HOUSTON—You can throw out the conventional wisdom that if a cop doesn’t show up in court, your speeding ticket gets thrown out.
The I-Team discovered cases of Houston police officers repeatedly not appearing at jury trial. But instead of getting dismissed, the cases get postponed. The result? Houstonians are left languishing in a legal limbo waiting years to fight their case.
“It absolutely pisses me off,” said Malik Stephens, who has to make the trip to Houston Municipal Courts “again and again and again and again.”
It’s not because he’s a habitual speeder.
“This is my fifth year on the same ticket,” Stephens said.
Every time he shows up to fight his speeding ticket at a jury trial, the case is postponed. Not once or twice, but seven times and counting.
“I say this is ridiculous,” Stephens said.
It’s all because of who doesn’t show—the Houston police officer—who each time was busy in another court testifying in another case.
So why not just plead guilty and pay the fine? Texans like Stephens claim for them, it’s not an option. The reason? They say they literally can’t afford it because they make their living behind the wheel.
They’re truckers, chauffeurs and other professional drivers with a commercial driver license. It’s a license that, with just a couple of tickets, they can lose. And under Texas law, CDL holders are not given the option of defensive driving or probation for moving violations.
“So I have to fight it, I have to come up here and do this,” said truck driver Tony Estes.
He also has come seven times for his day in court. Again, each time ended in a reset because the cop couldn’t show. But Estes said that isn’t the real bum deal.
“If I don’t show up I get a warrant for my arrest if I don’t show up,” Estes said.
When you drive an 18-wheeler, time wasted in court means money lost.
Estes: “My day is gone.”
I-Team: “It’s shot.”
“I’m angry, I’m upset,” said veteran defense attorney Paul Kubosh.
He said murder cases often go to trial faster than simple speeding tickets.
“The problem is the court can’t handle them, the problem is the way the court sets them,” Kubosh said, adding that he routinely sees cases taking several years to go to trial.
Kubosh: “I’ve been to the mayor, I’ve been to city council, I’ve screamed, I’ve hollered.”
I-Team: “You got nowhere.”
So the I-Team tried to get somewhere at the Office of the Presiding Judge for Houston Municipal Courts.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” said Deputy Director Nelly Santos.
Santos: “The wheels of justice may turn a little slow.”
I-Team: “A little slow?”
Santos: “Well I …”
I-Team: “A little slow?”
Santos: “I agree with you that this is too long, but at the same time, he will get a trial.”
It is a constitutional right Santos said, but she couldn’t promise when.
So until then, they’ll keep fighting till the end.
“Something is terribly wrong with the court system,” Stephens said.
City of Houston Attorney Dave Feldman said the delays are “unacceptable” and pledged to sit down with Presiding Judge Barbara Hartle to work on solutions to the problem.