The addition of two new prosecutors had led to the moving of a greater number of cases at the 15th Circuit Solicitor's Office. (Source: Amy Lipman)
CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Cases are starting to move faster through the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office thanks to Horry County residents’ tax dollars.
Two new prosecutors were added to the Horry County budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Between April 1, 2014 and April 1, 2015, the office had 15 prosecutors and moved 7,750 cases through the judicial system. From April 1, 2015 to April 1, 2016, that number grew to 8,716 cases, during which the office had 17 prosecutors for nine months.
Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said those numbers even surprised him, but he knows taking any single case off the desk of one prosecutor frees up time.
"Somebody's calling, 'Hey what's going on with this case where someone forged a check of mine?'” he said. “So constantly you're answering the phone and before you can get that fire out, you're onto another one."
The office's two new prosecutors have handled about 330 cases total since they started last July. Those are mostly cases with possible sentences of under five years. However, by getting smaller cases off the desks of more experienced prosecutors, the entire office is more efficient.
"We have been able to do that just by sort of letting the pressure off for some of those cases and redistributing those,” Richardson said.
Each prosecutor is still responsible for nearly 400 cases each year, but that’s an improvement from 560 cases per prosecutor in 2015, Richardson said.
The goal is to have each prosecutor handling 250 cases, but Richardson said a steady caseload keeps the prosecutors working at a productive pace.
“We don't want time wasted by 40 people when we were once doing it with 15,” he said
Richardson said he won’t be asking for any additional prosecutors from Horry County this year, but the office is up for seven prosecutors in the state’s budget, a request that was denied last year.
"I would just hope that if we are able to hire more that you would see these numbers continue to drop,” Richardson said.
The solicitor's office gets 85 percent of its cases through the system within a year, which is above the recommended 80 percent, Richardson said. However, they’re trying to get select cases tried within nine months.
A new fast track program is a strategic initiative to bring certain defendants to court sooner when the prosecutor wouldn't be willing to offer a plea deal anyway.
Richardson said this works with cases that have video evidence or eye witnesses available rather than relying on experts to look at more complex evidence, such as DNA.
He said the cases also can't have much involvement from outside agencies because they can slow down the investigation process.
Richardson said the fastest his office could probably prosecute a case would be about six months, but this offers the solicitor's office another strategy when taking someone to trial.
"Defense attorneys will tell you that they want a speedy trial. The judges will say we want a speedy trail. We’ll say we want it,” he said. “All we're going to do is put that adage in place.”
Richardson is working with the deputy solicitor now to pick out two or three cases that will qualify for this pilot program.