Crime & Justice

Courts, trials and crime coverage for Austin and the Central Texas region.

Inmates chat inside a cell block at the Harris County Jail.
Caleb Bryant Miller for The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott’s order restricting the release of some Texas jail inmates during the coronavirus pandemic is being challenged in federal court. Civil rights attorneys filed a court motion Wednesday arguing the order unconstitutionally discriminates against poor defendants and also takes away judges' power to make individual release decisions.

Lisa Thurau, CEO of Strategies for Youth, leads a game called Juvenile Justice Jeopardy at the Boys and Girls Club in North Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

At what age can you be charged with a crime in Texas? 

The question appears on a screen in front of a group of teenagers at the Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Austin on a recent Tuesday. Half the room is deliberating as a timer slowly ticks down.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Operators field roughly a million calls for emergency services in Austin a year.

A new city report says those operators do a serviceable job of answering that glut of calls, but found a disconnect between those calls and the delivery of crucial services.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Low-level drug possession arrests are ineffective and harmful to people who need community-based help, rather than jail time, a new report concludes.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Marijuana is in a hazy spot in Texas, legally speaking.

Training at SAFE Alliance in Austin shows police detectives how nurses administer forensic evidence exams for sexual assault survivors.
Julia Reihs / KUT

A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit alleging the Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney’s Office mishandled eight women’s sexual assault cases.

The Travis County Courthouse
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

People arrested for misdemeanors in Travis County will no longer have to pay cash to be released from jail, under an order released Thursday by county judges.

Razor wire on a fence
Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

Gary Ryan was less than three months away from getting out of prison — and his family was doing everything right.

His brother-in-law lined up a job for him at his company. His nephew Corey Anderson planned to give him his old truck. Anderson also fixed up a house on a family property where his uncle could live.

Walmart employees look at a memorial outside the El Paso store, where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting in August.
Stella M. Chávez / KUT

EL PASO — The man accused of killing 22 people during a mass shooting at a Walmart store in the border city last summer has been charged with nearly 100 federal crimes, John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, announced Thursday.

NPR

In the early morning of June 12, 2017, a group of eight Central American migrants decided to go on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the immigration detention center where they were being held in California.

The Travis County Courthouse in Austin
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County has hired a University of Virginia law professor as the first person to lead its public defender office. Until last year, the county was the largest jurisdiction in the United States without an office to handle cases for poor adults accused of crimes.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

More than a dozen Dallas police officers have been disciplined for making offensive statements on social media, including posts that were bigoted or made light of police violence.

A member of the church security team fires at a target at a shooting range in Krugerville.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

KRUGERVILLE — Liberty Hill resident T.J. Wagner yelled commands at his friend James Johnson in an empty classroom at a building in North Texas earlier this month: “Face the wall! Feet apart! Hands behind your back!”

Within seconds, Wagner handcuffed Johnson, leading him out of the room with one hand gripping the metal cuffs and the other squeezing his right bicep to guide him out. Then, the two switched places and it was Johnson’s turn to detain his buddy.

Former Baylor University President Ken Starr at The Texas Tribune Festival.
Bob Daemmrich / The Texas Tribune

Disgraced former Baylor University President Kenneth Starr, best known for his role investigating Bill Clinton, has been added to the Trump legal defense team for the impeachment trial, according to media reports.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Travis County is re-examining its system of fines and fees with the goal of producing a more equitable system to better collect court debt and consider the impact on poor defendants.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shakes hands with Jack Wilson, who was awarded the Governor's Medal of Courage after shooting a gunman at the West Freeway Church in White Settlement last month.
Governor's Office

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday gave Texas' highest civilian honor to a 71-year-old man who shot and killed an armed attacker at a church in December.

Marijuana and a pipe on a Texas flag
KUT

As Texas law enforcement grapples with how to determine if something is marijuana after lawmakers legalized hemp last year, one city’s officials are putting forward their own solution: effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot altogether.

Austin police officers huddle during a briefing before the start of the ACL festival in 2019.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin police officers will start attending more mandatory classes on mental health this month after audits found problems with how officers react to people experiencing mental health crises.

Gov. Greg Abbott, seen here at a press conference last year, says there will be an exponential increase in the number of people who test positive for COVID-19.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Twice last year, Gov. Greg Abbott drew ire from Austin city officials when he suggested that crimes were the result of the city's new approach to homelessness, in which it has relaxed ordinances prohibiting camping or otherwise posting up in public spaces.

Hemp plants grown and researched in campus greenhouses.
Stephen Ward / Oregon State University

It’s been more than six months since Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and unintentionally disrupted marijuana prosecution across the state.

A protester holds a sign that says "Stop All Executions Now!"
Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas led the U.S. in the number of executions in 2019, carrying out nine of the 22 that occurred nationwide. A new report reveals Texas is more on par with national trends, however, when it comes to the use of the death penalty.

Julia Reihs / KUT

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a ruling that found a ban against camping in public in Boise, Idaho, is unconstitutional. 

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo
Austin Price / The Texas Tribune

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called out prominent Texas Republicans on Monday for opposing gun restriction legislation to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole" after one of his officers was killed over the weekend responding to a domestic violence call.

Sarah Jasmine for KUT

The Texas agency that investigates judicial misconduct issued a public warning to a justice of the peace in Waco who has refused to perform same-sex marriages while continuing to marry straight couples.

Commentary: Why Support For The Death Penalty Is Higher Among White Americans

Nov 30, 2019
Protesters hold signs proclaiming Rodney Reed's innocence.
Julia Reihs / KUT

Sentencing a person to die is the ultimate punishment. There is no coming back from the permanence of the death penalty.

In the U.S., the death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government, the military and 29 states. The primary rationale for using the death penalty is deterrence.

A memorial made up of 22 aluminum
Courtesy of Walmart

A memorial was unveiled Saturday honoring the 22 people who were killed in the Aug. 3 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

Travis County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 Judge Nick Chu
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas is chasing its tail when it comes to collecting court fees and fines, a new study says. And that inefficiency wastes courts' time and money – and keeps poor defendants in a cycle of poverty.

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Cody Wilson, the self-described anarchist and figurehead of the 3D-printed gun movement, led investigators on an international manhunt last year before being arrested and charged with having sex with a minor. In August, he struck a deal with Travis County prosecutors, pleading guilty to a lesser charge of injury to a child, which is a felony.

Hundreds protest the execution of Rodney Reed
Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas’ top appeals court on Friday halted the scheduled execution of inmate Rodney Reed, whose conviction is being questioned by new evidence that his supporters say raises serious doubt about his guilt.

Defense Distributed had been in a years-long legal battle in federal court in Austin over the legality of publishing the plans online.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

A federal judge in Washington state is overturning a settlement between the federal government and Austin-based Defense Distributed that allowed the company to publish plans for 3D-printable guns online last year. 

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