2017 Conference

2017 Conference: Misdemeanor Defendants and the 85th Legislative Session

Friday, January 27, 2017
8:30 am–1:45 pm
The University of Texas School of Law
Eidman Courtroom

Register to attend by January 23, 2017: https://goo.gl/forms/rfiHaSx34wOc1mjK2

Join the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/229658577487228/

Registration & Light Breakfast (8:30-9:00 am)
 Welcome & Framing Remarks (9:00-9:15 am)
  • Jacob Porter, Texas Law class of 2017, Editor in Chief, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights
Panel 1: “Starting on the wrong foot: Arrests, pretext stops, and the Legacy of Sandra Bland” (9:15-10:30 am)
This panel will discuss the preliminary interactions with police that lead to arrest, detention, misdemeanor charges and convictions. A primary focus will be on the procedures for stops, searches, and arrests. Several bills addressing these procedures are expected to be considered this year by the Texas Legislature, prompted by concerns raised in the wake of the death of motorist Sandra Bland. This panel will review the facts and circumstances of Sandra Bland’s stop and arrest and discuss the reforms related to her case, including proposals to end pretext stops and regulate consensual searches. This panel will focus on racial disparities in the treatment of motorists and how possible reforms could mitigate racial profiling during traffic stops.
  • Ashton Woods, Black Lives Matter
  • Garnet Coleman, Texas House of Representatives (District 147)
  • Scott Henson, Creator of the blog “Grits for Breakfast” and the organization Just Liberty
  • Brian Manley, Interim Chief , Austin Police Department
  • Moderator: Graham Strong, Professor at Texas Law
Panel 2: “Pretrial Reform” (10:40-11:55 am)
Between arrest and the resolution of a criminal case, weeks or months often pass. One crucial question judges must answer at the beginning of this process is whether to release a person during the pretrial period and on what conditions. For the defendant the outcome of this decision often impacts both the outcome of the criminal case itself and the defendant’s personal life, including whether he or she is able to maintain a job, housing and personal relationships. This panel will discuss the current process used in most of Texas of requiring a monetary payment to secure pretrial release. The panel will explore the impacts of the current system on low-income people and whether the system is discriminatory. The panel will also discuss the use of risk assessment tools and alternative methods for determining who to release pretrial other than ability to pay bail. This discussion relates to a bill that is likely to be considered by the Texas Legislature that will require Texas judges to consider an individual’s “risk” of flight and to the community in setting conditions for pretrial release.
  • Sandra Guerra Thompson, Professor at University of Houston Law
  • Rob Kepple, Professor at Texas LawExecutive Director, Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA)
  • Rebecca Bernhardt, Executive Director, Texas Fair Defense Project
  • The Honorable Mark Lane, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
  • Moderator: Susan Klein, Professor at Texas Law
Lunch & Panel 3: “Debtors’ Prison” (12:00-1:45 pm)
This panel will discuss the Debtor’s Prison phenomenon, which is imprisonment of individuals for failure to pay fines, even if financially unable to do so. It is inspired by the article in the forthcoming issue of the American Criminal Law Journal by Christopher D. Hampson. A common practice in Texas and other states currently allows for imprisonment for failure to pay class C misdemeanor fines, even though class C misdemeanors themselves are not grounds for imprisonment. This panel will focus on the issues debtor’s prison creates. One issue is inefficiency, as there there are cheaper alternatives. Another is the disparate effect debtor’s prisoners have on indigent defendants. Additionally, it will discuss how the debtor’s prison phenomenon arguably violates the federal and Texas constitutions. For example, the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution forbids excessive fines, and the 6th Amendment gives individuals a right to counsel, but indigents are rarely represented during the financial ability hearings that lead to incarceration. This panel will conclude with an exploration of possible solutions to these issues.
  • The Honorable Edward Spillane III, College Station Municipal Court
  • James White, Texas House of Representatives (District 19)
  • Christopher D. Hampson, Author of forthcoming piece in the American Journal of Criminal Law on Debtors’ Prisons
  • Trisha Trigilio, ACLU of Texas
  • Moderator: Andrea Marsh, Professor at Texas Law
Closing Statements
  • Rebecca Bernhardt, Executive Director, Texas Fair Defense Project

Co-sponsored with the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, American Journal on Criminal Law, and the Texas Fair Defense Project.

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