Deadlines for filing criminal charges in Dallas to change

Judges in Dallas County are changing the rules of how long law enforcement has to file a case with the district attorney. It’s a debate that’s been brewing for weeks now.

Before 2010, misdemeanor cases had to be formally filed in three days of arrest. Felonies that were not violent felonies had to be filed within five days. Now, it’s five days for misdemeanors and ten days for felonies.

But the timelines are changing, and pressure is going to be on law enforcement to get investigative case work done sooner.

There is a delicate balance between fighting crime and finding justice.

“The Dallas Police Department is severely understaffed at this point that they are really requesting more time,” said Judge Nancy Mulder, the presiding misdemeanor court judge. “”It’s all the outliers as well, outlying communities.”

The understaffing problem is why in 2015 judges began allowing police as much as five days to file misdemeanors cases and a ten day minimum for felony cases.understaffing problem is why in 2015 judges began allowing police as much as five days to file misdemeanors cases and a ten day minimum for felony cases.

“We've clarified what our dry writ list is, in other words how long people have to wait in jail before a charge is filed,” explained Judge Brandon Birmingham, the presiding felony courts judge.

People would have to be transported to jail from municipalities within 24 to 48 hours of arrest. Police won’t have as long to file cases.

“Then from there, the police have five days to file a charge. And if they don’t for those felony cases, then you are released,” Birmingham explained. “For another class of felonies — violent felonies, child abuse cases — there’s longer than five days.”

There are up to 30 days to file charges in murder, capital murder or intoxication manslaughter cases.

“If the agencies feel like they need more time, the new rule still allows for them to come to the district judge explain why they need more time to file a case,” said Heath Harris, a former prosecutor who is now a defense attorney. “So I think it’s a good rule.”      

“You have an absolute right to prove true or not true to the allegations,” Mulder said.

Bond on most misdemeanor cases in Dallas County is $500 to $1,500. And law enforcement will have three days to file misdemeanor cases with the district attorney so people have a chance to get out of jail in a reasonable time.

“Those people who cannot afford to make a bond, we don’t want to keep non-violent misdemeanor offenders in jail,” Mulder said. “Nobody wants that.”

The judges and the district attorney met last week with area police chiefs who argue against the rollback to formally file cases with the DA. The judges stressed this applies to only cases that aren’t violent in nature. It all goes to commissioners court next month. Expect to see law enforcement speak against the proposal when that happens.

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