This section focuses specifically on the criminal justice system in the state of Texas and the United States as a whole.This takes us through several steps in the governing process. The entire criminal justice system involves all three branches of government.
What is Criminal Justice?Wikipedia: Criminal JusticeSourcebook of CJ StatisticsNational CJ Reference ServiceWhat is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is the application or study of laws regarding criminal behavior.
Criminal law falls under the reserved powers mentioned in the 10th amendment – the police powers of the state.The national government has used the commerce clause to justify expanding into criminal law. Crime over state borders does have an impact on interstate commerce.
Recall that the U.S. Constitution contains no delegated power to deal with crimes.
Useful sites related to federal criminal law: LII: USC: Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal ProcedureDOJ: Federal Criminal LawWikipedia: Federal Crime in the United StatesSyllabus Law 735: Federal Criminal Law
Discussion: Are there too many federal laws? - As Criminal Laws Proliferate, More Are Ensnared- You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal
The national government has a criminal justice system, but the bulk of our attention will be on that of Texas.
Activities within the scope of criminal justice: Law creationLaw EnforcementProsecutionTrialsAppealsPunishmentParole
There are two general categories of criminal law:MisdemeanorsFelonies
“A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by less than 12 months in jail. Community service, probation, fines, and imprisonment for less than a year are commonly issued punishments for misdemeanors. More grievous crimes, felonies, carry stiffer penalties, including jail time of more than 12 months.”
MISDEMEANORSClass A up to 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine up to $4,000Class B up to 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine up to $2,000Class C fine not to exceed $500
A felony is a “serious crime punishable by more than a year in prison or by death. At English common law, a felony was any crime punishable by forfeiture of land or goods to the Crown.”
FELONIESCapital death by lethal injection or life imprisonmentFirst Degree 5-99 year or life in prison; may also be fined up to $10,000Second Degree 2-20 years in prison; may also be fined up to $10,000Third Degree 2-10 years in prison; may also be fined up to $10,000State Jail (Fourth Degree) 180 days to 2 years in state jail, may also be fined up to $10,000; or court may impose Class A misdemeanor punishment
“Crime is behavior, either by act or omission, defined by statutory or common law as deserving of punishment.”ok . . . so what makes something deserving of punishment?
Click here for a list of criminal classifications in Texas.Here is a more comprehensive list.
Statutes passed by the state legislatureProvisions of the Texas ConstitutionCommon Law
Every time the Texas Legislature meets it passes a variety of new statutes which make new things illegal to do. These come into effect – generally – September 1st following the end of the session.
Here are reports about the most recent laws passed in the 82nd session: Criminal Law BlogKXII.comTexas District and County AttorneysGrits for Breakfast
Public opinion on certain things can change. Marijuana use for example. But change in public opinion does not necessarily lead to changes in public policy.
From 2009, a list of 2,436 total felonies – also ranked according to severity. Grits for Breakfast comments on the exploding number of felonies in Texas. Discussion: Do we make too many things illegal? What pressures does this place on the state? Are there other ways to address public problems?
All Texas laws are contained in Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes.Click here for (what seems to be) a comprehensive set of links to Texas Codes and laws.
More discussion: What factors make some things illegal and other things not? Do law enforcement agencies promote expanded criminal law? Does this allow additional means to control the general population.
One problematic issue: It can take awhile for people to realize that laws have changed for certain activities.Laws must be promulgated in order for them to be effective – there has to be some announcement that something has been made illegal.
Laws that are passed by cities are called ordinances.Code of Ordinances - Houston
Cities can also pass ordinances which do the same thingRecent local example: Is giving food away a crime in Houston?And is Houston going to change its chicken laws?
So with very few exceptions, the decision about what people can and cannot do comes own to decisions made in the legislative branch, and this is often as a consequence of efforts to criminalize certain activities.
It is up to the executive branch to enforce the laws. Investigation and prosecution.
The law enforcement system in the state is highly decentralized. While state institutions exist – notably The Texas Department of Public Safety – these share power with 254 sheriff’s department in each of the counties in the state, and the police departments in each of the over 1,200 incorporated municipalities.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that Texas law enforcement exists within the larger frame of law enforcement in the nation as a whole.
The DPS consists “of the director's staff and three major divisions: Criminal Law Enforcement, Traffic Law Enforcement, and Administration.” Texas Tribune Topic: Steve McGraw
The DPS is overseen by a five person board – the Public Safety Commission - appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate for six year, staggered terms.
The Texas Rangers (Wikipedia, TSHA) are also a division within the DPS. The division dates back to 1823, so it considerably older than DPS – and Texas itself.
Texas laws are also enforced by sheriffs. The Texas Constitution establishes that each county is to have an elected sheriff who is to serve for four years.
“By statutes, the Sheriff is a Texas peace officer, a conservator of the peace, enforces the criminal laws of the State, and is responsible for the county jail, bail bonds, civil process, and security of the courts. In some small counties the Sheriff is also the tax collector.“ – S.A.T. website.
Brazoria County Sheriff’s OfficeHarris County Sheriff’s OfficeSheriff’s Association of Texas
County law enforcement is also augmented by constables. Each county can have from one to eight and they are elected to serve in a precinct within the county.Brazoria County ConstablesHarris County Constables
Constitutional authorization comes from Article 5 – Section 15 of the Texas Constitution.
Cities also have their own law enforcement mechanisms – police forces.Its worth noting that professional policing only began in the late 1820s. Police forces had a history of sources of patronage.
Remember that the activities of the police are limited by the various elements that we know collectively as the “due process of the law.” Parts of the U.S. and Texas Bills of Rights are intended to limit the discretionary activities of the police. Actions are not to be motivated by racial or ethic bias, but by probably cause.
Important parts of each Constitution: U.S. Constitution 4th Amendment, which is applied to state and local forces through the 14th Amendment; Texas Constitution, Section 9.
Criminal investigations begin with police forces. Once evidence of criminal activity is found, further investigations and prosecution is handed over to the lawyers. Their activities are also contained by due process requirements in both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.
In Posse Comitatus: the power of a law enforcement officer to conscript able bodied makles to assist in a duty.
In Posse Comitatus Act: and 1878 federal law stating local governments could not conscript federal military forces to enforce the laws of the land – only the national government can do that.