The Pandemic's Impact. COVID-19 has affected the legal system just like everything else. Safety measures have delayed trials, the delays clogging courts and jails. The pandemic has also made potential hotspots and death traps out of jails, where virus-laden stale air can circulate among closely packed inmates. Harris County's jail, one of the country's largest with over 9,000 inmates, has already had six inmate and two guard COVID-related deaths and could have many more, given a critical shortage of quarantine space and hospital beds. One national story reports that COVID-19 has devastated some jail populations around the U.S.
Prospects for Release. A local media story now shares that the federal judge presiding over an enduring lawsuit involving the jail's systems, already ruled unconstitutional as to some misdemeanor defendants, is urging county officials to reduce guard and inmate COVID-19 risks with releases of prisoners awaiting trial on non-violent offenses. The story reports that nearly nine out of ten of the jail's inmates are awaiting trial or other case resolution, many of them on charges for non-violent offenses. Other locales around the country have released inmates to reduce COVID risks, although the story reports that in Texas, the governor's order prohibits the no-bond release of defendants accused or previously convicted of violent offenses.
DWI Offenses. DWI offenses are generally non-violent offenses, as the Supreme Court's Leocal v Ashcroft decision recently held in an immigration context. One would reasonably think, then, that Harris County inmates facing only a DWI charge, even one for a second misdemeanor or third felony offense, would be on the list for pandemic release. Yet, not every person incarcerated for a DWI-charge would necessarily qualify for automatic release. If pandemic releases happen, they will very likely occur on a case-by-case basis, in which instance any of the following conditions could potentially disqualify a DWI defendant from release:
- the defendant has a prior conviction for a violent felony offense;
- the defendant faces violent-felony charges for a separate incident;
- the defendant's DWI arrest led to a separate charge for a violent offense;
- the defendant's personal history indicates public-safety risk; or
- the defendant exhibits a risk of fleeing the jurisdiction.
Early Release. The Harris County-jail story also briefly mentions the possibility of the early release of many more inmates serving time for non-violent offenses, who should by now have moved into halfway houses or similar release programs, but for pandemic shutdowns. Again, one would think that DWI prisoners would be among the first to qualify for an early release, unless their circumstances included one or more of the above potentially disqualifying conditions.
Getting Representation. If the Harris County jail proceeds with case-by-case releases, then skilled legal representation from DWI Specialist Doug Murphy could help address questions of qualifying for release and bond and other release issues. As the 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year, Doug Murphy has the expertise to advocate around any DWI issues, including the amount or conditions of bond and the appropriateness of release. Read here why you should hire a DWI Specialist for your defense of a DWI charge, including on questions of bond and early release. As a Board Certified DWI specialist and one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, Doug Murphy knows DWI defense. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.