The Supreme Court of Texas has issued its 33rd Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster (link opens a PDF). This means statewide COVID-19 restrictions have been expanded and will continue until April 1, 2021.
Although the state has a collection of rules that must be followed, every county is operating differently.
Wichita Falls and Hood County, for example, still hold in-person appearances with social distancing and masks; Tarrant County and Parker County have online appearances via Zoom, Dallas County has optional in-person appearances, and Denton County has no appearances.
Differences even exist between District and County courts. The Wise County District Court does not allow appearances, and the Wise County Court allows in-person appearances.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some motions have been pending for almost a year. As the administrative director of Texas’ court administration office tells The Texas Tribune:
“The court system in Texas has responded really well in everything except jury trials.”
Delays and Dangers
Many people charged with crimes await trial while the court modifies or suspends deadlines and procedures. While this seems sensible considering the global health crisis, it represents a frightening reality for the many defendants waiting for justice in potentially infected jails. One criminal defense lawyer explains:
“It’s awfully easy for lawyers in ivory towers to say we need to wait; it’s not easy for my guy sitting in jail.”
Still, even the defendants who get trials – in-person or via Zoom – may not get the justice they deserve. COVID-19 makes selecting a representative jury extremely difficult, and members of the court cannot see important, sometimes case-defining facial expressions through masks. Deciding someone’s freedom virtually is also extremely controversial, so many courts only use Zoom for cases with lower stakes.
Some cases end in mistrial or experience mid-trial delays and quarantines due to an active case of COVID-19 in the courtroom. Many attorneys are considering appeals that simply won’t be possible until the end of the pandemic.
Taking a Second Look
In Dallas, the District Attorney’s office has been taking a second look at every trial-ready case to see if there’s another way to resolve it. Some legal teams are opting for a bench trial before a judge or considering more lenient plea agreements.
Defense attorneys are considering every option to help their clients in a timely manner. The state expects the backlog of civil and criminal trials to surpass 10,000 in April, and it could take years to resolve.
So, Do You Need to Appear in Court?
It depends. If you live in a county that allows in-person appearances and need a jury trial, you will likely have to appear in court. If you live in a county that doesn’t allow in-person appearances, you may have to wait for a trial or try another method of resolution.
Either way, you must trust your attorney to have your best interests in mind. At the Law Offices of David Sloane, we are known for our thorough, dedicated representation. We have the knowledge to fight your charges, and we are ready to put more than 20 years of experience on your side.
Call us at (817) 349-7118 today to tell us about your situation, or send us a message online so we can start working on a solution that works for you.