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Nueces County criminal backlog: Cases outpacing resources to prosecute

The DA's Office is down eight prosecutors as its pay is among the lowest in the state. This makes it hard to clear 1,400 cases by the end of the summer.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Since the start of the pandemic, the Nueces County Judicial System has been facing massive backlogs in the adjudication of criminal cases.

Simply put, the number of crimes are outpacing the resources meant to prosecute those committing the crimes. 

The Texas Homeland Security Sate Administrative Agency is looking at Nueces County's back log as it does every year. But this year is pivotal because millions of dollars in grant money are at stake. The money goes directly to aid in the fight against crime. 

The catch is, all 254 counties in Texas have to prove they're disposing of cases at a rate of 90-percent over a five year period. 

Nueces County is at 88% and the deadline to reach each goal is just months away. 

"Everyone is gonna have to do what they need to do to make sure they don't lose that grant money and we're not doing anything different," said Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez. 

His office is doing what it can to clear about 1,400 cases by the end of the summer. 

"We have a little time but you think about the fact that if you have to move two percentage points and we're talking thousands and thousands of cases," said Angelica Hernandez, first assistant for the district attorney. 

According to the Criminal Justice Information System, the data gathering service that tracks each county's caseload, only 112 of Texas' 254 counties are in compliance. 

In the Coastal Bend, only San Patricio and Kleberg Counties are at 90%. Brooks, Duval and Jim Hogg are in the 70's. 

"And the biggest reason is 2020, which is all the cases filed during COVID," Hernandez said. 

The pandemic is a big reason, however it is not the only one. 

The Nueces County DA's Office is down eight prosecutes as its pay is among the lowest in the state. With to many cases and not enough prosecutors, the DA's Office is now dismissing many nonviolent cases, or cases it wasn't likely to win. 

"Every DA's office dismisses cases," Gonzalez said. "I mean you have to dismiss cases. Whether its lack of evidence, whether its uncooperative victims, some times whether you know, all kinds of reasons why you dismiss cases. And so it's not like we started doing this today."

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a memo in December of 2019, reminding DA offices throughout the state of the governor's executive order, and that all future grant awards depend on that 90% clearance rate. Just over a million dollars in annual grants earmarked to fight crime are at stake.

From funding truancy prevention programs to felony domestic violence court to helping pay police officer's overtime, much of it comes from the governor's grants.

Funds that are all hinging on a county's 90% compliance with the number of cases that have either been adjudicated, pleaded out or dismissed. 

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