Prosecutor’s office discusses options to solve backlog of court cases

The Honolulu prosecutor’s office said it has a backlog of cases and is now turning to state lawmakers for help in getting rid of them.

The office said it’s dealt with more than 29,000 cases for minor non-violent offenses.

So what’s needed to lower their case load?

We’re told the majority of these cases involve homeless defendants who fail to appear in court, which then takes away time and resources needed for more important cases.

Over the last two years, the prosecutor’s office handled 21,763 cases for park rule violations and 7,432 cases for simple trespassing, but Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro said only a fraction of those are actually closed.

“A lot to them don’t come to town, don’t come to court, and that’s when we have more cases generated, the bench warrants,” he said. “The cases add up and it clogs up the calendar.”

A pilot program to combat the problem was launched in January.

The Community Outreach Court program clears the backlog by bringing the courts to the homeless offenders and allowing them to clear cases.

We’re told public defenders locate them and a court date is scheduled. “And then have a court session there, either at a community center or at a parks recreation,” Kaneshiro said. “We want to make sure there is accountability for their conduct, so instead of fines and incarceration, we have community service.”

He said the pilot program was effective, “just seven defendants accounted for over 100 cases that were cleared up.”

A federal grant got the program started, but more money is needed to keep it going, so the office is asking state lawmakers for $612,000.

Kaneshiro said the program also gives the homeless access to treatment and counseling.

“In exchange for getting rid of the cases, the court will order them to go to seek services,” he said.

Kaneshiro said the budget request has moved past the House and it’s now in the Senate.

We’re told a similar request to lawmakers last year failed to make it through the session.

We’ll let you know if the money is approved.

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