Law and Order

Latest Columns

Solitary confinement is terrible, but so is regular prison

We should condemn all cages, not just those that we have been told are necessary because certain individuals are beyond redemption — monsters who must be kept out of sight, without access to the basic human needs of touch and conversation and some type of human contact. Solitary doesn't create monsters; society does. Solitary just hides our worst mistakes.

An open letter to John Cornyn

We know the gun violence epidemic in this country reaches far beyond the tragic mass shootings that we seem to be accepting as commonplace. Domestic violence, accidental shootings, children getting their hands on irresponsibly stored weapons and suicides are robbing us of our mothers, brothers, babies and our soul as a country. 

Anti-Latino hate is not new

Until now, perhaps the best-known incident of anti-Mexican violence was the Porvenir Massacre. On a January night in 1918, Texas Rangers shot and killed 15 Mexican men and boys in the Texas town of Porvenir, claiming without any proof that they had engaged in theft. More than a century later in El Paso, a man used the same racist tropes to massacre more than 20 innocent people.

Let judges handle bail, and keep Texas safer

Let the men and women we elect to administer justice decide how best to administer it. Don’t tie their hands by outsourcing that decision to an algorithm. And don’t ask them to make pretrial release decisions blindfolded, without the full picture of a criminal defendant’s background, as is the case currently.

Keeping Big Brother at bay: Cruz vs. O’Rourke

Federal spying on Americans remains a clear public concern. The Pew Research Center reported in June 2018 that a clear majority of Americans felt Uncle Sam should not be targeting taxpayers for surveillance without real cause. So which candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas has done the most to protect Texans from illegal federal surveillance?

Money bail is essential to criminal justice

There are certain criminal justice reforms we can all agree on, but the elimination of bail is not one of them. The bail system simply holds defendants accountable for showing up to their trial, so a judge or jury can determine their guilt or innocence — the backbone of our criminal justice system.

Dallas County’s money-bail problem

Dallas County should follow the lead of other jurisdictions and refuse to jail anyone even for a day simply because they cannot pay money bond. We demand that our elected officials — prosecutors, county commissioners and judges — implement policies that end money bail immediately. We will not stop until we end money bail in Dallas.

Survivors of human trafficking need our help

People are paying more attention to the tragedy of human trafficking. Laws such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act severely punish perpetrators and support survivors whose cases are being prosecuted. But survivors who choose not to engage with law enforcement need an approach to human trafficking that includes public health measures.

Dallas DA must treat kids like kids

Decisions to transfer youth to adult court should never be driven by politics or public pressure. Young people who come into contact with the legal system during their childhood and adolescence are more likely to lead successful lives and promote community safety when the juvenile justice system responds than when they are transferred to the adult criminal justice system.

Bail reform means safer communities

Bail reform done the right way — basing pretrial release decisions on risk rather than money — will ultimately lead to fewer crimes and safer communities. That’s why the Legislature should pass bail reform legislation next session to improve pretrial justice in Texas.

Second languages give Texas students clear advantages

The earlier students begin bilingual instruction, the greater their proficiency in the second language. The sooner we start encouraging second language acquisition in our kids and implement policies in our school districts to increase the number of students who receive a bilingual primary education, the more Texans with this prized competitive edge we’ll sent into the markets, schools and social world of tomorrow.

Reduce crime by making mental health care accessible

Not every criminal is mentally ill, and not every person who suffers from a mental health issue is a criminal. However, one woman I know had a mental illness and became a criminal in the eyes of the law. Would she have become a criminal if adequate mental health services existed? Probably not.

Why is Bobby Moore still on death row?

On March 28, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) violated the U.S. Constitution in rejecting Bobby Moore’s claim that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty. Yet today, more than a year later, Moore remains under a death sentence and is still on death row.

The conflict between city code and state law

To what extent should local governments be entitled to legislative powers over the areas they are elected to represent? Who should local governments be accountable to: those who elected them or those who travel across the state to protest legally unenforceable local ordinances, such as previously existed in Olmos Park?

