Crime and violence in frontier Houston: a study of the criminal district court of Harris County, 1872-1876
Brooks, Victoria Lynne
Hyman, Harold M.
Master of Arts
Harris County in the 187’s had a sophisticated system of criminal jurisprudence, but its people were unwilling to utilize its full capacities as an instrument of social control. The disparity between potentials offered by statutory provisions and the actual operation of judicial machineries was great, and remained so as long as the frontier exerted an influence on criminal and law-abiding elements of the population. This thesis relies on traditional historical methods of quantitative techniques. Statistical information gleaned from a four-year study of years 1872-1876 of the Harris County Criminal District Court facilitates analyses of the history and administrative structure of Harris County judicial departments, state penal codes and criminal procedures, and the personnel and machineries of the Criminal District Court itself. The picture which emerges is one of a burgeoning urban community's attempts to cope with crime through its primary legal institution, the Criminal District Court. Statistical information placed in historiographical and bibliographical context, yields insight into the character and effectiveness of the entire range of criminal court procedures. Moreover, statistical information compiled from documents generated by and materials referring to the Criminal District Court provide foundation for more general conclusions about nineteenth-century urban frontier society. As example, only about 3% of the recorded population of Harris County received indictments during the period from 1872 to 1876. Only 2% of those indicted appeared in census roles, city directories, or newspapers. Only 8.7% of indictments were eventually dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence. Defendants before the Criminal District Court pleaded not guilty in two-thirds of the cases, but slightly more than two-thirds of pleaded cases were adjudged guilty. From the beginning of the judicial process only one-half of prosecuted cases received conviction.