Most people understand that there are far more cases on the dockets of most courts than can be tried. That means that on any given week there may be as many as 25-30 cases set for trial. Some of those may end up pleading guilty, but there are usually several defendants who are want to go to trial. The way those cases are handled varies among the courts.

In McLennan the two courts that handle felony cases - the 19th and 54th District Courts - handle cases basically the same. Cases are numbered from one until they run out of cases - generally starting with the person who has been in jail the longest. The number one case is the one that will go to trial unless the court either grants a continuance, a plea agreement is reached, or the case is dismissed. That means that theoretically, everyone set for trial that week has to be ready to go.

Even though there may be 25-30 cases set for a trial, the fact is there are only a limited number of prosecutors in each. While they might be able to get 2 or 3 cases ready, they are not going to get them all ready. No only is it not practical, its also not very effecient because you would have to keep issuing and re-issuing subpoenas if the case was not reached. That usually means that if your case is down the list, there is no realistic chance you are going to trial. It also means that you may end up getting ready for trial more than once.

It may seem like a waste of time to set more cases than you can get ready for and try. However, it does serve a purpose. One is to keep the case on the docket, so it can eventually end up at the top. The other is to encourage resolution. If the case is going to be a plea  - and and agreement has been worked out - the existences of a trial settting may be incentive to go ahead and get it done.

While lawyers understand how the system works, it's always confusing for clients. Your lawyer should keep you advised about all the court settings, and the likelihood of going to trial. While there is always stress involved, knowledge about how the system operates and how it impacts you can at least lessen some of that stress.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.