Modern laws for the fight against human trafficking

Human trafficking is a terrible and tragic industry, affecting every community across the country. Since 2012, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has seen yearly increases in reported cases, rising to 8,524 in 2017. Even so, this is a small fraction of the total estimated cases of human trafficking and exploitation that occur in our country every year.

Lost in a field

Now, on the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege, agents admit horrible mistakes were made. They painfully lost some of their own. There is regret, a wish that someone had said “stop” to what agents call “go fever.” They wish they hadn’t played right into the hands of Koresh’s fateful prediction to followers that this fiery day would come.

A veteran’s approach to America’s gun safety crisis

The facts are undeniable: The number of lives lost and families and communities terrorized by gun violence continues to rise. And yet the White House, Congress and both Republicans running for Congress in the state’s 21st Congressional District are conceding the fight, demanding that we accept our violent present as another “new normal.”

Texas has led on prison reform, but we have more to do

Texas takes pride in being a state that is tough on crime, but we should also be proud of how we’ve made crime less tough on Texas taxpayers and police by reducing our prison population and cutting recidivism rates. Now it’s time to do even more to keep our streets safe and to give more Texans a second chance.

Breaking the link between forced drug use and human trafficking

Although the PROTECT Act is just one more step forward in our battle, the strong support we’ve already received from victim advocates and law enforcement illustrates that people across this country will never tolerate incidents like the one in that San Antonio parking lot. The dangerous trafficking of human beings isn’t over — yet — but at least we’re fighting back.

It’s time for common-sense gun reform

As our nation continues to engage in this long overdue conversation around gun violence, we each need to decide the role we want to play. Our students are leading the way, and now it’s up to us to follow. As a mother, as a teacher, and as a candidate for Congress, I’m choosing to stand on the side of the students.

Reading, writing, arithmetic and revolvers

Many teachers do not want to carry guns in schools — a sentiment shared by many police officers. In chaotic situations, multiple shooters can create confusion for law enforcement about who the actual threat is. Many students and parents do not want school employees to carry guns in schools.

When it comes to juvenile justice, family involvement is best for kids and communities

Many kids in state-run facilities are high-risk, high-need and require secure confinement for public safety reasons. They need to be held accountable for their actions, and secure, residential placement will always remain an important component of the juvenile justice system. But the state facilities are not the only means of simultaneously providing secure confinement for juvenile offenders and maintaining public safety.

#MeToo still needs a #HowTo

We need to demand transparency from our judges instead of accepting the grueling process of requesting their court records. And, most importantly, we need to turn up the turnout at the voting booths on March 6 and in the May runoffs. Otherwise, sexual assault victims will keep enduring rape kit procedures and police investigations only to hear in the end that their rapists have won.

Yes, they’re kids. Try listening to them.

Our democracy can only survive if citizens are engaged in the process. Our public education system lays that important foundation. Attempts to disregard that solemn responsibility are a threat to our democracy and to the future of today’s students who will be tomorrow’s leaders.

License to carry concealed guns shouldn’t stop at the state line

The National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would ensure that people who can legally carry concealed firearms in their home state will also be able to legally carry in other states. It’s a no-brainer. Law enforcement officers should use their time and resources working to keep our streets safe from violence. They should not be targeting law-abiding citizens who merely cross state lines.

If 2017 was #MeToo, 2018 is “What’s Next?”

The anti-discrimination policies many institutions have in place are necessary, but not sufficient, to end harassment and abuse. Widespread sexual harassment has persisted even after decades of anti-harassment policy development, with particularly alarming prevalence among transgender and gender-nonconforming workers and students.

Bail reform should not be derailed

The cash bail system is outdated, discriminates against people without financial resources and fails to improve public safety. Momentum to eliminate cash bail in Harris County has been building for several years, but recent local attempts to undermine reform efforts and misrepresent reality threaten to derail one of the most important changes to Houston’s criminal justice system in decades.

Weakening standards for who can carry a loaded gun is a dangerous idea

I’m a fifth-generation Texan. I grew up around guns, and my kids are growing up around guns. As I was exposed to guns, I was taught about the power firearms have to take lives, and how paramount firearm safety truly is. Part of being a responsible gun owner is making sure that people who pose a danger to our communities aren’t allowed to carry hidden, loaded guns across our state.

