Are you one of the many Houstonians wondering how the coronavirus pandemic might affect your criminal case? Are you hoping that social distancing and stay-at-home orders apply to any and all things related to your current legal situation?
When something terrible like the COVID-19 pandemic occurs, it’s only natural to look for silver linings. But if you are one of the many people facing criminal charges in Harris County, you didn’t hit the jackpot when news came out that the courts were closing. While trials may be delayed and certain inmates are being released, COVID-19 won’t act as a “Get out of Jail Free” card.
Learn how COVID-19 is affecting Harris County courts, recently arrested inmates, and what this could mean for you and your case in this helpful guide to COVID-19 and criminal cases in Harris County.
What will happen to my case during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Anyone hoping that the coronavirus would cancel their criminal case needs to reset their expectations. Criminal, civil, and juvenile cases will be moving forward during the COVID-19 outbreak, just more slowly than usual.
In the interest of public health and lowering the number of COVID-19 cases, district attorneys (DAs) are currently not coming to court. Jury duty is also currently suspended.
However, while those approaching the jury trial phase of their case can expect delays through (at least) April, other components of your case will move forward virtually or in a diminished court setting. Operations that don’t require large gatherings or juries will still move forward as best they can, albeit at a slower pace than usual. You can still enter pleas, file motions, and your case will still exist in the system as it normally would.
Has COVID-19 closed courts in Houston?
No, Houston courts are not closed because of coronavirus, but they are operating at a drastically reduced capacity. If you are facing criminal charges, it is unlikely that you will be in a courtroom outside of your initial arrangement hearing or an emergency scenario. Your attorney will work to accomplish as much as possible through virtual means so that your case can keep moving as best as possible until things return to normal.
While the continuing operation of different courts is ultimately up to the discretion of the presiding judge, the following guidelines apply to all Harris County Courts as of March 24th, 2020.
- In-person sessions are only to be held when absolutely necessary
- All courts must limit gatherings to 10 people at a time with the exception of grand juries, Chapter 81 jury trials, mental health trials, or as deemed constitutionally necessary by a judge
- Maximum occupancy must reflect the need to maintain at least 6 feet of social distance between all people in the courtroom, even if fewer than 10 people are present
Harris County criminal courts:
- No more than 4 County Criminal Courtrooms can operate on a given day
- No more than 8 Criminal District Courtrooms can operate on a given day
Harris County juvenile courts
- No more than 1 juvenile court can operate on a given day
- No more than 1 detention hearing room will be permitted to operate on a given day
- No more than 1 public viewing area by video will be permitted to operate on a given day
Harris County family courts
- All IV-D matters will be handled through virtual courtrooms
Is Harris County waiving bail due to COVID-19?
No, bail is not going away because of Coronavirus. While Harris County judges may opt to release nonviolent offenders on personal recognizance or at drastically reduced bail amounts, an executive order by Governor Greg Abbot temporarily forbids the courts from releasing inmates accused or previously convicted of a violent offense. In other words, someone arrested last week for parking tickets will likely be held if they were convicted of assault 10 years ago.
Obviously, social distancing in the Harris County jail isn’t really much of an option, especially now that cases have already been confirmed within the facility. As always, your best bet is to stay inside and stay out of trouble—the situation changes daily and there’s no guarantee that hard-line positions on bail won’t get even harder.
Defense from Thiessen Law Firm never rests
The courts may be operating at a reduced rate, but the Houston DWI lawyers at Thiessen Law Firm are fully operational and here to help you through any legal challenge you may be facing. Whether you have questions about a case in progress and what comes next, or you’ve just been arrested and need quality defense to help you through, the team at Thiessen Law Firm is here to fight for you and your rights.
Don’t let the uncertainty of today’s world keep you in the dark on your legal options. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation so that we can discuss your case and help you make the most of this situation.
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