The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has significantly affected the legal system in Texas and throughout the country, causing court personnel, judges, and even criminal defense lawyers to modify how they work in an effort to keep the system moving.
The inability to hold in-person court cases has slowed this system to a crawl in what was already sluggish at best, leaving all those trying to keep it functioning search for alternative methods.
Fortunately, technology has made it possible for defense attorneys, judges, and other critical legal staff to handle the most pressing cases and keep others moving in the right direction in anticipation of when the courts will once again be open for hearing cases in some safe fashion.
Incorporating Advanced Technology
With courtrooms closed to processing cases and many criminal defense lawyers unable to see clients in their offices as would be normal, technology now holds the key to keeping those services moving.
Teleconferencing using applications that enable judges and court personnel to meet online to hear critical legal cases with the involved parties has become a viable option when meeting in person is not possible.
Attorneys across the state have also embraced this technology so they are still able to provide legal counsel to those who need it, whether it's progressing with preparations for a current case that has been delayed or aiding a defendant dealing with a new arrest.
Identifying Critical Cases That Require Attention
In the effort to cater to the most pressing cases during these unprecedented times, Texas courts and defense lawyers are now modifying caseload schedules by first identifying which cases require immediate attention and which can actually wait until the courts are back for in-person sessions.
Of these legal cases, child protection as well as protective and temporary restraining order hearings were deemed as necessary and critical as were probable cause hearings that normally take place immediately after someone is arrested and charged with committing a crime.
Upholding Constitutional Rights During the Pandemic
Although criminal cases may not be heard until court returns to normal sessions, defense attorneys stress that the Texas legal system must still do its best to uphold the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which is the right to a speedy and public trial.
It is for this reason that probable cause hearings are deemed critical.
Probable cause hearings normally occur within 24 to 48 hours of an arrest with the purpose of charging or releasing a defendant, determining any potential mental health concerns, setting bond or bail, and determining whether a defendant should remain incarcerated until there is a formal hearing.
Incarceration itself brings about a whole new problem as many states have released nonviolent offenders to reduce the spread of the virus within the prisons.
Criminal Justice System Evolution During COVID-19
The one thing that a Texas criminal defense lawyer can count on for defendant clients during the COVID-19 crisis is an ever-evolving hearing process due to court closures and the need to utilize modern technology to keep their case moving along as quickly as possible.
Sessions with attorneys as well as certain critical court hearings are many times being done via videoconferencing, with other hearings being pushed back until the courts are able to reopen and reschedule them.
These unavoidable delays are difficult for everyone involved.
On the brighter side, it provides anyone with criminal charges who is awaiting an in-person trial ample opportunity to work with their criminal defense attorney to build a strong defense for their upcoming hearing!