A bill proposed in the Texas State House has the potential to fix a huge inequity in the distribution of justice in Texas and clarify a judge’s power to provide judicial clemency to deserving former offenders. This bill will provide benefits that extend the individuals who will be directly impacted by it.
The bill, HB 1742, was introduced by Rep. Terry Canales and is up for review before the House committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.
How Judicial Clemency Currently Works
Texas law allows a judge to provide judicial clemency by setting aside a criminal conviction after the person completes his or her sentence. This relief restores a former offender’s civil rights and can make it easier for them to find employment or housing. This is a longstanding and important part of Texas law. However, recent circuit court appeals cases have restricted the ability of some judges to provide judicial clemency.
Texas circuit courts have differing interpretations of the law governing set-asides. This split in interpretations has resulted in a serious inequity in the distribution of justice. For instance, a judge in a Dallas District Court is free to provide judicial clemency at any point after a former offender completes his or her sentence. However, a judge in Harris County District Court is restricted by appellate case law, and can only provide judicial clemency within the first 30 days after a former offender completes his or her sentence.
How HB 1742 Would Fix The Current Problems With Judicial Clemency
Canale’s bill would fix this unequal distribution of justice by providing clarity to existing law and making clear that judges can take more than 30 days before deciding whether or not to provide judicial clemency. The benefits are far reaching and the timing could not be better.
Texas’s growing economy requires a capable workforce. Too many qualified and deserving people are being prevented from fully participating in the workforce because they have an old criminal record. The result is an inefficient use of Texas’s greatest resources: its people.
What a Setting Aside a Criminal Record Does
Setting-aside a conviction does not destroy a criminal record like an expungement does. The benefit of a set aside instead comes in the form of the information that is provided to a potential employer or landlord by the court. Much like a pardon, which is an executive level clemency, setting-aside signifies that the court believes the former offender is not deserving of the term “convict.”
For people like Mike R of Houston, receiving judicial clemency for his disorderly conduct misdemeanor , a conviction he received in 2007 when he was 22, will make it easier for him to put his degree in management informations systems to work. Mike graduated in 2012 and has been turned down for more than a dozen jobs, including having job offers rescinded because of this single misdemeanor offense.
Mike is in Harris County, where judges are prevented by case law from providing him relief that he would certainly receive if he were in Dallas County. He has been underemployed for the last four years, working at jobs that do not use his education. Enactment of HB 1742 would make it easier for Mike, who is struggling to make ends meet and pay his student loans, to increase his earning capacity.
Judges should be allowed more than 30 days to make an important decision on whether or not to grant judicial clemency. Allowing judges more time to make such decisions gives them the ability to increase incentives for the former offender to continue their positive progress. Providing them more time to evaluate the evidence and see how the former offender conducts themselves in society will increase the chances that the court makes the right decision.