As we look forward to 2024, it is important to identify the major issues facing the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office, and criminal justice in Hinds County. The following issues represent the challenges facing our office in 2024.
Prosecutors and Judges
The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes the highest volume of cases in the State. As demonstrated above, our office receives nearly 2,000 individual criminal cases each year amounting to over 3,000 felony counts. Before being presented to the Grand Jury, each of those cases must be reviewed and vetted by a prosecutor. The resulting indictments become active felony cases.
Given the volume of cases, Hinds County needs more statutorily funded Assistant District Attorney (ADA) positions. During the 2023 legislative session, the number of permanent ADAs was increased from 11 to 12. This was greatly needed and appreciated. Likewise, the legislature created an additional 2 temporary ADA positions in House Bill 834 (2023) and an additional 2 in House Bill 1020. As it presently stands, our office will lose the two ADAs created in HB 834 on July 1, 2025. Likewise, the two additional ADAs created by HB 1020, are not incorporated in Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-31-5, the law that provides the number of ADAs for each jurisdiction, as well as the funding for each positions; as a result, the Senate Budget Office interpreted both HB 834 and HB 1020 as creating 2 rather than 4 positions. In summary, at the conclusion of the 2023 legislative session, our Office believed, as did our legislative partners, that we were receiving 1 new permanent ADA position and 4 temporary ADA positions, a net gain of 5; however, in reality, due to the Senate Budget Office’s interpretation of the various laws, our net gain was only 3, two of which expire in on July 1, 2025.
To address this need, during this legislative session, we will be requesting the legislature to adjust language of Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-31-5(1)(g) to make permanent the 2 legal assistants granted in HB 834 (2023) which are presently only provided for until July 1, 2025, and incorporate the two additional legal assistants provided for in HB1020 (2023) to bring the total number of ADAs to 16, which our office believes was the original legislative intent.
While we are grateful for every funded position we are granted, 12 permanent prosecutors and 3 temporary positions does not meet the current need. 12 permanent ADAs means that each prosecutor is assigned over 140 new cases each year, and this number is added to his or her existing case load. According to the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards & Goals, as well as the American Prosecutors Research Institute, a prosecutor should handle no more than 150 felonies cases per year. In Hinds County, the average ADA has more than 300 cases on his or her active case list at any given time. This recommendation is not a matter of convenience for the prosecutor, but a safeguard to ensure that cases are adequately assessed and handled to the benefit of both the State and the accused.
Even if the legislature was to provide 10 new ADA positions, the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office would still not be able to address the volume of cases without more judges. Hinds County currently has four Circuit Court Judges who must divide their time between criminal and civil dockets. The number of judges poses significant challenges to the criminal justice system.
For the District Attorney’s Office, the inability to bring cases to trial creates a bottle-neck in the trial process and also diminishes the perceived threat of trial which subsequently impacts the willingness of criminal defendants to consider plea deals. With the looming uncertainty of when a trial might occur, defendants are more inclined to wait it out, hoping that their case may never reach the trial stage; meanwhile, evidence becomes stale, witnesses become more difficult to locate, and memories fade. This is equally true of the District Attorney’s Office’s Smart Justice initiatives. Programs like Pre-trial Intervention and Drug Court are essential in fostering rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. However, if no trial is imminent, criminal defendants are reluctant to enter such programs, similar to the wait-it-out approach to plea deals. The lack of judges ultimately undermines the potential for positive outcomes and rehabilitation within the criminal justice system.
Given the finite number of cases the DA’s office can bring to trial each year, our office is compelled to prioritize the prosecution of the most serious violent crimes, such as murder and rape, due to the limited capacity for trials. As a result, lesser offenses such as property crimes may be delayed, further exacerbating the backlog of cases and detrimentally impacting economic development in Hinds County. The scarcity of judicial resources not only hampers the efficiency of the justice system but also influences prosecutorial strategies, steering focus away from a comprehensive approach to addressing a diverse range of criminal activities.
The chart below provides the number of Judges and ADAs authorized in jurisdictions similar in population to Jackson and Hinds County.
Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-31-8 provides the operational allowance for all District Attorney’s Offices as follows: “the sum of Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) for each district, and an additional Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000.00) for each assistant authorized by Section 25-31-5(1).” First, this is a flat rate and does not take into account that Hinds County prosecutes more cases than any other office in the State of Mississippi. Each case, regardless of the crime charged, requires thousands of dollars in prosecution expenses such as man-hours and witness accommodations. A one-size-fits-all funding model does not provide for the disparity in case volume of the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office and other districts.
More critically, however, this amount needs to be increased to adjust for increased expenses created by recent legislation. For instance, the provisions of House Bill 719 (2022) that became effective January 1, 2024, require District Attorney’s Offices to reimburse the Department of Public Safety for the testimony of State pathologists, testimony that is critical in any homicide case. Each year, homicides in Hinds County represent approximately 20-25% of the homicides State-wide. This new requirement is going to place strain on, and may hinder our office’s ability to bring murderers to justice. It is probable that, if the operational allowance was solely dedicated to this new expenditure, it would not cover the anticipated costs of this new requirement.
Likewise, the creation of Capitol Police has added an additional law enforcement agency serviced by the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office. As demonstrated by the data in this report, Capitol Police cases now make-up a substantial number of the overall cases prosecuted by this office. Unquestionably, Capitol Police’s presence has contributed to a safer capital city; however, additional funding is needed to offset the increased case volume that Capitol Police has added to our dockets.
As noted above, effective July 1, 2023, the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office office receives an operational allowance of $98,000 each year. As such, our office is constantly advocating for funding for equipment, vehicles, and software. In recent legislative sessions, the Mississippi Legislature has earmarked ARPA and other funding for the provision of equipment and software for this office. However, to-date, the third-party firm that the Mississippi Department of Finance & Administration (DFA) has engaged to oversee ARPA funding has refused to release these funds or approve purchases and reimbursement. The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office desperately needs additional vehicles for investigators. Our office, which prosecutes more cases than any other district attorney’s office in the State, including approximately 20-25% of the State’s homicides, has invested in case management software to enable our office to manage the large volume of cases and reduce the costs associated with voluminous paper records. Again, the Mississippi Legislature has earmarked funds for such purchase; however, to-date, the third-party firm which oversees ARPA funding has refused to approve the purchase and/or release the funds. Thus, while our legislative partners have provided us with support, that support has not been received due to bureaucratic red-tape.
Timely Access to Scientific Analysis
As noted above, homicides in Hinds County represent approximately 20-25% of the homicides State-wide. Presently, it takes over a year to receive autopsy reports form the Medical Examiner. Our office cannot bring a murder defendant to trial, or engage in significant plea negotiations, without the autopsy report. A medical examiner dedicated solely to Hinds County would reduce the time it takes to bring a murder case to trial.
Likewise, our office cannot prosecute narcotics cases without a report from the state crime lab confirming that the substance that the defendant possessed or trafficked was, in fact, a controlled substance. The turn-around time for testing is over two years. As a result, drug charges are often substantially delayed due to the lack of evidence necessary to indict a narcotics violator.
 This code section was amended in 2023 increasing the base amount from $35,000 to $50,000. Therefore, prior to July 1, 2023, the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office’s operating allowance was $79,000.