Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fun with numbers, Galveston County style

Jack Roady, a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, is aiming to be Galveston County's new District Attorney. In his latest broadside against incumbent D.A. Kurt Sistrunk, Mr. Roady makes some very interesting claims about the way criminal matters are handled down on the island.

According to Mr. Roady, over the past four years, the Galveston County DA's Office dismissed half of all misdemeanor prosecutions and one-third of all felony prosecutions. Of course Mr. Roady doesn't provide any information on how many of those cases were dismissed as a result of pleas on other cases. How many of those misdemeanor cases were driving on a suspended license or passing a bad check that were dismissed after the accused took care of the problem after the first setting? How many of those felony cases were dismissed after a grand jury no-billed the accused?

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Mr. Sistrunk is the greatest thing to happen to Galveston since the introduction of air conditioning (and since my clients' interests are diametrically opposed to his), but numbers served up without context have no meaning. If a case should be dismissed, then it should be dismissed. I would like to think it's through the hard work of my colleagues on the island that residents of Galveston County are able to walk away with a clean record.

Mr. Roady also points out that prosecutors on the island secured convictions in only 4% of all misdemeanor jury trials. On the surface that number sounds a bit astounding. I might buy it if we were talking about only 4% of misdemeanor prosecutions ended in juries issuing guilty verdicts. Nonetheless, the "problem" may have more to do with the jury pools and facts of the individual cases than with the DA's office.

However, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration, on January 1, 2009, there were 6,859 criminal cases pending in the Galveston County Courts at Law. During the course of 2009 there were 10,008 new criminal cases filed and 1,505 other cases added to the dockets. The courts reported 6,012 convictions in 2009 and only 15 acquittals. The statistics do not differentiate between a plea or a guilty verdict. There were 5,450 cases dismissed and 1,330 cases disposed in some other manner (deferred adjudication, for instance).

In 2008, there were 8,960 criminal cases pending on January 1. During the course of the year there were 10,269 new cases filed and 1,570 others added to the dockets. There were 5,415 convictions and only 9 acquittals. A total of 6,629 cases were dismissed and 1,619 were disposed of in some other manner.

Thus far in 2010, the numbers look like this. On January 1, 2010 there were 5,398 pending criminal cases. Between January 1 and September 30, the DA filed 5,913 new cases and another 958 were added to the dockets. So far this year 3,143 cases have resulted in convictions with only 3 acquittals. A total of 2,841 cases were dismissed and 819 were disposed of in some other manner.

So, while Mr. Roady's figures as to dismissals seem to be fairly accurate, his assertion that prosecutors on the island have only secured convictions in 4% of their misdemeanor jury trials is, quite simply, not true.

1 comment:

Adam Poole said...

Some reading on this topic.