State Law in Texas Texas courts have the responsibility of interpreting and applying state, and sometimes federal, law. With more than 3,000 justices and judges, and almost that many courts, Texas has one of the largest judicial systems in the country. It is the role of the state’s judges to interpret and apply state constitutional provisions, statutory laws, and agency regulations These interpretations attract less public attention than their legislative and executive counterparts However, their decisions affect Texans every day
State Law in Texas Preliminary Terms Civil Law – body of law concerning noncriminal matters, such as business contracts and personal injury Criminal Law – body of law concerning felony and misdemeanor offenses by individuals against other persons or property Felony – a serious crime punished by fine and prison confinement Misdemeanor – Classified as A, B, or C, a misdemeanor may be punished by fine and/or jail sentence Jurisdiction – a court’s authority to hear a particular case
State Law in Texas FeloniesFelony PenaltyCapital Death or life in prison without parole1st Degree 5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,0002nd Degree 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,0003rd Degree 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000State Jail 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
State Law in Texas FeloniesMisdemeanor PenaltyClass A Not more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $4,000Class B Not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000Class C A fine of not more than $500
State Law in Texas Sources of Law These sources include the provisions of the Texas Constitution Includes federal statutes that are applicable to the state statutes enacted by the legislature regulations adopted by state agencies judge-made common law based on custom and tradition dating back to medieval England. A court may apply a statute, constitutional provision regulation, and common law all in the same case Procedures for filing a case, conducting a trial, and appealing a judgment depend on whether the case is civil or criminal
State Law in Texas Code Revision In 1963, the Texas Legislative Council was charged with systemizing the array of Texas laws into an organized code. This has been a work in progress for more than 40 years The legal code is found in Vernon’s Texas Codes Annotated.
State Law in Texas Code in Texas Labor Code Texas Constitution Local Government Code Agricultural Code Natural Resources Code Alcoholic Beverage Code Occupations Code Auxiliary Water Laws Parks and Wildlife Code Business/Commerce Code Penal Code Business Organization Code Probate Code Civil Practice and Remedies Code Property Code Code of Criminal Procedure Special District Local Laws Code Education Code Tax Code Election Code Transportation Code Estates Code Utilities Code Family Code Water Code Finance Code Vernon’s Civil Statutes Government Code Health and Safety Code Human Resources Code Insurance Code
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries The Texas judicial system is a very complex structure, ranging from local courts to the state supreme courts. All courts have jurisdiction established by law. Original jurisdiction the authority of a court to hear a case first. Appellate jurisdiction the authority of one court to review the decision of a lower court. Exclusive jurisdiction Authority of only one court to hear a particular type of case Concurrent jurisdiction Authority of more than one court to try a case Ex. A civil dispute involving more than $500 but less than $5,000 may be heard in either a justice of the peace court, a county court, or a district court
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Local Trial Courts Minor trial courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and include municipal courts and justice of the peace courts. These judges also serve as magistrates of the state, issuing warrants and conducting hearings. Independent judges who are capable of issuing warrants, reviewing arrests, conducting hearings, etc. Almost all other judges are also designated magistrates.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Local Trial Courts Municipal Courts Municipal court judges are elected, appointed, or ex-officio, depending on their city charter. Mayors of a general law city have the authority to serve as judges Usually, municipal court judges of home-ruled cities are named city councils for 2 year terms Do not have to be licensed attorneys (unless presiding over a municipal court of record) Courts of record have a court reporter or some means to record testimony and proceedings Municipal courts are often referred to as traffic courts. Their judges hear minor criminal cases extending to violations of city ordinances and class C misdemeanors, which occur within the limits of the municipal jurisdiction.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Local Trial Courts Justice of the Peace Courts JPs are elected for a four-year term, and no previous legal or judicial training is required. They hear minor criminal and minor civil cases and often perform marriages, act as a notary public, and act as coroner. Juries may be used if requested by one of the parties in the case. Small Claims Courts Small-claims court occurs when the JP hears some minor civil cases. Handles damages claims of $10,000 or less Procedure in small-claims court is less formal than that for the ordinary civil jurisdiction of the justice of the peace court.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Local Trial Courts Justice of the Peace Elected by voters residing in a precinct with boundaries created by the county commissioners court Texas Constitution mandates between 1 to 8 JP precincts according to population Each precinct can have 1 to 2 JPs Position requires neither previous legal training or experience Approx. 10% of Texas’ JPs are lawyers and engage in private practice while serving as a justice of the peace A JP who is not a lawyer must undergo an 80-hour course in performing the duties of office within the first year An additional 20 hours of professional instruction are carried out every year
