Texas County District Attorney Stirs Things Up with Progressive Criminal Justice Reform

YES Jose Garza

From Esha Kher

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Travis District Attorney José Garza announced the establishment of a Murder and Serious Crime Division and an updated set of principles for conviction in a letter outlining his office’s progress in reshaping the criminal justice system in the first 100 days will be highlighted in the office.

The Murder and Serious Crime Division will be operational through July 1, 2021 and will give priority to prosecuting violent crimes.

“This department will be staffed by experienced prosecutors who are legal experts, have forensic knowledge, have previously handled complex cases and can be in regular contact with” murder and detectives “,” said Garza.

The Office also published a set of new condemnation principles and recommendations that prosecutors should use when considering offers and plea agreements that take into account the impact of victims and the prevention of future violence.

“Taken together, these principles will prioritize the safety of our community and ensure that we put the victims first, address the root causes of crime and focus on preventing future violence against our community,” said Garza.

The first principle emphasizes the consideration of the dignity and respect of victims when condemning recommendations.

“We will consider what is likely to cause the least harm or trauma to the victim,” said Garza. “And discuss with victims steps that can be taken to make sure they are feeling safe or recoverable, inside or outside the criminal justice system. “

The second principle of conviction states that when a person first commits a crime or while a person is on parole, “Addiction and mental illness and the resulting offenses should not justify imprisonment, unless it is a person poses a threat to our community, ”said Garza.

The third principle that prosecutors should include in their judgment recommendations is that a diversion should be offered whenever possible. And even if distraction is not possible, community supervision should be offered.

The last principle emphasizes that imprisonment should be the last resort under all circumstances.

“It is used when all other interventions and rehabilitation measures have failed or prove inadequate to protect our community from the threat of violence,” added Garza.

The letter not only describes the work the office will be working on in the future, but also informs the public of its progress to date.

On March 1, the office introduced bail to ensure that no one is in jail simply because they cannot bail.

“Our policies prioritize the security of our community, and our prosecutors have worked hard to reassess open cases against this community security framework rather than a prosperity-based system,” said Garza.

In addition, the office is revising many of the current guidelines and admissions procedures for Victim Witness Counselors to ensure victims are heard from the start.

The office also wants to expand the authority to redirect to keep the community safe by providing treatment, advice and resources to those in need.

“In the first 100 days, the office examined more than 1200 cases and accepted more than half of those cases for diversion,” said Garza.

Reducing the prison population to those who endanger public safety rather than those who cannot afford bail has been a priority for the office.

“Before the pandemic, around 2,200 people lived in prison. On January 1, when District Attorney Garza and I took office, the prison population was about 1,800 and now the population is below 1,500, ”the letter said.

Prosecuting violent crimes was a high priority for the office.

“Since January we have filed over 300 violent crime charges, including murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, serious assault and violent crimes against children,” the letter said.

Making police accountable and bringing cases of overuse by officials to a grand jury so the public can decide whether their actions were deemed criminal conduct was something the office worked on for the first 100 days.

“A Travis County grand jury has brought charges against five current and former law enforcement officers for causing injuries or deaths to another while he was on duty since he took office,” Garza said.

After summarizing what the office has accomplished in the first 100 days, Garza pledges to meet the needs and aspirations of the community.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Garza at the end of the update. “But I am confident that together we will continue to make changes that will make our community safer and restore confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Esha Kher is a student at UC Davis studying political science and computer science in hopes of pursuing a career in corporate law. She is enthusiastic about legal journalism and political advocacy, which creates new perspectives and stimulates the public to talk.

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