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The Texas Judicial System

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1 The Texas Judicial System
Chapter 5 The Texas Judicial System

2 Introduction The Introduction to Chapter 5 raises important questions:
What is “cruel and unusual punishment”? Why are Texans so committed to the death penalty? Can bureaucracy conflict with justice? What role does the Texas judiciary play? What factors contribute to the lack of a cohesive court structure? Should Texas retain its current system (partisan elections) of selecting judges?

3 Texas Courts The Texas Court System is more confusing that it needs to be: Jurisdiction: original or appellate, civil or criminal Origin: created by Texas Constitution or Texas Legislature Geographical coverage


5 Local Trial Courts Municipal Courts: 915 municipal courts in Texas
Original jurisdiction primarily over municipal ordinances, cases with fines not exceeding $2,000 Justice of the Peace Courts: 821 courts with 821 judges elected by precincts in counties in partisan elections to four-year terms Original jurisdiction primarily over county civil cases involving not more than $5,000

6 Texas Court System Figure 5.1

7 County-Level Trial Courts
Constitutional County Courts (254 county courts with one court per county) Original jurisdiction in civil actions between $200 & $5,000 and misdemeanors with fines greater than $5,000 or a jail sentence County Courts at Law (222 courts established in 84 counties) Created by the legislature, these courts’ jurisdictions can vary greatly. Jurisdiction : all civil, criminal, and appellate actions prescribed by law for constitutional county courts and civil matters up to $100,000, with some exceptions Statutory Probate Courts 18 courts established in 10 counties (heavy populated) Jurisdiction is primarily limited to probate matters

8 District Courts District Courts (State-Level Trial Courts):
340 districts containing one county, and 97 districts containing more than one county (437 total) Have original criminal jurisdiction in all felony cases Jurisdiction of these courts varies according to jurisdiction of other courts in a particular area.

9 Courts of Appeals The Courts of Appeals: Intermediate Appellate Courts
14 courts with 80 justices Regional jurisdictions: Each court has between three and thirteen judges Usually hears cases in three judge panels With the exception of death penalty cases, all civil and criminal appeals from the county & district courts are initially heard here.

10 State Highest Appellate Courts
Supreme Court 9 justices, including a chief justice popularly elected in a partisan statewide election Statewide jurisdiction Final appellate jurisdiction in civil cases and juvenile cases Makes procedural rules for lower courts, approves the state’s law schools, and appoints the Legal Board of Examiners Limited appeal to US S Ct Court of Criminal Appeals 9 justices, including a presiding judge elected in a partisan statewide election Statewide jurisdiction The highest court for criminal appeals The court is the final court of appeal for questions of state law and the state constitution. Hears automatic appeals in death penalty cases Limited appeal to US S Ct

11 Texas Judges All judges in Texas, with the exception of municipal judges, are elected in partisan elections. The vast majority of judges reach their positions on the bench via appointment. The governor makes judicial appointments with senate approval and a significant number of the judges chosen by the governor will run unopposed in future elections where voters will be essentially rubberstamping the governor’s choice. Rubberstamp or voter apathy?


13 Problems with the Texas Judiciary
Lack of a coherent court structure with overlapping jurisdictions Judges with no legal training The need to raise funds for campaigns opens the judiciary to potential influences from campaign donors creates a perception of “justice for sale”

14 Alternative Systems of Judicial Selection
Appointment Merit System

15 Justice in Texas Texas has the second highest incarceration rate in the world: 687 inmates per 10,000. Policies in Texas tend to criminalize more behaviors. The political culture of the state is tough on crime. Stiff immigration and drug laws. “…in 2007 the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found that one-third of the jails in Texas failed to meet state standards.”

16 Justice in Texas (con’t)
Bail and probation – large number of defendants skip out, TX size precludes finding them Between 1982 and 2007, Texas executed over 400 individuals by lethal injection. Texas executes more criminals than any other state. The Texas culture embraces the state’s right to execute citizens violating certain laws. Support for the death penalty in the state remains strong.


18 Jury Duty Random selection from list of registered voters and driver’s license in the county To be eligible, Jurors must: Be a citizen of the United States and of this State. Be at least 18 years of age. Reside in the county of jury service. Be able to read and write. Be of sound mind.   You cannot serve on a jury if: You have been convicted of a felony or of any type of theft (unless rights have been restored) You are now on probation or deferred adjudication for a felony or for any type of theft; or You are now under indictment for a felony or are now under criminal charges for any type of theft.

19 Jury Duty You are entitled to be excused as a juror if you:
Are over 70 years of age; Have legal custody of a child under 12 years of age and jury service would leave the child unsupervised; Are a student in class; Are the caretaker of a person who is unable to care for themselves (an invalid); or Can show a physical or mental impairment or an inability to comprehend or to communicate in English. You must request the above – it is not automatic “I need to work today” is NOT sufficient – reschedule!

20 Jury Selection How Is A Juror Selected For A Particular Case?
Cases will usually be heard by juries of 6 or 12 jurors. A larger group, called a panel, will be sent to the trial court (courtroom) where the jurors will be questioned under the supervision of the judge. A juror may be excused from the panel if it is shown that the juror cannot act impartially concerning the case to be heard. In addition, each side is allowed to remove a given number of jurors from the panel without having to show any reason. The trial jury will be the first 6 or 12 of the remaining jurors on the panel. What Is Voir Dire Or Questioning Of The Jury Panel? Way for the parties to select a fair and impartial jury. Under the justice system, you may be questioned by each of the lawyers before they decide to remove a certain number of jurors from the jury panel (called strikes or peremptory challenges). For example. the lawyer may ask you questions to see if you are connected to the trial or if you have any prejudice or bias toward anyone in the trial These questions are not intended to embarrass you, but rather to help the lawyers in the jury selection process. You may ask the judge to allow you to answer some questions away from the other jurors.

21 Grand Jury Main duty: to determine if sufficient evidence exists to hold a person for trial



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