The District Attorney’s Office is taking steps to address the backlog of cases it has yet to screen, according to an internal email shared with El Paso Matters.
A prosecutor within the office’s Intake Division, which reviews cases to decide whether to prosecute, asked staff attorneys via an email on Monday to attend a “screening party” at the DA’s office this Saturday.
“Plans are being implemented to knock out the backlog of cases,” Assistant District Attorney Adam Chevrier wrote in a mass email to staff attorneys. “A handful of screening parties is part of that plan.”
Last week, Chevrier sat through seven hearings where a judge dismissed roughly 370 criminal cases due to lengthy prosecution delays.
The El Paso Public Defender’s Office requested the dismissals under a section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure meant to prevent people from spending long periods of time in jail, or under bond conditions, before being indicted. Under article 32.01, prosecutors generally have 180 days to indict someone before their case can be dismissed.
Public Defender Kelli Childress has said her office has more than 1,000 additional cases eligible for dismissal, and that she plans to file more motions to dismiss soon.
In a press statement last week, District Attorney Yvonne Rosales noted that she could still file the dismissed cases for prosecution because the statute of limitations for most cases ranges from two to 10 years.
The District Attorney’s Office did not respond to El Paso Matter’s request for comment on the email, or its question about the additional measures it’s taking to address its screening backlog.
In Monday’s email, titled “Invitation for Saturday 10am – Screening Party – Donuts Provided,” Chevrier asked his coworkers to come to the office “even for an hour or two.”
Rosales plans to attend and screen cases herself, according to the email. “Ms. Rosales would be very appreciative of anyone who is able to make it,” Chevrier said.
Attendees would be reviewing mostly “lesser cases,” he wrote. As of late April, the DA’s office had more than 5,300 cases in screening, according to its response to a public records request by El Paso Matters. Nearly half of the backlogged cases were felonies; one in 10 were for family violence assaults.
During last week’s hearings, Chevrier did not object to the public defender’s motions to dismiss the cases. At the first hearing on Aug. 15, the District Attorney’s Office initially attempted to send a paralegal to sit in on the dismissals. Chevrier arrived only after Jail Magistrate Judge Humberto Acosta said a DA lawyer had to be present to proceed.