Currently, people arrested in Travis County, Texas, are forced to appear in initial criminal court hearings — called “magistration hearings” — without an attorney representing them.

As part of the ACLU of Texas’ court watching program, law student volunteers provided by The University of Texas School of Law’s Mithoff Pro Bono Program recorded observations of 686 magistration hearings from January 15 to March 15, 2024.

Based on our analysis of these observations, magistrate judges required a majority of people to pay in exchange for release from jail. Accused people were forced into hearings where their rights were jeopardized, they had difficulty communicating, and they couldn’t contest or even know why judges were keeping them locked in jail.

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