Texas law facilitates the sex trafficking industry

According to Shared Hope International, Texas scored a 93.5 percent for its child sex trafficking law. However, despite being one of only eight states to receive an “A,” Texas also continues to be one of 27 states to criminalize a child for prostitution offenses. Even though the age of consent is 17, a child can still be penalized for having sex for money in Texas.

Continued funding shortfall has dire impact on victims

Texas was one of the first states to pass a law defining human trafficking in 2003. Since then, lawmakers have continued to increase funding for investigations, stings and prosecution of trafficking criminals. Sadly, victims who are rescued — even those who testify against their pimps or traffickers — are still treated like criminals.

Guns on campus are a lousy idea

Universities are meant to foster safe debate, expression of idiosyncratic beliefs and a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas about the worlds’ problems. The presence of a loaded gun in a Human Sexuality lecture hall effectively stills the freedom of speech of both students and staff.

An opportunity for Texas on intellectual disability

We cannot go back and change the marginalization that Bobby Moore experienced as a child and young man, or the fact that our systems failed to help him. Tragically, we cannot undo the crimes that he committed. But we can affirm his fundamental human dignity. I hope the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will choose life imprisonment for him.

Cell phone records and the warrant requirement

Phone data can be used to piece together the location and movement of a citizen. Using records in this way is the essence of what it means to search — to see and assemble together that which cannot be viewed or determined by normal observation — and to say otherwise is offensive to common sense. This is the sort of government action where a warrant supported by probable cause should normally be demanded.

A student looks at campus carry

The dangers of allowing concealed carry on a college campus are simply too numerous, and I can no longer say I agree with it. Regardless of what the law says, no student should be constantly worrying that they are going to be bringing a #2 pencil to a gunfight.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

There are very few legitimate scenarios in which we would ever have to evacuate everyone in the Gulf Coast region. But who said it had to be all or none? Nobody with a lot going on upstairs. Upstairs, by the way is where a bunch of people had to go as the waters rose after Hurricane Harvey.

My dog is better than your lawyer

Excuse me for bragging: S. Roosticus Fischer of my law firm was just nominated by “Lawyers of Distinction” for ranking in the Top 10 percent of all American attorneys. Unbeknownst to the presenters, Shasharoosticus, although very special, is... my dog.

This is no way to treat animals, or humans

The consequences of failing to cool Texas prisons doesn’t just fall on the inmates. It also falls on taxpayers whose money gets wasted when the TDCJ incapacitates its wards with uncontrolled temperatures before they can engage in rehabilitative programming. And it falls on the general public when prisoners return to society less than fully reformed.

Texas should stop spending billions to incarcerate so many people for life

Over-reliance on life and virtual life sentences is not just a Texas problem. The number of people serving life sentences in U.S. prisons is at an all-time high, even as national crime statistics are down substantially from a mid-1990s peak. Nearly 162,000 people are serving life sentences in America. An additional 44,311 individuals are serving virtual life sentences.

The life of Sandra Bland embodied in legislation

This bill now has no recognition of non-jailable offenses or pre-textual stops — where a person stopped for one thing is detained, charged or arrested for another. This version of the bill did not represent the cause for organizing in the name of Sandra Bland. It does not reflect how Sandra Bland became #SandyStillSpeaks.

Protective orders really do work

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.

Raise the age, or pay the price

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.

The missing narrative of Sandra Bland

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.

Do protective orders really work?

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?

The suspect practice of civil asset forfeiture

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.

Adult prisons are no place for youths

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.

Severe mental illness and the death penalty

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.

A man named Luis Cantu and the argument for asset forfeiture

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.

An Open Season on Judges

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.

Distracted media missed the asset forfeiture issue

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.

The real victims of the Senate's bathroom bill

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.

The Texas death penalty is dying

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.

Police use of force: don't force it

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.

Texas, abortion and the power of the Supreme Court

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.

My journey with Bernie

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.

Ray Rice is the tip of the iceberg

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. 

Why the indictment matters

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.

Nothing threatening about voter ID

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.