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts County Trial Courts Each of Texas’s 254 counties has a county court as prescribed by the state constitution. More than eighty counties have one or more additional county-level courts created by statute. All are courts of record. Judges of constitutional county courts need not be attorneys. Statutory county court judges must be experienced attorneys.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts County Trial Courts Constitutional County Courts Each county has a county judge who, in areas of small population, hears cases in county court and serves as presiding officer of the commissioners court. Most county courts have original, appellate, civil, and criminal jurisdiction. County courts also serve as probate courts. Less than 15 percent of constitutional county judges are licensed attorneys.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts County Trial Courts County Courts at Law In counties with a large population, the legislature has authorized the creation of county courts at law to relieve the county judge from the burden of hearing cases in county court. Probate Courts In the ten most heavily populated counties, one or more probate courts determine the validity of wills of deceased persons, determine mental competency, and designate guardians over the persons and/or estates of minor children or incompetent adults. Counties with Probate Courts El Paso (2), Denton (1), Collin (1), Tarrant (2), Dallas (3), Travis (1), Bexar (2), Harris (4), and Galveston (1)
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts State Trial Courts Texas’s principal trial courts are composed of district-level courts of general and special jurisdiction. Most state trial courts are designated simply as district courts, but a few are called criminal district courts. Each has a single judge elected for a four-year term.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts State Trial Courts District Courts Most district court judges are authorized to try both criminal and civil cases, although a statute creating a court may specify that the court give preference to one or the other. All criminal jurisdiction is original.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Appellate Courts The Lone Star State’s appellate courts consist of courts of appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas. Texas is divided into 14 state court of appeal districts Each of these courts has three or more judges or justices. Decisions are made by majority vote of the assigned judges after examining the written record of a case, reviewing briefs, and hearing oral arguments Texas and Oklahoma are the only states in the Union that have bifurcated (divided) court systems for dealing with criminal and civil appeals.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Appellate Courts Court of Appeals These fourteen courts exercise appellate jurisdiction in civil cases and in criminal cases that do not involve capital punishment. Each of these intermediate appellate courts is composed of a chief justice and from two to twelve justices.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Appellate Courts Court of Criminal Appeals This is Texas’s highest criminal court and consists of nine members. It is the ―supreme court‖ for criminal cases in Texas. Members are chosen in partisan elections on a state-wide basis for 6-year terms All death penalty convictions are automatically reviewed by this court.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Trial and Appellate Courts Appellate Courts The Supreme Court The Supreme Court of Texas is supreme in the area of civil law and constitutional issues. 9 members: one chief justice and eight justices Elected on a statewide, partisan basis Court has very limited original jurisdiction Nearly all of the court’s work involves appeals of cases that it determines must be heard It issues a writ of error if it agrees to hear a case on appeal from a lower court. Approx. 12% of roughly 10,000 writs in the past decade were granted Court also sets the rules of civil procedure in the state
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Disciplining and Removing Judges and Justices Judges and justices can be removed by voters at the next, by trial by jury, or (if state court judges) by legislative address or impeachment. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct plays the most important role in disciplining the state’s judiciary. A notable case in 2009 was a complaint against the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Sharon Keller Accused of denying a death-row inmate his full due process rights of appeal Court Clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. per Keller Defense attorneys were not notified that a judge on the court would be standing by to accept an appeal Keller was given a public warning from the State Commission
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Lawyers State Bar of Texas Licensed attorneys must obtain membership in the State Bar of Texas An administrative agency (and lobbying force) of the state The State Bar is authorized to discipline, suspend, and disbar attorneys Legal Services for the Poor Courts must appoint attorneys for criminal defendants who establish that they are indigent (too poor to hire a lawyer) When legal assistance is available, it is often through an attorney with the Legal Services Corporation (Legal Aid) The State Bar of Texas recommends that all attorneys in private practice donate 50 hours of charity legal assistance (pro bono) each year
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Juries A jury system lets citizens participate directly in the administration of justice. Texas has two types of juries: grand juries and trial juries. Grand juries are used for felony indictments (and some misdemeanors) Petit juries (trial juries) are used to determine guilt or innocence and to try civil cases.
