Records Appraisal Report:
Department of Criminal Justice
State Counsel for Offenders Legal Offender Files, Trial

Contents of this report
Agency Contact | Record Series Review

Internal links to series reviews
Legal offender files, trial

Related report
1998 Appraisal report

Archival finding aid
Texas Department of Criminal Justice: An Inventory of Records at the Texas State Archives, 1849-2004

May 25, 2006, Laura K. Saegert, Appraisal Archivist

Agency Contact

This agency contact information was current at the time of the report but may have changed in the interim. Please call (512-463-5455) for current contact information of the agency's records manager or records liaison for these records.

Kim Vernon

Records Series Review

Series Title: Legal offender files, trial

Obsolete record series? No

Ongoing record series? Yes
Annual accumulation: unknown

Agency holdings:
About 1995-ongoing, cubic ft. is unknown

This series involves litigation cases brought by the state against inmates who have committed felonies while in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Felonies include crimes such as murder of an inmate, assault of an inmate or guard, or assault with a deadly weapon of an inmate or guard. Cases are tried in the district court of the county that houses the prison unit where the crime occurred. Appeals can be made to the Texas appeals court with the appropriate jurisdiction. Inmates are represented by staff attorneys of the State Counsel for Offenders office (formerly known as the Inmate Legal Services section).

Types of records found in the files include correspondence, memoranda, notes, affidavits, grand jury indictments, court filings (motions, orders, statement of facts, transcripts, etc.), notes, witness statements, juror lists, and inmate records, including copies of commitment papers, social services summaries, diagnostic screening records, classification reviews, offense reports, medical records, fingerprints, mug shots, and warnings given to inmates prior to taking the inmate's written or oral confession. Correspondents include TDCJ staff, staff and attorneys of the State Counsel for Offender's office, inmates, court district clerks, and prosecutors. Cases I reviewed each had an inmate defense case file summary sheet that included the following information: name, number and unit of the inmate; date of offense, indictment, and arraignment; charges; defense attorney's name (usually just initials listed); hours of attorney prep time and attorney trial time; names of co-defendants and co-attorneys (if any); name of trial court, judge and court reporter; plea; offense; verdict; punishment; and similar information if the case went to an appeals court.

These files document legal assistance provided to indigent inmates convicted of felonies who are incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Agency program:
The State Counsel for Offenders (SCFO) provides indigent offenders who are incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with legal counsel that is independent of TDCJ-Correctional Institutions Division. This office cannot help offenders with civil rights issues, TDCJ policy or procedure issues, fee-generating cases, and various other legal areas depending upon the circumstances. Offenders wanting help with a legal problem should first see their unit law librarian for assistance and read the Legal Handbook, published by SCFO. If they determine their problem cannot be solved at the unit law library level, they should contact the SCFO. The inmate has to contact the SCFO directly; family members or friends cannot initiate such a request.

There are five legal sections within State Counsel for Offenders: Trial, Immigration, General Legal, Civil Commitment and Appellate. Attorneys in the Trial Section will represent indigent offenders indicted for felonies allegedly committed while the offender is incarcerated within TDCJ-Correctional Institutions Division. Trial attorneys represent offenders at all court appearances, file all necessary motions and pretrial writs, and fully litigate all relevant issues on behalf of the offender. Trial attorneys, utilizing the services of professional defense investigators, obtain discovery in offender's cases and meet with offenders to investigate their cases. This includes discovering and questioning potential witnesses and preparing the case for trial, if necessary. Attorneys in the Appellate Section will assist indigent offenders who need legal services with appeals and writs. The following services are provided: Attorneys will represent offenders in preparing their appeal, to include identifying appellate issues, preparing legal briefs, and arguing before appellate courts. The attorneys can assist with appellate writs by researching the case to see if there are valid, provable legal reasons to file a writ of habeas corpus to set aside or modify their conviction or sentence. Attorneys will also handle time writs-writs filed when the issue cannot be resolved at the local court level. The attorney will research the case to see if there are valid, provable legal reasons to file a writ on these issues.

Unknown. The files I reviewed were in alphabetical order and there were several different cases filed for one inmate with the latest case filed first.

Access constraints:
Yes. Much of the information in the legal offender trial files is confidential, either by statute or it can be excepted under the Public Information Act.

Criminal history records (if present) are confidential (V.T.C.A., Government Code, 411, Subchapter F.)

Some information relating to an inmate (non-death row inmates - those subject to possible release on parole or that could receive executive clemency) of the Dept. of Criminal Justice is confidential (V.T.C.A., Government Code, Corrections, 552.134). This would include records of incarceration, such as items in the inmate's file at TDCJ - commitment papers, social services summaries, disciplinary records, diagnostic screening records, fingerprints, classification reviews, etc.

Addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and personal family information of employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is confidential and could be present in cases involving action against an employee of the Department (Texas Government Code, Section 552.1175).

Medical records are confidential under the Texas Occupations Code (Section 159.002(d)]).

Many of the documents in the case can be excepted under the Public Information Act - attorney-client privilege, attorney work product, interagency memoranda (Texas Government Code, Section 552.107 or 111) and possibly privacy issues (Texas Government Code, Section 552.101).

Use constraints:
We would have to get a decision on the attorney-client/attorney work product exceptions from the agency. If opened, then cases could be redacted/files removed on demand. If the files are not opened by the agency, staff from the State Counsel for Offenders would need to review the cases when requested for research.

Indexes or finding aids required for/or an aid to access? unknown

Confidentiality issues are the only problem.

Known related records in other agencies:
Trial records should also be present in the district court and appeals court case files. However, not all district court or appeals court cases are maintained permanently.

Previous destructions:
None known.

Publications based on records:
None known.

Internet pages based on records:
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice website has a section on the State Counsel for Offenders that explains their functions -

Series data from agency schedule:
Title: Legal offender files, trial
Series item number: 1.1.048
Agency item number: 50.01.02
Archival code: R
Retention: AC +10 (Confidential)

Archival holdings:

Appraisal decision:
This series has marginal value because it involves mostly routine felony litigation and does not document policy development of this office. However, with litigation files there is always the possibility of a significant litigation case appearing that has historical value, sets legal precedent, or changes the way the agency operates (wholly or in part). Agency staff cited cases filed by notorious inmates such as Kenneth McDuff as an example of cases having historical value. I feel such cases will be few and far between, but the staff has told me they will save such cases for review by the Archives. I recommend we keep the R on the schedule and add this note in the Remarks column - "Cases that set legal precedent or exhibit historical value will be evaluated by the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for archival preservation."

Page last modified: August 31, 2011