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Lawmakers pushing to reduce criminal sentences in Texas

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The Texas prison system is often overloaded with inmates, a bursting at the seam that repeatedly causes Texas taxpayers millions per year. On top of this, many of the inmates reside in the state facilities for what some might consider petty crimes. Texas lawmakers are now reacting to this potentially unnecessary form of sentencing in a manner that might encourage the world of criminal defense.

Organizations, such as the American Bar Association and the Civil Liberties Union, as well as some Texas lawmakers are proposing to reduce certain prison sentences associated with more minor crimes. For example, one Texas law maker has introduced a bill which would reduce the potential sentence for minor marijuana possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. A class C misdemeanor does not involve the possibility of jail time.

This proposal not only potentially saves taxpayers thousands due to less inmate attendance in the prison, but it also reduces attorney costs paid by taxpayers. According to law, indigent defendants facing a jail sentence are entitled to an attorney whether or not they can afford it. Thus, taxpayers in the state of Texas are often asked to provide for such representation. In 2012 alone, such representation cost citizens of the state of Texas over $200 million. The reduction of certain minor crimes to lessor offenses might mean lower instances of state funded representation to defendants.

Not all lawmakers agree with this line of reasoning. Some believe that crime sentences are not harsh enough at this point. The last time the Texas penal code has been analyzed was about 20 years ago. Thus, upon whatever side of the coin one may come down, a hard look at the Texas criminal code is certainly in order.

Source: Star telegram, "Bills aimed at lowering criminal penalties," Mitch Mitchell, Feb. 11, 2013.

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