Tuesday, September 26, 2017

High volume of Class C arrests calls into question Harris County DA 'intake prosecutor' system

Grits had earlier linked to an academic article by William and Mary Law School Associate Dean Adam Gershowitz titled, "The Intake Prosecutor: Prosecutorial screening before police make warrantless arrests," which praises the practice in Harris County of "intake prosecutors" screening warrantless arrests before police officers can make them in the field. (See a discussion of these programs from Grits back in 2008.)

I must admit, Grits has been touting this reform for years and still think it's a great idea. But this spring, for the first time, I began to wonder about the quality of screening these intake prosecutors are providing. That's because they appear to be routinely approving thousands of arrests for Class C misdemeanors. An an analysis from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition earlier this year exposed this shocking development:
TCJC reviewed all arrests in Harris County over a 16-week period from July 13, 2016, to October 5, 2016. 
Of the 23,578 people arrested during this period, 2,567 (11%) were arrested for Class C misdemeanors, which are punishable by a fine only. Of those, 763 people (30%) were arrested on a single Class C misdemeanor charge, mostly for a traffic violation. 
The remaining 1,804 people were arrested on a combination of fine-only charges, mostly for insurance violations combined with registration, inspection, or other vehicle violations. 
If this data is representative of the rest of the state, then tens of thousands of drivers are likely arrested for traffic infractions each year. 
Texas law already prohibits officers from arresting a person for speeding. Such an arrest constitutes officer misconduct. And yet, among those in the dataset reviewed by TCJC who were arrested on a single traffic charge, this was the most common offense. 
Like Professor Gershowitz, I'd considered Harris County's intake prosecutors a best practice before seeing these data. But all these Class C arrests cause me to question how much of a constraint these prosecutors are really providing?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is not a bigger rubber stamp in the world than the one the HCDA intake prosecutor has. Sure, the concept sounds great on paper, but the problem is the IP is in fear of rejecting an officer who will then refuse to testilie when called upon to do so. All I've ever seen them do was to tell the officer what he needed to make the arrest stick i.e. get their story straight and keep the lies tight so there's no contradiction on paper. The problem is there is too much camaraderie between the DA and law enforcement. No separation between the two except in name only.

Anonymous said...

Officers/Deputies in Harris County DO NOT CALL intake for class C charges. I would wager that the majority of class C arrests are handled in municipal court with city prosecutors not Harris County ADAs.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Supposedly all arrests must be pre-approved, 6:34, and prosecutors from the DA's office are the ones doing intake. It has not been heretofore reported that there are categories of arrests that don't require pre-approval, but maybe.

Anonymous said...

Grits, in Harris County, officers only call DA Intake for charges of Class B and higher. Sometimes the misdemeanor ADA will tell the officer that such charges won't be accepted based on the facts given but suggest the officer arrests the suspect for a Class C charge instead since no approval is needed. Different cities have different specific policies but some smaller town officers will tell motorists that if they refuse to sign the promise to appear/ticket, they will be arrested to eventually be brought before a magistrate.

Since the last election, the Harris County DA's intake line is often manned by a former HCSO Lt who tries cases over the phone as if he were a defense lawyer, a great many charges declined in this manner possibly leading to arrests on lower charges. Should any accepted charged be scrutinized to the level of being air tight? Probably not but I'm sure it saves money and will be used in the future how the sitting DA has fought crime so hard that crime numbers will be way down. Data always takes time to generate, yes?

Stephen Hesse said...

I was an Assistant DA in Harris County years ago. The DA's office only screened for Class B misdemeanor or higher, criminal charges. Police officers did not need to seek DA approval to file a Class C.