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Fall Newsletter

October 31, 2017

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Happy Fall Y'all!

We are ready to roll out some outstanding educational curriculum. As you can see, we’ve made a big improvement to the look and feel of our newsletter. We hope this will give you an even easier way to access the information that you need, to build connections with other precinct officials, and stay informed with the latest happenings at TJCTC.


We are continuing to add great new people to our staff. Please join me in welcoming Darby Swoboda, the new program administrator for the court personnel program. Darby comes from the hotel world and bring lots of creativity and a fun spirit. Be sure to take the time to meet her when you have the chance.

We are in the final stages of selecting a fourth attorney who will be joining our team and working with the judges and the constables. We are excited to give the constables the legal support they need and deserve and look forward to being able to introduce everyone to that new staff member in the next newsletter.

I am personally so proud of how your jurisdiction has risen up to meet the challenge of the new indigency and mental health laws. Be looking for our courses to help you complete the transition with best practices and input from around the state.

We’re here to serve, so never hesitate to reach out!

Very Truly Yours,

Constable Offices and Justice Courts Take the Lead During Harvey Aftermath

We often say that the Justice Courts are the “People’s Court” and the Constables are the “People’s Police.” Never has that been truer than at the end of this August when Constables, Justices of the Peace, clerks, and deputies were at the forefront of emergency management, search and rescue, and community service during Hurricane Harvey.


During the initial flooding, Constables and Deputy Constables participated in rescues throughout the hurricane affected areas. In Montgomery County, Constable Kenneth Hayden activated a swift water rescue team that “utilized a fleet of high water rescue vehicles, an inflatable rescue boat, a wave runner and an air boat” during high water rescues. The Constable’s office said, “from the time the SWRT was activated until the rescue operation was over, the deputies slept alongside the rescue equipment in cots and sleeping bags, attempting to get a few minutes of rest between rescue operations, many only able to get a few hours of sleep a day.” (Quote from

Stories of heroism during Harvey abounded. Newspapers across the U.S. were filled with photos of Constables and Deputies rescuing the elderly, children, and locals unfortunate enough to be trapped in high water. In Fort Bend County, Deputy Constable Mat Hernandez risked his life to pull 4 people out of a flooding vehicle. Constable Christopher Diaz from Harris County used Facebook to reunite an infant with her mother after they were separated during a rescue. Nueces County Constable Bobby Sherwood stayed in Port Aransas as the hurricane hit to check on the 30 residents who did not evacuate.

Justice courts and Constable offices were also central in managing the response after Hurricane Harvey. People throughout the U.S. donated relief supplies to the Gulf coast area and the logistics of getting those supplies to where they were needed most often fell to officials at the precinct level. According to the Republic, an Indiana newspaper, residents in Bartholomew County Indiana donated money and supplies to Harvey victims. They coordinated with “Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Ray Chesson to aid residents of Fannett, Hamshire, and Winnie, small communities all located southwest of Beaumont.” (Quote from The Republic)

In Brazoria County, Constable Buck Stevens found out that several 18-wheelers were in route with supplies and needed people and facilities to help coordinate the relief effort. Constable Stevens called a meeting of non-profit presidents, community leaders, and faith based clergy to explain a plan to create “strike teams” that would go to homes to help with clean-up and deliver supplies. For 14 days, he helped manage 350 volunteers to “muck-out” homes and to deliver cleaning supplies, baby goods, water, clothes, food and household items.

Gathering up supplies in Brazoria County. Courtesy of Const. Buck Stevens

In the aftermath of the hurricane, support from other Constables and Justices of the Peace came from around the state. The Justices of the Peace and Constables Association reached out to members in the affected counties following the hurricane to check on members’ well-being. Hundreds of miles away from the devastation, Judge David Cobos from Midland County contacted so many people he couldn’t even remember the number. Constables Chad Jordan (Hood County) and Carlos Lopez (Travis County) headed to the coast to assist with clean-up.

