After observing the precipitous and surprising decline in the Court of Criminal Appeals' caseload, I thought it might be informative to take a closer look at overall criminal court caseloads in Texas.
Between 1988 and 2007, reports the Texas Office of Court Administration, Texas district and county courts saw an overall 51% caseload increase. However, most of that increase came in the criminal courts, which saw a 71% caseload increase over that period, despite crime significantly declining overall. (The total number of civil cases, by contrast, rose just 31% over the same period, with the vast majority of that increase in family law cases.) Reports the OCA:
Six categories of criminal cases increased over 100 percent in the past 20 years. Traffic cases filed in county courts increased the most (296 percent). Misdemeanor assault cases increased 266 percent; felony and misdemeanor drug offense cases increased 191 percent; felony assault or attempted murder cases increased 178 percent; other felonies increased 144 percent; and felony DWI cases increased 127 percent.Since crime rates declined substantially (pdf) over this same period, what explains these dramatic increases?
N.b., all of these increases far outstrip population growth, and represent more aggressive enforcement, often focusing on suspects and cases - e.g., misdemeanor assaults - who would not have drawn official attention in years past. Penalty increases partially explain the rise in felony DWI cases. And the boost in traffic cases IMO coincides with a more radical reliance by state and local officials on traffic fines for revenue instead of raising taxes.
But overall, I can't think of a good reason for these increases that's explained by demographics or crime statistics - instead these numbers represent policy choices by elected officials to arrest more people for lesser offenses than in the past. Our laws and officials today simply are more likely to treat deviant minor behavior as criminal.
What do you think? Why have criminal caseloads increased so dramatically when crime overall is declining?