Were you arrested for a DWI some time ago and are anticipating the start of your trial? You have waited long enough for your day in court. Your defense attorney has a strong, viable defense strategy. You are ready.
But then the coronavirus came. And now everything seems topsy-turvy, including the court system. Courts across the State of Texas are experiencing widespread delays, including putting jury trials on hold. What does this all mean for you and your DWI charge? It means you may have to wait longer for justice. That's not fair, but here we are.
Here, we provide an overview of what you should know about the criminal court system and the COVID-19 State of Disaster.
What are Courts Doing Generally in Texas in Response to the Coronavirus?
On March 19, 2020, a Third Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster was issued in the Supreme Court of Texas (Misc. Docket No. 20-9044) and in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas (Misc. Docket No. 20-008). In this order, it states that
Governor Abbott has declared a state of disaster in all 254 counties in the State of Texas in response to the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order reiterates and clarifies that
Courts must not conduct non-essential proceedings in person contrary to local, state, or national directives, whichever is most restrictive, regarding maximum group size.
The Order does not expire until May 8, 2020. This means for more than a month, non-essential proceedings in person will not be conducted, which also means there will be numerous delays.
What are Denton County Courts Doing in Response to the Coronavirus?
In Denton County, the Denton County Courts at Law issued a Joint Statement Regarding Health and Safety Concerns effective March 16, 2020, until April 1, 2020. It clearly outlines what constitutes essential court matters, and with regard to criminal cases, these include:
i. Jury trials and dispositive hearings for incarcerated defendants
ii. Writs of habeas corpus
iii. Any dispositive hearing where a defendant has requested a speedy trial or speedy disposition
iv. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17 bond hearings
v. Any time-sensitive hearing required to be conducted by an Appellate Court
vi. Defendants who are free on bail and represented by counsel need not appear for any plea setting in person, but he defendant's lawyer is required to email pass slips to the court with the defendant's signature by noon on the following day.
If your DWI case does not fall within one of the above essential court matters, then your case may be delayed. The delay can be problematic in the sense that it prolongs the stress and anxiety you may be feeling. A smart DWI defense attorney, however, may be able to use the delay to your advantage. It's always best to talk to your attorney about what a potential delay may mean and how you can address it.