By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
I’m writing this blog in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown. We’re seeing lots of cases handled “at large” these days.
What “At Large” Means in a Criminal Case
The Court has to have some way to make sure people come and face charges, win, lose or draw. If criminal cases were voluntary, no one would come to court. That way of securing attendance is the threat of jail.
An arrest is normally the very first legal action taken against a person. A bond is set and if the bond is paid the person is released. Formal charges come some time later – but prior to the running of the statute of limitations (2 years on a misdemeanor, 3 years on most felonies).
When a case is filed “at large” the arrest is skipped temporarily. Once the formal charges are filed either in a misdemeanor or a felony an arrest warrant is triggered.
Why We’re Seeing So Many “At Large” Cases
Police and the Sheriff’s office want to keep the jail as unpopulated as possible during the COVID crisis. It is law enforcement’s way of deferring an arrest and a jailing until later.
What Happens Next?
If someone has been told a case would be filed “at large,” then there is a good chance the police have or will forward a police report to the District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s office will review the report — and assuming they view the report as complete — they will typically file formal charges. In a misdemeanor case it is called an “information” and in a felony the Grand Jury Meets and if they agree — the file what is called an indictment. Both will trigger the arrest warrant.
If There is an Arrest Warrant Coming, What Do I Do?
It is always the better practice to be in control of the process by monitoring the active warrant filings and ultimately surrender yourself. Prepare to post bond. It’s also time to talk with a lawyer about your long term legal defense and how to best address the charges.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He was recognized by Thomson Reuters as a Texas Super Lawyer in 2019.