(DALLAS NEWS) — Former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger had a court date Monday but the only movement in the case happened outside the courtroom.
Her murder trial was set Monday for Aug. 12 — less than a year since Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment. She was off-duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean once in the chest.
Murder cases in Dallas County usually take more than a year to go to trial. It’s also common for trials to be delayed.
Guyger told law enforcement she confused Jean’s apartment with her own and thought he was a burglar. She said his door was unlocked and ajar, though Jean’s family has questioned that account.
Even though nothing happened in the courtroom, Guyger is obligated to appear at the courthouse. That doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the case. It just doesn’t happen in public.
An “announcement setting” was scheduled for Monday. This wasn’t a formal hearing before the judge, State District Judge Tammy Kemp.
But Kemp could have decided she wants to see Guyger, her attorneys Robert Rogers and Toby Shook, and Dallas County prosecutor Jason Hermus in her courtroom or chambers.
What is an ‘announcement setting’?
Usually this period of a criminal case passes with little notice from the public. But the death of Jean, a 26-year-old accountant who wanted to one day return to his native St. Lucia and run for prime minister, was international news. Local and national reporters and photographers show up for Guyger’s court settings.
Announcement settings serve several purposes, said defense attorney Becky Dodds, a former Dallas prosecutor. But mainly, she said, it helps the judge hold attorneys and defendants who are free on bond, like Guyger, accountable.
Dodds said her clients often ask “why am I here?” when they show up but don’t appear before a judge. She explains to defendants that the requirement they show up benefits them.
The settings give defendants a chance to talk to their attorneys, Dodds said. Some lawyers communicate better than others, and requiring defendants and defense attorneys to show up is essentially the judge asking: “Hey, lawyers, are you talking to your clients?”
Typically, these dates allow the defense and prosecutors to talk about evidence in the case, possible plea deals and sentence recommendations.
Plea deals don’t happen after one meeting, Dodds said. Such agreements are reached over time. New evidence could mean prosecutors change the deal they offered: probation or more or less prison time.