excerpts at the Stand Down Project.) I may need to change up my Google News alert keywords because if it weren't for Doug Berman pointing them out at Sentencing Law & Policy, I wouldn't have seen these stories. Both are must-reads; the first one in particular, even for readers with no stakes in McLennan County justice.
The stories were inspired because a local officers' union endorsed incumbent John Segrest's opponent, claiming the sitting DA refused to file too many cases brought to him by local police. Cindy Culp at the Trib analyzed data from the McLennan DA's office and counties with comparable populations and discovered that most DAs do not wind up pursuing around half the cases brought to them by police, both in Waco and other jurisdictions that produced viable data. Here are some topline numbers:
By these data, the McLennan DA actually does a terrific job at clearing out cases that don't need to be prosecuted early in the process. They're prosecuting cases brought to them at about the same rate as other counties overall, but in Waco prosecutors are much more likely to refuse the case up front instead of filing a bad case and dismissing it months down the line after the county has paid for jail costs, indigent defense, etc.. I'd made this same point the other day regarding jail overcrowding in Nueces County:
A big key to processing cases more rapidly is for prosecutors to assess cases brought by officers as early in the process as possible, not after a defendant has been sitting in jail for hours, days or (worst case) even weeks. After all, why jail people who you're not going to charge? Harris and El Paso's DA's have implemented "direct filing" systems that get prosecutors involved much earlier in the process. In Harris County, police must get every arrests pre-approved by prosecutors who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days per year to evaluate cases. (See Murray Newman's description of Harris' system here and here.) Getting prosecutors involved earlier is one of the smartest approaches I've heard to adding a little giddyup to the system. It solves or prevents a lot of other problems.Culp's data add even more oomph to that critique - if up to half of cases brought to prosecutors are refused or dismissed, then delays in getting to that result take up a lot of extra time and resources in the system, creating problems for the jail, the courts and the county coffers.
There may be other reasons to critique Mr. Segrest's performance, but by these data he's doing a remarkably efficient job compared with his peers on identifying which cases need to be prosecuted.
Culp's report also points out the frustrating lack of data avaialable for evaluating prosecutors' performance, and for my money state legislators would be well-served to require formal reporting on some of the outcome measures where she sought information but couldn't consistently find it across jurisdictions. That opacity is a big reason why, as one source she quoted pointed out, incumbent American prosecutors are about as likely to lose reelection fights as were officials in Communist Russia.
Bully for Culp for putting this series together: One of the best pieces of reporting I've seen on a complex, nuanced subject.