The Coronavirus Pandemic has undoubtedly had an effect on criminal cases in Texas. If you’ve wondered what types of cases are on the rise, whether criminal cases are being resolved, and whether individuals charged with offenses are retaining attorneys, this article is for you. After the 22nd Emergency Order from the Supreme Court of Texas in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, it’s a given the pandemic has had an effect on criminal courts, but here’s a look at just how much. In this article, we’ll examine Texas as a whole and then drill down for a closer look at Tarrant County.
Here are the top 15 things we learned by examining the raw data available through the Office of Court Administration:
I. Felony Case Filings are Down in Texas in Light of the Pandemic
In 2019, on average 24,758 felony cases were filed each month. The First Emergency Order was signed in March, and the felony filings in Texas dropped to:
- March – 21,614
- April – 16,774
- May – 20,536
- June – 21,545
II. Tarrant County has not seen the Drop in Felony Case Filings
While felony case filings are lower across the state, the number of new felony cases filed each month in Tarrant County has increased dramatically in April before falling to mostly normal levels. In Tarrant County in 2019, the average number of new felony cases filed each month was 2,012.
From March through June of this year, the filings of new felony cases were:
- 1,488 (March)
- 3,236 (April)
- 1,959 (May)
- 1,888 (June)
III. Fewer Felony Cases are Being Resolved in Texas
In 2019, each month on average prosecutors across Texas resolved about 96 felony cases for every 100 felony cases that were filed. During the pandemic, the number of felony cases resolved were:
- April – 53 cases for every 100 filed
- May – 43 cases for every 100 filed
- June – 58 cases for every 100 filed.
IV. Tarrant County Lags Far Behind the State in Felony Case Resolutions
Case resolutions in Tarrant County during the pandemic were far below the statewide average. In 2019, each month on average the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office resolved about 89 felony cases for every 100 felony cases that were filed.
In April of 2020, that dropped to about 26 cases for every 100 filed in the same month, 38 cases for every 100 cases filed in May, and 50 cases for every 100 cases filed in June.
- April – 26 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 53 cases for every 100 filed)
- March – 38 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 43)
- June – 50 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 58)
V. Criminal Clearance Rate Lower in Sharen Wilson Administration
The OCA Clearance Rate measure of how effectively prosecutors are resolving cases. A Clearance Rate of 100 percent indicates that the court disposed of the same number of cases during the year as were added to the docket during the year. A Clearance Rate of less than 100 percent results in an increased backlog. The Clearance Rate for the Sharen Wilson administration has been lower than the previous administration, despite the Wilson administration having a greater number of prosecutors and a ballooning budget.
VI. Murder Cases on the Rise in Tarrant County as Case Resolutions Drop – Even Before the Pandemic
In 2019, on average, there were less than 3 capital murder cases filed in Tarrant County. In just June of 2020, 10 new cases were filed.
In 2019, the average number of murder cases filed each month in Tarrant County was 5. The stats for March – June of 2020 are as follows:
- March 11
- April 15
- May 10
- June 11
Even before the pandemic, Tarrant County’s inability to resolve serious cases was highlighted by the number of pending murder cases. Between January 2019 and June 2018, the number of murder cases pending in Tarrant County almost doubled.
VII. Aggravated Assault Cases on the Rise
In 2019, the average number of aggravated assault (and attempted murder although those are far fewer) cases filed in Tarrant County was 150. In April of 2020 alone, there were 427 new filings. There were nearly 250 in both May and June.
VIII. Unresolved Adult Sexual Assaults in Tarrant County on the Rise
In 2019, there were 9 adult sexual assaults filed on average each month in Tarrant County. In April 2020 alone there were 21 adult sexual assaults filed.
IX. Pending Child Sexual Assault Cases on the Rise in Tarrant County
In 2019, on average 41 child sexual assaults were filed in Tarrant County per month. The number of pending child sexual assault cases in Tarrant County increased from 396 in January if 2019 to 647 by June of 2020. Even before the pandemic, the lack of case resolutions by Tarrant County District Attorney resulted in 533 pending cases by February of 2020.
X. Felony Family Violence Cases are on the Rise in Tarrant County, Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Dipped
On average in 2019, there were 91 felony Family Violence cases filed each month in Tarrant County. There were 222 felony family violence cases filed in April, 148 in May and 135 in June. The number of pending family violence cases rose from 519 to 950 from January 2019 to June 2020 despite the Tarrant County District Attorney’s creation of a Felony Family Violence Unit and “Not in My County” political campaign.
The pending misdemeanor family violence cases have seen a moderate increase since January 2019. New misdemeanor family violence cases are lower than the average in 2019. The monthly average for 2019 was 223 new misdemeanor domestic violence cases. New misdemeanor domestic violence cases have dropped in April, May, and June – although this is most likely because the State of Disaster enhancement under Penal Code 12.50 allows Class A misdemeanor assaults to be filed as State Jail Felonies if they occur during a disaster declaration.
XI. There has only been a moderate decrease in misdemeanor DWIs in the Pandemic
DWIs are down, but not as much as you’d expect with lockdowns, bar closures, and occupancy limits at establishments that are open. In 2019, on average there were 438 misdemeanor DWIs filed in Tarrant County each month.
The number of new misdemeanor DWI for March – June are as follows:
- March 529
- April 343
- May 288
- June 339
This makes for an average of 375 new misdemeanor cases filed each month during the pandemic.
A total of 5,261 misdemeanor DWIs were filed in Tarrant County in 2019. Of those, only 148 of those DWIs were dismissed. This is consistent with the lack of DWI dismissals for which Tarrant County has been known for decades after then-Tarrant County prosecutor Richard Alpert literally wrote the books on DWI and Intoxication Manslaughter prosecution.
XII. Misdemeanor Thefts are Down in Tarrant County During the Pandemic
Misdemeanor thefts are down. On average in 2019, 239 new misdemeanor thefts filed each month in Tarrant County. For April, May, and June, the number of filings were:
- April – 129
- May – 173
- June – 196
XIII. Misdemeanor marijuana filings have declined in Tarrant County
We typically saw 330 new case filings for misdemeanor marijuana cases in Tarrant County each month in 2019. For April, May, and June of 2020, we saw:
April – 217
May – 177
June – 228
XIV. Misdemeanor Drug Filings Are Down and Dismissals are Up in Tarrant County
In 2019, on average 98 new misdemeanor drug cases were filed each month in Tarrant County. For April, May, and June of 2020, we saw:
- April – 70
- May – 71
- June – 49
Meanwhile, dismissals of drugs cases have sky-rocketed:
XV. Far Fewer People Have Attorneys (Retained or Appointed) in Tarrant County in the Pandemic
Fewer people have attorneys. The number of people hiring attorneys and the number of people receiving court appointed attorneys has fallen during the pandemic while cases filings have been on the rise. For example, in April more than 3,200 felony cases were filed in Tarrant County. Less than 150 of those hired attorneys.
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