Many individuals from the Gulf region were stuck in their homes or evacuation shelters for several days and the outpouring of support was a big boost. Judge Suzi Thompson from Matagorda County stated that the “most amazing blessing was the phone calls, text messages, and emails [she] received from all of the State of Texas. Constables, Judges, and clerks checked up on her and her family, offering their homes for evacuation purposes and always expressing their love and prayers for me.”

As we have learned, Constables and Justices of the Peace offices are uniquely positioned to respond to disaster at the community level. Many of the same skills that make your office productive and efficient are easily transferred to disaster management. But the real contributing factor is the attitude and the servant’s heart of many of our Justices of the Peace, Constables, clerks, and deputies. When asked why he helped, Constable Buck Stevens replied, “Was it because I was a Constable? Not really. It was because it had to be done and someone needed to step up to organize it. Through this we [can be] better prepared for the next event!” TJCTC is proud to work with individuals from around the state that routinely put the needs of the community before their own.

For our next newsletter, we would like to include things justice courts and constable offices have learned from Hurricane Harvey. Do you have any disaster management tips you would like to share with the rest of the state? Please let us know. Email any suggestions to Jessica at

Emergency Management Resources

Hurricane Harvey reminded all Texans that disaster can strike at any time. TJCTC has compiled a list of resources that may be helpful to you and your office for future disaster planning.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers an emergency management institute that  provides online courses on several specific emergency management topics. Click each link below to see the individual courses.

National Incidence Management: An Introduction

National Response Framework: An Introduction

Introduction to Incident Command System

ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents

The Texas Judicial Branch in conjunction with the National Association for Court Management has produced a guide for disaster recovery that includes real life case studies and concrete tips on how to create a plan. 

Disaster Recovery Planning for Courts: a Guide to Business Continuity

The National Center for State Courts has a detailed guide on how to develop a COOP (continuity of operations) plan. The guide includes worksheets and templates to help build your own COOP plan. NCSC also provides an extensive Emergency Management Planning Guide which details evacuation, critical incidence, and shelter-in-place plans.

COOP Planning Guide

NCSC Emergency Management Planning Guide

Also, if you were curious as to how Hurricane Harvey affected landlord-tenant issues, click here to download a copy of TJCTC's FAQs on this topic.

What is the process when a defendant in custody is believed to have a mental illness or intellectual disability?

By Randall L. Sarosdy, TJCTC General Counsel



Art. 16.22 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for a protocol when a person who has been arrested shows signs of mental illness or intellectual disability.

The protocol generally provides that:

  • The sheriff or jail gives a notice to the magistrate;
  • The magistrate may order the local mental health authority to collect information and provide an assessment;
  • The magistrate provides copies of the written assessment to the defense counsel, the prosecution and the trial court;
  • The trial court may use the assessment for various purposes, including resuming criminal proceedings, resuming or initiating competency proceedings, in connection with the punishment phase after conviction, or referring the defendant to a specialty court.

In 2017, the Legislature passed SB 1849 (the Sandra Bland Act) and SB 1326 amending Art. 16.22. These amendments:

  • Shorten the time periods for the notice by the jail and for completing the assessment;
  • Make it easier for a defendant with a mental illness or intellectual disability to be released on a personal bond;
  • Require law enforcement to divert person suffering a mental health crisis or from the effects of substance abuse to treatment; and
  • Require independent law enforcement agencies to investigate jail deaths.


Here is how the process now works with respect to magistration:

STEP 1: If a sheriff or municipal jailer receives credible information that may establish reasonable cause to believe that a defendant charged with a Class B misdemeanor or higher offense has a mental illness or intellectual disability, then the sheriff or jailer must provide a written or electronic notice to the magistrate. This must be done within 12 hours of receiving the credible information and the notice must include information related to the sheriff’s or jailer’s determination.

STEP 2: If the magistrate determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant has a mental illness or intellectual disability, then the magistrate must order the local mental health authority, local intellectual and developmental disability authority or another qualified expert, to collect information and provide a written assessment to the magistrate.

