Law, Courts, and Justice Chapter 25
The connections between politics and justice results from all judges being elected with partisan identification. • But many judges are first appointed to their position when the former judge retires (or dies) before the next election. • These appointments, as well as elections, are influenced by party affiliation.
II. State Law in Texas Texas has one one the largest court systems in the nation, with >3,000 judges, dealing with millions of cases each year.
Texas courts deal with… • civil law (def) law concerning non-criminal matters. • Criminal law (def) law concerning felony and misdemeanor offenses, by people against other people and property.
Criminal law concerns… • Misdemeanors (def) classified as A, B, or C, they may be punished by fine and/or jail time. • Felonies (def) serious crimes punished by fines or prison confinement.
Courts’ Authority… • Jurisdiction (def) authority to hear a particular case. • Original jurisdiction (def) the power of a court to hear a case first. • Appellate jurisdiction (def) a court’s power to review cases after they have been tried in another court.
A. Sources of Law • Three sources of law in Texas… i. state statutes ii. the Texas Constitution iii. common law (def) judge-made law, based on tradition and custom. • General and Special Laws of the State of Texas • Vernon’s Annotated Revised Civil Statutes of the State of Texas
B. Code Revision • Texas laws were reorganized by topics in 1963. • The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code are revised from time to time, (1993, 1965, & 1967). • All are found in Vernon’s Statutes
The Texas court system is a very complex system ranging from local courts to the state Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. • A court may have exclusive jurisdiction or concurrent jurisdiction. • Check out Table 10.1, page 388, for a list of judges’ salaries and qualifications.
A. Local Trial Courts • Local trial courts have limited jurisdiction (municipal and JPs). • These judges serve as magistrates (def) officers of the state. • Municipal Courts • Judges are either elected or appointed. • They hear minor cases (ordinances and Class C).
4. Justice of the Peace Courts • JPs are elected to 4-year terms; no legal training necessary. • They hear minor cases, may perform marriages and may act as coroner. • A constable (def) responsible for serving subpoenas and other papers for a JP.
A court of record (def) has a court reporter or a device to record testimony and proceedings • If there is no record, the appealed case is received as a trial de novo (def) a new trial. • Small Claims Courts • Often a JPs responsibility • Court proceedings are much less formal • Claims are < $5,000.
B. County Trial Courts county-level courts are courts of record, presided over by a county judge elected for a 4-year term.
1. Constitutional County Courts • Each of the 254 counties has a county judge, who may hear cases and serves on the commissioner’s court. • Most have original, appellate, civil, & criminal jurisdiction and probate. • ¾ of county judges are NOT attorneys. • More serious cases are often moved to a higher-level court.
2. County Courts at Law • Counties with a large population have county courts at law to relieve the county judge’s burden of hearing many cases. <<<<<(Judge Keith Self)
3. Probate Courts • These courts determine the validity of wills and designate guardians over persons and estates.
C. State Trial Courts • District and criminal district courts are the chief trial courts in Texas. • Each has a singlejudge, elected for a 4-year term. • The 432 district courts, in Texas were increased to 439 in January, 2007.
1. District Courts • Judges must have legal experience • All criminal jurisdiction is original • The court has original jurisdiction over civil matters, as well. • There are 12 miss-named criminal district courts in Texas • Such courts are in Tarrant, Dallas, and Jefferson counties.
2. Drug Courts • Metropolitan counties must establish drug courts. • In 2005, there were 44 drug courts in Texas. • They have led to much lower re-arrest rates. • Because of the expense the program may end…
D. Appeals Courts • Appellate courts include the courts ofappeals,the Supreme Court, and the Court of Criminal Appeals. All judges have 6-year terms. • Each court has 3 or more judges. • Decisions are decided by a majority vote of the judges.
1. Courts of Appeals • There are 14 courts of appeals that hear civil and criminal cases. • Each has a chief justice and 2 to 12 justices, who usually sit in panels of three.
2. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals • Texas’s highest criminal court, with 9 justices. • Only Texas and Okla. have bifurcated (divided court systems). • Justices are all elected in statewide elections to 6-year terms.
State Supreme Court • This is the supreme court for all civil law cases. • It issues writs of error; when it agrees to hear a lower court decision. • The Court establishes procedures for lower courts to follow.
