In my 18-year career as an advocate for victims of crime, it is a rare day that I see a woman walk out of family or criminal court with the outcome they wanted and/or needed to protect themselves and their children from further harm. Instead, most of the victims I have worked with are forced to share custody of their children, to co-parent with their abuser and stay up all night wondering if their children are safe.
Ability to pay an amount of money determines whether many people will be held in jail until their trials or sent home, instead of whether they pose risks to their communities, their likelihood to commit new crimes or whether they’ll come back to court for hearings or trials.
Texas’ success has inspired reform across our nation. But many states are poised to surpass the Lone Star State as a juvenile justice policy leader. Due to a recent nationwide movement to raise the age of criminal responsibility, Texas remains one of only six states where 17-year-olds have adult criminal responsibility.
As a black woman personally impacted by this tragedy and its complexities of the intersectionality of race, gender and socioeconomics, I was cautiously optimistic the legislation would deliver on issues that have pained American society for far too long. So I watched vigilantly to ensure that the family position we expressed collectively on numerous occasions regarding the importance of substantive police reform as it relates directly to accountability was included in the bill.
Protective orders have been hailed as a powerful deterrent to family violence — so much so that the penalties to perpetrators have steadily increased, along with the rights awarded to the victims. Yet I wonder, do they really work? How often are they abused to give one person an overwhelming advantage in divorce and custody cases? Are men always at fault?
Civil asset forfeiture is a tool of law enforcement whereby the suspected fruits of criminal activity can be seized and repurposed to combat future criminal activity. “Suspected” is a key term, as current Texas law doesn’t require government to prove in court that criminal activity actually took place — or even to arrest someone for such crimes.
The consequences for criminal behavior by minors should not be delivered within the adult criminal justice system. Seventeen-year-olds are not adults. Their behavior should be handled in the juvenile justice system where their parents can be engaged in the process and where the approach is more rehabilitative than punitive.
During the previous two legislative sessions, an unlikely coalition of groups across the political spectrum provided a sense that perhaps Texas was serious about rethinking its “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality.
In the Lone Star State, we’ve led the way in utilizing diversion programs for low-level offenders, demonstrating that we can reduce both crime and unnecessary incarceration. Beginning in 2007, our state Legislature committed funding to build up diversion programs for non-violent offenders — diverting them from prison entirely.
The rule of law is the surest defense against the chaos and confusion of a post-truth world, and as we each gaze into our own looking-glasses, we affirm the pre-eminent self-evident truth that everyone is created equal under law.
My research on Texas capital jurors suggests that this legal misdirection leaves many with a heavy burden they carry with them after making a life or death decision. Shouldn't jurors who are forced to make a potentially life-ending choice be told the truth about their decision-making?
Assessing capital punishment in these unique and infrequent cases disregards the growing scientific consensus that severe mental illness can significantly impair one’s ability to make rational decisions, understand the consequences of one’s actions and control one’s impulses. It sweeps aside our collective responsibility to provide adequate care options for persons with mental health disabilities.
The current system of civil asset forfeiture in Texas is an effective and efficient tool for law enforcement and a benefit to the communities we serve. I encourage anyone curious about the state’s forfeiture laws to speak with their local law enforcement officers and prosecutors to find out for themselves how the process really works.
Judicial independence is not some quaint custom, like the wig of an English barrister. It’s foundational. From traffic disputes to the U.S. Supreme Court, our judicial system will not work unless parties trust the independent neutrality of judges to enforce the law and thus accept decisions without resorting to unrest or violence, even when they disagree with the result.
Was he guilty? I don’t know. Guess what? At this point I don’t care.
The primary impetus behind the use of asset forfeiture law is to cripple the capability of drug kingpins and criminal organizations — a very laudable objective. Yet because the state law is so broadly written, police and prosecutors have unfettered discretion in how the law is applied.
What if I told you that the government could seize and keep your home, your vehicle, your cash, or any other property it wanted without convicting you of a crime, or worse yet, without even charging you with a crime?
In criminal justice reform circles, we often talk about the need to stop jailing people we’re mad at so we can focus on people we have reason to fear. I can’t think of anything that applies to more than marijuana use.
