Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many functions of the criminal justice system have been put on hold. In Texas, a disaster declaration on March 13th caused non-essential court functions to be postponed in most jurisdictions. The Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also suspended many hearings.
Soon after, the state and the city of Lubbock limited social gatherings of more than 10 people on March 20th.
The Importance of the Grand Jury Process
Grand jury proceedings are an essential component to defending clients at trial. In Texas courts, grand juries are selected from a large pool in the court’s district. Once the jury selection process has concluded, 9 to 12 jury members will serve and hear new felony cases. This jury decides if there is probable cause to indict on the felony charges brought by the state prosecutor. At least 9 members of the grand jury must agree to indict, for the case to move forward with trial. Often a prosecutor will be in court with 12 jury members and several witnesses.
Due to social distancing guidelines, grand jury meetings have been on hold for most of the month of March. While felony charges are still being brought, the cases have stalled, unable to move through the courts.
Grand Jury Hearings in Lubbock County
The Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has announced grand jury meetings will convene on May 4th. Still to be decided is the format, although in person meetings are unlikely. Zoom is now a popular video conferencing tool and is being utilized in other Texas districts.
For criminal defense attorneys, the delay of grand jury meetings often benefits the defendant. Attorney Chuck Lanehart was interviewed by the Lubbock Avalanche Journal,
“Just in general the longer you have to prepare for your defense the better chance you have of getting a good outcome in your case,” Lanehart said.