The Judicial System and Due
Crime and Punishment
• If there is a fundamental concern that Texans share with
the rest of the country, it’s crime and punishment. The
fear of being victimized is real to anyone who has read
about criminal street gangs, auto theft, carjackings, or
• Texas lawmakers are starting to look beyond relative
issues, to ask questions such as, “What can be done to
diminish the need for more police, courts, and prisons?”.
This new approach is in its formative stages but very
promising. As of the early 1990’s, crime in Texas has been
on a downward trend.
• Each year, the FBI publishes Crime in the United States, a
comprehensive statistical breakdown of crime
categorized by type, region, rates, and even time-of-day.
It is prepared according to a standard called the Uniform
Crime Reports (UCR). Although there seem to be
thousands of crimes reported of all kinds, the UCR
devised a list of eight index crimes.
• Index Crimes are those eight offenses that the state and
national governments use to perform statistical studies.
They include: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault,
burglary, theft, auto theft, and arson. Index statistics are
used to establish and compare crime rates among states
Crime in Texas
• Each year more than 1 million people are arrested in
Texas for the commission of major crimes. Despite
decreases in murder, rape, and other offenses, arrest
numbers continue to escalate due to the flourishing illicit
• In the mid-1980’s thousands of people connected to the
manufacture of methamphetamine were jailed and given
the maximum 20-year sentences. But, manufacturing of
home made drugs is on the rise once again.
• In 2007 the legislature passed laws requiring retailers to
keep certain cold remedies (used to manufacture meth)
behind their counters. Other legislation empowers police
and social workers to physically remove children found in
the presence of dope labs.
Factors in the Crime Rate
• A number of elements contribute to the crime rates.
Most criminal justice experts agree that increased age of
the average Texan over the past decade. This means that
there are fewer individual in the “crime-prone” years of
17 to 24.
• Another factor is the efforts of the legislature to keep
violent and repeat offenders behind bars for a longer
period of time. In 2005, and again in 2007, the legislature
passed laws mandating longer sentences for the more
serious and violent offenders, and has greatly expanded
the punishment for the domestic and “dating” violence.
The punishments have also increased dramatically for
• The corrections system is costly, largely due to the
expense of housing individuals convicted of committing
criminal acts. There are other factors as well: actual cost
of housing inmates, and increasing volume of the jail
• Texas leads the rest of the nation in the state inmate
rate. Texas also leads the nation in some form of
supervision; 1 million people in jail, prison, probation, or
• This means that 1 in nearly every 20 adults is on the bad
side of the justice system. As many as 5 percent of adult
males in Texas currently incarcerated, on probation, or
• Criminal justice agencies and lawmakers acknowledge
that better education and employment opportunities
would play an important part in reducing the number of
• According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
almost 80% of Texas’s prison inmates did not complete
high school and half were not employed when they were
• It is estimated that it costs more than $16,000 per year
to keep an adult behind bars. That cost is without
considering the money spent investigating, arresting,
tying, and convicting the individual offender.
• No state executes more prisoners than Texas. It is
becoming increasingly difficult for Texas death row
inmates to be granted clemency or stays of
execution, even when evidence exists that may suggest
• Capitol punishment is one of the most controversial
contemporary issues. Supporters of the death penalty
believe that much-needed prison space would be
available if the state expanded the list of capital crimes
and executed more prisoners. At any given time there
are 400 individuals on Texas death row. This
comparatively small number of prisoners hardly would
make a dent in the total inmate population even if all
these individuals were executed tomorrow.
Capital Crimes in Texas
• Murder of a person whom the defendant knows to
be a peace officer, firefighter, or employee of a penal
institution who is acting in his official capacity
• Murder of a person while the defendant is in the
course of committing or attempting to commit
kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual
assault, or arson
• Murder for hire (any party agreeing to participate)
• Murder committed while escaping or attempting to
escape from a penal institution
Capital Crimes in Texas cont.
• Serial and mass murder
• Murder of a child under six years of age
• The retaliatory murder of any Texas judge
• Any doctor performing a third-trimester abortion or
an abortion on a minor without personal consent
• Certain repeated sex crimes against children
Executions on the decline
• As a result of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and changes
to the Texas laws made in 2005 and 2007, criminal justice
analysis predict a slow but steady decline in the number of
executions carried out in Texas.
• Two of the three reasons why such a decrease in the use of
death penalty are U.S. Supreme Court decisions affecting
juveniles and mentally challenged individuals. The third
reason is that the legislature has empowered juries to
sentence defendants to life without the possibility of parole.
• The supreme court held that persons 17 years or younger at
the time capital crime was committed could not be executed.
Because of this, several death row inmates were transferred
to the general prison population and are now serving life
terms, meaning most will one day be eligible for parole.
Various Levels of Law Enforcement
• The state law enforcement agency most visible to
Texans is the Department of Public Safety (DPS)
Highway Patrol. A division of the DPS known to non-
Texans is the Texas Rangers. Texas rangers are an
elite group of 100 state troopers that investigate
major crimes and allegations of police misconduct.
• There are more than a dozen other law enforcement
agencies that operate at the state level.
