FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Tucker Graves, HCCLA President 713-225-4273 office, email Tucker Graves
Houston, Texas – September 5, 2017 – The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, which represents Harris County’s criminal-defense bar, the largest organization of participants in the Harris County criminal justice system, suggests the following to help ensure a safe, functioning, and fair criminal justice system for the people of Harris County in the wake of the destruction rendered by Hurricane Harvey:
- Judges should be uniform in their policies to provide predictability to the bar and the public. Nobody should have to learn which of 38 different policies apply to his or her case.
- Defendants with counsel should be allowed resets of at least ninety days between court appearances. Hurricane Harvey is going to have a huge financial toll on our county; the lost productivity of the accused attending multiple unnecessary court appearances would only compound this toll.
- Bond conditions such as ignition interlock and SCRAM devices should be used minimally.
- Pretrial intervention and other diversionary programs should not rely on the Court Services Department or the Community Supervision and Corrections Department. These agencies are going to be overburdened already, and their participation in such programs is not (and has not historically been) necessary.
- Electronic filing should be speedily implemented. The less physical resources the system needs, the better for all involved.
- The cases of defendants in custody should be prioritized. We recognize that this catastrophe may affect defendants’ ability to get their cases quickly resolved; those who are unable to make bail should not suffer the extraordinary consequences of this storm any more than is necessary.
- Lawyers should be appointed to indigent defendants at the bail hearing or initial appearance. Court coordinators should select appointed counsel promptly upon an indigency determination, and contact that counsel immediately so that they can begin working for the accused.
- Bail amounts should be lowered, except in extraordinary cases, to take into account the financial drain that the people of Harris County are already suffering from destroyed property and a kneecapped economy.
- Those arrestees who are constitutionally entitled to reasonable bail should be released expeditiously and allowed to appear with counsel. Scarce jail and court resources should not be clogged with people who don’t need to be there.
- Court-appointed counsel should be paid on interim vouchers. Those defending indigents accused have expenses that are not going to be put on hold. They cannot wait until cases are resolved to be paid.
- Defendants with counsel should not be required to appear in court except for a plea or contested hearing. The financial cost to Harris County economy of lost productivity because of court appearances at which defendants’ appearance is required for no good reason has always been huge. This might have been bearable in ordinary times, but during this emergency Harris County needs every productive person working to rebuild.
- If weekend or evening dockets are instituted, they should be voluntary. The criminal-defense bar is not opposed to such dockets, and they may work better for some defendants and lawyers, preventing a productivity loss, but some people are unable because of family obligations to attend such dockets.
- No bail should be revoked for failure to appear in court until there is a plan in place and the criminal-defense bar has had an opportunity to notify our clients of where they must attend court.
We look forward to working with the bench and the prosecutorial bar to build a system that works even better for the people of our county than it did before the storm.
(photo by Robert Pelton)