We analyzed 203,866 criminal cases filed in Tarrant County over the last five years, from January 2014 through December 2018. While the Tarrant County District Attorney Office’s caseload and budget has increased, cases are sitting idle longer. This is largely due to the fact that more cases are coming in than getting resolved. In other words, the wheels of justice are turning slower than in years past.
All the information compiled in this article was obtained through Public Information Act (PIA) requests and other publicly available data from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, Tarrant County Commissioners Court, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, and the Office of Court Administration. Here’s what the data showed:
Tarrant County’s Population is up 6 percent
More than 2.054 million people live in Tarrant County – an increase of 6 percent since 2014. The most populous city in Tarrant County is Fort Worth, which is the county seat and also where the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center is located.
Criminal Case Filings are up 16 percent since 2014
Over the past five years, the number of cases filed with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has increased 16 percent. In 2018, 46,099 cases were filed, compared with 39,579 in 2014.
Of the 46,099 cases filed in 2018 in Tarrant County, 28,695 were misdemeanors and 17,404 were felonies.
Tarrant County District Attorney’s Budget is up 14 Percent
Since 2014, the District Attorney’s Office Budget has increased by 14 percent (using actual expenditures for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and appropriations for 2018). In 2018, the DA’s approved budget was about $41 million.
Plea Bargains Have Dropped Significantly in Tarrant County
Despite the increased number of case filings and larger budget, fewer cases are being resolved in a timely manner through plea bargain agreements. For example, in 2014, for every 100 felony cases added to the dockets, 71 were resolved by pleas. Since that time, the number of pleas has dropped every year under the current administration. In 2018, only 58 pleas were secured for every 100 felony cases added to the docket.
Plea bargains are a way for cases to be resolved expeditiously, thereby generally maintaining or reducing the load for the court. When cases aren’t disposed through plea bargain negotiations and they sit on the docket, it increases the courts backlog of unresolved cases and strains resources.
Case Resolutions are Reduced
For case resolutions, we included dismissals with the number of cases pled. In 2014, there were 99 cases resolved for every 100 cases filed. By 2018, that had dropped to 84 felony cases resolved for every 100 felony cases filed.
The rate of pleas in misdemeanor courts have also dropped. For every 100 misdemeanor cases filed in 2014, there were 85 misdemeanor pleas. For every 100 misdemeanor cases filed in 2018, there were 66 pleas.
It is taking longer to resolve felony cases. There has been an 11% jump in felony cases that were over a year old at the time of resolution in Tarrant County between 2014 and 2018.
Lack of Resolutions Shifts Burden to Taxpayers
The decrease in overall case resolutions ultimately affects taxpayers, who will have to pick up the tab for new courts, new judges, more prosecutors, pre-trial bond supervision, and pre-trial incarceration.
The Office of Court Administration reports that in Tarrant County there has been a 140% increase in the number of cases in which courts appoint attorneys since 2014. Between 2014 and 2017 (the last year expenditures are currently available for) the cost of court appointed counsel in Tarrant County has only gone up 14%.
Only 1 Percent of Felony Cases Go to Jury Trial
There were 17,404 felony cases filed in Tarrant County in 2018. Juries were selected 182 times in felony cases in Tarrant County in 2018. Based on records provided by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, verdicts were returned or mistrials were declared in 156 of those cases.
Only 68 percent of Felony Jury Trials Resulted in State Verdicts
For purposes of this article, a guilty verdict to the offense charged or to an offense with the same punishment level is considered a win for prosecutors. A verdict of not guilty, a mistrial, or a verdict of guilty to a lesser charge is considered a victory for the defense. Based on those parameters, the state obtained favorable verdicts in 68 percent of the felony cases they tried in 2018.
Child Sexual Assault Trials Are Resulting in More Acquittals
According to data provided by the Office of Court Administration, the number of acquittals at trial on Child Sexual Assault cases are up ten-fold. There were as many not guilty verdicts in these cases in Tarrant County in 2018 as there were in the three previous years combined.
Tarrant County Prosecutors Prevailed in 63% of Misdemeanor Jury Trials
Data provided by the Tarrant County District Attorney reflects 211 misdemeanor jury trials in Tarrant County in 2018. Of these, there were 78 defense verdicts and 133 state verdicts. In other words, prosecutors are only prevailing in misdemeanor trials in 63% of cases.
We are updating our charge-specific pages to include data on case filings and resolutions. Be sure to check our DWI, marijuana, drug, and sexual assault pages for more information in the coming days.
For example, the increase in case filings for misdemeanor marijuana cases is seven times the state average, despite both the Governor and Republican platforms supporting decriminalization of misdemeanor marijuana charges.
If you are a member of the Tarrant County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, be sure to check member-only resources for data on the win-loss statistics sorted by prosecutor.
Finally, if you’re facing a criminal charge in Tarrant County, give us a call. We are passionate about using every resource at our disposal to put our clients in the best possible position. Call us at (817) 203-2220 or contact us online:
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