  • However: the magistrate is not required to order the assessment if the defendant has been determined to have a mental illness or intellectual disability in the year preceding the defendant’s date of arrest.
  • If the defendant fails or refuses to submit to the collection of information, the magistrate may order the defendant to submit to an examination in a jail or in another place for a reasonable period not to exceed 72 hours.

STEP 3: Except as permitted by the magistrate for good cause, the written assessment must be provided to the magistrate:

  • Not later than 96 hours after the magistrate ordered the assessment if the defendant is held in custody; or
  • Not later than the 30th day after the order was issued for a defendant released from custody.

The written assessment must include the expert’s observations and findings pertaining to:

  • Whether the defendant has a mental illness or intellectual disability;
  • Whether there is clinical evidence to support a finding that the defendant may be incompetent to stand trial; and
  • Any appropriate or recommended treatment or service.

STEP 4: The magistrate must provide copies of the assessment to the defense counsel, the attorney representing the state and the trial court.


Magistrate’s Order for Examination and Assessment

Mental Illness Assessment/Magistrate Notification Form


The statute says the magistrate must submit to OCA on a monthly basis the number of written assessments provided to the court under Art. 16.22. However, OCA has said you do NOT have to do this!

OCA states: “The magistrate should send the assessment to the custodian of the district or county court records—the district clerk or county clerk—for inclusion in the defendant’s case file. The number of written assessments will be captured from district and county courts on Judicial Council Monthly District and County Court Activity Reports, submitted by district clerks and county clerks.”

Therefore, OCA is saying you do not have to report these assessments directly to OCA; they will tally the number of assessments each month from the reports submitted to them by the district and county clerks.

TMPA's Distracted Driving Course at Civil Process Seminars

TJCTC is excited to announce a partnership with the Texas Municipal Police Association to deliver a 4-hour course on Distracted Driving for Law Enforcement at our 20-Hour Civil Process seminars. The purpose of this course is to help Law Enforcement Officers understand the risks associated with distracted driving while operating emergency vehicles.  The potentially tragic consequences of distracted driving should heighten their awareness so they can reshape their attitudes/beliefs to adapt a self-disciplined standard of focused attention to safe driving.

This interactive course has received rave reviews from participants. The course has been called a "real eye opener" that "brought people back to reality - officers are not invincible." We hope you will join us for the 2018 Civil Process seminars so that you and your office can experience this course. For information including dates, locations, and a full set of class options for the 2018 Civil process seminars, click here.

Among High School Seniors, Driving After Marijuana Use Surpasses Drunk Driving


July 10, 2014

By Eric Sarlin, M.Ed., M.A., NIDA Notes Contributing Writer

Nearly 1 in 6 high school seniors who responded to a 2011 survey reported that, within the past 2 weeks, they had driven a motor vehicle after using an illicit drug or drinking heavily. Nearly 1 in 4 said they had recently ridden in a car with such a driver. Altogether 28 percent had put themselves at risk, within that short time frame, by being in a vehicle whose driver had been using marijuana or another illicit drug, or had drunk 5 or more alcoholic drinks. These rates had all risen nearly 20 percent in only 4 years, due almost entirely to an increase in driving after smoking marijuana.

Dr. Patrick M. O’Malley and Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, derived these alarming statistics from 22,000 12th graders’ responses to a questionnaire in the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) study. The students’ responses also disclosed that, among 12th graders, driving after marijuana use has become more common than drinking and driving. About 1 in 8 (12.4 percent) reported that within the past 2 weeks they had driven after using marijuana, whereas 1 in 11 (8.7 percent) had driven after drinking alcohol. The prevalence of high school seniors driving after using marijuana had risen sharply from 10.4 percent in the 2008 iteration of the survey, while that of drinking and driving had declined from a peak of 16 percent in 2002 (see Figure). These changes parallel overall trends in students’ use of marijuana and alcohol.

