at data tracking for Hancock County.

“That’s as far as I’m able to go,” said Eaton.

State Senator pushes for better tracking

Which begs the question—if Hancock County can do this, why can’t other counties, or better yet, the state of Indiana?

We took our findings to Indiana Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis.

“I have formally asked the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, or IPAC, to report back to me in terms of what it would cost to add a data field,” said Freeman.

Freeman, a former prosecutor in Marion County, is concerned about criminal cases taking six years to resolve.

"It's just blatantly unfair to victims to make them wait that long,” said Freeman.

Currently, a state website does offer some trial court statistics broken down by county, including whether a case was resolved by a jury or bench trial.

Freeman says the state should also track how long victims and defendants have to wait for justice.

“Once you have data, you can start looking for those outliers,” said Freeman. “So you can say ‘OK, maybe we need to do better in this.'"

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) says it has received Freeman’s request and are in the process of reviewing it.

“We look forward to working with the senator and the rest of the legislature on this project if and when it moves forward in the legislative process," a statement from IPAC read.

Freeman said the state and Marion County are too focused on the criminal.

“You need a victim focus,” said Freeman. “There needs to be much more advocacy on the side of victims. I think we’ve lost something in our system about the victim.”

Freeman says tracking how long cases take may help counties better address the rights of victims.

“I think data is very, very important and I think if we can make it easy for people to know, I think it’s something we should look into,” said Freeman. “I’ll be happy to do that when summer study committee starts and into next year.”

State: Judges should be “actively engaged in managing their dockets”

WRTV asked the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration whether they have any plans to start tracking how long cases last throughout the state.

The agency did not indicate it has any plans to do so.

“While the Office of Judicial Administration does not maintain statewide statistics on time to trial, individual judges have access to their own case information and the ability to calculate how long it has been since a case has been filed,” read a statement from the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration. “This is crucial information as judges manage their docket. And it is Chief Justice Loretta Rush’s expectation that judges are actively engaged in managing their dockets to ensure cases result in a timely and fair adjudication.”

Indiana’s Constitution requires victims of crimes to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

In an October 2020 opinion, Watson v. State, Chief Justice Loretta Rush emphasized the importance of timely justice in our legal system.

The opinion states, “The right to a speedy trial is one of this country’s most basic, fundamental guarantees—one much older than the nation itself. It protects against ‘prolonged detention without trial’ as well as unreasonable ‘delay in trial.’ To safeguard these protections, the State and the courts—together, the government—have an obligation to ensure the timely prosecution of criminal defendants.”

Judges are not allowed to speak about pending cases, per the Judicial Code of Conduct.

Judge Grant Hawkins, the judge in Robyn Matthews' rape case, is retiring in September—something Matthews worries could delay her case even more.

“Who is above a judge? What can we do about this?” asked Matthews. “I don't think there is anything I can do."

Robyn Matthews is actually one of three women who are waiting for their alleged rapist to go to trial in Marion County.

PREVIOUS | Justice Delayed: Women wait 6 years for alleged rapist’s case to resolve

The case is scheduled to go trial on July 18, but it’s not yet clear which alleged victims will be part of that trial.

You can watch our full investigation Justice Delayed here.