The Travis County Court Monitoring Program was very active through the 9 criminal courts dedicated to hearing misdemeanor DWI cases. Travis County court monitors, which comprised of interns and the MADD Program Specialist, heard over 225 cases for the area before proceedings were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic slowed the process of collecting valuable data due to the shut down, but quickly transitioned to virtual Zoom court proceedings where the rest of the data collection completed over 450 closed cases for the grant year. The previous year issue of judges changing the DWI charge to “Obstruction of Highway” was still common and continues to be a practice in Travis County. This practice also raises the dismissal rate for first time DWI offenses when cases are dismissed and refiled as “Obstruction of Highway”.
The North Texas Court Monitor program focused on Dallas and Tarrant counties with court monitor interns who collected data. These interns were allowed in the courts until mid-March 2020 when the county offices were shut down due to COVID-19. The North Texas region heard over 450 cases and continued with the fol- lowing sanctions: between 30-180 days in jail, $300-$1000 fine, license suspension for 6-12 months, probation for 12-18 months, and an alcohol education class. This sanction was common for most of Texas. Dallas and Tarrant counties observed an increase in cases that were amended to the lesser charge of “Ob- struction of Highway”. Dallas and Tarrant counties court monitors observed that both county judges set conditions for defendants charged with a 2nd DWI, such as ordering an ignition interlock. Most cases the last 6 months of the year were primarily heard through Zoom virtual court proceedings.
Bexar and Comal County court monitors were active the first 6 months of the grant year and ended the grant year closing just over 650 cases. The courts did transition to Zoom proceedings as the end of March 2020 was shutting down due to COVID-19. In Bexar County the practice of amending first offender of DWI to “Obstruction of Highway” continued for 2020. Comal County court monitors observed cases were rarely dismissed and the majority were pleaded out. Data shows judges in Comal County are stricter than Bexar and imposed the maximum fine frequently of $4000.
MADD Program Specialist/court monitors focused on Harris and Montgomery with 2 new counties of Bra- zoria and Ft. Bend this grant year (2020). These counties combined collected data for over 850 cases. The months leading up to the pandemic yielded most case data coming from Harris and Montgomery counties. Court monitors observed prosecution was strict with first and second offenses. Most fines were set to $1,500. The cases in the four counties slowed down after March 2020 and were heard primarily via Zoom virtual ses- sions or through data mining collection. Cases in the new counties of Brazoria and Ft. Bend were just building traction as the pandemic halted most of the counties’ court monitoring activity. IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY DRUNK OR DRUG- IMPAIRED DRIVING, MADD IS HERE TO HELP. CALL OUR VICTIM/ SURVIVOR 24-HOUR HELPLINE AT 877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435).
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