Traffic Cones

Alcohol’s detrimental effects on road safety are well known, but it has been less clear whether marijuana produces similarly dangerous effects. Although the survey did not capture whether the teens were under the influence of alcohol or marijuana at the time of any traffic incidents they reported being involved in, two of its findings underscore that marijuana use is associated with key indicators of dangerous driving:

  • The high school seniors who drove after marijuana use and after heavy drinking were similarly likely to have had accidents (26.9 percent and 30.2 percent, respectively) and to have received traffic tickets or warnings (42.1 percent and 43.2 percent, respectively) during the 12 months prior to taking the survey.
  • The rates for these misadventures were about twice those of high school seniors who did not use these substances (16.3 percent for accidents; 20.2 percent for tickets or warnings).

Further analysis of the data revealed that 12th graders who were female, with two parents in the home, good grades, or strong religious commitments were less likely to drive after using marijuana or alcohol. Those who reported above-average truancy, spent more evenings out for recreation, worked more hours, or drove more miles were more likely to engage in drugged driving.

African American students were more likely to drive after using marijuana than students of other races, but were not more likely to drive after drinking alcohol. Parental education, geographical region, and population density had no significant bearing on students’ attitudes toward drunk or drugged driving.

Vehicle accidents remain the number 1 cause of death among young Americans, and substance-impaired driving is one of the main culprits. Citing the data in their report, Dr. O’Malley and Dr. Johnston conclude that drunk and drugged driving is widespread among adolescents across schools and regions, and call for measures to reduce such risky behaviors.

Such efforts are already underway: A recent report prepared at NIDA’s request by experts in research, policy, and law enforcement under the auspices of the Institute for Behavior and Health has recommended to evaluate and improve drugged-driving laws, data collection, and educational programs, and to develop and standardize methods for drug testing in drivers. The goal of these proposed measures is to meet the target of the National Drug Control Strategy of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to reduce drugged driving by 10 percent by 2015.

This study was supported by NIDA grant DA001411.


O’Malley, P.M.; Johnston, L.D. Driving after drug or alcohol use by U.S. high school seniors, 2001–2011. American Journal of Public Health 103(11):2027-2034, 2013.

Ignition Interlock Service Centers

Ignition interlock is a data-backed solution to reducing DWI recidivism, but what if a defendant tells you they can't find a place to get an ignition interlock installed? There are hundreds of locations throughout Texas that offer ignition interlock installment. Click here to view a chart that lists the locations and what types of manufacturers' devices are serviced. 

DWI Bond Schematic Program


The DWI Bond Schematic (or Uniform Bond Condition) Program is part of a statewide plan to reduce the incidence of DWI offenses in Texas by assisting Texas counties in adopting a comprehensive plan for setting bond conditions in DWI cases. The Texas Justice Court Training Center (TJCTC) views this program as an important step in reducing the number of DWI drivers on Texas roads and highways, thereby improving public safety throughout the state.

TJCTC will work with all criminal magistrates (including county judges and justices of the peace), local prosecutors, and potential monitoring agencies in each county that elects to participate in the program in order to create forms specific to that county to be used in administering the program. These forms may be based on TJCTC’s Universal DWI Bond Schematic (available at or forms that a county currently uses in setting bond conditions. Forms will be modified to meet the bond conditions that county officials agree are appropriate in DWI cases.

The program: provides county officials with an opportunity to develop a system for setting, monitoring, and enforcing DWI bond conditions to ensure community safety and protect victims; increases consistency in setting bond conditions by a magistrate and a trial court; promotes the use of bond conditions (such as ignition interlock devices) that reduce the incidence of DWI recidivism; and ensures that bond conditions required by law are set, monitored and enforced.

The program is administered by the Texas Justice Court Training Center Traffic Safety Initiative through funding provided by the Texas Department of Transportation. If you would like further information concerning the program, please feel free to contact Randall L. Sarosdy at