COVID has wrecked what was a predictably oppressive criminal justice system in Kaufman County. In the days before COVID, we could pretty accurately predict how long it would take for your case to get filed and then how long it would take before you had to set it for trial or pre-trial. Since the first court shutdown in March, that’s all gone by the wayside. It’s not easy to predict how long it will take for a case to get filed since agencies are working on different schedules now, and the usual time frame to get a case filed can be shorter for some cases. Since prosecutors aren’t in trial, they can be in the office more handling intake. It can be longer for other cases to get filed, such as cases that need lab testing or many witness interviews.
We are still setting cases for trial in Kaufman County, but since March 2020, there are have been only 3 criminal trials in Kaufman County. Kaufman County has four courts that hear criminal cases in Kaufman County. They used to average 1-2 trials a month each. Now they average zero a month.
So what’s happening to all those criminal cases? Many are getting reset indefinitely. The plea offers haven’t gotten much better, so defendants who don’t want to take a deal are just waiting to see if things improve. If you are looking at pen time, most people would rather wait and see what happens anyway.
Cases are still being set for trial. We have some set right now, but every time we get close to a trial date, the Supreme Court of Texas will announce a new emergency order to suspend jury trials.
To have a jury trial right now, you have to get special permission from the Texas Supreme Court and let them know how you will take safety measures to limit the spread of COVID. With a new, more contagious version of COVID (UK), I am comfortable predicting that we will not return to jury trials anytime soon. The vaccine rollout in Texas has been pretty FUBAR so far.
The Supreme Court could limit juries to those who have antibodies or were vaccinated. But if we only allowed vaccinated people to serve on juries, then that would limit certain populations (under 65, etc.) from serving. So that’s not ideal for creating a jury of your peers.
Most Kaufman County courts are resetting criminal announcement dockets in January. So if you have a criminal case set in the next few weeks, call your lawyer to see if it’s getting moved. These are strange times, and we aren’t sure when it’s going to end. We can predict that the more trials get backed up, the more opportunity some defendants might have to receive a favorable plea offer or catch the State less than prepared for trial. Having trial dockets set 10-20 cases deep each week is a logistical challenge for the State. It’s hard to put that many cases together each week and have all the witnesses lined up. So talk to your lawyer about how a delay in trial will affect your case.
Finally, if you are set for court in Kaufman County, talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine. We’ve had a few outbreaks at the courthouse, and I’m concerned that with the new COVID variants, that problem will only worsen. The Kaufman County Courthouse was not designed for social distancing. It’s too small, the hallways are narrow, and the air filtration isn’t the best. So if you have to be in the Courthouse, wear a mask, wash your hands, spend as little time as possible there, and get a shot if you can.