A study conducted by two criminologists at Texas State University has raised questions about the way high-profile crimes are investigated by the police. After reviewing the investigations of 50 crimes that resulted in a wrongful conviction, the research team discovered that detectives often became convinced that a person of interest was the perpetrator and abandoned all other avenues of inquiry. In many of these cases, investigators coerced confessions from suspects and ignored exculpatory evidence.
Jurors in Texas criminal cases tend to believe identifications made by eyewitnesses, especially if the witness is very confident about the identification. However, research indicates that there are still several questions about and potential problems with eyewitness accounts. Witnesses are often asked to identify the perpetrator of a crime by picking him or her out of a live lineup or out of a photo array. The outcome of the identification process is often introduced by the prosecution in a subsequent criminal trial.
The accumulation of fines and fees that emerge from the criminal justice system can be particularly damaging to people living in poverty in Texas. Across the country, multiple state, county and city governments have developed a growing dependence on the proceeds of court fines and citations in order to fund their activities. As a result, impoverished people are disproportionately affected as they are far less able to pay these fines. While the original citation issue can be relatively minor, an inability to pay can escalate the issue rapidly. People may find themselves facing the loss of their driver's license or even jail time as a result of being unable to pay fines.
When Texas residents are accused of a crime, the authorities may seize assets that are suspected to be connected to a crime. While many law enforcement groups have argued that seizing assets, known as civil asset forfeiture, is a crucial tool for law enforcement to stop drug trafficking, a study has found that it actually has little impact on the prevention of crimes.
The criminal justice system in Texas and around the country has been harshly criticized in recent years for its treatment of minorities, and the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey suggest that the vast majority of African-Americans feel these criticisms are justified. Almost 9 out of 10 of the African-Americans polled said that black defendants were treated unfairly by police and prosecutors, but only 61% of the white respondents shared this view.
Many police departments in Texas and around the country use portable breath-testing devices to determine whether or not motorists have consumed alcohol. However, prosecutors do not generally rely on the results of roadside breath tests to establish impairment beyond a reasonable doubt, as the fuel-cell based devices issued to police officers are known to be unreliable in many situations.
People who visit shopping centers and stores throughout Texas may be interested to learn that getting caught shoplifting in one store could result in a ban from shopping at other stores. This is due to the fact that some stores have begun using facial recognition technology to capture digital records of potential shoplifters.
Law enforcement agencies in Texas and around the country have adopted more aggressive tactics in recent decades, which has led to a rapid rise in the number of young people taken into custody each year according to a study from the RAND Corporation. After scrutinizing data gathered over several decades on thousands of American families, researchers from the California-based think tank found that a young person today is 3.6 times more likely to have been placed under arrest than people in their mid-60s. One of the study's authors remarked that the trend revealed the criminalization of an entire generation.
There has been a movement in Texas and throughout the country to reform the way that the justice system treats convicted criminals. On the federal level, the First Step Act may reduce sentences and offer other forms of leniency for nonviolent offenders. These efforts have reduced the incarceration rate in the United States, and it looks like the trend could continue. In 2008, there were roughly 1,000 inmates per 100,000 adults in the country.
The criminal justice system in Texas and across the U.S. is being overrun by misdemeanor cases, according to a book by a former federal public defender. As a result, many people are being denied a proper defense. This is especially true for minority defendants.