Sunday, March 12, 2017

Criminal justice job security in an era of declining crime

Despite crime near recorded lows in many areas, Texas cops, prosecutors and courts continue to treat the drug war as a growth industry. Here are a few tidbits from David Slayton's introduction to the FY 2016 Annual Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary:
  • The number of traffic and parking cases fell 37 percent from its peak in 2006 and is at the lowest level in more than 30 years – traffic and parking cases make up over 80 percent of the fine-only misdemeanor cases in the state; 
  • The number of truancy cases fell 91 percent and parent contributing to nonattendance fell 71 percent on the heels of truancy reforms that went into effect at the beginning of the fiscal year;
  • The number of capital murder convictions (3) and death sentences (3) dropped to an all-time low; 
  • Despite the fact that new misdemeanor cases have fallen 29 percent in the last ten years and is at the lowest rate since 1992, new misdemeanor drug cases increased 9 percent to a new peak
  • Felony drug possession cases increased 7 percent and is up 28 percent in the last five years
  • The number of misdemeanor and felony theft cases dropped 32 percent and 14 percent, respectively, with the misdemeanor thefts marking the lowest number in at least 30 years; (emphasis added)
Notably, DWI cases "were at the lowest number in at least 30 years and was nearly half of the number filed in 1985." This is mainly because of prosecutors and judges diverting DWI cases to offenses which don't include the Driver Responsibility surcharge.

Grits has discussed before how convictions continued to rise in Texas even as crime and arrests waned in recent years. These fact-bites demonstrate how. When crimes with victims aren't available to prosecute, you go after crimes without them, like drug possession. Job security, baby!

That's especially true for felony cases. "The number of new felony cases filed was 6 percent lower than the peak rate in 2007, but it has increased slightly each of the last four years." However, "Drug cases accounted for nearly a third of new felony cases filed in 2016." So the drug war is the principle source of growth in felony filings.

In related news, civil cases are dropping, but "civil related to criminal" - e.g., bond forfeitures, nondisclosure, occupational licenses, etc. - rose significantly over the last five years.

Another notable judicial trend mentioned in the introduction: "The number of opinions issued by the Court of Criminal Appeals increased 64 percent, pushing the time to process petitions for discretionary review slightly upward." This has a lot to do with Presiding Judge Sharon Keller. She was on the losing end of more decisions than usual in FY 2016 and typically had something to say about it in a slew of dissents. Judge Elsa Alcala also contributed to that number.


Anonymous said...

How's the murder rate doing these days---especially in our metropolitan areas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Up from the previous year, but still near historic lows overall.

Of course, murders are relatively rare - the volume in the justice system comes from the lesser crimes described above.

TIFAMom said...

"The number of capital murder convictions (3) and death sentences (3) dropped to an all-time low" And how are the numbers for LWOP? We must not forget about the flipside of the death sentence decline and have a conversation about LWOP as those numbers that continue to rise at an alarming rate.

DLW said...

I've seen you make this comment before: "This is mainly because of prosecutors and judges diverting DWI cases to offenses which don't include the Driver Responsibility surcharge."

Obviously I cannot say it never happens but my experience in multiple counties is that the driving factor(s) in a change of the charge to reckless driving or obstruction or whatever is the Prosecutor's belief that his case cannot stand the scrutiny of a trial or that other collateral consequences (besides the surcharges) are too harsh in light of the Citizen's history. Another factor is the increased use of Pretrial Diversion programs for suitable alleged offenders.

With the tendency of parts of Law Enforcement to arrest anyone they stop who has been drinking, there are some very weak cases being brought to DA's.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@DLW, that take of mine comes from hearing judges testify about it at the Lege, as well as MADD. They seem to think that's what happening. My knowledge is all secondary, though. With all the resources thrown at DWI enforcement, one does look for an explanation when the cases keep declining. Other than cuts to federal grant funds, which I do NOT believe explain it (too small for that big of an effect), I've not heard other viable explanations for the decline.

Anonymous said...

The reason for low misdemeanor cases is due to the fact the County Attorneys are keeping many cases "in house" as Pre-Trial cases and charging offenders $500 to be in them. County Attorneys are basically having their own Probation Offices. The only winner is the County Attorney offices!

Also, many County Attorneys are not moving cases! They are not placing them on probation. Some cases are 8 to 10 years old! We need to get the Speedy Trial act back!

Jordan said...

We've seen a dramatic drop in FILINGS in Harris Co, and we're direct-file. (Formal charges are filed at the time of arrest.) In other words, fewer people are being ARRESTED for DWI here. I am hearing the same from lawyers in other metro areas.

I suspect the urbanization and Uberization of the under-40 crowd. Drinking and driving is less socially acceptable than the generation before; Uber makes it easier to just get a sober ride*; and those who do drive after happy hour are driving fewer miles.

*Uber-like services have popped up in the major markets where Uber left in a huff.

DLW said...

I office in Abilene but work all over the region. Here are the DWI arrest statistics for Abilene from 2012-2016. Source: Abilene Police Department 414-355-310-273-345. Here are the number of DWI's filed in County Courts at Law: 353-387-250-256-362. Here are the numbers of DWI's filed the the District Courts: 90-103-66-63-78.

Statistics for the other 2 large law enforcement agencies (DPS and Taylor County SO) weren't readily available.

I have no explanation for the drop in numbers of arrests, as APD is very active (as are DPS and TCSO) Where cases filings don't reach the numbers of arrests made, there are many possible reasons not the least of which is the Prosecutor merely doing his job and rejecting cases he cannot make.

I don't doubt that some Judges or some MADD witness may have claimed filings are down because of "surcharges" but they really have no way to know that as the charging decision is made at the sole discretion of the Prosecutor. I might believe that surcharges are among the factors considered by a Prosecutor, I've just never seen it. It is much more persuasive to a DA or CA when he can be shown a fatal or near fatal flaw in the facts of the case or a violation of the laws of arrest or detention.

Anonymous said...

The ongoing suggestion that law enforcement fights progressive reform as a measure of job security is a bunch of BS. As pointed out repeatedly, most bills in Austin have had zero sheriffs, police chiefs, DA's, or others in the field testify against reform, most of the measures actually garnering support from what Grits would refer to as the usual suspects. I know that narrative isn't what some of you want to hear, the straw man arguments thrown out as bogus on their face, but there is plenty of job security in the field as much more is expected of them. Is there a single large policing agency that is not hiring these days, lowering their standards in some form or fashion because fewer qualified candidates want to devote their lives in such a field?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@1:54, this post did not claim "that law enforcement fights progressive reform as a measure of job security." You're arguing against a red herring.

Instead, it claimed that when actual crime goes down, law enforcement focuses on victimless crimes, specifically the drug war and weapons charges, typically, to justify staffing levels.

I'm happy to debate you, but we have to be debating the same thing. Your comment goes off on a tangent that's not supported nor justified by the blog post.