Texas residents may be aware that the United States has a high level of incarceration. However, they may not know that more than 20 percent of those behind bars have not been found guilty of committing a crime. While some of these prisoners are incarcerated while they await trial because they pose a threat to the community at large or are considered a flight risk, the overwhelming majority of them are in prison or jail simply because they could not afford to post bail.
On Dec. 18, a Texas judge recommended that a man who was convicted on child sexual assault charges have his conviction be overturned due to mistakes that were made during the criminal investigation process. The man was accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old boy in 2013 at an in-home day care center.
In Texas and across the United States, Black men can often receive longer sentences than white men, even when both are convicted of the same crime. A study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission has shown that Black men serve sentences that average 19.1 percent longer than white men convicted of similar crimes. The study reviewed sentencing and prison data from 2012 or 2016.
If a person in Texas or anywhere else in America accepts a plea, it may mean reduced penalties compared to being found guilty at trial. However, accepting a plea also means that a person has a criminal conviction on his or her record. It also may mean dealing with other consequences that come with a criminal record or spending time on probation. Furthermore, research suggests that race may play a role in what type of plea terms are offered.
The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals may not have jurisdiction over Texas, but the court is considered highly influential. For one, it's located in the District and has traditionally been a place presidents look for potential Supreme Court nominees. For another, it holds sway over many of the actions of federal agencies. Texas and the Fifth Circuit are likely to give the D.C. Circuit's opinions a great deal of weight in their own considerations.
In April, a federal judge in Houston struck down Harris County's bail system on the grounds that it is unjust to the poor. The reason is that the county requires cash bonds for misdemeanors, which many low-income defendants simply can't afford. The judge ruled it was unconstitutional for people to be held in jail simply because they can't afford bail and ordered the release of some misdemeanor defendants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced another reversal of Obama-era criminal justice reform, against a tide of bipartisan opposition. He announced this week that he intends to increase the use of the controversial process of civil forfeiture in federal criminal cases. Moreover, he plans to reintroduce the secondary seizure by federal officials of assets seized by local police forces.
Any criminal conviction will have a lasting effect on your life and the opportunities you can enjoy. Even a misdemeanor can disqualify you from certain jobs and make it difficult to find housing. Some crimes are particularly problematic when they appear on your record. These offenses -- crimes of moral turpitude -- reflect actions that violate generally accepted social mores.
When you face minor criminal charges, you may not think it is a big deal, especially if you maintain your innocence or the evidence against you is weak. However, even if you do not end up with a conviction, having a criminal record has consequences that reach beyond the courtroom for many years.
Fourth of July is right around the corner. And as is the case with other holidays, police across Texas will be focused on stopping and arresting people for certain crimes that are particularly prevalent during Independence Day.