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Who decides whether cases get dismissed?

Angelica Hernandez.jfif
Posted at 11:18 AM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 01:07:13-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Editor's note: This is part two in a series.

Nearly 17,000 felony and misdemeanor cases were dismissed in Nueces County between January 2019 and 2021 according to data obtained by 6 Investigates.

One county court-at-law judge agreed that it's rare to see a trial.

While Gonzalez would not discuss his policy on dismissals with KRIS 6 News, he did address it in a Facebook Live on his personal page in May.

"If I dismiss someone's case it's because I want to, not because they gave me anything. I won't take nothing for it," Gonzalez said. "And there is merit, and a lot of it is merit because people deserve a second opportunity."

He ended up deleting the video.

The decision to dismiss a case isn't always a unilateral one, however. Before a case ends up being dismissed, there is a process for how cases make their way to the Nueces County District Attorney's Office.

"It starts with the officer out in the field — They take the report," said Corpus Christi Police Lt. Michael Pena. "They send it off to their supervisor out in the field. The supervisor will look at that report. Review it."

He says each report is distributed to the appropriate department. Departments include detectives assigned to units such as robbery-homicide, or family violence.

After the investigation is complete, a case file is put together.

"We have a DA that has an office at the police station, and the detectives will walk over there and present the case to them," Pena said. "Keep in mind that misdemeanors are direct-filed, so that means that they are — the paperwork is put together, and it is automatically sent up to the DA's office."

While misdemeanors are automatically sent to the DA's office, Pena says some felony cases will never make it to the office.

"There's a lot of different reasons why a case may not be presented," he said. "The victim isn't cooperative. There's not enough evidence or discretion."

The DA's office then has the final say as to what is prosecuted, Pena said.

"The DA's office has ultimate discretion on whether they accept a case or decline," he said.

A former felony prosecutor who spoke with 6 Investigates on the condition of anonymity, says this is where the breakdown is happening — during the intake process.

The DA's office decides whether to prosecute a case, but the person KRIS 6 News spoke with said some prosecutors are inexperienced, and take cases that shouldn't be accepted — only to be dismissed later.

Nueces County First Assistant DA Angelica Hernandez told the board of judges that there is a backlog of cases, and, in June, she said some prosecutors are inexperienced.

"We have tried to not do a trial-by-fire with prosecutors. We are at that point now," she said. "We will have brand-new prosecutors — cover your ears defense attorneys — brand-new prosecutors that are going to be trying agg (aggravated) assault, DWs (driving while under), they're going to be trying murder cases that have never even tried a misdemeanor. That is where we are."

After repeated interview requests, neither she, nor district attorney Mark A. Gonzalez, would agree to an on-camera interview.

An analysis of misdemeanor dismissal rates reveals those dismissal rates are increasing. From 2019-2021, nearly 80 percent of these cases were dismissed. In 2021 alone, 95 percent of the cases were dismissed.

And while Gonzalez ran on a platform of not prosecuting possession of marijuana cases, during that three-year period drug cases represented 18 percent of these misdemeanors that were dismissed.

Others include theft or driving with a suspended license. But, they also include crimes like assault and family violence.

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