Federal judges extend grand jury deadlines amid coronavirus outbreak
Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis caused by the coronavirus, federal judges in McAllen signed an order Friday that extended the deadline for prosecutors to present their cases to a grand jury.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas filed a motion Friday. The motion, which remains under seal, apparently asked federal judges in the McAllen Division to extend the deadline for prosecutors to present their cases to a grand jury.
Channel 5 News has learned that no grand juries are currently meeting in the McAllen Division because of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, the new coronavirus.
Under normal circumstances, the Speedy Trial Act requires federal prosecutors to call witnesses and present evidence to a grand jury within 30 days of a person's arrest.
The testimony and information is presented to a panel of impartial citizens, which is called a grand jury. The grand jury determines whether or not enough evidence exists to hand up an indictment.
"The Court finds that failing to grant a continuance to exclude time under the Speedy Trial Act would result in a miscarriage of justice," according to the order signed by the judges.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane and U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez agreed to extend the time period "until May 6, 2020, or the date the grand jury reconvenes."
The order, which was originally filed under seal, appears to have been unsealed on Monday.
The Southern District of Texas is comprised of seven divisions: Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, Laredo, McAllen, and Victoria. The other districts have similar orders in effect.
In Brownsville, the extension will last through May 1.