Thursday, April 14, 2016

TX misdemeanor, juvenile case filings plummet in recent years; drug cases drive felony filings

The Office of Court Administration has released its annual statistical report on the Texas judiciary for 2015. Here are a few highlights that caught my eye.

First, as we hear Chicken-Little-like cries of crime waves, particularly out of Dallas, it's worth considering the big picture regarding crime statewide in Texas: "The number of new misdemeanor cases filed has fallen 26 percent from the peak in 2007 and is the lowest number since 1996. The number of new felony cases filed was 11 percent  lower than the peak in 2007, but had increased slightly each of the last 3 years." So, despite the fact that prosecutors continued to file cases at greater rates even after crime and arrests dropped, the number of case filings is finally succumbing somewhat to long-term crime-reduction trends.

Despite John Pfaff's observation that drug cases make up a small percentage of those incarcerated in prison (16 percent in Texas), they make up a more significant portion of the felony caseload: "Drug cases accounted for 31 percent of the 196,316 new felony cases filed" in FY 2015.

In a trend that Texas judges have attributed to the cursed Driver Responsibility surcharge," The number of misdemeanor DWI cases filed was the lowest number in at least 30 years and was nearly half of the number filed in 1985."

Pot arrests are leveling off: "After peaking in 2014, the number of new misdemeanor drug possession cases filed (80,518) fell 4 percent to the lowest level since 2006." (Ed. note: nearly all these cases were for marijuana possession.)

And the mysterious reduction in traffic tickets issued statewide continues: "The number of new Class C misdemeanor traffic and parking cases filed fell 36 percent from its peak in 2006 and was its lowest in more than 30 years. The number of new non-traffic Class C misdemeanor cases filed was 37 percent lower than its peak in 2008 and was the lowest since 1991." (Louisiana is facing the same trend, except there traffic-ticket revenue pays for their public defender system and the decline has thrown their entire criminal-court system into crisis.)

Remarkably, despite Texas shuttering youth prisons and reducing the state's overall juvenile prison population by more than three quarters since 2007, "The number of new juvenile cases filed fell 40 percent from a peak in 2007 and is the lowest level since 1996." So juvenile decarceration in Texas coincided with a dramatic drop in juvenile crime and a ballooning juvenile population. That's really quite astonishing.

As an aside: Looking at the charts on the bottom page 34 of the pdf, you can really see why it was necessary to increase property thresholds for low-level theft. Cases had been shifting from misdemeanor to felony status as inflation devalued the threshold dollar amount. Glad we got that one fixed; I bet we see the difference in the FY 2016 numbers..

There's lots more detail in the document, these are just highlights which jumped out at me. See here for data from prior years.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the felony case filings numbers are caused by the DPS drug lab issues that have caused major backlogs in drug analyses. I know there are some counties who are still indicting based on information and then dragging the defendant through court until the report comes through, but there are some who are waiting until the report is in (and that definitely makes sense grand juries don't always know what a ham sandwich looks like).

Anonymous said...

Reasons that misdemeanor cases are lower:

1. County Attorney's can keep a case "in-house and collect $500 for pre-trial fees"
2. MADD and tougher DWI laws = more pre-trial cases
3. ongoing surcharges for drivers keeping local jails full
4. DWI surcharges too high so these cases are given pre-trial
5. no longer have "speedy trial act" which means some cases are years old before anything is being done many cases are dismissed

Felony pre-trial cases are also on the rise by District Attorneys