Sluggish travis county court delays justice for victims, defendants – kxan wisdom tooth extraction procedure

Copyright by KXAN – All rights reserved Xavier Lewis. (Austin Police Department) Police said Xavier Oneal Lewis, 19 years old at the time, confessed to being high on drugs and shooting Sheppard during an attempted robbery. Lewis was already out on bond, after being charged with robbing a Sonic in north Austin at gunpoint and shooting a store manager in the leg more than a year before.

Harris says her despair over her daughter’s murder is made worse by the thought that perhaps the wheels of justice in Travis County could have turned faster and prevented it from happening. Perhaps, if Lewis’ earlier September 2016 felony case for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon concluded in fewer than 15 months, he wouldn’t have been able to go on his alleged Christmas crime spree.

Using data KXAN obtained from the Travis County District Clerk’s office, the NCSC applied its nationally-recognized metrics to check felony court efficiency.

Overall, NCSC’s analysis found Travis County operates below average compared to similarly-sized courts in the United States.

“People really want just a few things from their courts. They would like the outcomes to be fair, timely and cost-effective,” Ostrom said. “The press of caseloads, as well as everyday operational problems, can be pretty overwhelming and kind of just all consuming. It’s in that kind of context that performance measurement can really help judges and managers.”

In response to the data analysis, Travis County felony court leaders said the system is better than most in Texas, and it is being improved. Meanwhile, local defense attorneys said the goals of getting people through the system more quickly appear unrealistic because procedural constraints and speeding up dispositions could negatively affect defendants. How the system works and why it’s hard to pin down a holdup

District Judge Brenda Kennedy said ultimate control of a case does not sit solely with judges but is spread among several interacting entities: the District Attorney’s office, the defense, investigators and scientists providing testing. Each contributes to how quickly (or not) a case moves through the system.

This data does have a caveat that favors the courts: it includes inactive time — when a case stalls for reasons outside the court’s control, such as a suspect jumping bail. Ostrom said that would probably not have a drastic effect on the outcomes of the analyses, but the court’s measurements would improve if the inactive time were excluded.

“No felony can be prosecuted without an indictment, so it can’t get into court unless it is indicted, unless a defendant waives the indictment for a plea,” Moore said. “In those instances where a defendant can’t make bond, they are going to be in jail at the taxpayer’s expense. So, we are constantly examining the jail population to expedite jail cases.”

The analysis shows the county has a positive clearance rate of 120 percent from February of 2016 through February of 2017. That means the system is clearing a backlog by disposing, or resolving, more cases than it is filing. Still moving through the system

For instance, on Thanksgiving day of 2015, 23-year-old Roy Edward Hill allegedly drove a Cadillac through a red light on East St. Johns Avenue, struck a hearing-impaired pedestrian and fled the scene. The victim broke several bones and needed reconstructive facial surgery, according to a police affidavit. Hill was arrested in January 2016 and his case has been pending since February 2017.

In another case, police say Federico Antuna-Medina, 23, burglarized a north Austin apartment in November of 2013. Police matched a palm print in the apartment to Antuna-Medina in 2015. He was indicted in January 2016, and his case remains pending.

Lewis, the man suspected of killing Ebony Sheppard, received several charges after his 2016 Sonic robbery arrest. The day before Sheppard’s murder, police say Lewis robbed a group of people near Dottie Jordan Park and shot two of them as the fled. Later that day he was suspected of carjacking a woman and running over a pedestrian, according to police records. He had been indicted but was out on bond and was wearing an ankle monitor during the alleged Christmas crime spree. ‘Rushing something through is not beneficial’

Defense attorney Claire Carter, a board member of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the CourTools disposition goals seem largely unrealistic, and it is most often not beneficial for the defendant to have his or her case rushed through the system.

Carter cited drug cases as one example. APD has its own drug testing lab that can get results back in 10 days, but if a person in Central Texas is arrested by any other agency, the drugs are sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety for testing that could take six to nine months to complete.

“We have a huge volume of arrests. We have the hardest working police department I’ve ever seen, and you know everybody is doing their jobs, but the numbers are just crushing,” Carter said. “It puts every agency and every faction of this business in a situation of conducting triage. What is the oldest case that needs to be tried? What is the most pressing case that needs to be tried?” The costs of a slow system

Outside the courthouse, it is the Commissioners Court and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt that oversee the budget for Travis County’s criminal justice system. Eckhardt, a former prosecutor, does not handle criminal or civil case in this role but said she is interested in improving court efficiency.

“If cases take too long, and they’re too expensive, and we’re using the wrong resources — the wrong tool for the job — then we’re not advancing the goals of justice,” Eckhardt said. “What we miss out on, as taxpayers, is that we pay more for justice.”

“We’re not the only family in this situation, when it comes to the courts speeding up the process or actually just being on time with what cases they have,” said Andrea Brown, Sheppard’s aunt. “The waiting game is as bad on the victim’s family as it is on the person sitting in jail or the person in jail’s family. We realize they have families, too; and all of this, it’s just a big waiting game.”