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Troup County state court working through backlog, issuing bench warrants for missed dates

The State Court of Troup County issued a notice to media outlets and law enforcement agencies on Monday in an effort to get people who have missed court dates during the pandemic to reschedule their appearances.

The notice reads:

“Please be advised that the State Court of Troup County is issuing bench warrants for missed court dates. If you are concerned that you may have an outstanding bench warrant and would like to resolve your case, please contact the sheriff’s office located in the Troup County Government Center at 706-298-3636. Depending on your circumstances, you may be given a new court date in lieu of you being taken into custody at the Troup County Jail.”

In an interview, Troup County State Court Judge Jeanette Little said her court was trying to be flexible to accommodate people amid the confusion and disruption caused by COVID-19.

“If you had a court date, and you were told ‘Oh, the courts are shut down,’ call us,” Little said. “And we won’t pick you up, we will give you another day to show up.”

The state court did not ever completely shut down, but regular court activities were suspended for a few weeks at the start of the pandemic. The court started resuming court activities on a limited basis with measures to ensure public health guidelines were being followed.

Little said after they re-noticed people whose court dates were cancelled, a significant portion did not appear. Others may have called to reschedule their court date because they were sick with the coronavirus but did not appear at the rescheduled date.

“We’re just trying to be as conscious as we can of the confusion that’s out there,” Little said.

The judge said she would prefer to resolve the cases amicably, as most of them are misdemeanors that usually result in fines, programs or probation. Little said there is still a large backlog of cases.

About half of the cases she hears are for driving with a suspended license, which are usually simple and resolved quickly, she said.

“We’ve been working on this since mid-March,” Little said. “We’ve been trying to do what we could to keep from having this humongous backlog. Now, we still have a big backlog because anybody that plead not guilty and asked for a jury trial, we still are not in a position to do a jury trial.”

If you have missed multiple court dates and do not contact the court, a bench warrant may be issued, which can lead to you being taken to jail until the case is resolved. A bench warrant does not result in additional charges, though.

If someone is brought in on a bench warrant, Little said she asks her staff to bring them into court the following day. The case may be resolved that day, she said, though if the defendant asks for a lawyer or wants to plead not guilty, the process can drag out.