“If the remedy is unaffordable, justice is denied.”
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson “held court” in front of a joint session of the state Legislature last week and indicated major changes are needed in the Texas justice system. Namely, he said, justice is currently only afforded to those who can afford it. He also questioned the criminalization of school children and how the state plans to deal with wrongful convictions.
It was his biennial State of the Judiciary speech and he used the time wisely—blasting everything that’s wrong with the current system.
“Do we have liberty and justice for all? Or have we come to accept liberty and justice for only some?” he asked lawmakers. “If the remedy is unaffordable, justice is denied.”
He called on lawmakers to increase legal aid, stating that although they’ve increased funding to the poorest defendants in recent years, it still isn’t enough.
He also called them to task on the criminalization of youth, where 300,000 Class C misdemeanor tickets were doled out in Texas schools last year. These tickets, mostly written for disruptive conduct, are sending our youngest citizens to court and even leaving some of them locked up with a criminal record.
“We must keep our children in school, and out of our courts, to give them the opportunity to follow a path of success, not a path toward prison.”
The High Court’s highest judge said the state needs an Innocent Commission to review cases of possible wrongful convictions. He pointed out that 117 Texans have been exonerated in the past 25 years and the state still doesn’t have a single body equipped with looking into these cases, a shame indeed.
Finally, Jefferson said politics has no place in the judiciary, and changing judges every time someone takes office from a different political party takes office has got to stop. Jefferson is one of nine Republican justices on the nine-member court.
“Addressing these challenges in our justice system requires a fundamental shift in thinking,” said Jefferson. “The courts must, themselves, reform. We need to change the way we do business to better meet the needs of citizens and employers across our state.”
It’s refreshing to see a judge call for progressive reform in so many areas of the justice realm. What lawmakers and criminal justice officials in the state do with these recommendations remains to be seen, but it’s nice to know the judiciary sees the issues for what they are.
If you are charged with a crime, whether it’s a nonviolent drug offense or something more serious, you need to know you have someone on your side when you go before the judge. Under the current laws, you could face serious penalties for even a non-violent offense. Contact us today to discuss your case and the legal options available to you.