Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Observations and Recommendations
Pursuant to the Supreme Court of Texas' Twenty-Second Emergency Order Relating to the COVID-19 State of Disaster, the Office of Court Administration details its observations on the limited number of jury trials held under the Court's Emergency Orders and recommendations for resuming jury trial proceedings during the pandemic.
Study on Outcomes of Participants in Specialty Courts Who Have a Mental Illness
The 85th Legislature's Senate Bill 1326 directed OCA to collect and report on information “regarding outcomes of participants in specialty courts who are persons with mental illness, including recidivism rates of those participants, and other relevant information as determined by the office.”
Reviewing the performance of criminal justice programs and the outcomes of individuals in them is essential to developing effective and accountable criminal justice policy. Specialty courts have grown in popularity in recent years and are a well-established and highly valued component of many communities’ justice systems. According to the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI), there was an increase of over 10% nationwide of all specialty court types, also known as problem solving courts, between 2009 and 2014, the latest year for which national data is available.1 According to NDCI data, the increase in the number of these courts in Texas during the period was 43%.2 Drug courts remain the most common variety and most deeply studied of these courts, though other court types have been established, both nationally and in Texas.
Study on Record Retention, Availability & Access of Records Regarding Fine-Only Misdemeanors
The 85th Legislature’s Senate Bill 47 directed OCA to study the ways non-traffic fine-only (Class C) misdemeanor records are held in Texas. Specifically, Senate Bill 47 (SB 47) required OCA’s study to address:
- The public availability of conviction records for misdemeanors punishable by fine only;
- The public availability of records relating to suspension of sentence and deferral of final disposition under Article 45.051 (Suspension of Sentence and Deferral of Final Disposition), Code of Criminal Procedure, for misdemeanors punishable by fine only;
- The public availability of records described by sections (1) or (2) that are related to a child younger than 18 years of age;
- Whether public access to and availability of records described by sections (1) through (3) have been expanded or restricted by the county over time;
- Whether local agencies holding records described by sections (1) through (3) destroy those records;
- The reasons and criteria for any destruction of records described by sections (1) through (3); and
- The retention schedule of each local agency holding records described by sections (1) through (3), if the agency routinely destroys those records.
Texas Guardianship Reform
A person who is placed under guardianship loses civil rights, personal decision-making power, and the authority to control their own money and assets. Those rights and powers are entrusted to a guardian to protect the person from exploitation– but this arrangement leaves the person under guardianship vulnerable to exploitation if not properly monitored. For this reason, statutorily-required processes have been put in place to protect incapacitated persons who may be placed under guardianship – starting with an assessment of whether guardianship is necessary or whether an alternative to guardianship is a viable option. Laws are also in place requiring guardians to be bonded, to be registered, to report yearly to the court on the personal and financial position of persons under their care, and to obtain permission from the court before making major decisions in the life or financial management of a person in their care.
Study on Certain Juvenile Justice Issues
The 85th Legislature’s House Bill 1204 directed the Office of Court Administration to conduct a study on the use of the terms “juvenile,” “child,” and “minor” throughout the criminal justice and juvenile justice statutes of Texas and the varying definitions assigned to those terms. The bill also instructed OCA to determine:
- Whether adjudication under the adult criminal justice system of juveniles charged with misdemeanors punishable by fine only is just and efficient; and
- Whether certain procedures under the juvenile justice system, if used in the adjudication of juveniles charged with misdemeanors punishable by fine only, would provide a more just and efficient process for responding to violations of the law by juvenile offenders.
Liberty and Justice: Pretrial Practices in Texas
In October 2016, the Texas Judicial Council’s Criminal Justice Committee reviewed the evidence and produced a report advocating expansion of risk-informed release and personal bond. The report includes the eight recommendations.
Guardianship Compliance Project Performance Report
As directed by Rider 20 (p. IV-28) in the Office of Court Administration appropriation of the General Appropriations Act (GAA), this report details the outcomes of the guardianship compliance pilot project funded by the 84th Legislature.
Study on the Feasibility of a Guardianship Registry
As directed by House Bill 3424 (84th Legislature), this study reviews the feasibility of setting up a guardianship registry in Texas and best practices for protecting the privacy of individuals' information in the registry. The study finds that the registry is feasible and that adequate protections can be established to protect information in the registry.
