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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Required Changes in Texas Criminal Law Filings Beginning July 1, 2017

Electronic filing is already required in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and Texas Courts of Appeal for parties represented by lawyers under Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.2(c)(1) and (2). Now it's going to be required in district courts, county-courts-at-law, and constitutional county courts for those represented by lawyers.

(What's the difference between a county-court-at-law and a constitutional county court you ask? The Texas Constitution sets up a default, skeleton set of county offices-- the minimum needed, and then the legislature can establish extra offices for those counties big enough to need them. In large counties, even ones as small as my Montgomery County, the title of the chief executive of the county is County Judge. The county legislature, which also has a number of executive powers, is called the County Commissioners' Court, which the County Judge presides over, but the County Judge doesn't hold a judicial court or preside over any true judicial proceedings. The judicial powers of the County Judge in such a county are reposed in one or more county-courts-at-law established by the legislature. Montgomery County has five; Harris County-- the largest-- has 20-- 16 criminal and four civil-- and additionally, four probate courts-- which have a mix of county-court-at-law powers and state district court powers.  In a tiny rural county, like Matagorda County where I used to live, the County Judge actually has judicial powers as well, holding court about some civil matters and also holding court on misdemeanors and also hearing cases appealed from justice courts, municipal courts and small claims courts, the latter three courts being the lowest level courts in the state. The buildings and the judges and the court staff for justice courts are the same as for small claims courts.)

Electronic filing will be mandatory in criminal cases in the district courts, statutory county courts, and constitutional county courts according to this schedule based  upon  the  counties'  2010  Federal  Census population:

a.      Courts in counties with a population of 500,000 or more- July  1,  2017
b.      Courts in counties with a population of 200,000 to 499,999 - January 1, 2018
c.      Courts in counties with a population of 100,000 to 199,999 - July 1, 2018
d.     Courts in counties with a population of 50,000 to 99,999- January 1, 2019
e.      Courts in counties with a population of 20,000 to 49,999 - July 1, 2019
f.       Courts in counties with a population of less than 20,000 - January 1, 2020

Municipal courts and justice courts will not have to change, except that if they accept any electronic filing they have to follow the rules that the higher courts use (Small claims court has no criminal jurisdiction.).

Pro se litigants will still be able to use paper. Some of them will be on the wrong side of the digital divide. Other are locked up and authorities don't want to give those people access to internet-enabled computers.

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