By Matt Clarke

The Texas legislature has erected such a hodgepodge of criminal court fees that even the court administrators and clerks don’t know how to apply them. These fees, which are frequently not used for their intended purposes, amount to a hidden tax on the poorest members of society ensnared in Texas’ criminal justice system.

“Sometimes, I can’t even tell my client what the bill is for,” said Austin defense attorney David Gonzales.

He is not alone. The Texas Office of Court Administration (TOCA) receives “hundreds of calls from court officials about how to assess and prioritize fines, fees and surcharges in criminal cases,” according to a report the agency published in 2009. “The sprawling number of state and local fees and court costs that state law prescribes as a result of a criminal conviction amounts to a nearly incomprehensible package.”

The fee system is so complex that people convicted of identical crimes might be charged vastly different fees, possibly violating the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment under the law.

Nor is it always possible to determine how a particular fee is actually used; typical legislative practice includes the raiding of fee accounts to balance the budget or fund pet projects. Some fees, such as the $50 clerk’s fee and $25 prosecutor’s fee, go straight into a county’s general fund where they can be used to pay for any budget item, court-related or not.

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By: Jon & Michael Flinner

Prisoners are fated to spend their days in earthly purgatory, exiled from society by their own actions in most cases. It can be said that the population behind the walls and fences of the nation’s correctional facilities represent significant destructive forces, and through individual “deeds”, lives and property have been destroyed and or lost.

At the same time in the greater world, there’s an existential crisis looming for more than 100,000 Americans. These people live on “borrowed time”, clinging to life in the face of unspeakable pain and horror, simply waiting for the gift of a life-saving organ transplant.

The government has an absolute duty to protect its citizenry. After all, that’s the rationale for the imprisonment of so many, well…that and the concept of repayment of societal debt, rehabilitation, restitution, and punishment for transgression. The word “penitentiary” says it all — a place to learn penitence. Right?

Why then if the government protects its citizens and the objective of imprisonment is to shape positive outcomes in the prisoner, that with a population exceeding 2.3 million incarcerated, that those in the free world awaiting organ and tissue transplants are deprived willing donors?

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