4. Disciplining/Removing Judges. • Different forms of discipline include… • Voting them out of office • Trial by jury for misconduct • Impeachment for state court judges
The State Commission on Judicial Codes has the power to quickly discipline poor judges, if… • The fail to follow the rules of the Supreme Court • Demonstrate incompetence • Display inappropriate conduct • Violation of the Texas Penal Code • Punishments vary…
5. Lawyers • the Supreme Court and State Bar of Texas regulate lawyers. • The Board of Law Examiners give the state bar exam & issue licenses.
b. State Bar of Texas • Texas attorneys must join the State Bar of Texas and pay dues. • The bar is authorized to discipline, suspend, and disbar attorneys.
c. Legal Services for the Poor • The State Bar requires all lawyers to donate 50 hours/year for charity legal assistance. • At times, they may collect contingency fees (def) compensation paid from money recovered in a lawsuit. • Another source is www.texaslawhelp.org . • Legal forms may be found on the website.
d. Self-Help Legal Software • The state bar has fought self-help books and software. • But in 1999, the legislature authorized their use.
IV. Juries Texas has two types of juries: grand juries and trial juries. Grand juries are used for felony indictments; petit (trial) juries are used to determine guilt or innocence and to try civil cases.
A. The Grand Jury • (Def) composed of 12 persons with the qualification of trial jurors, a grand jury serves from 3 to 6 months, while it determines if sufficient evidence to indict. • A judge selects 12 jurors from a list from the jury commission and indict requires 9 of 12 members to be in agreement.
B. Trial Jury • Petit jury (def) trial jury of 6 to 12 members. • Qualifications of jurors: • Citizen of the US/Texas • 18 years of age or older • Of sound mind • Literate • Neither a convicted felon nor under indictment
3. Reasons for exemptions… • 70 years of age or older • Have legal custody of a child • Enrolled in school or college • Primary caregiver for invalids • Employed by he state legislature • Have had jury service in the past 3 years • A judge may excuse for other reasons
4. Selection of Jurors • Venire (def) a panel of prospective jurors. • List list of prospects comes from the Sec. of State. • Voir dire (def) is the time that attorneys question the prospective jurors. • Attorneys may excuse prospects with peremptory challenge or for cause.
Jurors can lot be dismissed because of race or gender. • The first “12” form the venire (impaneled jury); “6” make up a lesser jury.
6. Compensation of Jurors • Pay ranges differs, but the minimum is $6 for the 1st day; $40/day for each additional day. • In 2005, this became the first increase in pay in 50 years!
Taylor v. Louisiana (1975) requires a jury to show the cross-section of the community. • This makes the 6th Amendment a reality!
V. Judicial Procedures At some time, almost everyone will go to court as a litigant, a witness, or a juror.
A. Civil Court System • Civil law (def) refers to matters not covered by criminal law; they include… • Torts • Contracts • Domestic relations • Suits between individuals &/or corporations
2. A plaintiff may receive three types of damages • Economic damages • Non-economic damages • Punitive damages
B. Civil Trial Procedure • The Texas Supreme Court makes the Rules of Civil Procedure, which must not conflict with any general law of Texas
1. Pretrial Actions • There is a plaintiff (def) injured party and a defendant (def) party being sued. • The plaintiff files a petition, listing the complaints. • The court issues a citation; and the defendant answers the complaint. • A jury may be used to determine the facts.
2. Trial and Appeal the Case • First the plaintiff and then the defendant presents his/her case. • The judge give the jury special issues (def) questions the jury must answer to establish facts in the case. • The verdict is the jury’s decision • If a jury is used the judge’s only duty is to apply the law. • An appeal goes to one of the 14 appellate courts.
C. Criminal Justice System • There are > 1900 crimes that are classified as felonies in Texas • These crime have graded penalties (def) felonies are graded as 1st, 2nd,& 3rd degree. Misdemeanors are graded as A, B, & C. • A two-step procedure is used in a capital felony case (def) a crime punishable by execution or life in prison.
Graded penalties • Capital Punishment • Murder becomes a capital felony in certain, extreme cases. • In the 2nd phase of the trial the jury must answer two questions:
Is the defendant a future threat to society? • Is there evidence that the defendant received abuse as a child or is mentally retarded? • The minimum sentence is life imprisonment without parole. • The death penalty cannot be used against anyone under 18 or mentally retarded.
D. Criminal Trial Procedures • Pretrial Actions • A magistrate must explain to the accused the nature of the charges. • The Defendant is brought to trial on charges found in a grand jury indictment or a bill of information. • Juries must be used in capital felony cases. • Criminal cases often in in a plea bargain (def) accepting a guilty plea to a lesser offense.
2. Trial of a Criminal Case • The prosecution presents its case, followed by defense cross-examination; then it’s the defense’s turn. • After all testimony & evidence is presented the case goes to the jury (or judge).