Since Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-07 on Sept. 5, 2019, Criminal Justice Division grant applicants have been required to meet a 90% criminal case disposition reporting threshold. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, counties were required to report 90% of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety, and starting Jan. 1 of this year, the reporting is required to take place within five business days. Counties must meet the 90% disposition completeness rate for both juvenile and adult arrests. Grant eligibility is calculated using an average of the previous five years’ disposition rates.
Jury trials have been suspended since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, except in limited cases assisted by the Office of Court Administration. After over a year of such emergency protocols, Texas is experiencing a severe docket backlog, especially with respect to criminal cases. The Texas Supreme Court’s Emergency Order 36, issued on March 5, permits all courts to hold in-person proceedings, including jury trials. Counties have been resourceful and have been looking at every solution available to clear these backlogs; however, many were still in danger of not clearing the 90% disposition threshold for the five-year period due to the lengthy pause in trials.
The reporting deadline for fiscal year (FY) 2022 grant applicants is Aug. 1, and county officials and their associations have been reaching out to the Governor’s Public Safety Office (PSO) to express concerns that many counties would be unable to attain the required average completeness percentages and to request that Gov. Abbott allow flexibility with grant applicants so that counties and local entities’ present and future grants would not be disqualified due to pandemic-induced docket backlogs.
The PSO sent a memo to all grant applicants on July 9 stating that they would adjust the eligibility requirements for FY 2022 grant funding. The PSO acknowledged the burden of the pandemic in its memo and recognized that counties across the State have made great progress toward meeting the disposition completeness thresholds and reporting timelines. As such, the office announced that any entity located in a county that meets the following two conditions will be eligible for FY 2022 grant funding:
The county must have achieved a minimum average of 78% or above on both adult and juvenile dispositions entered into the computerized criminal history database.
- The county must have made significant progress toward the originally required 90% threshold as demonstrated through incremental increases in monthly reporting averages since the issuance of the Texas Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order.
The PSO further stated that under these two new criteria, as of July 1, all counties with pending FY 2022 grant applications are in compliance. Although the office will reevaluate after the Aug. 1 reporting deadline, staff states they "are confident in and applaud the efforts counties have made to comply with these important criminal justice requirements."
TAC would like to thank the Governor and his staff for recognizing the immense burden COVID-19 placed on counties in their efforts to meet the criminal case disposition thresholds and for adjusting the criteria to ensure counties and local entities can maintain eligibility for critical criminal justice, homeland security and victim services funding.
For more information about this article, contact Amy Befeld.