Our Complete Guide to Your Appearance: Most people who must appear in Harris County Criminal Court are not “criminals,” rather they are good people who made a mistake. Despite this, you may be treated like a criminal when you appear in Harris County Criminal Court, and that can be distressing at best. In fact, being charged with a Harris County Criminal Offense can be a very jarring experience. You may be anxious about your future, scared about appearing in court, and totally stressed out. Suddenly you are faced with decisions which must be made—sometimes quickly—and paperwork you may not fully understand.
Because the decisions made today can affect your life for a very long time, having an experienced Houston Criminal Defense Attorney in your corner who can answer your questions and explain the process can be invaluable during this difficult time. At Sullo & Sullo, we understand how you are feeling right now, and we will work hard to help you get through your criminal charges with the best outcome possible. Below is information which can lessen your anxiety and help you get through your day in court.
Where Will I Go? Criminal matters were once adjudicated at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center on Franklin Street however Hurricane Harvey flooded the building and alternative locations were arranged. Currently, felony cases are heard at 201 Caroline Street—the Harris County Civil Courthouse. All hearings and trial settings for the 61st District Court will now be held in the courtroom of the 80th District Court, which is located on the 9th floor, while the oral hearing docket for the 61st District Court now takes place on Thursdays.
Dockets for defendants on bond are held at 9:00 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during bond weeks. Trials and hearings are also heard at this location but may be moved to a different courthouse in the Civil Courthouse or the Family Law Center. During jail weeks, inmate dockets for those in custody are conducted on the 19th floor of the Criminal Justice Center at 9:00 a.m., even though construction is ongoing.
Misdemeanors are heard at 1115 Congress—the Harris County Family Court. As repairs progress at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center on Franklin Street, jail dockets and some felonies are being heard at this location. The future plan is to bring all misdemeanors back to the Harris County Criminal Justice Center with a tentative start date of April 1, 2019, however it is imperative that you double check where your case will be heard.
Where Do I Park? If you are at the Harris County Civil Courthouse at 201 Caroline Street, you could park at 467 Austin Street which is about two-tenths of a mile away for $5, at 915 Commerce Street (two-tenths of a mile) for $5, at 898 Prairie Street (two-tenths of a mile) for $7, 411 Smith Street (three-tenths of a mile) for $15, 513 Smith Street (four-tenths of a mile) for $10, 925 Walker Street (four-tenths of a mile) for $10 or 401 Franklin Street (four-tenths of a mile) for $6. Since the Harris County Family Court at 1115 Congress is only about one-tenth of a mile from the Harris County Civil Courthouse at 201 Caroline Street, the parking options are much the same. There are additional parking options further away from the buildings.
What Time Should I Arrive? You should talk to your Houston Criminal Defense Attorney regarding the time you should arrive for your court appearance, as there are many variables. In general, plan to be there most of the morning—a first appearance will typically take more time than follow-up appearances. Dockets for those on bond begin at 9:00 a.m., and all defendants on bond must be present at that time, therefore you should arrive at the courthouse at least 30 minutes before 9:00 a.m.
You must allow plenty of extra time to go through the metal detectors as well as the inevitable lines at the elevators. If you are not present, the judge will forfeit your bond. If you are unable to appear because of a medical emergency, you must have documentation to prove that an emergency occurred. Harris County Criminal Court appearances are virtually always mandatory, and it is never a good idea to miss a scheduled court appearance.
What Should I Do Once I Arrive? Once you have made it through the metal detectors and have located your courtroom, it is usually a good idea to wait inside the courtroom rather than out in the hall. If you don’t immediately see your attorney, don’t panic—he or she is likely handling another case nearby. Should the judge call your name, you can answer “present,” and if the court staff asks you whether you have an attorney, just give them the name of your attorney. While it is certainly stressful to wait for your case to be called, do your best to remain calm. If your attorney is waiting with you, you can discuss your case until the judge comes in, then you must remain quiet.
What Should I Wear? Whether you are a man or a woman, you need to look as professional as possible when you go to court. Even if it is the hottest part of summer, don’t even think about wearing shorts and flip-flops. Judges expect you to be dressed conservatively and can view you negatively if you are not. Men should wear long pants, a tucked in shirt and a belt, preferable a button-up shirt with a collar, or a nice polo shirt. Wear dress shoes if you have them, rather than sneakers. Trim your hair and your facial hair, making sure you look neat and tidy.
Women should wear a skirt or slacks with a blouse, or a conservative dress; if you wear a skirt or dress, make sure it is not too short, and if you wear pants, avoid capris—wear full-length pants. Avoid sneakers, choosing nice, conservative shoes with a low heel. Style your hair appropriately—the “messy” look is not a good look for court. Keep your hair out of your face, using clips or barrettes if necessary, or a neat ponytail. Keep your makeup conservative and avoid long acrylic nails or nails painted in flashy colors. It is usually best to limit your jewelry to a watch and wedding ring, but if you do wear necklaces, earrings or bracelets, avoid loud or large jewelry.
How Does Courtroom Security Work? You will be required to pass through a metal detector which is similar to those used in airports and could also be subject to a hand-held detector or a pat-down search. If you bring personal items in, such as a briefcase or purse, those items will be screened by x-ray and could also be manually searched. It is not unusual to spend half an hour in the security line when appearing for court, so be sure to allow plenty of time. No weapons are allowed in the courtroom and neither are pocket knives, scissors, any sharp object and self-defense sprays. You may be asked to remove your shoes, your coat, your belt, your cell phone, your keys and any loose change to have them screened through x-ray.
What Should I Expect Once Inside the Courtroom? Once you are inside the courtroom, if you must talk, do so in a low voice, and only before the judge arrives. Do not use your cell phone inside the courtroom—turn it off and put it away. Obviously, there is no smoking or gum-chewing, and should you be rash enough to arrive at court intoxicated or hung over or you appear impaired, the judge may drug test you on the spot. You will likely spend a considerable amount of time waiting for your case to be called unless you are lucky enough to be called first. When it is your turn, let your attorney answer questions on your behalf unless the judge asks you a direct question.
In that case, consider your answer before you speak, and always answer respectfully, even if you are angry at something the judge says. If yours is a relatively simple case, it could be resolved during your first court appearance. Other cases may take from 30-90 days, while very serious criminal cases can take much longer. Do not leave the courtroom until your attorney says you can go home. Having an experienced Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer by your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. An experienced Houston Criminal Defense Attorney from Sullo & Sullo will work hard on your behalf, protecting your rights and your future.