Most Texas criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining rather than going to trial. Though many advocate on behalf of plea bargains because courts would be overwhelmed if all cases went to trial, others believe that they often provide defendants with too easy of a way out.
Those who face criminal charges in Texas could potentially avoid spending time in prison even if they are convicted. Because judges have the ability to hand down alternative sentences, defendants may be able to complete their punishments via means like performing community service, serving probation or paying fines. In some cases, judges can decide to impose suspended sentences on those who haven't been convicted of crimes in the past or who face minor misdemeanor charges.
Individuals charged with second degree murder in Texas are innocent until proven guilty, and have rights to trial by jury and assistance of counsel, among others. If the accused individual is found not guilty at trial, the action is concluded. If the individual is found guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing. The law establishes several factors that a judge must consider in sentencing individuals convicted of second-degree murder.
Homicide charges are of course quite serious in Texas and around the country. When a claim of self-defense meets essential criteria, a defendant could have murder or manslaughter charges dropped or be acquitted at trial. The general definitions of self-defense must be satisfied in order for a person to potentially avoid a criminal conviction.
Texas residents are likely aware that parts of laws are sometimes struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. Federal sentencing laws have been widely criticized as unfair and capricious by justice advocates and judges, and a passage in one such law was ruled unconstitutionally vague by the Supreme Court on June 26. The Armed Career Criminal Act was the law in question, and the passage the justices took issue with was a catchall phrase describing the prior offenses that would warrant the law's application.
High-profile murder trials with defendants who invokes insanity defenses may lead some Texas court watchers to believe that such a defense is a common occurrence in criminal cases. In actuality, a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity is asserted in only 1 percent of county court cases, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and when asserted, fails at a far greater rate than it succeeds.
On May 26, the Texas House voted to raise the age at which teens would enter the adult legal system. The provision was part of a bill earlier passed by the Senate that proposes keeping juveniles convicted of minor offenses closer to home rather than in faraway facilities.
Some lawyers are expressing concern for Texas defendants who have had their assets, tainted and untainted, frozen by the government. The case of one defendant from Miami is one prominent example; she was the president of two healthcare companies before she was indicted on charges of defrauding the government in October 2012.
In Texas, voluntary manslaughter charges are quite serious, bringing the potential for very long prison sentences if the charges result in convictions. There are several defenses available to people who are charged with voluntary manslaughter, however.
Texas residents may be interested in a study conducted by researchers in Canada and the United Kingdom that found it was not difficult to give people false memories of committing a crime. The research could have implications for people accused of crimes who are interrogated by the police.