Harris County Courts Still Face Case Backlog After COVID-19 Shutdown

The Harris County court system is still facing a major backlog in court cases.

In May 2021, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an initiative for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. They agreed to pay $3.5 million to reduce the court’s case backlog. While the initiative appears to be working, the backlog of cases is still quite substantial at the moment.

District Attorney Kim Ogg said:

“If the commissioner’s court will continue supporting our backlog reduction plan, we can do this.” Furthermore, Ogg feels that “with more prosecutors, I think we can eliminate the backlog, eventually.”

This backlog of cases is connected to the forced shutdowns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the time the local courts were closed during the shutdown, Harris County amassed almost 98,000 misdemeanor and felony cases.

So how big is the backlog now?

As of July 2021, nearly 73,000 felony cases were waiting in the criminal district courts. Over 19,000 of these remained active and had been waiting 1 year or more for resolution.

In August (specifically between the 3rd and 20th), 4,600 cases were added to the Harris County courts and the caseload decreased by 1,580. To reduce the backlog of cases, county attorneys re-reviewed nearly 10,500 criminal cases. The breakdown of the case outcomes included 6,608 convictions, diversions or dismissals. The other 4,629 pleaded out of court.

Ogg also stated that the backlogged court cases were divided among attorneys willing to take on overtime and weekends. According to Ogg, to reduce the backlog they really had no choice but to work this way.

“We had no choice but to ask the same prosecuting attorneys who work all day to work evenings and weekends,” said Ogg.

Another effort to rid the Harris County court of their case backlog was to contract 22 employees to help. On August 24the, the DA requested that these individuals continue to be funded by the Public Improvement Contingency Fund until February 28, 2022.

Commissioners did just that by granting $1.5 million to the DA’s office to fund jury operations at the NRG arena through December 20, 2021.

Ogg stated that these contract employees have definitely helped the court wade through the cases; however, as a whole, they’re still way behind. Ogg insists that funding from the Public Improvement Contingency Fund needs to be permanent.

Another part of the plan is to divide the cases with violent and/or repeat offenders from nonviolent cases. Doing this will allow the courts to prioritize cases that need settled quicker or those that the public demands are handled by the court system.

The Harris County court system is working overtime to catch up their backlog. But even working as quickly as they are, it will still take some time before all of the cases are heard. For this reason, it’s more vital than ever to seek representation from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a crime.

Make sure your case is resolved quickly by seeking a skilled legal defense from attorney Matt Sharp. Contact us for your free consultation.