Kris Seago
Government/Political Science
Material Type:
Full Course
Academic Lower Division
Austin Community College
  • ACC Liberal Arts
    Creative Commons Attribution
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    The Criminal Justice System in Texas


    The Criminal Justice System in Texas

    Chapter Learning Objective

    By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

    • Explain the purpose, structure, and behavior of the criminal justice system in Texas


    Criminal justice is the delivery of justice to those who have committed crimes. In Texas, the criminal justice system is a series of government agencies and institutions whose goals are to identify and catch unlawful individuals to inflict a form of punishment on them.

    Insider Perspective: Theory Meets Practice

    Inside a courtroom the jury sits along one side, between the judge/ witness stand and the tables for the defense and prosecution
    Figure 12.1 The jury sits along one side, between the judge/ witness stand and the tables for the defense and prosecution. Image credit: Andrew J.Kurbiko C BY-2.0

    Typically a person charged with a serious crime will have a brief hearing before a judge to be informed of the charges against him or her, to be made aware of the right to counsel, and to enter a plea. Other hearings may be held to decide on the admissibility of evidence seized or otherwise obtained by prosecutors.

    If the two sides cannot agree on a plea bargain during this period, the next stage is the selection of a jury. A pool of potential jurors is summoned to the court and screened for impartiality, with the goal of seating twelve (in most states) and one or two alternates. All hear the evidence in the trial; unless an alternate must serve, the original twelve decide whether the evidence overwhelmingly points toward guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In the trial itself, the lawyers for the prosecution and defense make opening arguments, followed by testimony by witnesses for the prosecution (and any cross-examination), and then testimony by witnesses for the defense,  including the defendant if he or she chooses. Additional prosecution   witnesses may be called to rebut testimony by the defense. Finally, both sides make closing arguments. The judge then issues instructions to the jury, including an admonition not to discuss the case with anyone outside the jury room. The jury members leave the courtroom to enter the jury room and begin their deliberations (Figure 12.1).

    The jurors pick a foreman or forewoman to coordinate their deliberations. They may ask to review evidence or to hear transcripts of testimony. They deliberate in secret and their decision must be unanimous; if they are unable to agree on a verdict after extensive deliberation, a mistrial may be declared, which in eect requires the prosecution to try the case all over again.

    A defendant found not guilty of all charges will be immediately released unless other charges are pending (e.g., the defendant is wanted for a crime in  another jurisdiction). If the defendant is found guilty of one or more oenses, the judge will choose an appropriate sentence based on the law and the circumstances; in the federal system, this sentence will typically be based on guidelines that assign point values to various oenses and facts in the case. If the prosecution is pursuing the death penalty, the jury will decide whether the defendant should be subject to capital punishment or life imprisonment.

    The reality of court procedure is much less dramatic and exciting than what is typically portrayed in television shows and movies. Nonetheless, most Americans will participate in the legal system at least once in their lives as a witness, juror, or defendant.

    Have you or any member of your family served on a jury? If so, was the experience a positive one? Did the trial proceed as expected? If you haven’t served on a jury, is it something you look forward to? Why or why not?