Wednesday, February 18, 2015

State and County: How Large A Percentage of Misdemeanors Filing in Texas Are Marijuana and DWLI?

The Office of Court Administration (OCA) gathers statistics on the Texas courts, and the resulting information can be intimidating. With a little time and crunching, however, the numbers yield insight into criminal docket priorities both on the state and county level. Once identified, a more complete policy discussion can ensue on those priorities in both venues.

One of the "reveals" these numbers give is the resources state and county government is pouring into prosecuting three categories of misdemeanors:  Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Possession of Marijuana (POM) and Driving While License Invalid (DWLI).

DWI cases are really a different category of crime. Although it is included here to illustrate how DWI contributes to existing misdemeanor dockets, there is no real legislative initiative to reform them.

POM and DWLI, however, are a different ball of legislative wax. I have written about Rep.Joe Moody's proposed legislation to make possession of less than an once of marijuana subject to a civil penalty. Grits for Breakfast has posted on the possible legislative changes to the Drivers Responsibility Law which inevitably cause the cycle of arrest, conviction, re-suspension and re-arrest for DWLI.

The last complete compilation from the OCA is fiscal year 2013 (FY 2013), running from September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2014. The full OCA Report for FY 2013 is here. I have concentrated on misdemeanor cases in Statutory County Courts (CCL) and the numbers related to new cases added during the periods analyzed.

A couple of notes on the statistics. The statewide numbers are applicable to CCLs and exclude counties with Constitutional County Courts. To reduce the sheer amount of information, I have not used DWI - 2nd in the statistics (In other words, DWI-1st only). Additionally,The OCA has an Explanation of Case Categories. The POM category used by the OCA  includes all misdemeanor marijuana cases, including Misdemeanor Delivery of Marijuana and POM in a Drug Free Zone. Finally, the numbers do not include new filings for motions to revoke probation or motions to adjudicate on existing cases. The numbers are new original case filings only.(1)

Now to the statistics. The numbers below reflect new cases filed in  FY 2013 in the applicable categories along with a total number of all misdemeanor cases filed during the same period.
Texas Statutory County Court at Laws (FY 2013)
New Cases Filed: DWI: 56,985 POM: 58,178 DWLI: 25,774    
Total of All New Cases Filed: 402,072
Translated, statewide during FY 2013 DWI, POM and DWLI consisted of 35% of all new misdemeanor filings. Excluding DWI filings, POM and DWLI constituted a full 21% of new filings in the period.

 Put another way, 1 of 5 new filings statewide in Texas County Court at Laws during FY 2013 involved either POM or DWLI.

Fiscal hawks looking for places to save money should look no further than these category of cases for reform. The savings to counties in court appointed attorney fees alone should be enough for legislators interested in savings married to palatable policy change to get behind the legislation.

Further, a look at individual counties illustrate the costs in prosecuting these two criminal offenses (POM and DWLI). In analyzing these more micro numbers for counties, I favored recency. The statistics below are for calendar year 2014 (CY 2014). I used my home county, Brazos, and compared it to the two next two larger counties by population, Smith (Tyler, TX), and McLennan Counties (Waco, TX).

First respective county populations.The parenthetical shows how much more population, as a percentage,McLennan and Smith Counties have as they both relate to Brazos County.
Brazos County:        203,000
McLennan County:   241,500 (+20%);
Smith County:          216,000 (+8%);
In other words, McLennan County has 20% more and Smith County 8% more in population than Brazos County. Here are the applicable stats:
Brazos County Jan. 1, 2014-Dec. 31, 2014:
New Cases Filed: DWI: 600 POM: 954 DWLI: 1033
Total of All New Cases Filed: 4,622
McLennan County, Jan. 1, 2014-Dec. 31, 2014
New Cases Filed: DWI: 583 POM: 621 DWLI: 814                                          
Total of All New Cases Filed: 4,474
Smith County, Jan. 1, 2014-Dec. 31 , 2014
New Cases Filed: DWI: 543 POM:599 DWLI: 169                                          
Total of All New Cases Filed: 3,410
During CY 2014, DWI, POM and DWLI made up a jaw dropping 55% of new filings in Brazos County. By comparison, in McLennan County the percentage was 45%. Again controlling for POM and DWLI, these two misdemeanor offenses alone comprised 43% of new filings in Brazos County during this period as compared to 32% for McLennan County.

Smith County mirrored the statewide statistics from FY 2013 with 38% (DWI, POM and DWLI) and 22% (POM and DWLI), respectively. Note the discrepancy in DWLI filings. Brazos County filed almost 10 times the number of DWLI cases than Smith County despite having 8% less in population.

Just to make sure CY 2014 was not an outlier, I checked the same statistics for Brazos County for the calendar year (CY) 2013. The numbers were similar to 2014:
Brazos County, Jan. 1, 2013-Dec.31, 2013
New Cases Filed: DWI: 644 POM: 811 DWLI: 875                                            
Total of All New Cases Filed: 4,381
Using the same breakdown, DWI, POM and DWLI cases comprised 53% of all misdemeanor filings in Brazos County in CY 2013, while POM and DWLI cases accounted for a little less than 2014, 38% of new filings. This number is still well above the statewide FY 2013 figure of 21%.

For grins, I ran the numbers for CY 2013 for the Texas largest county by population, Harris County (4.3 M). Here are the numbers:
Harris County, Jan. 1- 2013-Dec 31, 2013
New Cases Filed: DWI: 8811 POM: 10,611 DWLI: 4239
Total of All New Cases Filed: 65,927
Harris County (like Smith County) mirrors the statewide averages from FY 2013 with 35% of new case filings being accounted for from DWI/POM/DWLI and 22.5% from POM/DWLI.

There are other issues that these numbers reveal, but the focus of this post is the percentage of misdemeanor filings involving POM and DWLI that comprise misdemeanor dockets. Many of the policy reasons for reforming these laws have been vetted elsewhere, but theses statistics show tangibly the cost saving that could exist if these laws were significantly reformed.

If my number crunching withstands scrutiny, in Brazos County somewhere around 35-40% of the misdemeanor docket could evaporate with meaningful reform of POM/DWLI laws. County Commissioners should be thinking about the savings in court appointed attorney's fees, housing and general sunk costs of prosecutor time if even half of that figure was realized.

(1) I called and emailed OCA about the data not reflecting any "new filings" for MTRs and MTPs  in either CY 2013 or 2014 for Brazos County. I received a very prompt response.The OCA wrote they rely on district and county clerks to supply the data to them. They do not audit or in any way vouch for the completeness of the information provided. Their mission is to simply collate and publish the information provided.

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