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Nearly 300 Texas defendants were released after a computer glitch delayed hearings

HOUSTON — Nearly 300 Houston-area defendants were ordered released after a computer glitch prevented them from getting an initial court hearing within the time period required by state law, according to officials.

The computer system that is used by all law enforcement agencies in Harris County, where Houston is located, to file charges with prosecutors crashed on March 24 and was down for about a couple of days, according to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Under Texas law, defendants are generally not to be held for processing for more than 24 hours in misdemeanor cases and 48 hours in felony cases. The glitch prevented defendants from appearing before a magistrate judge for a probable cause hearing within these time periods.

The public defender's office filed motions to have the defendants released because they weren't appearing before magistrate judges within the required time period. The motions were granted. Most of the defendants released had been arrested on nonviolent charges.

In a letter to local law enforcement agencies, the district attorney's office said that officers will need to refile charges and some individuals might need to be rearrested. It's unclear how many cases will need to be refiled.

The Houston Chronicle reported the outage happened after a required system update and that Rick Noriega of Harris County Universal Services, the agency that handles technical issues for the county, described the outage as "minimal."

Officials say this was the fifth time the system had crashed since August.

"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," said Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

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