Criminal Court Backlogs And What They Mean For Texas Criminal Defendants
A person charged with any crime, whether it is a felony or misdemeanor is guaranteed a Constitutional right to a “speedy and public trial” under the Sixth Amendment. In addition to the right to an attorney, the right to have your case processed fairly and efficiently is among a defendant’s most fundamental rights. Having a criminal case pending can put a person’s life on hold for months on end, carrying with it the anxiety of not knowing whether a jail sentence awaits at the end of a case.
Unfortunately, criminal cases in Harris County and surrounding areas including Pearland have moved slowly through the court system in recent years. Prosecutors cite Hurricane Harvey in 2017 for displacing DA offices and disrupting the regular flow of work on pending cases. The backlog from Hurricane Harvey carried over into 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced judicial systems to put a hold on regular in-person courtroom procedures. This further delayed cases and added to the current backlog. For example, as of May 2022, Harris County has a backlog of over 40,000 active misdemeanor cases still pending in their court system. That means tens of thousands of criminal defendants remain uncertain of their fates as their cases languish in the judicial process.
Harris County has added overtime pay for prosecutors to “triage” the problem and spend extra hours working through cases in attempts to resolve them. Due to the complexities involved with every case, this is easier said than done. Prosecutors cite issues with reluctant victims, or defendants that won’t accept what prosecutors believe is a fair offer. Defendants, meanwhile, may prefer to exercise their right to a jury trial, or do not want to be pressured into a plea offer they believe is not fair.
How Defendants are Impacted by Delayed Justice
When a case sits on the court’s docket for extra months or over a year, there are the obvious Sixth Amendment issues associated with delayed justice. Practical issues also arise for defendants that don’t get their trial in a timely manner. Helpful witnesses may become unavailable over time because they moved out of the area (or out of state), or develop health issues that make it difficult to come back for a court date. Some witnesses might not even still be alive to testify in a trial that takes place 2 years after an alleged incident.
Defendants may also have problems with work or with personal relationships, as long as they are tethered to a court case in the area. The uncertainty of what may happen, along with the requirement to attend periodic pretrial court hearings, make it difficult for defendants to move on with their lives or simply serve their punishment and look to the future.
With the massive backlog that plagues criminal court dockets in Harris County and neighboring counties, it is more important than ever for defendants to secure legal counsel that will fight their case aggressively and do whatever is possible to move a case through the court’s calendar.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Will Fight to Make Sure Your Right to a Speedy Trial is Observed in All Cases
Unfortunately, criminal court calendars throughout the Pearland, Texas area face unique challenges due to pandemic-related backlogs and other issues. At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal defense attorney will do everything possible to make sure your case gets the attention it needs, and your Constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial is recognized. If you are worried about your case and the criminal court process, don’t hesitate to contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC online or call 832-243-6153 today.