84th Texas Legislative Session – Criminal Justice
The 84th Texas Legislative Session just ended. Below are both passed and denied bills related to criminal justice.
Belief will be passed:
- ending the “pick-a-pal” grand jury system;
- Why it matters: In light of fierce national debate over the diversity of jurors, this law allows for random selection of grand jurors as opposed to the judge asking an acquaintance to come up with a list of individuals. Texas is the last state to switch from the so-called “key-man” or “pick-a-pal” system.
- scaling back the use of state youth prisons;
- Why it matters: this law provides alternative family-centric provisions to incarcerated juveniles. The focus is on rehabilitation.
- adjusting property theft thresholds for inflation:
- Why it matters: Theft punishment ranges are determined by property value. The problem was the difference in being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony had not been adjusted since 1993. A $30 item in 1993 would have been a class C misdemeanor. That same item in 2015, would be $50, or a class B misdemeanor.
- expunctions for lesser offenses: Note: this bill was vetoed by the governor.
- Why it matters: If you were arrested for example, for DWI and plead guilty to obstruction of a highway, you can now have the DWI expunged or erased.
- reduction of state jail felony to class A misdemeanor: Note: this bill was vetoed by the governor.
- Why it matter: Under this law if you plead guilty to a state jail felony, receive community supervision and meet additional requirements you can motion the court to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor. If the judge grants the motion you will no longer have a felony conviction.
- decriminalizing truancy:
- Why it matters: Failure to Attend School (FTAS) or “truancy” was a class C misdemeanor. The focus will now shift toward truancy prevention as opposed to writing kids a bunch of tickets.
What could have been (denied or stalled):
- the good samaritan bill that would have protected people from prosecution if they call 911 to report a drug overdose;
- low risk prisoners given the alternative of home confinement as opposed to prison;
- Decriminalizing Marijuana;
- Treating 17 year olds as juveniles rather than adults;
- The “ban-the-box” bill that would have prohibited state agencies from asking about one’s criminal history on a job application;
- Asset Forfeiture upon certain arrests.