Current Texas Courts Structure and Statistics
The Office of Court Administration releases yearly data covering an overview of the Texas court structure and an analysis of case activity and trends. This 180-page document outlines statistics from appellate and trial courts throughout Texas for 2021 (the latest year for data). We’ve broken down this document for you and captured some of the highlights.
Texas Court Structure
In 1891, the Texas court system was established. The hierarchy of this system is important because it helps streamline cases through the state to provide residents with fair and just trials.
- Supreme Court: Highest state appellate court for civil cases; composed of nine judges who review decisions of lower courts.
- Court of Criminal Appeals: Highest state appellate court for criminal cases; consists of nine justices who review criminal decisions, habeas corpus petitions, and death penalty cases.
- Courts of Appeals: 14 appellate courts that hear civil and criminal cases from trial courts; each court has at least three justices; located in various cities across Texas.
- Trial Courts: Multiple levels of trial courts with jurisdiction over different types of cases; different county courts have slightly different jurisdictions but generally handle felony criminal cases, divorces, land disputes, and suits on behalf of the state.
- District Courts: 507 trial courts of general jurisdiction; hear felony criminal cases, misdemeanors involving official misconduct, divorces, land disputes, and state suits.
- Constitutional County Courts: The County Courts in 254 counties across Texas handle civil cases under $10,000 and uncontested probate matters.
- Statutory County Courts: Created by the Legislature to increase efficiency; concurrent jurisdiction with Constitutional County and District Courts for cases under $200,000, including workers’ compensation appeals and family law matters.
- Probate Courts: Handle probate proceedings; not utilized in all counties, but have original jurisdiction if available.
- Justice Courts: Hear civil cases under $10,000; jurisdiction overlaps with Constitutional County and District Courts based on the amount in controversy; handle eviction cases, deed restrictions, and misdemeanor criminal cases with fines.
- Municipal Courts: Lowest courts in the hierarchy; handle violations of municipal ordinances.
Key Highlights Regarding Court Case Filings in 2021
- Declining Civil Cases: The ongoing pandemic had a significant impact on civil case filings, resulting in a decrease in new cases across various court levels. County courts saw a 13 percent decline, justice courts experienced a 5 percent decrease, and municipal courts observed a 2 percent drop. However, district courts witnessed a modest increase of 3 percent in new civil cases.
- Surging Motor Vehicle Injury or Damage Cases: Following a decline caused by the pandemic, motor vehicle-related injury or damage cases rose by 15 percent in 2021, reaching an all-time high.
- Fluctuating Debt Cases: Debt cases exhibited divergent trends depending on the court level. District courts declined by 11 percent, while county courts experienced a 15 percent decrease. Conversely, justice courts observed a significant 12 percent increase, reaching an all-time high.
- Declining Landlord/Tenant Cases: After reaching a peak in 2019, landlord/tenant cases filed in justice courts decreased by 28 percent in 2020 and an additional 31 percent in 2021.
- Growing Estate (Probate) Cases: Estate or probate cases witnessed a notable increase of 19 percent in 2021.
- Family Law Cases: Following a sharp decline in 2020, new family law cases saw a 3 percent increase in 2021. However, the number of post-judgment suits for modification or enforcement decreased by 11 percent. New divorce cases and parent-child cases not involving divorce increased compared to the previous year.
- Felony and Misdemeanor Cases: The number of new felony cases trended upward, reaching an all-time high in 2019. There was a decline in 2020 due to the pandemic, but these cases rebounded in 2021. On the other hand, misdemeanor cases had been declining since 2007, experiencing a significant drop in 2020. In 2021, filings were almost 50 percent lower than the peak in 2007 and the lowest since at least 1985.
- Felony Drug Offenses: Felony drug offenses surpassed misdemeanor drug offenses by nearly 18,000 cases due to reduced marijuana prosecutions and an overall decline in filed misdemeanor cases due to the pandemic.
- Increase in Assault Cases: Assault cases, including family violence and first DWI offenses, were the only misdemeanor cases to show an increase in the last five years.
- Changes in Felony Categories: In 2020 and 2021, the only felonies that increased were capital murder, aggravated assault/attempted murder, family violence, and auto theft.
- Declining Traffic and Parking Cases: Traffic and parking cases continued a 13-year decline, decreasing by 8 percent compared to the previous year. The pandemic contributed to the lowest number of filings since 1980.
- Decrease in Non-Traffic Misdemeanor Cases: Non-traffic misdemeanor cases fell to the lowest since 1979 – falling by 13 percent from the previous year.
- Declining Juvenile Cases: In 2007, the number of juvenile cases peaked. Since then, juvenile cases filed have plummeted by 74 percent, reaching the lowest since 1993.
- Active Pending Caseload: The active, pending caseload in district courts increased by 5 percent. This was due to lower-than-usual clearance rates. In contrast, the active, pending caseload in county courts remained the same.
Trends in Lawsuits Filed in Texas Courts
- In 2021, the Supreme Court in Texas had 97 petitions on review on the docket. Seventy-two of those cases were disposed of. These cases were regular causes which means that four or more Supreme Court Justices have decided in the conference.
- The Court of Criminal Appeals disposed of 10 direct appeals for the death penalty in 2021. They also considered 310 motions for reconsideration and disposed of 223 cases.
- Most new cases filed in District Courts in 2021 were in the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, with 917 new cases pending by August 31, 2021.
- The majority of the 116,479 total cases on the docket in the Constitutional County Courts were criminal in nature, including drugs, DWI, traffic violations, and other misdemeanors. The majority of those active cases were DWI first offenders and misdemeanor cases.
- 2,394 cases were on the docket in Statutory County Courts in Texas between September 1, 2020, and August 31, 2021. Of those, the majority were felony drug possession (662) and felony DWI (627) cases.
- Of the 71,545 Probate Court cases filed, 66% were estate cases involving an application for independent administration.
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