In Smith County, it works like this:
1. Get arrested.
2. Go before a judge and get your bail set at the maximum amount allowed by law.
3. Stay in jail until you plead guilty.
4. Live the rest of your life as a felon.
The judges hear very few cases but process guilty pleas by the hundreds after locked-up folks lose their jobs, their cars, houses and their family life due to being locked up in a crowded jail.
When folks DO agree to plead guilty, they also have to agree to waive appeals and CONFESS to the charges. The judge even makes sure to have them swear they are not being coerced.
Our jails are packed to capacity. Most of the folks in jail are poor. If your family does hock your possessions to get you out of jail the judge will refuse to appoint a lawyer...because you could afford your bail. Most poor people sit in jail until they decide to plead.
The voters have wisely refused to finance a jail expansion. Three times we have turned it down. Capacity now is about 700. The county wants to be able to jail 1400 people at a time.
The several judges are up for election. Among them is Jack Skeen, a former Smith County District Attorney. I think Skeen would make an excellent plaintiffs lawyer.
I know of a couple of innocent folks incarcerated until they plead guilty to felony charges. Imagine that. Held until you agree to a felony, meaning your life is over as a citizen and American.
Lawyers who make a living out of the courthouse are afraid to speak out except privately about the situation in Smith County.
I hope people will vote judges who pack the jails to coerce guilty pleas out of office.
Early voting started this week.