300 offenders were released from prison after a computer error prevented them from getting an initial court hearing

Due to a computer system flaw in a Houston, U.S. court, nearly 300 defendants of various crimes had to be released, as the flaw prevented their respective initial hearings required under state law from taking place.

Local officials mention that the system employed by Harris County law enforcement agencies began failing on March 24, remaining dormant for a couple of days, which had a direct impact on the regular work of the justice system.

Texas state law mandates that defendants generally should not be held for legal prosecution for more than 24 hours in misdemeanor cases and 48 hours in felony cases. Errors in these computer systems prevented the defendants from appearing before a trial judge for a probable cause hearing within these time periods, so once these deadlines were met it was legally impossible to proceed with the arrests.

The county’s public defense office filed motions for the defendants to be released, as they would not be able to appear before magistrate judges within the required time period. Motions were granted and most of the defendants were released, considering they had been arrested on lesser charges.

In a statement, the district attorney’s office said officers will need to refile the charges and that it is possible that some of these people will be arrested again, though it is not yet clear whether local authorities are willing to make these arrests again.

The causes of the failure are still unknown, although local authorities mention that this is the fifth time the court’s systems have failed in less than a year.

“The safety of the public, the safety of our criminal justice system and the efficiency of our courts require the county to provide the resources to fix these issues and ensure that a similar incident never happens again,” said Dane Schiller, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

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