Various Levels of Law Enforcement
• Each of Texas’s 254 counties has a sheriff, whose duty it
is to maintain a county jail and to provide police service
in the rural, nonincorporated areas of the county.
Sheriffs are elected to 4 year terms
• Like the sheriff, the constable is a county-level law
enforcement official who is elected to 4 year terms of
office and empowered to provide police services.
• Although each county elects only 1 sheriff, as many as 8
constables may be authorized, depending on population.
Various Levels of Law Enforcement
• The Texas Constitution authorizes the formation of law
enforcement districts to provide specialized police
services for specific areas.
• Most Texas colleges and universities have their own
police departments, as do airports and public
• These agencies are composed of licensed peace officers.
Contrary to popular belief, the “campus cops”, or “rent-a-
cops”, are empowered and obligated to take the
appropriate police action when the situation calls for it.
Special Levels of Law Enforcement
• Texas’s urban and most populous counties may have as
many as two dozen municipal police departments to
provide citizens with law enforcement services. These
police departments vary in size, from 2 people to several
• In the late 1990’s a new style of law enforcement
emerged called community-based policing (CBP). CBP
empowers home and business owners, community
leaders, and members of all segments of the community
to participate actively in the day-to-day operations of
their police departments.
• Most state laws that regulate the conduct of
individuals and groups can be found in the Texas
• The Texas Penal Code defines and categorizes crimes
and provides for a range of punishment. The Penal
Code classifies offenses as misdemeanors, which are
relatively minor offenses punishable by a fine and up
to one year in county jail, and felonies, more serious
crimes in which a convicted person may serve time in
the state penitentiary.
• Due process is the rights guaranteed to individuals
accused of committing criminal acts.
• These rights include equal treatment and protection
under the law, safeguards against cruel and unusual
punishment, the right to trial by jury, the right to a court-
appointed attorney if the defendant cannot afford to pay
and attorney, and the right to face the persons who have
made the accusation.
• The exclusionary rule demands that any items or
evidence gathered during an illegal search of a person’s
private property be excluded as evidence against the
defendant at the time of trial.
Stages of Due Process
• For the accused, the first normal stage of the criminal
justice process is the arrest. No person can be arrested
unless probable cause can be established. Probable
cause can be said to exist when it appears more likely
than not that individual has committed a criminal act.
• Unless an individual is charged with the crime of capital
murder, he or she is allowed the opportunity to post bail.
Bail is a cash deposit posted by the accused as a
guarantee that he or she will return to court when
summoned. The amount of bail is determined by a judge,
who must consider the nature of the crime, the
accused’s past record, and other factors.
Stages of Due Process cont.
• During a lawful search, police officers may seize any
of these categories of evidence: fruits of a crime, any
items stolen or otherwise illegally obtained; tools of
a crime, may be any item or instrument used during
the commission of a criminal act; contraband
includes, child pornography, drugs, and gambling
equipment; the final category, mere evidence,
pertains to items that tend to connect an individual
with a crime.
Grand Jury and Indictment
• For individuals accused of committing a felony, a critical
component of due process is the right to have the facts
of the case heard by a grand jury. The grand jury is
comprised of 12 citizens who serve for 3 to 6 months and
are chosen by judges of the district courts.
• The grand jury determines whether there is sufficient
evidence for the accused to stand trial. If 9 or more
members find that the case should proceed to the trial
stage, an indictment, also called a “true bill” is issued
and a trial is scheduled.
• After the indictment, the case is assigned to a prosecutor
and prepared for trial. The prosecutor is an attorney
representing the victim and that state against the
• Most criminal cases are disposed of by the way of plea
bargain, the process of negotiating a settlement, usually
for a lesser charge or less jail time.
• Due process rights at the trial stage include the right to a
trial by jury, although the defendant often waives this
right and elects to have a bench trial, wherein his or her
case is heard by a judge and no jury.
• When a defendant opts for a bench trial, the judge hears
the testimony and determines the verdict.
• Prior to the trial, a jury panel is interviewed by the
defense and prosecution. This process is called voir dire,
and its purpose is to ensure that none of the jurors is
predisposed to making a decision until after all the
evidence is heard. The term “voir dire” means literally, to
“tell the truth”.
• A conviction in a criminal jury trial requires that all
members of the jury agree on the same verdict. If a jury
agrees on the verdict of “not guilty”, the defendant
cannot be tried again for the same crime. In doing so
would violate the defendants due process right against
double jeopardy. The double jeopardy rule does not
allow the government to prosecute an individual more
than once for a specific charge.
• If the final verdict is not unanimous, or if the jury fails to
render a verdict at all, the judge declares a hung jury, or
a mistrial, and the prosecutor has the option of
requesting a second trial using another jury. Some of the
factors the district or county attorney must consider
when deciding whether to try a defendant again are cost
and public sentiment.
• Texas is one of a handful of states in which the jury
decides the amount of time the accused will serve. When
a jury trial results in a “guilty” verdict, a separate
proceeding, with the same jury, is held to determine the
sentence. No matter the outcome in a criminal trial, the
defendant can still be sued in civil court by the victim or
the victims family.