Harris County's backlog is declining, as the number of dismissed cases rises

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Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Harris County officials to address criminal court backlog
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13 Investigates found that the number of criminal cases in the courts has decreased, but it's because they are simply being dismissed.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The criminal case backlog in Harris County is on the decline, but 13 Investigates discovered the number may be tied to the increase in cases being dismissed.

The number of people waiting for the justice system to play out in Harris County is top of mind for Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

"The progress is good. I'm excited about that, but there are still 34,000 victims that still have not had their day in court, as well as the accused, and we have to deal with that," Garcia said.

County data shows there are more than 34,000 active criminal cases. Almost a third of them have been playing out for more than a year. That's time that Garcia said can take an impact on victims.

"That upsets me, and it's a reason why I created the dashboard," Garcia explained. "It's a reason why I wanted to make sure our system is working well and that there's accountability and measurement."

While the number is high, the backlog is shrinking. Since we looked at the data earlier this year, the number of active cases has dropped.

In February, there were 39,000 active cases. The dashboard shows there are currently about 35,000.

SEE ALSO: Proposal to add more criminal courts to help ease backlog in Harris County

The number of cases waiting for over a year has declined from 32% to 29%. And the amount of county inmates has fallen by about 400.

The question is how? 13 Investigates discovered that while more cases are being cleared, so are the number of cases being dismissed.

Four years ago, 24% of cases ended in a guilty plea or conviction. Just 32% were dismissed.

In 2022, 19% ended in a guilty plea or conviction, and nearly 40% were dismissed. Garcia said part of the problem may be that people are being booked into jail before the DA's office can decide whether charges should be filed.

It's an issue Garcia says comes down to staffing in the DA's office.

"That will eliminate a lot of that, but for what those statistics indicate as for now, that's a better question for the district attorney," Garcia said.

Garcia hopes the number continues to fall after the commissioners' court last month approved spending $25 million on the backlog. The federal dollars will improve technology, and how the county works with evidence.

These are improvements Garcia believes will drop a backlog he says that's still too large.

"I'm happy for the progress that we've made, but 34,000 cases that are still in the measurement of the backlog is not a good situation," Garcia said.

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