If you or a loved one face a criminal charge from domestic violence to a sex crime, or a Title IX offense, then you are probably wondering if courts are still open in Houston and Harris County during the coronavirus pandemic.
The answer is yes — though with some adjustments. And the same can be said of courthouses in Montgomery County and Fort Bend County.
Judges are resetting court dates
As Houston’s KTRK ABC 13 reported recently, whenever possible, judges are resetting court dates. But on any given weekday, the Harris County Criminal Courthouse remains not just open but busy, with many people appearing.
There aren’t as many as usual, though. Jury service in Harris County has been suspended, and jury trials will not be held through the end of March 2020. But not all criminal proceedings involve trials, and in some cases persons still must appear in criminal court before a judge. In other cases, the case may be reset for a later date.
KTRK reported that Judge Darrell Jordan of Harris County Criminal Courts at Law No. 16 had 65 people on his court docket 1 day last week. But the judge said he’s trying to limit who must appear in his court, and only 6 or 7 persons actually appeared on that day.
“My goal is to only have people who are having their first initial setting to come to court because those people may or may not need conditions. It’s my job as a judicial officer to review their cases,” Judge Jordan told KTRK.
Clearly, courts are aware that the judicial system must continue even during the COVID-19 crisis — and even while many people in Houston, Sugar Land, The Woodlands and surrounding areas shelter in place.
That’s not to say courts aren’t also mindful of the need for social distancing and far less in-person interaction with the aim of curtailing the spread of the virus. That’s why courts are trying to minimize the number of people who appear there, from attorneys and staff to judges and defendants.
‘Virtual court’ is considered
Having remote “virtual” court proceedings via the internet is also being considered, though court proceedings must be public.
Judge Jordan said the county courthouse doesn’t have “the capability to do virtual court,” and he cited rules about having an open court as another drawback. “We can’t do things in private,” he told KTRK. “So we’re trying to find the perfect balancing act.”
Fort Bend & Montgomery County courts also remain open
Courts in Fort Bend County and Montgomery County, Texas are also open. But they, too, are adjusting to safety needs of the pandemic.
Fort Bend County has declared that the public’s access to its facilities “shall be limited to essential functions only, such as court obligations, required payments, etc. until April 3, 2020.” The county advises that persons should contact the court, department or office they need directly via email or phone for more information.
In Montgomery County, like Harris County, the courthouse is open but efforts are being made to reset court dates and limit the number of visitors.
Contact a criminal defense lawyer near you
So now you know:
Felony and misdemeanor criminal courts in the Houston area are making adjustments to continue legal proceedings despite the pandemic.
That’s why you, if faced with a criminal charge in Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County or Montgomery County, should notify a criminal defense attorney and proceed with your case, even during these tough times. Your defense lawyer can determine if you need to appear in court and, if so, when.
An attorney from our law firm can also prepare your defense against a variety of criminal charges with which we have legal experience, including domestic violence, domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, continuous violence against the family, prostitution, sexual assault, inappropriate relationships with students, campus rape and other Title IX assaults.
Often, such charges arise after unfounded or false claims. Defendants need a skilled sex crime defense attorney to handle their case and protect their legal rights.
The Houston area as a whole may have slowed down in light of COVID-19, but the wheels of justice continue to turn.
Turn to us if you need a veteran and knowledgeable Houston criminal defense lawyer. Contact us today for a legal review of your case.
And please, stay safe and healthy.