Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said that his office expects to continue to close big cases in the new year.
He said he anticipates closure either with trials or pleas in the Joshua Barrier case and the cases of the two men charged with killing Robert Allen in 2017.
“We have got a ton of big cases that we expect will conclude during pleas in January and February,” Smith said recently.
Smith also said the DA’s office anticipates being as busy with trials and pleas as last year.
“We had that big uptick (in violent crime) right before Joe (Brown) left office in 2016 and 2017. Then we had a uptick in murder cases, and then a lull in 2018 where we were able to catch back up. And then in 2019, seems like it kinda picked back up again,” he said.
Some of the toughest cases of 2019, according to Smith, were the child starvation cases handled by Bi Hunt and Nathan Young. Those cases are the kinds of cases that make him watch his prosecutors more closely, he said.
“One of the things that I have learned now that I am looking at the 30,000-feet view, is how tiring trial work can be and how taxing it can be on these prosecutors,” he said adding that he tries to make sure that they get the downtime they need after working very stressful trials.
“We get PTSD just like police officers do,” Smith said.
Since taking office more than 20 months ago, Smith said he has made some alterations to the office including some staffing and policy changes.
“Our office is focused on removing repeat offenders, violent offenders and child sexual predators from our community,” he said. “That is going to continue to be our priority.”
They have also expanded their use of pre-trial diversion programs which have both formal and informal programs. Formal programs include the Child Protective Services Family Court, Drug Court, Veteran’s Court and Juvenile RISE Court. Informal programs are less well known but are often just as effective and without a lot of the paperwork and manpower required as for the other diversions.
“We have almost doubled the use of informal pre trial diversion,” he said.
Those programs seek to divert people who come in on non violent felonies with no criminal histories from the formal court system.
“We’ll just basically enter into a contract with them where they sign a judicial confession that they did the crime and then they agree to place on probation and we just refer them directly to probation and if they complete their probationary term then we just dismiss the case,” Smith said.
He said that is a small piece of the puzzle, but they have doubled their use of the technique since he took office.
“It reduces clogging in the court docket and it gives people who never been involved in the criminal justice system that commit minor criminal offenses a chance to have no conviction at all, but yet they still pay a penalty,” he said.
He added that conditions of that type of probation can include counseling, fines and anger management training.
“We are trying to kinda of think outside of the box. And, we think that sometimes the less bureaucracy involved the better it works out,” he said. “We are also going to continue our community outreach programs and that’s primarily our Facebook Page, the Sexual Predator and Drug Awareness seminars and law enforcement training.”
They are also going to continue sharing prosecutors with the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. That program, Smith said, allows some of the federal prosecutors without a lot of trial experience to help try cases in state district court at no cost to the county.
“It’s really a win-win,” Smith said of the program.
He said at this point, he thinks his office has enough staff for the time being.
“We’ve really made some good hiring decisions in the last few years,” he said and he is just going to concentrate on allowing those people to do the jobs that they do.