Key Findings & Observations Texas Court Monitoring Program Narrative
The Texas Court Monitoring Program efforts were grant supported by the Texas Department of Transportation, using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funds. The Texas Court Monitoring Program is included as one of several environmental strategies in the Texas ‘Take the Wheel’ awareness initiative. The program has become a tool for law enforcement and other agencies to utilize and gain knowledge of the impact in their communities of DWI and impaired driving offenses. The 2020 COVID pandemic shut down all in-person court activities and court monitors relied on virtual court proceedings. The pandemic did effect the number of closed cases for the year. At the end of 2020, the ‘Take the Wheel’ initiative lost federal funding to continue the program, but through volunteer and intern programs the Court Monitoring program can still deliver the necessary data to report to community stakeholders. This program is a valuable asset to set the standards and guidelines for prosecutors and judges across the state. Data was collected and heard on over 3,300 closed cases even as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down county courthouses across the nation. In 2009, the Texas Court Monitoring Program started with a dedicated Court Monitoring Specialist in Harris County. While our court monitoring focus has evolved, our intent remains to bring transparency and public oversight to the prosecution of Texas impaired driving cases. Court monitors are physically present in court, observe various hearings as they proceed through the criminal justice system and collect pertinent data. Court monitors also assist in building strong relationships with judges and court staff. In 2020, MADD Texas court monitors were present in the following regions: East Texas, Central Texas, North Texas, South Texas and Southeast Texas. Based on the case information collected and tracked by MADD Texas court monitors, the following observations were noted by region in addition to the chart in this report:
The MADD East Texas Court Monitoring Program was very active in 2020. The efforts of data collection and monitoring was completed by the MADD Program Specialist/court monitor assigned to the East Texas coun- ties of Smith, Gregg, and Van Zandt. The year of data collection was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic and went to virtual court proceedings the remaining of the year. Unfortunately, not all proceedings were pub- lic and the information gathered was done primarily through data mining and online services. Through the examination of data for the 2020 year, the following general observations were made. The Court monitor attended court, met with all judges and additional important key personnel who dealt with the DWI and court process from October 2020 to March 2020 until the pandemic hit. The court monitor concentrated on 5 county courts. Smith County had the majority of the cases for this region. The court monitor observed that most cases were heard and tried in the Smith County Court of Law #3. There were varying decisions made from court to court and also by county. The conviction rates were higher due to court monitor presence and dismissals were minimal in Smith and Gregg County. Van Zandt County was a new county for court monitoring data collection and was accomplished primarily through the court house records. Van Zandt courthouse is very quaint and their record system a bit anti- quated which took the court monitor a large amount of time searching for closed case information. Over the 6-month period the cases were minimal but prosecution was primarily guilty outcomes with some cases be- ing lowered to “Obstruction of Highway”. Although “Obstruction of Highway” carries the same level of charge as a DWI (class B misdemeanor); this is seen as a plea to a lesser charge due to reduced stigma seen with this charge and reduction of fees/fines.
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