County Attorney Addresses Why Some People Are in Jail for Months
The U.S. Constitution guarantees a speedy trial for anyone accused of a crime. Why, then are some suspects kept in jail for months at a time before being tried?
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst answered that question on Friday.
Pabst said there are several timelines at play in a criminal case.
“The first is when someone is arrested for probable cause by law enforcement and we have 48 hours to lodge charges and bring them before a magistrate,” Pabst began. “At that point, the judge that sees them first will set their bail, which will remain in effect either until they post it or it’s exonerated, either when charges are dropped, they are tried and either found innocent and released, or guilty and sent to prison.”
Pabst said the courts keep track of how long a person has been held in jail.
“If the delay is attributable to the state, if my office causes a delay, if it’s our fault, we’re held to a much shorter timeline,” she said. “If the delay is institutional due to so many cases being on the docket, the state Supreme Court will give us a little more time to get things scheduled.”
Tiffany Pierce and Augustus Standingrock have been in the Missoula County Jail since August on $2 million bail, charged with double homicide and cutting up their victims and placing their bodies in tubs of chemicals. Pabst said in their case, the delay in setting a trial date comes from the defense.
“If the delay is attributable to the defense, which it often is, because they want more time to prepare and interview witnesses and such, then it’s a much lower standard. It’s not unusual for a case as complicated as Pierce and Standing Rock to not go before an actual jury for sometimes a year, or even longer. We’re preparing to go to trial sometime within the next six to twelve months.”