This is an interesting and timely discussion. Because of the pandemic, the courts are severely backlogged, and cases are not running as smoothly as they have in the past. I predict that all cases will take more time to reach conclusion.
The biggest obstacle for the courts right now are jury trials. In a misdemeanor case (6 jurors) it requires a jury pool of about 30 people. This is because many people are disqualified or unable to serve on juries. The court's problem is how to fit 30 people in a courtroom and maintain a 6 foot distance between people. If the 6 foot rule is followed, the average court can probably seat 18-20 people.
In my jury trials it is not unusual for me to remove 12-15 from the jury. The jury would be selected from the remaining potential jurors. If I keep up my average number of strikes, it will be very difficult if not impossible to seat a jury.
Of the 30 people brought in for jury service there need to be at least 12 jurors remaining. This is because the defense gets 3 strikes for any reason and the prosecution also has three strikes. So, if 6 are removed, the remaining 6 will be your jury. If the number goes below 12 and both sides use their three strikes, there may be only 5 people left to serve. Trial requires 6 so the trial would be reset for us to try again.
Every County is working on this problem and they all have different plans that they want to try. Since COVID has hit, there have bee NO JURY TRIALS! Imagine what that is like for someone who has been sitting in jail for 6 months awaiting their trial.
This could however work to our benefit because the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone a right to a speedy trial. I am already preparing Motions to Dismiss for lack of speedy trial for my clients. No one knows how the judges are going to rule on these, but I anticipate many more such motions than criminal defense has ever had in the past.
The pandemic is also affecting court dates. Usually cases are set every month. At this time the cases are being reset for 2-3 months. This is where the delay in disposition in your case will occur. It is at these court dates that your attorney is able to work on your case. He is only able to do that with a prosecutor that has been assigned your file. The court dates are the only time when both parties are on hand and both have their files on your case to discuss. There is nothing your attorney can do to set the court dates. They are selected by the court according to their schedule, not ours.
Another thing I am exploring with my clients is if they would consider a short jail sentence rather than probation. Probation generally lasts 15-18 months. Because the jails do not want any new people in jail, they too are thinking creatively on how to address this problem.
Last week I was able to negotiate a plea bargain agreement for “time served” and a fine. This means that the punishment was the night my client spent in jail when they were arrested and a fine. No probation, no court fees, no classes, and no reporting. This is now a serious option that I think clients should seriously consider.
If I get a sentence of 3 days, you will get credit for the night you spent in jail and have 2 days left to serve. You will serve it by checking in with the jail 9-10 pm and you will be released after midnight. This is because jail counts days by midnight. If you are booked in at 11:59 pm, at 12:01 am you have earned 2 days of a jail sentence. I know that no one likes jail, but with this option you will probably be seated in a big room of other inmates and be there 3-5 hours before you are released. Again, you will pay your fine and court costs and your case is completely over.
The only downside to this option is that you will face a drivers license suspension. However, you will be able to apply for and receive an Occupational Drivers that allow you to drive up to 12 hours during any 24 hour period for work, school and household duties. If your case involves a deep lung device for your car, the Occupational License is valid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only downside is that you pay a filing fee to ask for the license and a reinstatement fee once your suspension is over.
To be perfectly honest with you there is no lawyer in the world that can tell you how this is all going to work out. Believe me it is a serious problem for everyone.
If you have been arrested for DWI, please seek counsel. You will be much better off with an attorney than without one.
The Law Office of Christopher N. Hoover represents clients across the state of Texas in Collin, Rockwall, Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, and neighboring counties. Chris Hoover has argued before jury trials and has handled more than 600 DWI trials with successful results. Our law firm believes in helping clients to protect their rights and in providing people with informative, up-to-date legal information concerning Texas DWI laws.