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Update: Court Case Backlog Balloons During Pandemic


Newport District Court in Penobscot County

The number of criminal cases in Maine waiting to be resolved has ballooned to half as many additional cases as were being dealt with before the coronavirus pandemic started - and little progress had been made to clear the backlog.


The backlog had mostly grown in outstanding felonies. In fact, the percentage increase numbers have flipped in just eight months - there are now fewer misdemeanors but more serious cases waiting to be resolved.


However, the longer-term picture is bleak based on a snapshot comparison of pending cases between February last year - as the pandemic was in its infancy - and October this year. Not much has changed in total number of backed up cases.


Figures from the Administrative Office of the Courts show that the current number of pending felony and misdemeanor cases for October 2021 was 25,986. That’s slightly down from when this blog analyzed figures from February 2021 and the number stood at 26,924 cases. However, it is still a huge increase from February last year when there were 17,716 cases. Comparing that number to October 2021 there is still an increase of nearly half as many cases - up 47%, down just 5% from eight months ago.


Cumberland County, Maine's most populated county and which includes Portland, has seen a lower percentage than the increase statewide, with a 35% rise in both pending felony and misdemeanor cases respectively.


The largest increases in criminal caseloads appear to be in counties where prosecutors have traditionally sought harsher penalties. Some of the percentage swings are also much wilder in lower populated counties because of the small number of cases, giving a disproportionate impact when case numbers go up, or in one case down.


Penobscot‘s case load is getting towards triple the number of felonies at pre-pandemic levels - up 172%. The number of misdemeanors in the county, which includes Bangor, Lincoln, and Newport courts, has also nearly doubled - up 95%.


Piscataquis County has seen a 160% rise in unresolved misdemeanors. The number of unresolved felonies has doubled.


York County, which includes courts in Alfred, Biddeford, Springvale, and York, and is Maine's second largest county, has a 45% rise in pending felony cases and 54% in misdemeanors. That’s considerably better than eight months ago when misdemeanors were up 84% pre-pandemic to now, but unresolved felonies are up.


Only ONE county saw a fall in any type of case between February 2020 and October 2021 - the number of misdemeanor cases in Somerset County actually dropped eight per cent in that time.

Courts across the state have been trying to tackle the backlog by resuming trials in person while limiting most hearings to video remote proceedings where evidence isn’t being given. That had been pushed by criminal defense attorneys who are dealing with more cases and fewer numbers taking court appointments.

There has also been a growing patchwork of different rules for different counties. in Cumberland County, dispositional conferences - informal meetings between a judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney - have been mostly eradicated unless they are requested.



TOTAL FOR MAINE


Felony: 4,714 (Feb 2020), 7,300 (Oct 2021) (up 55%)

Misdemeanor: 13,002 (Feb 2020), 18,686 (Oct 2021) (up 44%)


The numbers by county:


Androscoggin

Felony: 438 (Feb 2020), 600 (Oct 2021) (up 37%)

Misdemeanor: 1,287 (Feb 2020), 1,932 (Oct 2021) (up 50%)

Aroostook

Felony: 471 (Feb 2020), 469 (Oct 2021) (up 63%)

Misdemeanor: 762 (Feb 2020), 1,175 (Oct 2021) (up 54%)


Cumberland

Felony: 948 (Feb 2020), 1,283 (Oct 2021) (up 35%)

Misdemeanor: 2,701 (Feb 2020), 3,647 (Oct 2021) (up 35%)


Franklin

Felony: 80 (Feb 2020), 96 (Oct 2021) (20%)

Misdemeanor: 267 (Feb 2020), 275 (Oct 2021) (up 3%)


Hancock

Felony: 211 (Feb 2020), 300 (Oct 2021) (up 42%))

Misdemeanor: 530 (Feb 2020), 589 (Oct 2021) (up 11%)


Kennebec

Felony: 404 (Feb 2020), 581 (Oct 2021) (up 43%)

Misdemeanor: 1,187 (Feb 2020), 1,656 (Oct 2021) (up 40%)


Knox

Felony: 159 (Feb 2020), 211 (Oct 2021) (up 33%)

Misdemeanor: 352 (Feb 2020), 437 (Oct 2021) (up 24%)


Lincoln

Felony: 94 (Feb 2020), 129 (Oct 2021) (up 37%)

Misdemeanor: 221 (Feb 2020), 261 (Oct 2021) (up 18%)


Oxford

Felony: 213 (Feb 2020), 369 (Oct 2021) (up 73%)

Misdemeanor: 570 (Feb 2020), 842 (Oct 2021) (up 48%)


Penobscot

Felony: 404 (Feb 2020), 1,102 (Oct 2021) (up 172%)

Misdemeanor: 1,174 (Feb 2020), 2,285 (Oct 2021) (up 95%)


Piscataquis

Felony: 32 (Feb 2020), 64 (Oct 2021) (up 100%)

Misdemeanor: 42 (Feb 2020), 109 (Oct 2021) (up 160%)


Sagadahoc

Felony: 101 (Feb 2020), 126 (Oct 2021) (up 25%)

Misdemeanor: 284 (Feb 2020), 341 (Oct 2021) (up 20%)


Somerset

Felony: 159 (Feb 2020), 167 (Oct 2021) (up 5%)

Misdemeanor: 460 (Feb 2020), 422 (Feb 2021) (down 8%)


Waldo

Felony: 111 (Feb 2020), 223 (Oct 2021) (up 101%)

Misdemeanor: 291 (Feb 2020), 330 (Oct 2021) (up 13%)


Washington

Felony: 105 (Feb 2020), 146 (Oct 2021) (up 39%)

Misdemeanor: 216 (Feb 2020), 299 (Oct 2021) (up 38%)


York

Felony: 784 (Feb 2020), 1,134 (Oct 2021) (up 45%)

Misdemeanor: 2,658 (Feb 2020), 4,086 (Oct 2021) (up 54%)


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