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The Texas Judiciary


... bargains help system move along Probation is granted in many cases Board of Pardons and Paroles can recommend parole or commutation of sentences Jury Trials ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Texas Judiciary

(No Transcript)
The Texas Judiciary and Criminal Justice Policy
Federal v. State System
  • Texans are subject to both systems
  • Feds have jurisdiction over federal law
    violations, federal question matters and
    diversity case
  • More than 97 of all court matters are based on
    state or local laws, so youre most likely to end
    up in the state system
  • Federal courts have applied the Bill of Rights to
    the states through the 14th Amendment

Types of Cases
  • Typically two civil and criminal
  • Civil includes
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Family law cases
  • Probate
  • Criminal involves potential punishment for
    wrongdoer including jail/prison or fines

Court Structure in Texas
  • Five levels of Texas courts
  • Supreme Court/Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Courts of Appeal
  • District Courts
  • Constitutional County Court/County Court at Law
  • Justice Courts/Municipal Courts

  • Original resolution of cases being heard the
    first time
  • Appellate review of decisions of lower courts
    to determine if law and procedure were properly

Limited Jurisdiction Courts
  • Lowest ranking
  • Municipal Courts
  • Established under state law
  • Qualifications and selections are usually set by
    city councils
  • Criminal and ordinance jurisdiction/fine only
  • Usually no record made
  • Appeals are made to County Court or County Court
    at Law

Limited Jurisdiction Courts
  • Justice of the Peace
  • Each county has at least one (up to 16)
  • Elected to four year terms/need not be a lawyer
  • Civil jurisdiction up to 5000
  • Concurrent criminal with municipals
  • Can sit as small claim
  • Serves as coroner in rural counties
  • Can act as magistrate
  • Elected constable serves each JP precinct

County Courts
  • Each county has constitutional county court
    presided over by County Judge
  • Most county judges serve only as CEO of county
    and do not serve in judicial capacity
  • Judges required to be well informed in the law
  • Shares civil jurisdiction with JP and district
    courts (200-1000)
  • Criminal with fines up to 4000 and jail of up to
    one year

County Court at Law
  • Some 200 statutory county courts have been
    created in more than 70 counties
  • Some are specialized other are general
  • Judges must be attorneys and are elected
    county-wide to four year term
  • Can have unlimited civil jurisdiction, but most
    are capped at 100,000

District Court
  • Over 400 district courts
  • Jurisdiction includes
  • Civil from 500 to infinity
  • Family
  • Election contests
  • Suits involving title to land
  • Slander/defamation
  • Some specialize

District Court
  • Each county must have one
  • Some counties share one judge, while large
    counties have nearly 60
  • Many larger counties courts specialize in civil,
    criminal or family

Courts of Appeal
  • Fourteen Courts of Appeal
  • Geographically located
  • Hear both civil and criminal appeals
  • Each court has at least one Chief Justice and two
    Associate Justices
  • Elected to six-year terms
  • Must be at least 35 years of age and have been
    licensed for at least 10 years
  • Criminal caseload amounts to 70 of docket
  • Mostly decide cases in three-judge panels, but en
    banc hearing can be requested

Supreme Court
  • Probably viewed by most Texans as highest court
  • Has power to coordinate state judicial system
    through rulemaking power
  • Licenses attorneys through Board of Law Examiners
  • Has disciplinary authority over judges through
    Commission on Judicial Conduct

Supreme Court
  • Made up of one Chief Justice and eight associate
  • Each serves staggered six-year terms
  • Must be at least 35 years old and have been
    licensed for 10 years
  • Cases come to court through Petitions for Review
    (most are denied)
  • Can also consider Writs of Mandamus (as can lower

Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Highest criminal court
  • Made up of Presiding Judge and eight associate
  • Elected statewide and serve staggered six-year
  • Same qualifications as Supremes

Court Personnel
  • District Clerks
  • Custodians of district court records
  • County Clerks
  • Custodian of county court records
  • Bailiffs
  • Law officers assigned for order and protection
  • Court Coordinators
  • Schedule cases for hearings
  • Court Reporters
  • Transcribe court hearings

The Beginning of a Criminal Case
  • Arrested suspects are taken before a magistrate
    and formally informed of charges against them
  • Miranda rights are given, but not always required
    (Dont believe everything you see on TV)

Criminal Cases
  • Felonies are more serious cases
  • Heard in district courts
  • Punishable from 2 years to life and up to 10,000
  • District attorney (criminal district attorney)
  • Case is initiated by grand jury, made up of 12
    persons, nine of whom have to agree to indictment
    (not guilt, but whether case should go to trial).
    These juries are NOT elitist as mentioned in the
  • Defendant can be true-billed or no-billed

Criminal Cases
  • Capital murder death by injection or life
  • Must be specified crime or murder committed
    during another felony
  • First degree 5 to 99 years or life
  • Second degree 2 to 20 years
  • Third degree 2 to 10 years
  • State Jail Felony 2 years at State Jail facility

Criminal Cases
  • Class A and B misdemeanors
  • Heard in County Courts/County Courts at Law
  • Punishable by up to one year (Class A) or six
    months (Class B) in jail and fine of up to 4000
    (Class A) or 2000 (Class B)
  • County Attorney (or criminal DA) prosecute
  • Case is initiated by the filing of an
    information, which is a document formally
    charging a misdemeanor crime

Criminal Cases
  • Defendants can plead not guilty, guilty or nolo
    contendere (no contest)
  • Defendants elect punishment to be assessed by
    judge or jury
  • Plea bargains help system move along
  • Probation is granted in many cases
  • Board of Pardons and Paroles can recommend parole
    or commutation of sentences

Jury Trials
  • Cases are decided by petit juries, which actually
    hear evidence and render a verdict
  • Called from voter and DL rolls
  • 12 person juries in District Court and 6 person
    juries in CC/CCL
  • Each side has a number of peremptory challenges
    (District Court 10/6 and CC/CCLS 3/3)
  • Persons may also be challenged for cause

Jury Trials
  • Unanimous verdicts required in criminal cases but
    10/2 or 5/1 in civil cases
  • Burden of proof in criminal case is beyond a
    reasonable doubt burden in civil cases is by a
    preponderance of evidence

Judicial Selection
  • Vacancies in district courts or above are
    appointed by governor
  • CCL vacancies are appointed by Commissioners
  • Minorities attempted to use Voting Rights Act to
    mandate single-member judges
  • Many plans have been floated, most notably John
    Hills merit selection plan (Missouri plan)

Policy Roles of State Court
  • Feds have historically been more involved in
    influencing policy
  • Sometimes courts enter the fray when the Lege
    doesnt act
  • Edgewood school finance case
  • In some areas state constitutions are being found
    to afford more protection than U.S. (Heitman case)

Criminal Justice Issues
  • Key area of concern is representation of indigent
    criminal defendants
  • Most of the state uses court-appointed attorneys,
    though some areas use public defenders
  • Senate Bill 7 mandated changes in the way
    attorneys are provided to indigent defendants

Criminal Justice Issues
  • Plea bargaining is NOT pleading to a less serious
    crime it may involve that, but it is simply an
    agreement by the defendant to plead guilty for a
    certain sentence agreed to with the prosecutor
  • It is also not necessarily true that defendants
    represented by appointed counsel plead guilty
    more readily than those represented by retained

Criminal Justice Issues
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice operations
    have changed substantially since Ruiz decision in
  • Racial profiling is concern law enforcement now
    has to document stops
  • Jury service can be sacrifice, though not in
    Brazos County
  • Any excusing of minorities usually comes at
    request of the potential juror