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Juries Grand Jury The usual procedure is for a judge to select 12 jurors from a list submitted by a 3 to 5 member jury commission. Indictments are issued if 9 of the 12 members feel that there is sufficient evidence to hold the accused for trial. A grand jury works in secrecy. Indictment – written statement accusing some person/persons of a particular crime Trial Jury Although relatively few Texans ever serve on a grand jury, almost everyone can expect to be summoned from time to time for duty on a trial jury (petit jury).
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Juries Qualifications, Selection, and Compensation of Jurors The qualifications for serving on a trial jury are not high, and most Texans can expect to be called. Prospective jurors are selected from the voter registration list, licensed drivers list, and the list of persons with ID cards issued by the Department of Public Safety. A trial jury is composed of 6 or 12 individuals. 6 for JP courts, municipal courts, or county courts 12 for district courts Juror pay varies from county to county. Minimum pay is $6 for all or part of the first day (paid by the county) The state compensates $34 per additional day of service Employers can subsidize pay, but cannot discharge permanent employees for jury service
Courts, Judges, Lawyers, andJuries Juries Qualifications, Selection, and Compensation of Jurors A Texas Juror Must Be A citizen of the U.S. and of the state of Texas 18 years of age or older Of sound mind Able to read and write Neither convicted of a felony nor under indictment or other legal accusation of theft or of any felony Exemptions Being age 70 or older Having legal custody of a child or children younger than age 10 Being enrolled in and attending a university, college, or secondary school Being the primary caregiver for an invalid Being employed by the legislative branch of state government Having served as a petit juror within the preceding three years (only in counties with populations of more than 250,000)
Judicial Procedures Civil Justice System Every year more than a million civil lawsuits are filed in Texas trial courts. Civil law disputes usually involve individuals or corporations. It is subdivided into Torts—a noncontractual civil wrong; injury to a person or an individual’s property resulting from the wrongful act of another Contracts—failure by one party to a contract to live up to its terms Family Law—juvenile delinquency, divorce, marriage, and the care of children or incompetent adults.
Judicial Procedures Civil Justice System In civil cases plaintiffs may be eligible to recover for three different types of damages: Economic damages Include lost wages and actual expenses (Ex. Hospital bills) Noneconomic damages Include a loss in quality of life such as disfigurement, mental anguish, and emotional distress Exemplary or punitive damages Intended to punish the defendant and deter future occurrences
Judicial Procedures Civil Justice System Civil Trial Procedure Pretrial Actions Civil cases involve a plaintiff and a defendant. Plaintiff – injured party who initiates a civil suit or the state in a criminal proceeding Defendant – the person sued in a civil proceeding or prosecuted in a criminal proceeding Civil cases normally begin when the plaintiff (injured party) files a petition, a written document containing the plaintiff’s complaints against the defendant and the remedy sought—usually money damages. The court issues a citation, and the defendant answers the complaint. A jury can be called by either side to determine the facts.
Judicial Procedures Civil Justice System Civil Trial Procedure Trial and Appeal of a Civil Case First the plaintiff and then the defendant presents his or her case. Then the judge writes a charge to the jury. Special Issues – questions a judge gives a trial jury to answer to establish facts in a case Only 10 of the 12 members must agree, and the ―reasonable doubt‖ aspect of criminal cases does not apply. The jury returns a verdict A jury’s decision in a court case The appellate court hears the case based on the record sent up by the lower court.
Judicial Procedures Criminal Justice System The State of Texas has identified more than 2,400 crimes as felonies. Less serious offenses are classified as misdemeanors. Criminal Trial Procedures Rules of criminal procedure are made by the legislature. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure is written to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding confessions, arrests, searches, and seizures. Additional rules of procedure have been adopted to promote fairness and efficiency in handling criminal cases.
Judicial Procedures Criminal Justice System The Death Penalty Overall, the death penalty is on the decline across the United States and Texas Reasons Concern about the execution of innocent people Between 1973 and 2009, 140 people were released from the nation’s death rows based on evidence of their innocence Passage of punishment laws that provide life without parole Number of death penalties have declined since these punishments were instituted Cost of prosecuting death penalty cases Capital punishment cases cost around $3 million Trial and incarceration of a life without parole costs approx. $500,000
Judicial Procedures Criminal Justice System Trial of a Criminal Case The prosecution presents its case, followed by cross-examination from the defense. Then it is the defense’s turn. After all evidence and testimony have been presented, the case goes to the judge or jury for a verdict.
