Handling of felony cases in Palo Pinto County has changed. District Attorney Michael Burns said following an arrest, those charged with a felony will appear at an information hearing in district court. "The court sets a status hearing, defendants will appear and can enter a guilty plea," he said. Under this system, Burns said when an arrest is made, the complaint is presented to a magistrate who informs the suspect of the charges and sets bail. "The magistrate delivers a copy of the complaint, we get the complaint," the DA explained. "We request the police to file the case within 30 days," he continued. The case is scheduled for a manner and time and information hearing in district court. Burns said if a defendant pleads guilty, the court can set the punishment, either probation or prison. In either situation, the defendant will not have to remain in custody or on bail for an extended period. The DA cited, as an example, a case involving the arrest of an indigent person on drug charges. "A defendant is arrested, we can't present the case without the lab analysis," he said. "There's a 10-month backlog because of budget cuts." Burns said it costs $38.50 per day to house an inmate in Palo Pinto Jail. As a result of the new program, punishment can be assessed and an inmate can be out of jail in about 30 days should that person enter a guilty plea. The changes should mean a significant savings for taxpayers. "Counties using this program have seen 50 to 70 percent of their cases disposed of at that point," he continued.

Advertisement

"If only 50 percent of our cases are disposed of, that saves the county, and taxpayers, a substantial amount of jail expenses." For those who enter a plea of not guilt, the case is presented to the grand jury. "After an indictment, we offer a plea bargain more severe than the first. If they refuse, we go to trial." Burns said he gets letters from county inmates who want to move forward with their cases. "I get letters from inmates all the time wanting to get their case over," Burns said. "This gives everybody an opportunity to get out of jail in 30 days."