Exploring Houston’s Criminal Justice Post Hurricane HarveyHurricane Harvey caused havoc for people who live in Houston. The storm caused a huge amount of flood damage, and the government buildings situated in downtown Houston were not spared damage or destruction. The Criminal Justice Center sustained massive damage and the lower levels of the courthouse were flooded. The plumbing system was backed up, and even several months after the hurricane had passed by the courthouse remained closed.
As the people of Houston attempt to rebuild their lives, this demonstrates just how flexible the criminal justice system in Houston can truly be. Today, there are temporary measures in place that help to ensure hearings and trials can still be held. The District Attorney’s office has more than 700 employees, who had to find creative ways to re-shape their infrastructure to deal with the logistical challenges that the closure of the courthouse created. Today, the District Attorney’s ‘office’ is spread across ten buildings, including some rented space located in the South Texas College of Law, where they expect to remain until September 2019.
Criminal law judges are sharing the same courtrooms as civil law judges and those operating in family law. This should be a temporary situation, but for now, it places a premium on courtroom time, and it has created delays for all kinds of cases. Delays are the biggest concern for a lot of people. Defendants say that they are not guilty, they do not want to plead guilty, and they are scared because they know that their trial could take months. They feel pressure to plead guilty just so that they can get out of jail.
In order to reduce delays and get through the backlog of cases, the DA’s office is now prioritizing serious charges, and has reduced plea bargain offers on lower-level misdemeanors and things like drug crimes that occurred during the storm. The focus, for now, is crimes against people or property and they do not want to encourage lawyers to rush those cases or to sell defendants (or plaintiffs) short.
What The Closures Mean for Your Case
If you are a Houston resident who has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense such as a DWI then it is likely that your trial will be delayed. The DA’s office is willing to provide some flexibility with lower-level crimes so there is the possibility that you might be able to resolve your case promptly. If you want to fight to prove your innocence then you should talk to a Houston DWI lawyer about your options, to determine what your options are when it comes to avoiding the delays.
James ‘Jim’ R. Butler is from Waco, Texas. He is a graduate of Baylor University and holds a BA in Political Science. He went on to earn a Juris Doctor Degree from South Texas College of Law and has been licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court of Texas since 1993.
While at law school he focused on Criminal Law and Trial Advocacy. After doing a two-year internship with the District Attorney’s Office in Harris County he discovered that his true calling was defense, rather than prosecution. He focused on DWI so that he can help good, honest and hardworking people who are worried about their futures, concerned about losing their jobs, and fear that their insurance rates may increase if they are prosecuted. He wants to help people defend themselves in court.