No new jury trials order frustrates many defense attorneys

Remote hearings only option to resolve cases due; jailed defendants fear contracting COVID-19

Defense attorneys say remote hearings often pose a challenge.

SAN ANTONIO – Faced with the prospect of no jury trials for the next three months, the only option for criminal defense attorneys is to attempt to resolve cases through Zoom hearings.

“I’m used to doing deals across the table usually ending in a handshake,” veteran defense attorney James Tocci said Thursday. “The Pandemic doesn’t allow for that.”

Defense attorney Joseph “Mick”Aguilera said remote hearings are often a challenge.

“It now takes a day, a day-and-a-half, sometimes three days, to get something done that would normally be done in a couple of minutes.”

Another serious concern is that clients who are in jail waiting for their day in court are worried about contracting COVID-19.

“My client wasn’t positive at the time, but he got put in a cell with somebody that’s positive and he wanted to know what I could do to get him out of there,” Aguilera said.

Those situations are the focus of the bulk of the remote hearings, according to Tocci.

“Trying to get judges to agree to lower bonds ... whatever we can do legally to help facilitate them getting out of jail,” he said.

Both men agreed that decreasing revenues as a result of no jury trials has also become a serious problem.

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About the Authors:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.