Texas 2019 Court Monitoring Report

Age and Gender

Key Findings and Observations The Texas Court Monitoring efforts are grant supported by the Texas Department of Transportation using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funds. Texas Court Monitoring is included as one of several environmental strategies in our Texas ‘Take the Wheel’ awareness initiative. Other strategies include recognizing our Law Enforcement heroes for their exceptional enforcement of impaired driving laws, hosting Roundtable meetings with judicial and enforcement officials to discuss challenges to enforcement and educating parents and teens about the consequences of underage drinking. Texas Court Monitoring started in 2009 with a dedicated Court Monitoring Specialist in Harris County Courts. Today, there are seven ‘Take the Wheel’ team members monitoring cases in thirteen Texas counties that are a part of six regional program areas. While focus of our court monitoring has evolved, our intent remains to bring transparency and public oversight to the prosecution of Texas impaired driving cases. Data from 2017-2018 will serve as a crucial benchmark as the Texas court monitoring program progresses. Court Monitors who attend court assist in building strong relationship with judges and court staff. Based on cases monitored, the following observations were noted: :

A common occurrence for cases in Harris County is the Pretrial Diversion Program or PTI for one year for DWI Defendants. At the end of the year within the Pretrial Diversion Program, the DWI case is dismissed for defendants who abide by all conditions. Based on this information, dismissal rates in Harris County are related to defendant completion of the Pretrial Diversion Program. When witnessing and observing cases in Montgomery County, judges were stricter on the defendants. For instance, on a first DWI pleading guilty to the charge, monitors observed a defendant getting an $800 Fine, time served in jail and license being suspended for 90 days. If a defendant is charged with a 2nd DWI, judges are firmer with setting certain conditions, for instance, ordering the ignition interlock. Ignition Interlock devices can aid in the prevention of future offenses. Comal County judges seemed to be stricter on DWI convictions, usually imposing the maximum fine of $4000. Based on court monitor presence in Bexar County, judges treated a drunk driving 2nd offense much like a drunk drivng 1st offense; resulting in minimum sentencing guidelines. Age trends vary, but based on case data in Bexar, Harris and Montgomery County, many cases observed fell between 21-29 years of age.

In Bexar County, Court Monitors observed that the majority of the cases were reset (pre-trial conferences, jury trials or more time to consult with an attorney). Smith County has three courts dedicated to hearing criminal cases. Most DUI Cases in Smith County were held in the Smith County Court of Law #2. There were varying decisions made from court to court and also by county. Approximately 50% of Smith and Gregg County Cases were over the .15 average blood alcohol range, based on recent Court Monitoring Data. Bexar County noted many cases with a BAC of over .15 were often reduced to just a DWI. Based on Court Monitor presence in the courtroom, many cases for first time DWI offenders in Hopkins County and Bexar County had the ability to get Deferred Adjudication granted (offense is also reduced to Obstruction of Highway). Although a charge of Obstruction of Highway is also a Class B Misdemeanor, this change is considered a plea to a “lesser charge”. A charge of Obstruction of Highway often allows defendants to take advantage of deferred adjudication, lower court fees/fines and an option for a Motion for Non-Disclosure or dismissal. This “plea” is common in many DUI/DWI cases in courtrooms throughout Texas.

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