EL PASO, Texas -- A small group of attorneys and a few journalists sat in a side room at the El Paso County Courthouse this morning as dozens of criminal cases were dismissed.
Nearly 100 cases were dismissed today after the District Attorney's office failed to indict them within the outlined time.
The dismissals are known as an "Article 32.01," a statute in Texas law that is meant to help ensure the right to a speedy trial. Put simply, it means that prosecutors must indict a person arrested within a specified time frame, about 180 days after they are put in custody.
Public defender Kelli Childress says her office is experiencing a backlog in cases that are stuck in the pre-indictment status. She says there are more than 1,000 cases eligible to be dismissed, and her office has filed to dismiss 435 cases this week.
However, the District Attorney's office can still refile charges against any cases that are dismissed. In most cases, they have between 2 and 10 years to file a charge after dismissal.
In a statement Monday, the District Attorney's office said, "The actions taken by the Public Defender’s Office, in conjunction with the Jail Magistrate Humberto Acosta, are unprecedented but not unique, as the same actions are being taken by defense attorneys across the State of Texas as District Attorney Offices both throughout the State and across the nation face personnel shortages and covid backlog issues."
Omar Carmona, a private defense attorney in El Paso, says he disagrees with the statement that this is happening across the state.
“I do not think Ms. Rosales can point to any other jurisdictions where this is happening. I agree it is unprecedented, but I think it is unprecedented specifically to us," Carmona said.
The District Attorney's office statement went on to say, "The cases that are being dismissed under section 32.01 are mostly cases that were not presented to the DA’s office through the DIMS process during the time period that the DIMS agreement was being renegotiated in July, 2021. The new DIMS agreement was both signed and utilized in January, 2022. The renewal of the DIMS agreement has led to an increase in the number of cases filed this year."
A spokesman with the El Paso police department said that even if an arrest was not presented to the District Attorney's office through the DIMS system, police officers were still presenting arrests and evidence to the office in a timely manner, and in most cases within 10 days.
Another 100 cases are expected to be dismissed for the next three days this week.