Judicial Procedures Criminal Justice System Verdict, Sentence, and Appeal A unanimous jury decision is required to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. A judge declares a mistrial if a unanimous decision is not reached. The judge has the option of disregarding the jury’s guilty finding if he or she believes it is a substantial miscarriage of justice. The jury must set the punishment by unanimous consent. The defendant, if found guilty, has the right of appeal. Prosecutors have a limited right of appeal. Capital cases are appealed directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals. All other cases go the court of appeals that has proper jurisdiction.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Correctional institutions are designed to punish and isolate criminals while deterring others from committing similar acts, and to rehabilitate lawbreakers so that they cease to commit crimes. Texas has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Approx. 700,000 Texas were incarcerated, on parole, or under community supervision in 2008 Since 2010, the prison population has began to stabilize
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice This agency is headed by a board that is responsible for employing an executive director, who hires directors for the three divisions within the department—the Community Justice Assistance Division, the Institutional Division, and the Pardons and Paroles Division. The agency has a four part mission Providing public safety Promoting positive behavioral changes Reintegrating offenders into the general society Assisting crime victims
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Providing Public Safety With the goal of improving public safety, over the past few years legislators have classified an increasing number of actions as felonies lengthened sentences for all types of crimes funded construction of additional prison units balanced the state’s budget by reducing drug treatment programs and other interventions intended to alter an individual’s behavior.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Promoting Positive Behavioral Changes Correcting or modifying the behavior of convicted felons is a goal of TDCJ’s Correctional Institutions Division. Training and instructional programs are used to rehabilitate inmates and equip them with a means for self-support after release. Discipline and education are the primary means of combating recidivism (criminal behavior resulting in reimprisonment after release).
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Reintegrating Offenders A major goal of treatment and education programs is to equip prisoners with the skills to succeed upon release. After the 81st Legislature (2009) directed TDCJ to prepare comprehensive reentry plans for released prisoners, the agency created the Reentry and Integration Division to provide extensive support to released offenders.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Reintegrating Offenders Community Justice Assistance Division The Community Justice Assistance Division establishes minimum standards for county programs involving community supervision and community corrections facilities (such as a boot camp or a restitution center). The Parole Division The Parole Division manages Texas’s statewide parole and mandatory supervision system for convicted felons. Problems with Reintegration Employers’ right to disqualify applicants with felony or misdemeanor convictions Exclusion from jobs in education, healthcare, child and elder care, financial services, and transportation Enhanced liability for employers providing delivery or home-services who hire individuals convicted of indecency or crimes against persons or property Inability to obtain required licenses for more than 100 jobs or professions
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Texas Department of Criminal Justice Assisting Victims The fourth-prong of TDCJ’s mission directs attention to crime victims and their close relatives. The Victim Services Division provides information to crime victims about any change in the offender’s status within the TDCJ system, as well as notification of pending parole hearings.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Local Government Jails County Jails Some counties have contracted with commercial firms to provide ―privatized‖ jails, but most counties maintain public jails operated under the direction of the county sheriff. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has oversight responsibility for county jails. Municipal Jails In large cities these facilities often house hundreds of inmates who have been arrested for a variety of offenses ranging from Class C misdemeanors to capital murder Some are used primarily as ―drunk tanks‖ to detain people for a few hours after they have been arrested for public intoxication.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Local Government Jails Private Prisons Texas now has more privately operated facilities than any other state. Approximately 20 percent of all U.S. prisoners housed in private prisons are in the Lone Star State. In addition to prisons and jails, private contractors also provide substance abuse treatment programs and halfway houses.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Juvenile Justice Texas’s juvenile justice system clearly distinguishes between youthful pranks and violent, predatory behavior. After several years of scandal that highlighted deficiencies in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the agency responsible for the rehabilitation and training of delinquent youth, the focus shifted from incarceration and punishment to treatment and rehabilitation.
Judicial Procedures Correction and Rehabilitation Juvenile Justice State and Local Agencies Each county has a juvenile probation board that designates one or more juvenile judges, appoints a chief juvenile probation officer, and makes policies carried out by a juvenile probation department. Overseeing these county departments is the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC). Procedures Counseling and probation are the most widely used procedures for dealing with juvenile offenders, although probation, residential treatment, and commitment to TYC facilities remain options. Trials in juvenile courts are termed adjudication hearings. Texas Youth Commission Facilities Juveniles who violate terms of probation or are found delinquent for a serious criminal offense may be confined to TYC training schools and boot camps located across the state.