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The Justice System of Texas Texas Justice System Topical Scenario Body of Laws Judicial Branch Criminal Justice System Judiciary and Political Change.

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Presentation on theme: "The Justice System of Texas Texas Justice System Topical Scenario Body of Laws Judicial Branch Criminal Justice System Judiciary and Political Change."— Presentation transcript:


2 The Justice System of Texas

3 Texas Justice System Topical Scenario Body of Laws Judicial Branch Criminal Justice System Judiciary and Political Change Judiciary and Democracy

4 Topical Scenario “Is justice for sale in Texas?” 1995 - Judicial Campaign Fairness Act Texans for Public Justice Campaign contributions for judicial elections Plaintiff interests versus business interests Republicans tend to favor business Is system broken? Chief Justice Tom Phillips thinks so! –Resigned in 2004

5 Source of the Law Common law - tradition based on previous judicial rulings (Law of Castile) Constitution - most fundamental source Statutory law - laws passed by congress Ordinances - statutes passed by city councils Administrative law - rules and regulations published by executive agencies to enforce and administer congressional or executive action.

6 Two Types of Law Criminal –offenses against society –robbery, murder, embezzlement –misdemeanor or felonies –most are plea bargained Civil –disputes between individuals –law treat a corporation as an individual –tort suits, claims of injury, receive greatest attention –most are settled out of court

7 Judicial Jurisdictions Original Jurisdiction –First court where the trial is conducted local, county or state criminal or civil, state or municipal law, felony or misdemeanor –Local and county have limited jurisdiction –District and state courts hear many type cases Appellate Jurisdiction –Hearing to determine if proper procedures have been followed. –Can return case or uphold decision Trial Phases – guilt determination and sentencing

8 Structure of Judicial Branch Decentralized with overlapping responsibilities Local trial court County trial court District court State intermediate appellate court State highest appellate courts

9 Local Trial Courts Two types with limited jurisdiction Municipal courts (1122) –ordinance violations –criminal misdemeanors with fines < $500 –examining trials (county pretrial hearings) –issue warrants, inquests, statutory warnings Justice of the Peace courts (842) –civil cases < $5000 (small claims court) –criminal misdemeanors with fines < $500 –examining trials, issue warrants

10 County Trial Court Limited jurisdiction Three types of courts –Constitutional court –County court at law –Probate court

11 Constitutional County Court One in every county Courts of record ( transcripts of proceedings – de novo) Original jurisdiction in civil cases between $250 and $5000 Original jurisdiction in probate cases Exclusive jurisdiction in criminal misdemeanors fine cases above $500 Appellate jurisdiction over local courts

12 County Court at Law Assumes function of county judge who oversee constitutional court Only 74 counties have such courts County judge servers on county commissioners court (legislative) County judge servers as county CEO Hears any misdemeanors and civil cases up to $100,000 Appellate jurisdiction over local courts

13 Probate Court Only 16 in state Determines disposition of estate after death of individual. 1999 Child protection cases Extra judges can be appointed to help with backlogs.

14 District Court 420 state courts of general and special jurisdiction Original jurisdiction for all felonies and civil cases above $200 Cases involving land titles, divorces, contested elections, contested probate Drug-related cases, other family matters 64% criminal ( 1% murder), 31% civil, and 5% juvenile

15 State Intermediate Court of Appeals Created in 1891 13 Texas regions with 14 courts Three judges on each court (no jury) Appellate jurisdiction for all courts in region except death penalty cases 55% Criminal Appeals and 45 % Civil Case duration criminal/civil - 1.8/8.5 months

16 Texas Supreme Courts Two separate courts of last resort Originally only appellate courts established in constitution Nine justices on each court –35 years old, practicing attorney or judge for 10 years Texas Supreme Court –civil case jurisdiction Texas Court of Criminal Appeals –criminal case jurisdiction

17 Review Process Petition for review ( 8 - 10% granted) Writs of mandamus - court orders to perform certain acts or tasks Writ of habeas corpus Majority rules –majority opinion –dissenting opinion –concurrences

18 Other Responsibilities Establish lower court administrative rules Conduct proceedings to remove judges Approval of law schools Appoints Board of Law Examiners Determines who passes and certifies those who pass the bar examination.

19 Criticisms of Current System Too many overlapping jurisdictions –lawyers can “judge shop” Too decentralized Courts can be simplified at local levels Retain intermediate and district levels –design court of appeal regions Merge Supreme Courts Requires amending or rewriting constitution

20 Judicial Selection Process Qualification –“well informed in the law” voter –no legal experience required in many cases –Supreme Court 35 years old, practicing attorney or judge in court of record for 10 years County Court at Law requires law degree Primary judicial attributes –independence –accountability –knowledge of law with common sense

21 Independence versus Accountability Tend to be contradictory Reforms needed to balance them –nonpartisan elections –eliminate judges on party-tickets –campaign contributions issues Appointments allow independence Elections force accountability and voter participation

22 The Missouri Plan Judicial Selection Commission –introduces ideal of quality –who selects commission? –3 best candidates selected Appointed by governor and confirmed by legislature Retention election after first term Voters decide on second longer term Designed to meet independence, accountability and quality concerns

23 Criminal Justice System Law enforcement and prosecution Trial court system Correctional system

24 Enforcement and Prosecution Enforcement is highly decentralized –city police –county constables or sheriff –Department of Public Safety and Rangers Prosecution –complaint filed by competent person –bill of information - misdemeanors –grand jury indictment - felonies evidence presented by county or district attorney

25 Juries Grand juries –12 members recommended by grand jury commission –Meet in secret –Usually deal with felonies Petit ( trial) juries –6 or 12 members –Venire (jury panel) - literate citizen, 18 years old, of sound mind, without felony conviction Peremptory challenges - 15/10/5 Challenges for cause - no limit

26 Correctional System Retribution versus rehabilitation Verdicts - probation, incarceration, fine Incarceration less than year - county jail Overcrowding and lack of medical care Ruiz v. Estelle - U.S. Court in 1971 Probation or early release to solve Increases in recidivism rates

27 Overcrowding Factors Population increase Youthful population - 18 to 30 year old males Emphasis on retribution Federal war on drugs in 1980s Ignoring problem by White and Clements

28 Major Prison Building Program $2.3 billion in 1990s Tripled bed capacity in 5 years 145,000 total capacity 100,000 for violent/repeat offenders 25,000 beds in state jails 10,000 beds for drug/alcohol rehab Cost runs at $40 per prisoner per day

29 Juvenile Correction System Violent crimes by juveniles has increased Trying juveniles as adults In 1995 14 year olds treated as adults Determinate Sentencing Act –no fresh starts at 18 years old –allows transfer to adult facilities at 18 not to exceed total of 40 years –tracking gang activities now mandated

30 Texas Justice and Political Change Only piece-meal changes since 1876 Most changes in trial court structure Calls to reform selection of judges Shift to retribution rather than rehabilitation Juvenile system also shifting to retribution

31 Texas Justice and Democracy Popular judicial elections are ideal of democracy Lack of information and deliberation on qualifications is a drawback Elections tend to be popularity/party contests Low voter turnout smacks of special interest/elitism not democracy

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