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Judicial Emergency Declared in District of Arizona

January 25, 2011

Judicial Emergency Declared in District of Arizona.

The chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona has declared a judicial emergency that temporarily suspends a time limit set by federal law for brining criminal defendants to trial.

Chief District Judge Roslyn Silver took that rare step to head off any possible dismissal of criminal cases for failure to meet requirements of the Speedy Trial Act. The law requires a federal criminal trial to start within 70 days of the filing of an indictment or criminal complaint.

During a judicial emergency, the time limit may be extended to a maximum of 180 days.

The federal court in Arizona has the third highest criminal caseload among the nation’s 94 federal trial courts, driven by illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Criminal cases in that court have increased 65 percent since 2008. The bulk of the criminal caseload is assigned to the court’s Tucson division, where three judges currently handle about 1,200 cases each.

Judge Silver declared the emergency after discussing the caseload crisis with the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit at a special meeting in January. Her declaration, signed January 21, will expire February 19, 2011, but the Circuit’s Judicial Council agreed to extend the emergency by one year. That means complaints and indictments filed during this combined 13-month period will not be subject to the 70-day trial requirement.

The emergency status does not affect another Speedy Trial Act provision, which requires filing of an indictment within 30 days of an arrest.

“The need to suspend the time limit is of great urgency due to a heavy caseload, a lack of adequate resources, and the tragic death of Chief Judge John Roll,” Judge Silver said.

The late Chief Judge Roll, who was among those killed in a January 8 mass shooting in Tucson, months ago had initiated the process used to declare a judicial emergency. The federal court in Arizona is authorized 13 district judgeships but currently has three vacancies, two of them in its Tucson division.