Pretrial & Defense

Harris County signals support for adding courts, public defenders

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez speaks at a press conference during the Gun Buyback campaign at Alexander Deussen Park on February 18, 2023 in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura for Houston Chronicle

Harris County Commissioners Court this week approved a package of public safety measures to support state legislation to create additional district courts, expand the county's holistic assistance response team program and look at enlarging the public defender's office. The measures are aimed at ongoing efforts to reduce the ongoing backlog in the county's criminal courts system and relieve persistent jail overcrowding.

Texas Senate passes bill to walk back Sandra Bland Act and investigate fewer jail deaths

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who represents part of Tarrant County and much of the area south of the Metroplex, proposed the bill in March. Image via KERA

The Texas Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would eliminate a requirement to investigate all deaths in county jails, making deaths from presumed natural causes exempt. Advocates say if it becomes law, jails could escape accountability for medical neglect. The state has required an outside law enforcement agency to investigate all jail deaths since 2017, with the passage of the Sandra Bland Act.

Bill to Remove ‘Rogue’ DAs Passes Senate

The dome of the rotunda inside the Texas State Capitol | Image by Rudy Mareel/Shutterstock

A bill that would allow for the removal of district attorneys who institute non-prosecution policies has passed the Texas Senate with bipartisan support. Senate Bill 20, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), passed the Senate earlier this month. The proposal passed by a vote of 20 to 11, with Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) voting alongside Republicans.

Webb Co. to discuss pre-trial services, juvenile drug court

The Webb County Commissioners Court meet on Monday, Mar. 27, 2023 to discuss county agenda.  Malena Charur/Laredo Morning Times

Webb County Commissioners Court will meet Tuesday to discuss various issues including the submission of different grants that will benefit pre-trial services and a juvenile drug treatment court program. An item on the agenda establishes discussion and possible action to authorize Pre-Trial Services to submit a 2023-24 multi-year grant application to the Texas Commission on Indigent Defense.

Read the rest of this article from the Laredo Morning Times.

A Matter Of Life And Death

A man with his hand pressed up against glass window. Photo via BRANDON THIBODEAUX FOR HUFFPOST

Obel Cruz-Garcia, a 46-year-old Dominican man who did not speak English, sat in a Houston courtroom on a Friday in July 2013. He faced a jury that would decide whether to sentence him to death for the gruesome killing of 6-year-old Angelo Garcia — a crime he has maintained he did not commit. His life, quite literally, depended on the outcome of the case.

Read the rest of this story from Huffington Post.

Texas bill requiring 10-year prison sentences for gun felonies faces opposition from criminal justice and firearm advocates

Semi-automatic weapons are laid on a table at a gun show in San Marcos in January. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

A Texas bill that would require a 10-year prison sentence for people who use a gun while committing a felony has drawn concern from two groups that aren’t usually on the same side of legislative debates: criminal justice reform advocates and gun rights groups.

Read the rest of this story from the Texas Tribune.

Why Do People Keep Dying in the Harris County Jail?

Incarcerated people are seen in step-down area of the mental heath unit at the Harris County jail. Image via ERIC GAY/AP PHOTO

Like all teenagers, Fred Harris longed for freedom. At 18, he was small: 5 feet tall, 98 pounds. He also acted much younger than his age, which meant other kids bullied him. His mother, Dallas Garcia, told The Appeal and Type Investigations, “[He] didn’t understand, like, just extremely how different he was.”

Read the rest of this story from The Appeal/Type Investigations.

Editorial: Why is Harris County paying private attorneys to do the public defender's job?

Photo via Houston Chronicle: Judge Amy Martin listens to Andre Jackson's defense attorney Jerome Godinich, right, and prosecutor Tiffany Duprie, left, discuss Jackson's case in the Harris County Criminal Courts, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Houston.

It'd be easy to make Jeanie Ortiz the poster child for all that ails the Harris County court system. After all, when you scroll through the indigent defense data for Texas, Ortiz is the only defense attorney in the county who raked in more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars representing low-income defendants last year. 

Editorial: Is 1 indictment in jail death of Jaquaree Simmons justice? Ask his mother.

Larhonda Biggles holds a photo of her son, Jaquaree Simmons. Photo via Houston Chronicle

It’s been almost two years since Jaquaree Simmons died after being found unconscious in the Harris County Jail. Shortly after, 11 employees were fired and another six were suspended without pay. But in the months since, his mother LaRhonda Biggles has waited to see how many of them would face criminal charges in the death of her 23-year-old son.

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