Texas: Impact of the Expedited Actions Rules
The National Center for State Courts and the State Justice Institute, which provided funding for this project, wanted information about the impact of civil justice reform efforts to help inform the deliberations of the CCJ Civil Justice Improvements Committee as it drafted recommendations for a national audience. The evaluation design was intended to capitalize on this shared interest.
The Supreme Court of Texas, on November 13, 2012, adopted Rules for Dismissals and Expedited Actions intended to address the duration, cost, and degree of conflict in discovery, costs associated with mediation, time to disposition, and the length of trials in civil cases. Among the expected results of the Expedited Rules are a reduction in discovery conflicts and time spent in discovery, more deliberative use of mediation, declining time to case disposition, and fewer delays between scheduled trial dates and trials held.
Texas Child Protective Services Workload Assessment Final Report
In 2007, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) completed a judicial workload assessment for the Texas district courts, resulting in the weighted caseload model that is currently used to analyze judicial workload and the need for judges in the district courts. At the time of the workload assessment, it was not possible to distinguish Child Protective Services (CPS) cases from other types of family law cases, such as child support, protective orders, and paternity. For this reason, a single case weight was created to cover all of these case types. Because CPS cases are very different in nature from the other types of cases included in the “Other Family Law” category, a separate case weight for CPS was identified as a need. In 2010, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) implemented a new reporting system that was capable of tracking CPS cases as a distinct category, making it possible to construct a separate case weight for CPS cases. Subsequently, OCA, with funding from The Supreme Court Children’s Commission, contracted with NCSC to comprehensively reexamine the judicial time needed to handle CPS cases.
Report of the Task Force to Promote Uniformity in Collection & Reporting of Information on Family Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking, and Human Trafficking
Published September 2016
As directed by House Bill 2455 (84th Legislature), this study focuses on the collection and reporting of data surrounding family violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. Policy recommendations and best practice guidelines are included for the uniform collection and reporting of information relating to family violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking and the implementation of dating violence training and awareness education in public schools under Texas Education Code §37.0831.
Asset Forfeiture in Texas: DPS and County Interactions
Published: December 2014
This research report, conducted by the Texas A&M Public Policy Research Institute, reviews asset forfeiture trends based upon DPS Sting Operations, the use of forfeiture funds by DPS and prosecutors, and the cost impact on counties where the alleged criminal activity that is the basis of the forfeiture occurred.
Texas Guardianship Cases: Improving Court Processes and Monitoring Practices in Texas Courts
Published: November 2014
This report focuses on the growing importance of guardianship in the court community in recent years as courts grapple with how best to handle the increase in cases requiring the appointment of a guardian and in institutionalizing proven case management practices that are associated with ensuring a ward's well-being and best interests.
Study on the Adequacy and Appropriateness of Additional Compensation Paid to Certain County Judges
Published: November 2014
As directed by Senate Bill 1080 (83rd Legislature), this study focuses on the salary supplements paid by the state to county judges that certify that they spend 40% of more of their time on judicial functions. Recommendations for modification are included.
Case Management and Space Needs Review: Harris County IV-D Courts
Published: March 2014
This study focused on the caseflow management practices and procedures, physical location and space, technology, and court security measures needed for a model IV-D court.
Examining Texas County Courts at Law Civil Court Reorganization
Published: December 2012
This study, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, was designed to help OCA determine the feasibility, efficiency, and potential cost of converting to district courts those statutory county courts at law (CCLs) with jurisdiction in civil cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $200,000. This study was a requirement of House Bill 79, passed by the 82nd Legislature, First Called Session (2011).
Criminal Justice Process Study: Midland County
Published: July 2007
This report examines the criminal justice processes affecting the size and composition of Midland County's incarcerated population, using observations from onsite visits, and data analysis, and offers recommendations to the Midland County Commissioners Court and the criminal justice community.
Measuring Current Judicial Workload in Texas
Published: June 2007
This report describes the methods and results of a research enquiry conducted by the National Center for State Courts on workload in the district courts in Texas.
Public Trust and Confidence in the Courts and the Legal Profession in Texas
Published: December 1998
This study provides baseline information about how Texans view the courts and the legal profession in their state.