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Man Detained in Dallas Jail without Trial Longer Than Maximum Sentence

A man who was arrested for criminal trespass spent 200 days in the Dallas County Jail awaiting a court date on a charge that carries a maximum of 180 days in jail.

The 37-year-old unidentified man had previously been arrested 27 times for criminal trespass. After his arrest for criminal trespass at a mass transit station, he apparently became lost in the system when a clerk at the district attorney's office failed to deliver case paperwork to the county clerk's office so that no court case was initiated.

"He was either met with people just ignoring his pleas or requests, or people saying, 'I don't know what to do to help you. It's not my area. It's not my job,'" said Dallas attorney Laura Buehner, who represented the man.

"When an inmate asks, 'When am I going to get a court date?' nothing is going to prompt a jail guard to run that up the chain, because it's asked probably a hundred times a day," said former Dallas prosecutor Pete Schulte.

Under normal procedures, if a court case isn't filed within 72 hours, a person jailed for a misdemeanor charge would be released by court order. In this case, there was no court case; hence there was no court-ordered release.

The man finally wrote a letter to the public defender's office begging for help. The case was assigned to Buehner, who takes misdemeanor court appointments. Reviewing the case's paperwork, she discovered that he had been in jail far too long. After she pointed this out, the prosecutor decided to dismiss the case "in the interest of justice." The man was released over 200 days after he was arrested.

Schulte said the error was caused by the inability of the county jail and court management computer systems to communicate, requiring that case paperwork be passed manually between the jail and courts. He said that dozens of counties, including Dallas, are working with the state to develop a new computerized adult case management system that would integrate the jails and courts, eliminating some sources of human error.


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