Pretrial & Defense

Data: Some Indigent Defendants in Capital Cases Received Few If Any Visits from Appointed Attorneys in Harris County

Screengrab of press release PDF

The Texas Center for Justice and Equity recently released a policy brief spotlighting inadequate legal representation for people with the most severe charges in Harris County. “Absentee Advocacy: Failures in Harris County’s Capital Representation System” explores the landscape of indigent defense in capital cases in the county, highlights findings from an analysis of jail visitation logs and court filings, and proposes an actionable solution for county decisionmakers.

Appointed attorneys are ‘doing less than the bare minimum’ for capital murder defendants in Harris County, report says

A man takes part in a therapy session in an acute unit of the mental heath unit at the Harris County jail, photo via Houston Public Media/AP Photo/Eric Gay

Over the five-year time period, 12 people were convicted after never being visited by their attorney, according to the report. Additionally, 56 people — less than 10% of cases — were visited by an attorney more than once per month. “It speaks to the nature of our system,” said Jay Jenkins, the Harris County project attorney for the TCJE. “We arrest so many people that cannot afford their attorney and then provide inadequate representation for them.”

Why Many Democrats Are Turning Against One of the Most Powerful Prosecutors in Texas

Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg and her challenger for the Democratic primary, Sean Teare, in Houston on January 30, 2024. Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via Getty

At the Fountain of Praise, a Black church in southwest Houston, senior pastor Remus Wright was preaching to his congregation about the importance of protecting their dreams. In the crowded sanctuary that Sunday morning sat several political candidates with dreams of their own: among them was Sean Teare, a former assistant district attorney who is now the front-runner in a race to unseat his former boss, Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg, in the Democratic primary. 

Artists Respond to Conditions in Harris County Jail and Mass Incarceration in the US

Art piece drawing attention to conditions in Harris County Jail, showing a set of windows with many in red. Text reading, Each window in red represents a life lost in Harris County Jail custody in 2022. A majority of people here have not been convicted of a crime: they simply cannot afford bail. Some are paying with their lives.

In early November, Art at a Time Like This will launch 8x5 Houston, a public intervention with artworks responding to the mass incarceration crisis. Displayed on ten billboards and four mobile billboard trucks throughout the city, the project will run from November 4th to November 30th.

Read the rest of this article from Houston Style Magazine.

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.

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