Jury moratorium raises speedy trial concerns for some defendants

Case backlog grows with moratorium extension

As the moratorium on jury trials keeps being extended in Bexar County, so does the time it takes to get a case to trial, pushing some defendants to argue that they are not getting their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial.
As the moratorium on jury trials keeps being extended in Bexar County, so does the time it takes to get a case to trial, pushing some defendants to argue that they are not getting their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial.

SAN ANTONIO – As the moratorium on jury trials keeps being extended in Bexar County, so does the time it takes to get a case to trial, pushing some defendants to argue that they are not getting their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial.

Ruben Loredo, 56, is facing a felony charge and four misdemeanor charges in Bexar County for alleging violating protective orders.

“I want my days in court,” Loredo said Tuesday. “I’ve been waiting for a long time.”

Judges divided on extension of jury trial moratorium in Bexar County

That wait became even longer last March when a moratorium on jury trials was ordered due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Loredo feels as though his constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial is being denied.

“The answer is maybe,” said Houston attorney Carmen Roe, an expert on constitutional law.

“Speedy trial rights, which are embedded in the Constitution, are complicated when it comes to application,” Roe said. “And we have those same rights protected by both our Texas Constitution and Texas statutes.”

Roe explained that Texas statutes say that a trial can be delayed if there is a good cause. That’s the case in Bexar County, with the pandemic cited as “good cause.”

“They’re saying, ‘Look, the safety of our community is more important under these circumstances than making sure that somebody gets to trial,’” Roe said.

That issue is currently on appeal.

“There’s cases pending in The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, our highest criminal court, to decide whether this good cause is good enough to continue to delay their right to a jury trial,” Roe said.

For Loredo, who wears an ankle monitor, that means more waiting.

“I’m under house arrest,” he said.

Roe said his only other option is to agree to a bench trial before a judge rather than a jury trial.

Jury service resumption in Bexar County gets closer look


About the Authors:

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