The Texas Legal System

The Flaws of the Texas Judicial System

The district attorney, county attorney, sheriff, and judges all have to be chosen by the general public to their respective offices in Texas' apparently democratic legal system. Despite its recent decline in popularity in other states outside of the south, Texas has maintained its partisan election system, whose roots can be linked to the ideas of Jacksonian Democracy.

The Challenge of Ensuring Fairness and Justice

The Texas judicial system has a difficult goal to accomplish: ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally and that justice is done. The system's social and political structure is primarily to blame for the challenge. Over time, the candidates seeking to be elected into the various positions have utilized the "get tough on crime pledge" as the chief campaign promise. Besides that, those elected have sought re-election based on their scorecard regarding the implementation of that pledge. Therefore, the belief by the officials that they are duty-bound to fulfill the "get tough on crime" pledge drives a prosecutor, for example, to pursue the prosecution of criminal defendants with a win-at-all costs goal. From the case, it is clear that Michael was not given a fair hearing by the court since the court did not consider the evidence given by Eric. The judgement did not give enough time for the suspect to present evidence that could prove innocence. Later, when the post conviction investigation took place, it was evident beyond reasonable doubt that the murderer of Michael's wife was not Michael himself since there were traces of hair that matched another man. The legal system should come up with a way of reducing the number of misjudgment cases so that the number of people who go to prison for crimes they haven't committed reduces. A good example of such measures is allowing enough time for a trial by giving the accused people present enough evidence.

The Failure of the System to Achieve Fairness and Equality

The results of such an approach have been the failure of the system to achieve its objectives of fairness, equality, and justice as revealed by the worrying statistics in the state. There is a significant number of inmates who are innocent of the crimes for which they were arrested, prosecuted and convicted. For instance, Michael Morton was prosecuted and convicted of his wife's murder, serving nearly twenty five years in prison, while the actual murderer was another man. (Michael Morton Homicide) Figures show that perhaps as much as ten percent of the Texas prison population was convicted of felony crimes they did not commit, thus demonstrating the failure of the system to achieve justice. In addition to that, the "get tough on crime" agenda has realistically meant the rigorous law enforcement and prosecution of racial minorities, thereby further falling short of achieving the objectives of fairness and equality.

The One-Sided Approach and Injustice to the Defendant

This kind of approach is therefore obviously one-sided since justice for the defendant is often given little or no consideration. To be seen to fulfill the pledge of "getting tough on crime" the judicial officials have aimed to achieve as many convictions as possible with little care given to the quality of those convictions. The legal threshold of proving beyond reasonable doubt is disregarded, often resulting in the injustice to the defendant. In Michael Morton's case, possibly exonerating evidence such as the witness account of Morton's son, Eric Morton, as well as police records indicating the recovery of Christine Morton's missing credit card in San Antonio, were not availed to the defense or adduced in court. (Michael Morton Homicide) Michael Morton suffered the injustice of having to spend twenty five years in jail while there was evidence of his innocence. What a tragedy!

The Need for Alternative Selection Methods

The shortcomings of the current elective legal system warrant an interrogation and evaluation of alternatives that could be used instead of electing district and county attorneys and judges. According to Champagne, so many methods of judicial selection exist that hardly any two states have identical systems. Other options for the selection include appointments and commission selection. (Champagne) Judicial appointments are anchored on the principle of judicial independence, whereby the legal system is separated from the elective process. The commission selection, on the other hand, checks the powers of the appointing authority, the governor for example, as well as reflecting a compromise between the goal of selection of judges by the public (who are represented in the commission) and independence from the voting process. (Champagne)

The Role of Personal Attributes in Ensuring Honesty and Integrity

The desire to address the shortcomings of the existing system fuels the belief that perhaps a change in the legal system framework and method of official selection would assist in ensuring honesty and integrity. However, even if the state of Texas were to adopt an alternative method by a constitutional amendment, that alone would not guarantee that the prosecutorial and judicial officials would be honest and do their work with integrity. Honesty and integrity are personal attributes of character. Therefore, their manifestation is not dependent on a pre-designed system but rather on an individual's recognition and choice to abide by such honorable virtues. Besides, these are principles enshrined in law, and therefore a prosecutorial or judicial official's departure from them is not a consequence of the system in use but rather is criminal and a violation of the law, regardless of the system in use. In Michael Morton's case, (1986/87) Ken Anderson, the prosecuting officer then, was charged with criminal contempt as he had violated criminal laws by concealing evidence and was subsequently convicted, sentenced to jail and had to surrender his law license. (Michael Morton Homicide)

The Problem of Dishonesty and Lack of Integrity

The goals and achievements within a system, as well as the means of getting those achievements as per the mechanisms the system uses, may encourage an elaboration of vices such as dishonesty and lack of integrity. That notwithstanding, it is evident that the problem is one of human nature which is inevitable regardless of the legal system used in Texas. Some prosecutors, judges and some law enforcement officers will be dishonest and will not provide all Texans with fair and just treatment not because of the system but due to their individual biases and bad character.

The Importance of Evaluating Character for Honesty and Integrity

The only guarantee to honesty and integrity, therefore, is a careful interrogation and evaluation of a candidate's character, regardless of whether his candidature is for election or appointment. The achievement of this objective could be aided by the provision of sufficient information regarding the eligible individuals either to the electorate in the case of elections or the appointing authority in the case of appointments.

The Importance of Preventing Repeat Crimes

The court system should ensure that criminals who commit inhuman crimes such as murder do not get the chance to do it again. The number of murders increases from time to time simply because the same criminals who commit the crimes do not go to prison for their crimes. In return, other people who are suspected of committing the crimes get arrested and convicted. From Michael's case, the real killer of his wife was Mark Norwood. It is evident that the murderer did not serve a jail term and he continued committing some crimes. After Christine's death, Debra Baker was also murdered in similar circumstances in her bed by Norwood. If Michael had not gone to prison, there is a possibility that the murder of Debra could have been prevented. Additionally, it's inhuman for an innocent person to be in prison due to the mental and emotional torture caused to a person due to the clean conscience of being innocent. The illustration of this is put forward by the account of Michael after being released from Prison. He says that he went from one place to another eating the foods he had never seen for 25 years. The injustice was unfair for him.

The Need for Reforms and Improvement

In conclusion, the court system in Texas needs reforms to change the approach given to different cases. Michael's case is just an example of the diversity of unfair judgment in the courts in Texas. DNA database systems need to be updated so that there is sufficient evidence for cases that are hard to determine. Judges should be competent in their pursuit of better verdicts and reduce the instances of making assumptions just because there is insufficient evidence for or against suspects. A good account of psychology can help the judges and attorneys in making sound and fair judgments.

Works Cited

Champagne, Anthony. “Selection and Retention of Judges in Texas.” Southwest Law Journal (n.d.).

Michael Morton Homicide. Texas. 1986/1987.

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