Majority of tried cases result in acquittals; 98% of cases plea bargained
Overall, 97.8% of convictions resulted from a guilty or nolo contendre plea, and less than 2% of criminal cases go to trial. That said, of the 4,060 cases taken all the way through trial to a verdict in 2010 (whether before a judge or a jury), 51.7% resulted in acquittals (see the chart, p. 45). According to the same report (pdf, p. 41) from last year, just 27.9% of tried cases resulted in acquittals in FY 2009.
Juries electing death penalty less frequently
Despite widespread support for the death penalty in opinion polls, as Carl Reynolds pointed out, the polls that matter most (among jurors) are favoring capital punishment less and less frequently: "last year only 3 percent of capital convictions resulted in the death penalty, down from a high of 24 percent in 1992." I've gotta say, that's a remarkable decline.
Judiciary costs rising
Though it represents a relatively small portion of the state budget, costs for Texas' judiciary are already rising much more rapidly than inflation: "In FY 2010, state appropriations for the Texas judicial system increased by 12.03 percent from the previous fiscal year and accounted for approximately 0.36 percent of all state appropriations." Of those costs, "In FY 2010, salaries for district judges and travel expenses for those district judges with jurisdiction in more than one county accounted for 16.8 percent of appropriations for the judicial system, and judicial retirement and benefi ts comprised another 12.0 percent."
So you like your judges appointed?
In FY 2010, Gov. Rick Perry appointed 18 district court judges to replace those who retired or died in office, as well as five Court of Appeals judges (including two each on the 2nd and 5th Courts) and two Texas Supreme Court Justices.
Fewer opinions from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Just a few highlights regarding the court's caseload:
In 2010, mandatory matters comprised 76.7 percent of all cases added to the docket.Further, "The court denied 51.1 percent of applications for writs of habeas corpus (and dismissed another 33.5 percent)." Average processing time for habeas writs, according to the OCA, was a relatively quick 36 days (p. 27).
Filings of mandatory matters decreased 10.8 percent from the previous year to 5,298 cases. In particular, direct appeals declined 9.9 percent to 201 cases, applications for writs of habeas corpus declined 11.1 percent to 4,329 cases, and original proceedings fell 9.2 percent to 768 cases.
Perhaps notably, "The judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals issued 433 opinions in 2010, which is the lowest number of opinions issued since 1994. More than one-third (37.2 percent) of opinions were signed, 43.0 percent were per curiam, 9.2 percent were concurring, and 9.5 percent were dissenting."
Criminal cases half of appellate courts' caseload
Criminal cases accounted for 50.6% of the caseload at Texas' 14 intermediate Courts of Appeal. "Nearly 17 percent [of appellate filings] came from Harris County alone and 12.6 percent came from Dallas County."
Drug cases driving up trial court caseloads
Overall, "criminal filings decreased by 2.4 percent, and juvenile filings declined by 10.4 percent from 2009." That said, in the trial courts, during a period when crime generally has declined, "Three categories of criminal cases increased more than 100 percent over the past 20 years. Felony assault or attempted murder cases increased 113 percent; felony and misdemeanor drug offense cases increased 153 percent; and 'other' felonies increased 115 percent." The biggest caseload driver is the number of drug cases, which exceeded 160,000 statewide in FY 2008 (compared to fewer than 60,000 drug cases statewide in FY 1991). "Drug offenses (drug possession, sale, and manufacture) accounted for the largest share (28.0 percent) of criminal filings."
At county courts of law, "Criminal cases continued to constitute a large majority of the courts’ caseload (68.6 percent). The number of criminal cases added in 2010 declined for a third consecutive year, for a total decline of 12.0 percent since 2007." Criminal cases made up 87% of justice of the peace caseloads in FY 2010.
What explains drop in traffic court caseloads?
Perhaps the most remarkable statistic in the report - heaven knows I can't explain it - relates to traffic court caseloads: "In 2007, traffic cases represented the criminal case category with the most substantial growth over the last 20 years. From 1988 to 2007, traffic cases grew 296 percent. From 2007 to 2009, the number of traffic cases dropped 69 percent to a level lower than the number filed in 1990. In 2010, the number of traffic cases increased slightly to 24,677, which was nearly equal to the number filed in 1990." I understand why the number of traffic cases was growing, but I sure don't understand the 69% decline. Maybe some savvy reader can fill me in.
Filed juvenile cases down 10%
The number of juvenile cases filed in 2010 declined a whopping 10% from 2009, despite a dramatically lower youth prison population.