Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not quite so open

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law.
-- Texas Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 13
Apparently that provision doesn't apply whenever a criminal court overbooks itself and sets so many cases on the docket there aren't enough seats in the courtroom for all of the defendants.

Sit in any Harris County misdemeanor court at docket call and you will hear the bailiff tell you to leave the courtroom if you aren't on the docket. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the public has a right to be in that courtroom. It is, after all, the people's court (thanks, Judge Criss).

The problem isn't mom or dad or husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend being there to support their loved one. The problem is requiring defendants to continue showing up in court for multiple settings when there is no need for the defendant to be there.

If it's a so-called "non-issue" setting on a criminal case, the only person who's presence is required is the attorney. Nothing's going to happen. The prosecutor may make an offer. The defense attorney may make a counter-offer, but that's it. Maybe the defense attorney files a motion or two. No reason for the defendant to be in court for the ceremonial exchange of paper.

A defendant's presence is necessary on the initial arraignment setting. After that, there's no need for the defendant to be present until the case is set for trial or to enter a plea. Requiring their presence only clogs the courthouse and puts pressure on defendants to plead out their cases because of the inconvenience of coming to the courthouse.

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