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Texas Fair Defense Project

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Crime & Law, Legal Services

Mission: Texas fair defense projects mission is to fight for a criminal justice system that respects the rights of low-income texans. We envision a new system of justice that is fair, compassionate, and respectful. Through impact litigation, legislative advocacy, and education, we are working to end counterproductive, costly, and unconstitutional practices like jail time for traffic tickets and our broken money-bail system.

Programs: We fight to make sure that people who are accused of criminal offenses arent stripped of their rights just because they dont have enough money to defend themselves, and that people who are convicted of crimes dont leave the criminal justice system with so much debt that they are unable to successfully reenter society and support themselves and their families. The following systemic impact cases were in litigation in 2017:odonnell et. Al. V. Harris county et. Al. , civil action no. 4:16-cv-01414: tfdp, along with co-counsel civil rights corps and susman godfrey llp, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of miranda odonnell and all those similarly situated individuals detained because of their inability to pay a set money amount to secure their pretrial release from the harris county jail. A similar suit brought by ryan ford and loetha mcgruder and filed by the same counsel was joined to this suit. Defendants include harris county, the harris county sheriff, harris county court at law judges and the harris county criminal court hearing officers. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants have violated and continue to violate the equal protection and due process provisions of the u. S. Constitution by releasing individuals with the wealth to pay a set money amount required by the harris county bond schedule while detaining those without the wealth to pay the fixed money amount and failing to hold individualized hearings on the question of ability to pay. In may 2017, the district court issued an injunction requiring that harris county hearing officers conduct individualized bail hearings within 24 hours of arrest, including the question of ability to pay, and release of people who were held on unaffordable bail after 24 hours. This case was pending at the end of 2017. Hernandez et. Al. V. City of houston, civil action no. 4:16-cv-03577: tfdp, along with co-counsel civil rights corps and kirkland and ellis llp, filed this class action lawsuit on behalf of juan hernandez, dequan kirkwood, manuel trevino, kent wheatfall and all those similarly situated individuals who had been jailed by the city of houston for longer than constitutionally permitted without being provided a probable cause hearing. Plaintiffs alleged that the city of houston has a policy and practice of jailing people for longer than forty-eight hours without providing their constitutionally required probable cause hearing. The case was pending at the end of 2017. Lomas et al. Vs. Harris county, texas, civil action no. 4:16-cv-03745: tfdp, along with co-counsel civil rights corps, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of lucas lomas, carlos ealgin, and all those similarly situated individuals at risk of being detained longer than constitutionally permissible without an adequate probable cause determinations. Plaintiffs alleged that harris county fails to use sworn statements from peace officers for the purposes of determining probable cause at probable cause determinations, as required by constitutional law, and instead relies solely on unsworn statements. The case settled in 2017. In addition to the above-listed actions, tfdp provided direct representation in over 100 individual cases resolving class c and related debt and held walk-in legal clinics serving over 100 people. Texas fair defense project also advocated in the texas legislature and in local municipalities to help alleviate the financial burdens on poor people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. For example, our attorneys helped pass legislation that created alternatives for people who cannot afford their tickets and related debt to discharge the debt through community service and other means.

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