Today, Texas trial judges are mere fact finders for the Court of Criminal Appeals in the habeas corpus process. The CCA calls all the shots and their actions are highly limited by statute, mainly to post-conviction reviews, with extremely limited authority to grant relief and a process largely slanted against applicants who are overwhelmingly denied. By contrast, the 1856 Code of Criminal Procedure created by Texas' founding fathers gave Supreme Court judges (criminal wasn't split off until after the Civil War) as well as district judges far more sweeping habeas authority than they enjoy today. Here are some excerpts which will give you a sense:
High court authorityThe authors of Texas' 1856 Code of Criminal Procedure clearly envisioned activist judges operating independently via habeas corpus to provide checks and balances to inevitable state overreach, in the courageous tradition of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice George F. Moore. By comparison, today judges' role in habeas review is largely technocratic save for a small minority of cases at the CCA level. Texas judges in 1856 enjoyed sweeping powers to review and end unjust incarceration which appear breathtaking by comparison with today's puny judicial analogues.
Article 58, 1856 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
The Supreme Court, or either of the Judges thereof, has original jurisdiction to enquire into the cause of the detention of persons imprisoned or detained in custody, and for this purpose may issue the writ of habeas corpus, and upon the return thereof may remand such person to custody, admit to bail, or discharge the person imprisoned or detained, as the law and the nature of the case may require
District Judges could issue writ
Article 60, 1856 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
Each District Judge has power to issue the writ of habeas corpus, and have brought before him any person imprisoned or otherwise illegally detained in custody, in any county, whether within or out of his district, and make such order on the return of the writ as the law and the facts of the case may require, whether the person detained has been indicted or not, under the restrictions herein prescribed.
Construed in favor of defendant
Article 121, 1856 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
Every provision relating to the writ of Habeas Corpus shall be most favorably construed in order to give effect to the remedy, and to protect the rights of the person seeking relief under it.
Duty to grant
Article 122, 1856 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
The Supreme Court, or either of the Judges of the District Courts, or either of the Judges, have power to issue the writ of Habeas Corpus and it is their duty, upon proper application, to grant the writ under the rules herein prescribed.
Judges could initiate process
Article 132, 1856 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
A Judge of the District Court who has knowledge that any person is illegally confined or restrained in his liberty within his district, may issue the writ of Habeas Corpus without any application being made for same.
See related Grits posts on Texas habeas history: