TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY

ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTIONNAIRE

Policies Aimed at Reducing Mass Incarceration

Limit the Use of Money Bail

The continued use of unjust cash bail policies contributes to the overall incarceration of poor people and people of color by keeping them incarcerated simply because they are too poor to pay bail.

QUESTION: Will you support SB 1338, legislation designed at reducing reliance on money bail for indigent defendants?

QUESTION:  Will you join D.A. Kimberly Ogg and support litigation aimed at prohibiting money bail for Class A and B misdemeanors?

QUESTION:  Will you mandate the implementation of cite-and-release for minor misdemeanors (including marijuana possession, theft, criminal mischief, and theft of services)?  

QUESTION: Will you establish guidelines for when your office will accept charges if an officer elects to arrest a person, in lieu of issuing cite and release?

QUESTION: Will you agree to waive fees for anyone who cannot pay for associated and mandatory classes? If no, why not?

QUESTION: Will your office commit to taking a default position of release on recognizance for all defendants eligible for release, unless there is a substantial risk to the community or high likelihood of flight, and will you support expansion of pre-trial (cash-free) bonds?
 

Keep People Out of Jail for Drug-Related Offenses

Years of experience with ineffective drug laws and the latest medical research on addiction suggest that treating drug use as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, is a more effective  and humane approach to reducing harm.

QUESTION: Will you support diversion programs for all low-level drug offenses?  

QUESTION: The majority of Texans support the decriminalization of marijuana.  Will you  support legislation to decriminalize and legalize recreational marijuana use?

QUESTION: Will you decline to prosecute marijuana possession or distribution of less than four ounces?  

QUESTION:  If  you elect to prosecute possession of a controlled substance for drugs other than marijuana, will you commit to charging it as a Class C misdemeanor?  

QUESTION: In the absence of sufficient evidence of intent to cause death, will you commit to not charging drug overdose cases as homicides?

 

Adopt Policies to Avoid the Criminalization of Poverty

Local criminal justice systems disproportionately harm people living in poverty. Whether through the imposition of fines and fees as a condition to resolving cases, or through laws that effectively criminalize homelessness, local actors have imposed a poverty penalty on many within the community.

QUESTION: Will you refuse to permit “ability to pay” to play a role in determining eligibility for bail, a plea agreement, the appropriate sentence, or entrance to a diversionary program?  

QUESTION: Will you adopt fee waiver programs for those diversionary programs that currently require fees?

QUESTION: Will you oppose incarceration based upon the failure to pay fines or fees?

QUESTION: Will you establish a strong presumption against prosecuting sit-sleep-lie laws, public urination violations, and other conduct that is a byproduct of homelessness or poverty?

 

Policies Aimed at Reducing Excessive Punishments

Treat Kids Like Kids

Recognizing that children’s brains continue developing until around the age 25 and that research supports their enhanced capacity for rehabilitation, children should not be prosecuted in adult court and they should not be given punishments that preclude the opportunity for redemption.

QUESTION: Will you decline to ask for sentences that are de facto life without parole  for any person under 18 at the time of the offense?

QUESTION: Will you establish a strong presumption against prosecuting school suspension or expulsion cases where there is no use or threat of force resulting in physical harm?

QUESTION: Will you establish a presumption against recommending the transfer of juveniles to adult court, unless required by law?

QUESTION: Will you publicly support changing any and all laws that require children to be prosecuted as adults, including laws that raise the age of adult criminal responsibility?

 

Do Not Seek the Death Penalty

The use of the death penalty has become increasing isolated to  a handful of jurisdictions within the United States. Its use is rapidly decreasing in Texas. There is mounting evidence that the death penalty is fraught with error, provides no additional public safety benefit over other available sentences, and is routinely used against individuals with diminished culpability, including persons with intellectual disabilities and severe mental illness, youthful offenders under the age of 21, and those who have experienced extreme childhood trauma.

QUESTION: In any capital prosecution, will you promise to exercise your discretion to seek sentences other than death?

 

Promote Proportionate Sentencing and Provide Pathways to Second Chances

People are more than their worst acts, and even people who commit the most serious offenses often change their lives profoundly over time. To recognize the worth and potential for growth in all people, it is important for locally elected prosecutors to provide individualized consideration to the character and background of each person and to the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense. It also is critical for elected prosecutors to promote opportunities for release, through parole or clemency, and to help remove barriers to reentering society for those who are released from incarceration.

QUESTION: Will you commit to reducing the percentage of cases where a maximum sentence is sought by prosecutors?

QUESTION: Will you pledge to establish an office policy against increasing or threatening to increase the number or severity of charges in order to secure more favorable plea dispositions or waivers of rights?

QUESTION: Will you publicly oppose any proposed legislation that would create new mandatory minimum sentences or lengthen existing minimum sentences?

QUESTION: Will you pledge to support second chances by both limiting parole opposition and committing to affirmatively advocate for parole on behalf of those who demonstrate growth and maturity during their incarceration?

 

Promote Policies That Aid Undocumented Communities:

QUESTION:  Will you support suits against SB4 legislation? If no, why not?

QUESTION: Will you implement an office-wide policy requiring prosecutors to consider immigration consequences in charging, plea, and sentencing decisions?

QUESTION: Will you decline to require a guilty plea before admission to a diversion program?

 

Policies that Promote Police Accountability

Although charged with serving and protecting, police officers are too often the perpetrators of violence against our communities.  Enhancing transparency and accountability is crucial to promoting trust between the community and law enforcement.  In the wake of flood of police misconduct, especially violence against people of color and children, the district attorney must be committed to rigorously and independently investigating and prosecuting police misconduct.

QUESTION:  Will you commit to the creation of a special prosecution unit to investigate and charge allegations of police misconduct, including police-involved violence and corruption?

QUESTION:  When legally able to do so, will you release of any dash-camera, body-camera, or other audio or video footage related to police-involved misconduct within 24 hours of any charging decision?

QUESTION: Will you decline to utilize testimony from officers known to have committed misconduct in the past including, but not limited to, perjury, making false allegations, or withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense?

 

Policies that Promote Transparency and Accountability to the Community

Enhancing transparency and accountability within the district attorney’s office is critical to ending the win-at-any-cost pursuit of high conviction rates that is failing our communities. Our elected prosecutors must build a culture focused on seeking justice for victims and ensuring that justice is equal. This requires openness to community scrutiny and feedback, paying close attention to racial disparities, and prioritizing the needs of victims and their families.

QUESTION:  Will you maintain and publish regular statistics about prosecutions, including the number of misdemeanor and felony cases filed each month, disposition statistics, pretrial incarceration rates and length of stay by offense category, and average bond for each class of offense, to measure the effectiveness of policies aimed at efficacy and reform?  

QUESTION: And will you include racial information at all steps, committing to publicly report any significant racial disparities at any stage of the process?

QUESTION: Will you build a staff that reflects the diversity of the community the office serves?

QUESTION: Will you commit to regular communication with community members and organizations, including regularly scheduled open sessions and regular meetings with civilian oversight boards to listen to and then address concerns over police-community relationships and allegations of police brutality?

QUESTION:  Will you prioritize the needs of the victims of violence by expanding support of victim/witness service programs and improve communication with victims and family members?

 

Policies that Guard the Community Against Abuse of Power by Officials

Fraud and public corruption undermines public trust in government. There is also the inevitability of inevitable mistakes that have life altering impacts.  It’s crucial that elected prosecutors serve as one of the first lines of defense to protect the less powerful in our society from exploitation, especially when it comes to abuse of power by those in government who are supposed to act in the public interest.

QUESTION: Will you end the process of abusive civil asset forfeiture wherein the county seizes cash or possessions before there has been conviction or instances where there is not even proof of criminal activity?

QUESTION: Will you commit to only use asset forfeiture in criminal cases after obtaining a conviction, and to ensure there is a meaningful opportunity for members of the community to contest seizure when it happens?

QUESTION: Will you support statewide legislation to end the use of civil asset forfeiture?

QUESTION: Will you create mechanisms for a second look at charging decisions, plea bargains and convictions, because mistakes are inevitable and the consequences life-altering?

QUESTION:  Will you create a conviction review unit, complete with an independent panel to review the unit’s findings?  Will you operate that unit transparently and publish regular data summarizing the unit's findings?