On June 29, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court extended the order to stop all jury trials and jury selections until September 1 due to a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks throughout the state. The only exceptions are cases that are given special permission from the Texas Office of Court Administration and regional judges.
Jury trials were already prohibited from taking place prior to August 1. Several federal courts throughout the state closed courtrooms and delayed trial proceedings to combat the spike of coronavirus cases.
On June 27, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal signed an order to close the Southern District Texas courthouse, as well as federal courthouses and the U.S. Post Office in Galveston County until July 10. However, federal buildings in Houston and Galveston will remain open for “official business.”
Furthermore, the Laredo Division of the Southern District of Texas extended an order to close courthouses to the public and delayed the start date of any jury trails to August 3 at the earliest. The Brownville Division of the Southern District of Texas also announce courthouse closures, but reopening will be assessed on a week-by-week basis.
Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia extended the order to postpone jury and non-jury trials in the Western District of Texas until July 31 at the earliest. He also proposed having state courts and federal courts collaborate on reopening schedules to avoid juror confusion.
In the Northern District of Texas, Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn plans to delay jury trials even further to avoid having them taking place in July. Although her desire was to close the courthouse like Judge Rosenthal in the Southern District, the Northern District courthouse is inside a federal building, which also consists of other entities that require public access. Her most recent order postpones jury trials until July 17; however, she believes she will soon push the start date back until July 31 at the earliest.
According to Law360, Judge Lynn presided over a criminal jury trial from June 1 until June 3 as an experiment to see how a trial would be conducted with social-distancing practices in place. The trial was held in three courtrooms – one for the proceeding (while testifying witnesses did so in the jury box), one for jury deliberations, and one where the trial was streamed live for the public.
Everyone involved was either a face mask or a face. Judge Lynn said that the proceedings went smoothly, and the jurors were reportedly pleased with how the court addressed their health and safety.
Regarding the Eastern District of Texas, Chief U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap said his counties have not experienced a spike in cases similar to populated metro areas. In the Marshall Division, for instance, COVID-19 cases within those the six counties have not substantially increased.
The closure of Texas courts will likely create a backlog of criminal cases. In Harris County, for example, there are over 80,000 pending misdemeanor and felony cases, which is close to double the amount of pending cases in 2019.
If you or a loved one has been recently arrested in Fort Worth or dealing with an ongoing criminal matter that has been continuously pushed back due to court closures, contact Goza & Carreras, Attorneys at Law today at (817) 402-2188 and request a free consultation with our experienced legal team.