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Zoom Pleas: The New Norm

Attorneys can now conduct virtual pleas amid the coronavirus outbreak for defendants in Tarrant County courts. Along the efforts of limiting foot traffic at courthouses, many courts are implementing a virtual court program.

The option of a video plea, which is free and coordinated through Zoom, focuses on helping the jail population and addressing concerns attorneys may have with meeting face-to-face in county jails and courtrooms.

Under Article 27.18 of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, to conduct a virtual plea in the county, defense attorneys would have to negotiate a plea beforehand with the criminal district attorney’s office by either phone or email then communicate the offer to their client. But both sides have to agree to a video plea – including the defendant. Once a mutual deal is reached, the defendant’s case will be set for a plea and a video conference will be scheduled. Plea paperwork can be created by the prosecutor and sent to the defense attorney, where they can review and sign electronically.

If there was any last-minute details that needed to be explained that weren't already explained, there is a function on zoom to where the lawyer can have a private conversation with his client. On the day of the plea, the court bailiff will deliver the paperwork to the defendant and have them sign it. Ideally, all the details should be covered before the plea is set.

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