The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of change – including in the criminal courthouse. Cases are moving very slowly (or not at all) and there have been no criminal jury trials since March 2020. But can this downtime help your criminal case? Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney Benson Varghese explains in this video about criminal court during COVID.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of change in every aspect of life and that’s true at the criminal courthouse as well. In Tarrant County, we’ve seen the restrictions go from no court settings to virtual court settings that people were attending by zoom to now in person court settings that are staggered throughout the day. The goal there of course, is to avoid huge groups of people being called into the courtroom at the same time.
Like all criminal courts in Texas, the Tarrant County criminal courthouse has to abide by several orders.Any criminal court in the state has to abide by guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court of Texas, as well as the Court of Criminal Appeals. Additionally, there are going to be restrictions handed down from the governor from time to time, as well as local restrictions that affect how many people can be present at a building, whether they need to wear masks, etc. There have been virtually zero jury trials since March of this year, and we expect that that restriction is going to continue to be extended for some time.
A question that will remain even when the courts open back up is whether a person can actually have a fair jury trial that has a jury made up of a cross section of the population. In other words, if there were restrictions that keep people of a certain demographic out of the courtroom because of medical concerns or age, then is the person accused actually getting it fair trial?
These are issues that we’ll have to explore, and you can expect challenges related to these matters once the courts open up. But what does that mean for a person who’s accused?Well, on one hand, some low-level cases are being resolved more efficiently. Of course, that’s going to depend a great deal on who your prosecutor is, but there are prosecutors who can be reasoned with who understand that in the midst of the pandemic, there’s not a good reason to send someone in jail and we can resolve cases without convictions and without incarcerating people.
Serious cases, however, have seen little to no movement with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. So, these cases are piling up and eventually when jury trials resume, there will be back to back jury trials, week after week for years to come. When there’s a backlog of jury trials, prosecutors are prepping one case after another week after week and ultimately their preparation will not be as good as if they had resolved the cases that needed to be resolved and kept the cases that needed to be tried.
For now, if you’re an individual who’s been charged with an offense in Tarrant County or any County in Texas, you’re waiting for your day in court. While you’re waiting for your day in court, you’re probably having to abide by bond conditions, some of which may be very restrictive.
Your attorney will advise you on whether we can use this time to leverage a better outcome, whether you have a reasonable prosecutor on the other side of the case who will consider reasons why a case should be resolved for perhaps less than what the prosecutor initially thought it was worth. On the other hand, you may have a prosecutor who’s being difficult – who’s not making any better deals and you’ll just have to wait until your case gets its’ day in court and you’re allowed that opportunity to have a jury trial.
When you’re a defendant in a criminal case, it’s difficult to wait. However, understand whether you’re going down the pathway of trying to leverage a better outcome in the midst of a pandemic or you’re waiting for your day in court and waiting for your jury trial, that both avenues can lead to success. If you’re leveraging a better outcome, you might get an outcome that’s better than you would have pre-pandemic. On the other hand, if these cases are backing up because prosecutors are making bad offers, ultimately those prosecutors are going to deal with a long jam of cases that they have very little time to prep well, and they’re going to go to court, go to trial, less prepared than they would have had they gotten rid of and resolved the cases that they should have.
We hope you found this information about COVID-19 and the criminal courthouse useful. For more information regarding the criminal courts in Tarrant County, visit the County’s website for important updates.
Have you been charged with a serious offense? Call us today at (817) 203-2220 or reach out online for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will: