Friday, December 16, 2011

Terms of Court and Grand Juries

Judges of Texas, please take note, this is an issue that you may not be aware of and it is important!

HB 79, the Court Reorganization bill from the First Called Session, contains a provision (Sec. 3.03 of the bill) establishing two terms of court each year in every district court in the state. The first term of court begins on the first Monday in January. The second term of court begins on the first Monday in July. Each term of court continues until the day on which the succeeding term of court begins.

The provision – codified as Government Code, Section 24.012 – becomes effective January 1, 2012. HB 79 does not address the transition from the system of terms of court under current law to the new terms of court.

Under current law, different district courts have different terms of court. The terms of court in a particular district court are established by the statute creating the court. For example, the 174th District Court of Harris County has four terms of court each year. See Texas Government Code, Section 24.267. Those terms begin on the first Mondays in February, May, August, and November.

Section 24.012 states that the new general rule will control over the current specific provisions. Accordingly, all district courts will have the same two terms of court each year. We believe that all terms of court established under existing law will come to an end on Sunday, January 1. The new system of two terms of court each year will begin the next day.

Terms of court are significant with respect to grand juries. Grand juries are impaneled to serve for a particular term of court. The new law raises a question about grand juries that are in the middle of a current term of court on January 1. The specific question is whether such a grand jury retains the power to act until the end of the originally-scheduled end of that term.

We believe the answer is no. We believe that when the term of court ends, the power of the grand jury ends. The only exception would be an extension of the grand jury’s term under Article 19.07 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Such an extension, however, can only be made to allow for the conclusion of an investigation of matters presently before the grand jury. The grand jury is not authorized to consider new matters.

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