The Texas Supreme Court Advisory Committee is planning to convene a task force of its members and others appointed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to begin drafting time standards for criminal cases for the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration.Here's a good description of the options on the table:
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht asked the SCAC to make recommendations about how to amend Rule 6.1, which sets aspirational time standards for courts to dispose of criminal cases. Currently the rule refers to a 1987 state law, the Speedy Trial Act, which the Court of Criminal Appeals struck down as unconstitutional in 1987. The Texas Legislature formally repealed the speedy trial act in 2005.
David Peeples, the chairman of the SCAC's subcommittee on time standards for criminal cases, wrote in a Dec. 10 memo that the advisory committee could recommend to simply delete the reference to time standards in criminal cases altogether, but that there's "no real support" for that option.The voice of pragmatism arose out of Houston from whence:
Another idea is to delete references to the speedy trial act, and instead, list three other parts of the Code of Criminal Procedure that require a criminal-defendant who is in jail to be released on bond or bail if the state isn't ready to go to trial within a certain time, require a court to dismiss a defendant's case if the state doesn't indict or charge him within a certain time, and give precedent to criminal trials over civil trials and to criminal defendants who are in jail over others.
A final option, Peeples' memo said, would be to change the rule to include a new set of time standards. The new task force will help draft those time standards and then present them for the full SCAC's consideration.
Rusty Hardin, a SCAC member and well-known criminal-defense lawyer who has also worked as a prosecutor, said that most criminal defendants do not want a speedy trial. He said the real issue in the criminal justice system is that people are "languishing in jail" because of bail policies. Hardin said he was skeptical and pessimistic about whether time standards would have any meaning.Defendants who can't make bail may want a speedy trial (or plea) because, until the matter is resolved, they must sit in jail. If they're out of jail awaiting trial, they're more likely to care about a fair one.
Hecht noted that the high court has convened a separate committee to propose changes to pretrial release policies.
Interestingly, "two SCAC members who are practicing jurists opposed the idea."
"Aspirational goals lead to statistics being kept. That leads to … public perception and then the use of those statistics in election cycles, when judges are not in a good position to defend why individual cases were or were not met in the goals," explained 10th Court of Appeals Chief Justice Tom Gray.That's just perfect, isn't it? What's really being said is judges don't want to be held accountable by voters. Grits is not a great fan of electing judges. But if we're going to do that, voters need information on which to base their decisions and it's not unreasonable for them to hold judges accountable for either meeting speedy trial goals or supplying a good explanation why they didn't.