Criminal justice reform advocates in Texas and across the country are calling on district attorneys and prosecutors' offices to exclude more police from giving testimony in criminal cases. While juries and judges often give great weight to evidence presented by the police, there have been multiple cases of wrongful convictions involving false, inaccurate or deliberately misleading police testimony. In an effort to prevent further wrongful convictions, advocates have written letters to officials across the country urging them to expand the lists that they use to exclude police testimony that may be biased, corrupt or based on lies.
Coming into contact with the Texas criminal justice system could lead to long-term financial difficulty. Court fees and fines often impose burdensome debts that result in incarceration, probation and job loss. A group formed in 2016 called the Civil Rights Corps calls the practice of fining poor defendants for minor crimes or infractions "user-funded justice."
Texas residents who have been taken into custody may find that their fates are determined by risk assessment tools. These tools are used by judges to determine if a person should be released on bail or held until further notice. A person's risk score is determined partially the crime that he or she is charged with and partially by demographic information. However, the process used to determine that score has been called racist by some.
Texas residents may feel that their phones are private property that can't be searched by police. However, officers can get warrants demanding that citizens provide the passwords to their cellphones and access to the contents inside of the device. One man in Florida was held in contempt of court for failing to provide the password to his phone after authorities got a warrant compelling him to do so.
Racial disparities are a significant factor in how people in Texas and across the country encounter the criminal justice system. An individual's personal experiences tend to inform the level of trust or regard that they have for police departments, the court system or other agencies. According to one study, black Americans are much more likely to say that racial bias and discrimination is a serious problem in the American justice system. Indeed, a full 87% of black participants in the survey said that black defendants are treated less fairly.
Texas residents can face serious consequences as a result of inaccurate warrants. One man spent an hour in a cruiser after a warrant for a charge dismissed 25 years ago came up in a police database. The same man was taken into custody and jailed in 2014, 2015 and 2017 based on a conviction for writing bad checks in 2006. While his probation period had ended, he still spent months in custody despite the fact that no additional charges were pursued.
Texas' Laws on Expungement
In Texas and across the United States, ensuring that defendants are fully understood when they tell their side of the story is a tenet of criminal defense law. Unfortunately, this does not always happen in cases when individuals facing criminal charges communicate in slang or a difficult to understand vernacular. It has become especially problematic for many black defendants.
The First Step Act is a criminal justice bill that could help reform prisons in Texas and across the United States. The bill is the first step in what many believe to be the beginning of prison reform and has been hailed by both the president and the American Civil Liberties Union. There are several components of the bill that could help thousands of individuals who are currently in prison.