Case Analytics and the Criminal Justice System
Case analytics are big business in the world of civil litigation. They help lawyers understand what cases are worth, what motions a given judge is most likely to grant, and what juries are doing in a specific jurisdiction. While each case is unique, this data helps shape litigation strategy, manage client expectation, and even provide insight into opposing counsel.
This type of analysis is largely absent in the criminal arena, although there are some promising efforts under way at the federal level. We decided to take a deep dive into case analytics using Tarrant County as an example. We relied on information obtained through Public Information Act requests and publicly available sources including the Texas Indigent Defense Commission and the Office of Court Administration.
Our models can be easily applied to any county in the state, as well as statewide. Some of the information, such as how successful individual prosecutors have been, has been reserved for members of the local criminal bar association.
Tarrant County as an Example
We analyzed 203,866 criminal cases filed in Tarrant County over the last five years, from January 2014 through December 2018. Here’s what we learned.
Tarrant County’s Population is up 6%
As a starting point, we looked at the change in population in Tarrant County. 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.
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Criminal Case Filings are up 16% since 2014
Based on data maintained by the Office of Court Administration, 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 District Attorney’s approved budget was about $41 million.
Resolutions through Pleas Trending Downward
Despite the increased number of case filings, fewer cases are being resolved through plea bargain agreements. For example, in 2014, for every 100 felony cases added to the dockets, 71 were resolved by pleas. Since 2014, the number of pleas have not increased in step with the number of cases filed. 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 Overall are Down
For case resolutions, we included dismissals with the number of cases pled. In 2014, there were 99 felony 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.
In the past, misdemeanor case resolutions (pleas and dismissals) exceeded case filings. Over the last three years, far more cases have been filed than have been resolved. The difference between the number of cases being filed and the number of cases being resolved went up in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
The number of misdemeanor cases more than 90 days old at the time of resolution went from 15,054 in 2014 to 17,113 in 2018 – an increase of 14 percent.
The rise in case filings was slower for misdemeanors than it was for felonies between 2014 and 2018 in Tarrant County. While case filings went up overall by 14 percent, the case filings for felonies went up by 30 percent.
In 2014, 78 percent of felony cases were being resolved within 90 days. In 2018, that number dropped to 64 percent.
However, the number of cases that were more than a year old when resolved has decreased slightly. In 2014, 934 felony cases were over a year old when disposed, compared to 823 in 2018. The decrease in overall case resolutions ultimately affects taxpayers, who pick up the tab for new courts, new judges, more prosecutors, pre-trial bond supervision, and pre-trial incarceration.
Decline in Experienced Prosecutors
Unique to criminal case analytics is the ability to quickly gauge the overall experience level for any given prosecutor’s office in Texas. In 2001, Texas lawmakers implemented longevity pay for attorneys who have served as criminal prosecutors for more than five years. Longevity pay increases each year until it reaches a cap act the 21st year of service. Each year, millions of dollars flow from the state coffers to local district attorneys offices as District Attorney Longevity Pay Reimbursements. The more experienced the prosecutors are, the more each county collects in reimbursements. The District Attorney Longevity Reimbursement for Tarrant County has dropped each year since 2014 (when it was $424,570) to 2018 (when it was $299,630).
Tarrant County Court Appointments on the Rise
The Office of Court Administration reports that there has been a 140 percent increase since 2014 in Tarrant County in the number of cases in which courts appoint attorneys. Between 2014 and 2017 (the last year expenditures are currently available) the cost of court-appointed counsel in Tarrant County has only gone up 14 percent.
Only 1 Percent of Felony Cases Go to Jury Trial
According to the Office of Court Administration, 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.
There are 10 district courts in Tarrant County that handle felony cases. On average, each court has about 16 jury trials a year. A trial can last anywhere from one day to months, depending on the type of case. Capital murder trials where the death penalty is sought or cases with multiple charges or counts, such as sex cases, often last weeks or even a month or more.
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 by juries on child indecency and 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 Percent 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 prevailing in misdemeanor trials in 63 percent of cases.
Juries Returned Defense Verdicts in 68 Percent of Misdemeanor Assault Family Violence Trials
According to data provided by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, there were 41 jury trials on misdemeanor assault family violence cases in 2018. Of those, 13 cases resulted in state verdicts, while 28 cases had defense verdicts. In other words, a verdict favorable to the defense was returned in 68 percent of the misdemeanor assault family violence cases.
For example, the increase in case filings for misdemeanor marijuana cases is seven times the state average, despite both Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Republican platform 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: