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Several defendants in Harris County, Texas, were released without any hearing due to a computer system error on Thursday, 24th March. According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the number of inmates released is estimated to be between 180 to 200. As per reports, the computer system faced issues on Thursday, which continued until the weekend. This resulted in several inmates being summarily released from the joint processing center.

The victim services director for Crime Stoppers of Houston, Andy Kahan, explained the reason behind the general release of so many defendants to KPRC 2, a popular TV station in Houston. According to him, this issue was caused by the requirement that an inmate needs to get a probable cause hearing within a particular time frame. For cases related to misdemeanors, this period is set at 24 hours. For a felony, it’s by 48 hours from the time of the arrest.

As per Kahan, he received a tip-off from someone regarding this situation. In his words, “that person basically said ‘Hey, we just cut loose close to 300 people because they weren’t given their probable cause hearings in due time.’”

Kahan, who was shocked by this development, chose to term it “a huge embarrassment”. He went on to say that one may try to sugarcoat things, but the bottom line is that it is highly embarrassing. He mentioned that he had been associated with the criminal justice system for around three decades, and this was the first time that he had witnessed such an incident.

Kahan went on to add that this situation raised some red flags. He feels dumbfounded that there was no backup plan in place to deal with unpredictable events similar to the sudden error in the computer system. He also found it difficult to understand why there were no other alternatives to releasing the defendants altogether.

According to ABC13, the glitch occurred during a system update, and it lasted from 24th to 26th March. As a result, the required data needed for approving or rejecting the charges against the defendants couldn’t be filed properly due to the system being down.

The defendants waiting for a hearing failed to see a magistrate even after waiting for several hours. Ultimately, they were released through a general order passed by a judge after 48 hours had passed. The number of inmates released under the order hasn’t been determined yet. While some reports mention it was between 180 to 200, other estimates hint at close to 300 people.

As per Kahan, these people were released unconditionally on the order of the judge. In the absence of ankle monitors, GPS trackers, or any distance requirements, it’s highly difficult to know where these offenders are at present.

As per one report, the list of released defendants included people arrested for intoxicated driving, racing, indecent exposure, etc. While most of the offenders were charged for non-violent crimes, there were a few who had a history of committing violent crimes.

According to the Harris County’s District Attorney, this system failure was a threat to the safety of the general public and asked for the re-arrest of all the released inmates. Kahan, on the other hand, expressed his disappointment with this arrangement. In his opinion, they need to spend more manpower and resources to bring back the defendants who already were in the system.

According to some Houston Criminal Defense Attorneys, being rearrested is actually unfair to the released defendants since they have to go through the process again. And this will also increase the pressure on the attorneys hired by the defendants.

This system failure has, however, received full attention from the administration. A statement released by the spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Dane Schiller, reads – “The safety of the public, security of our criminal justice system and efficiency of our courts demand that the county give Universal Services the resources to fix this and ensure it never happens again.”

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