The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way Courts are operating, and the length of time cases are taking to reach a close of any kind.
First, let’s talk about the “start” of a criminal case. Before the Corona Virus pandemic, the average length of time for a misdemeanor in Denton County to be filed was about 3 to 5 months after arrest. DWI’s took a bit longer, as there was usually breath and blood tests which had to be analyzed, and the average time for filing these cases was generally between 5 to 10 months. Occasionally, a case would take over a year, but this was certainly the exception and not the rule. So, for example, if a person was arrested in January for an Assault or Possession case, we would generally expect to see that case filed between April and June. A DWI in January would generally be filed between June and October. Again, these are rough estimates, and there were always exceptions, but this was a good general rule.
Beginning in March of this year, with the outbreak of Covid-19 and the closing of Courts, we are seeing MUCH longer waiting periods. The 2-year Statute of Limitations (the time limit required to file a misdemeanor charge) is still applicable, but we’re seeing many cases come much closer to that limit.
The Courts have technically remained open throughout this pandemic, but their dockets, and the matters they are handling are extremely limited. Because of this, there is a MAJOR backlog of cases in just about every courthouse and county throughout the country, including Denton. In general, larger counties such as Dallas and Harris (Houston) are more affected than smaller ones, with less population. But there is still a major “backup” in the system, affecting all counties, including Denton.
We’re often asked if this will result in better offers before trial. Our answer is that it depends on the type of case and facts relating to the charge. We’re definitely getting better offers is some circumstances, but the DA appears to be holding steady with charges such as DWI, and more serious felonies. We’re not seeing much of a difference with these, but as with everything, each case is different, and issues which may not have mattered several months ago may result in your attorney being able to negotiate a better result on your behalf. As far as our trial docket, most trial attorneys have a LOT of cases backed up and set for trial. The question is when will they go forward. The Supreme Court has issued an order stating that jury trials may not proceed before September, but it is our belief that we will not see a trial go forward before the end of the year. One of the major reasons for this is the extreme difficulty that a county will have in summoning jurors for jury duty. Many will simply refuse to come, and without enough to assemble a potential jury pool, conducting a trial is impossible. Obviously, this will not be the case forever, but we highly doubt seeing trials go forward this year. There is an option of filing a Motion for Speedy Trial, which can have both advantages and disadvantages. People should discuss this option with their attorney, as the facts of the case will significantly affect any decisions which should be made.
As for now, if you have been arrested, understand that it will be some time before your case is actually “filed.” We will stress that this does not mean people should wait to hire an attorney. Because of these significant delays, hiring an attorney right after an arrest, before the case works it’s way into the system, can sometimes have advantages. Your attorney may be able to work out better pre-filing plea-bargain deals should you not want to proceed to trial, and at the very least, the attorney will have more time to investigate your case and explore all defenses. Some clients have expressed concern that if they hire us now and the case is not filed, they will have wasted their money. This is not something that our clients need to be concerned with. We include specific language in our contract that if the charge is not pursued by the state (filed), all or a majority of the fees paid will be refunded to the client. Each case is different, and we’re available to discuss the details of this with anyone. But people should not be hesitant to retain an attorney, as they will be protected if the case is not filed. In addition, since cases are generally taking longer to dispose of (either through a plea-bargain deal or jury trial), we are usually able to offer longer payment plans than normal. For many, this will allow them to hire an attorney that they otherwise would not have been able to afford.
Remember, every case is different. The information provided herein is only general information, and should not be construed as specific legal advice of any kind. In addition, this information should not be construed as a substitution of legal counsel from a competent DWI attorney in your specific jurisdiction.
Please feel free to contact us if you have specific questions or comments about a case in which you are involved.
Ross Law Offices, PC