It is transgender individuals who experience that anxiety upon entering public spaces designated for one sex or another, not cisgender women or students. The Texas Privacy Act will increase that fear and anxiety while costing the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
Given the facts, it should not surprise anyone that Texans are losing faith in the death penalty. We like solutions that work. Capital punishment does not work, and that may be why Texas’ death penalty is in a steep decline.
The data clearly show the very real threat: Predators now hide behind computer screens — not in bushes and bathrooms.
A new bill will give federal judges the ability to publish both the names and the photographs of both convicted human traffickers and buyers of trafficked victims.
The Texas Tribune's "Unholstered" series is to be commended for contributing to a critical public discussion. However, reducing a police-involved shooting to only a statistic based on city, race, armed, or unarmed suspects or other factors inevitably leaves out too much relevant detail.
Under the Department of Defense’s little-known 1033 Program, military gear is transferred to law enforcement agencies nationwide — and some of Texas' acquisitions raise eyebrows.
Avoiding doing any wrong in measuring and meting out appropriate judgment must be our aim at every step in the criminal justice system, lest we subvert justice in the name of exacting it.
For five decades, I have revisited Austin on that day in 1966. I see the carnage — pools of blood covering the sidewalk, bodies, some covered, people crying, clutching each other.
We can and should continue to mourn for the slain police officers and their families, while at the same time recognizing our own complicity as a nation and a city in what led to this despicable act through our passive acceptance of racial disparities.
I hope each teacher and parent recognizes the responsibility to cultivate our future generation of leaders and citizens and that they are not afraid to step away from testing to talk about the social and political issues that impact our society.
A recent Texas Supreme Court decision held that owners of property illegally seized by authorities are not subject to constitutional protections. Even worse, this ruling was entirely correct.
While there are major law enforcement benefits to automatic license plate readers, a lack of safeguards has brought major negative consequences that need to be addressed as this technology continues to spread.
Our country is sending the message that it is okay to profile and discriminate against entire communities. This is not the American way. And it does not make us safer.
While the practice of seizing property believed to have been obtained through criminal activity is often legitimate, there has been a growing concern about departments abusing civil asset forfeiture to "police for profit."
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear the Texas case of Duane Buck, who was sentenced to die in 1997 for killing two people. His small army of advocates don’t dispute his guilt but argue he is facing the harshest possible punishment primarily "because he is black."
Truth and transparency prevent wrongful convictions and increase public confidence in the integrity and fairness of our criminal justice systems.
While harsher criminal sentences for human trafficking might be an "easy sell" for state legislatures, new data suggests they do not produce law enforcement outcomes.
The time and money Texans expend on state-mandated inspection of passenger vehicles would be justifiable if they meant safer roads for us and our families. Unfortunately, they do not.
The integrity of the criminal justice process is critical to prevent incarceration of the innocent, even if we must permit a guilty person to go free to preserve that integrity.
Whole Woman's Health v Hellerstedt could pull the U.S. Supreme Court into a new, prolonged fight over the future of abortion politics, raise the stakes in filling Justice Antonin Scalia's seat and increase the political attention given to the Court — all outcomes that the institution has tried to avoid.
Public safety on the roadways is certainly something lawmakers should strive to facilitate, but it shouldn't be done using an insurmountable tax that has left over a million Texans without a license.
As gun rights advocates across the country force guns into academia, academics will feel compelled to bring scholarship to the gun debate.
While we have already seen positive outcomes in the first eight months following impactful changes in federal law to combat human trafficking, the work is just beginning in the fight against 21st-century slavery in the United States.
Until Mexico develops a new law enforcement model to combat the drug cartels, the arrest of drug kingpins such as Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán will make little to no difference to drug trafficking in Texas and across the United States.
I had heard and seen all of Bernie Tiede's testimony in the trial for his killing of Marjorie Nugent. I was looking closely for a steely killer hiding underneath the friendly veneer. It just wasn't there.
All kids are more important than dogs. Every right-minded person agrees with that, but two bills passed by the 84th Texas Legislature exemplify how public policy has failed in this regard
As a Japanese-American, I am appalled to see history repeat itself with the detention of thousands of asylum-seeking children and their mothers in two large family detention camps operated by for-profit prison corporations in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas.
Equal rights laws such as the one in Dallas are more important now than ever.
It is indisputable that proper housing and vocations are paramount in successful re-entry outcomes. However, we must be careful how we accomplish this goal.
As Americans, we should either live by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty or we should return her to France.
