The US Courts for the Ninth Circuit [official website] announced [press release] on Tuesday that Chief Judge Roslyn Silver of the US District Court of Arizona [official website] has declared a judicial emergency [order; PDF] under the Speedy Trial Act [18 USC § 3161-3174]. Judge Silver's order suspends the time limits set forth in 18 USC § 3161 [text], which require that a federal criminal trial commence 70 days after a complaint or indictment. The judicial emergency allows a federal criminal trial to begin a maximum of 180 days after being charged. The emergency order does not affect the provision requiring filing of an indictment within 30 days of an arrest and it does not affect time limits for those that are awaiting trial. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski [official profile], the chair of the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit [official website], expressed hope that Congress would aid the Arizona district courts stating:
The district court in Arizona urgently needs additional resources. Judicial vacancies need to be filled and new judgeships should be given strong consideration. There is also a need for more court staff and facilities.
The order declared the federal emergency would last for 30 days, but at the request of Judge Silver the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council extended the suspension for an additional year. The suspension will last until February 19, 2012.
The judicial emergency was one of the initiatives of Chief Judge John Roll [WSJ Profile], who was among the victims of the recent shooting [JURIST report] in Tucson, Arizona. Arizona federal courts have experienced a drastic increase in their federal criminal caseload due to illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] and drug trafficking. The Arizona federal court currently has three vacancies and is eligible for as many as five judgeships based on its case load. In the Tucson division, which handles the most cases, three judges are handling an average of 1,200 cases each. While the strain on the District Court in Arizona is front and center due to recent events, nationwide there has been a shortage of judges, and various legal groups have called on the President and Congress to make nominations and confirmations a top priority [JURIST report].