Friday, February 20, 2015

TX Chief Justice: Decriminalize truancy, fund indigent defense, legal aid

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht this week called on the Legislature to decriminalize truancy and expand state funding for legal aid and indigent defense. The story in the Austin Statesman (Feb. 18) opened:
Speaking to both houses of the Legislature on Wednesday, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht pressed lawmakers to decriminalize school truancy and spend more on legal aid to military veterans.

Hecht also reminded legislators of their duty to ensure that indigent and middle-class Texans are not priced out of access to the courts — whether it be for civil-court remedies, such as restraining orders for victims of domestic abuse, or for legal help for poor defendants facing criminal charges.
His comments on truancy were particularly notable: “When almost 100,000 criminal truancy charges are brought each year against Texas schoolchildren, one has to think that maybe it’s not working. Playing hooky is bad, but is it criminal?” he asked. Reported Chuck Lindell, "A better solution, Hecht said, would be for schools and courts to provide prevention and intervention services designed to get students back in the classroom."

Hecht also, "Called for increased state spending for court-appointed lawyers and public defender offices for indigent defendants accused of a crime, saying the cost has jumped 137 percent since 2001 and is borne mostly by counties." More money, though, isn't the solution to every problem. Grits has suggested the state could reduce indigent defense costs by reducing penalties for low-level nonviolent offenses to fine-only Class C misdemeanors or comparable civil penalties.

Hecht also "Sounded the alarm over partisan judicial elections, saying judges face 'harsh political pressure' that threatens their independence and raises questions about their integrity," though he offered no solutions.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Glad to see that someone is finally addressing the overcriminalization of students with the Truancy BS. The only purpose it serves to be a cash cow for truancy and municipal courts. AND make no mistake, it is a HUGE cash cow.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Chief Justice Nathan Hecht for mentioning the need for more legal aid for our troops especially with the growing number of justice involved veterans here in this state. In addition, any legal aid that helps a veteran and his/her family, reduces one less financial burden to deal with. They are already dealing with enough (long wait times for health care appointments, unemployment, housing, backlash for the legacy funding under the Hazelwood Act, etc.) Now if we can just get more politicians involved....

Anonymous said...

Playing hooky is criminal only because there is no other way to compel school attendance. Non criminal means of persuasion just didn't get parents' and students' attention.

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