The main breakdown in the clogged local criminal justice system is in Criminal Court, officials said at a meeting Tuesday.
General Sessions Court judges said they have a mandate that cases must be out of their court in 120 days, but officials said cases sometimes get tied up in Criminal Court for years.
Newly elected Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman was at the meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee at the MLK Building.
Judge Don Poole is in England for a judicial seminar.
Judge Rebecca Stern was reminded of the meeting by an attorney in her court on Tuesday morning. She said she did not have it on her calendar and asked her court officer to call to say she could not come. Judge Stern was conducting a bond hearing.
Shawn Johnson, county corrections coordinator, said he compiled a 163-page report on criminal defendants. He said, "It's disgusting how long it takes to go through the courts."
He said while cases drag on, some police officers quit, witnesses become unavailable and victims may lose interest.
Mr. Johnson said, "It's almost like the defendants are playing the system for all they can."
District Attorney Bill Cox said the time it takes to move a case through the Grand Jury has been cut to about a month.
He said his office is taking steps to become better prepared when cases first come up in Criminal Court. He said judges there need to set strict deadlines on when pleas can be worked out and trials held.
Mr. Cox said when cases are continually passed "it's more work for everybody."
He said, "The judges are going to have to hold everybody's feet to the fire."
New General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell noted that in Federal Court there are definite deadlines. She said, "They don't waver from those. You don't ask for a continuance."
General Sessions Court Judge David Bales said it is frustrating to have cases "taken upstairs" right at the 120-day mark, then languish in Criminal Court for another year and a half.
He said the defendants usually wind up getting about the same sentence they would have gotten in General Sessions Court.
Judge Bales said, "There ought to be consequences" for dragging on with cases. He said attorneys now feel it is "almost malpractice" for them not to go all the way through the Criminal Court process.
Bob Moon, another General Sessions Court judge, said cases are sometimes taken from that court by lawyers who "judge shop" and get a more favorable ruling. He said sometimes bonds are lowered significantly and those who have failed drug screens are put back in drug programs.
Chattanooga Police Chief Steve Parks said there is "huge frustration" among officers who make arrests then find the same defendants back out on the streets quickly.
He noted that the man who was holed up by a SWAT Team on Monday had 22 outstanding warrants against him.