If our governor and others thought the Obama administration had an efficient method of screening out potential terrorists from the refugees coming in, there would not be an outcry to deny them entry — after all, Texas has already admitted some Syrian refugees.
Our city council is proud of the groundwork our predecessors laid for us more than 13 years ago on LGBT protections. It is insulting to them and, more importantly, to our LGBT citizens, to reduce these important issues to potty hysteria.
The First Amendment that allows protesters to shout their demands also allows cameras to capture the moment.
Anyone concerned with public safety and fiscal responsibility has an interest in removing barriers to employment for felons who have served their sentence and are trying to move forward with their lives.
The battle over firearms is too often presented as an all-or-nothing fight with no middle ground. But there may be more shared interests between gun advocates and public health professionals than commonly thought.
When I was 14, I was convicted of murder. The sentence? Twelve years in lock-up. But this isn’t going to be one of those op-eds about a broken juvenile justice system. Texas’ system saved my life.
You may not remember the dark days of Texas' workers’ compensation system some three decades ago. But I can assure you, having lived it, Texas doesn’t want to go back there.
When it comes to courtroom ethics, the means to an end is as important as the end itself. While Travis County’s partnership with Texas Mutual may be legal, county leaders and prosecutors should ask, “Is it ethical?"
The tragic death of Sandra Bland is shining a spotlight on a world that for most Texans remains out of sight and out of mind: our state's jails.
A new bipartisan bill is now the law of the land, but partnerships on the federal, state and local level will be instrumental in eradicating these crimes.
Reform isn’t easy, but if we work across party lines and think big, we can make real progress. I know, because I’ve seen it happen in Texas.
Try as they might, campus carry opponents have no factual basis for their position, so this year they've resorted to overblown claims about costs.
Campus carry would bring guns into my workplace at the potential expense of finding a cure for a disease that is trying to kill me.
I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix. The time has come for a thoughtful discussion of the prudence of our prohibition approach to drug use.
Being on a grand jury is an experience that leaves you either eager to serve again, or eager to never serve again. Either way, it's important work that shouldn't be trivialized.
It may surprise some, but Texas is widely viewed as a national leader on criminal justice reform. This year, state lawmakers have the ability capitalize on that success.
It's not easy being mayor of a town whose reputation has been hurt by misconceptions and ignorance. But I fought hard to promote the Laredo that I know — and the tide may now be turning.
Texas may not be at the center of the recent national conversation about the deaths of black men at the hands of police, but our state's criminal justice system is failing poor communities, too. Luckily, there's something we can do about it.
Max Soffar, an innocent man on death row in Texas, is dying of liver cancer. And he'll stay locked away — away from his loved ones who have suffered so much for so long — unless Gov. Rick Perry intervenes.
It’s hard to imagine many situations in which the presence of military-grade weapons designed to kill many people at once would add to the safety of students in a school setting.
Nearly 200,000 incidents of family violence were reported to Texas law enforcement officials in 2013, and more than 100 Texas women are killed by intimate partners every year. Many of these women can't get the help — or shelter — they need.
Amid the political hubbub, here's the bottom line: The law doesn't grant a governor the power to withhold things of value in exchange for an elected official’s resignation. The lawyers and pundits saying otherwise are wrong.
Criticize anything else Gov. Rick Perry has done — a lot of folks do. But he made the right call by vetoing funding for the public integrity unit. Charging him with a crime doesn't pass the smell test.
I'm a native Texan and Second Amedment supporter. I own handguns, long guns and shotguns. I’m licensed and carry a concealed handgun for self-defense. But I say no to open carry.
Texas laws banning possession of small amounts of illegal drugs are a drain on the state and on local governments. We should adjust sentences to match the crimes.
At Open Carry Texas, we've had our share of growing pains, but we've learned from our mistakes. We've also learned this: With great success comes even greater opposition.
Gov. Rick Perry and his legal team would be more at peace if the grand jury probing allegations of abuse of power against him had been seated pretty much anywhere else in the state besides Travis County.
The Justice Department says there's something sinister about requiring voters to prove their identity, even though Americans must do so before boarding an airplane, cashing a check — or visiting the Justice Department headquarters.
Those involved with setting Bernie Tiede free said that without his Hollywood friends, he'd still be in jail for my grandmother's murder. My family thinks that's exactly where he belongs.