Hays County in-person jury trials resume — it could take years to get caught up, DA says

Hays

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Order is back in the court room, at least in the more traditional sense with jurors now being summoned again. 

After more than a year, in-person jury trials in Hays County resumed on Monday.

Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau said, as of Monday, there are 183 district court cases (felonies) on upcoming jury dockets. And there are nearly 300 misdemeanor cases set on the county court-at-law jury dockets.

“We’re basically starting now from where we should have been a year and three months ago. And we’ve got all of those additional cases,” Mau said.

There’s already a backlog in trial courts, according to Mau. Now, giving everyone their day in court will be even more challenging. It could take two to three years to get caught up on cases, Mau said.

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The DA’s office is now working with courts to set up more cases than they normally would to speed up the pace.

Mau and his victim support coordinating team say postponed cases have been especially difficult for crime victims, waiting for some sort of closure in court. 

“They’ve [jails] been releasing people on [Personal Recognizance] PR bonds, and a lot of these people committed violent crimes,” Mau said. “So, not only are victims faced with, ‘My trial isn’t going to happen anytime soon,’ but the perpetrator is out of jail on bond. That obviously creates additional anxiety.”

Mau and other officials said the backlog will cause a strain on the criminal justice system. 

“I think it’s going to be a three-year period before it has any sense of normalcy about it again,” Allen Place with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said.

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Place said playing catch up will require more resources down the line. 

“We may not have enough courts in the state. And of course that involves money, and appropriation from the legislature,” he said.

According to Mau, his office usually prosecutes two felony cases — which take longer — every other week. Now, he said they’re figuring out the process as they work to set more cases than they normally would.

“Whether there’s going to be the funding for visiting judges to come in and help with trials…right now, we’re kind of in the experimental phase,” Mau said.

According to Hays County, there will be COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

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Face coverings will be optional, but there will be social distancing. The County said judges will allow witnesses to testify virtually if they have COVID-19, have been exposed, or are more vulnerable to the virus.

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