Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bigamy, Integrity, Identity debated in senate committee

While I was busy elswhere on Tuesday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a number of bills worth mentioning at their weekly meeting (see video of the hearing here):

Polygamist Roundup Fallout: Enabling Bigamy Prosecutions
No testimony at all, for or against, accompanied Sen. Jane Nelson's legislation SB 787 extending the statute of limitations for bigamy from 3-7 years, and 10 years after the 18th birthday if one of the partners is a minor. Sen. Nelson particularly cited the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup as spurring her desire to change the law. She said she was concerned about "minors forced into polygamous situations," but of course the bigger issue arises with minors of legal marrying age who choose those relationships. They have broken the law, yes, but how long should those involved be criminally liable? Why does the statute of limitations on this crime, in particular, deserve extending beyond other offenses?

This legislation seems premature to me - a half-cocked, git-tuff response to a lingering social conflict between church and state. In many ways it mirrors the ham-fisted approach by law enforcement when they first invaded the ranch looking for a Waco-style confrontation.

Why not see what if anything prosecutors can prove under the current laws before clamoring for tuffer ones? They went through all the marriage and lineage-related documents at the YFZ Ranch, so if it occurred they should be able to prove it. Why not wait to see what happens in those cases and evaluate the situation afterward?

Not an "Integrity Unit," but still a good idea
Sen. John Carona amended his SB 388 to create a "Public Corruption Unit" within the Texas Rangers instead of a "Law Enforcement Integrity Unit" as the bill was originally drafted. (See prior Grits posts here, here, and here, plus coverage from the Houston Chronicle. Discussion of the bill begins at the 45:40 mark.) The bill was also changed to disallow the unit from investigating administrative violations.

In laying out the bill, Carona's main focus was on law-enforcement corruption related to drug cartels. His goal, he said, is not to accuse Texas law enforcement of being particularly corrupt but to "ramp up for the greater threat ahead" from Plata o Plomo style corruption/intimidation of police.

Ana Correa of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition saidthe bill isn't anti-law enforcement but "quite the opposite," because most good cops don't want their ranks sullied by criminals who're collaborating with those they should be trying to arrest.

Even Tom Gaylor of the Texas Municipal Police Association admitted it's "not the most comfortable position" to oppose the bill, but he worried in particular about creating a unit whose sole "performance measure" would be the number of police officer scalps they'd taken over corruption beefs.

In making his "performance measures" critique, Gaylor actually compared the agency to the old drug task force system, where drug units measured effectiveness based on higher arrest and seizure rates. It was an interesting argument, but Sen. Juan Hinojosa pointed out that no such performance measures were included in the bill.

Personally I don't think they're going to discover a shortage of cases to investigate and if DPS can't figure out the right performance measures for their employees, that's a question to be addressed at the agency rulemaking level. Hinojosa's right that the current bill doesn't speak to the issue one way or the other.

Identify yourself or go to jail
Finally, the committee approved a bill, SB 1175, that would allow police to give a Class C ticket for "failure to identify" when they detain a suspect. (Discussion of the bill begins at the 1:32:00 mark.) Currently, Texans don't have to identify themselves unless they're actually arrested, and it's not a crime if you don't do so. In practice, of course, police can't write a ticket without the identifying information, so this would give them cause to arrest you and cart you off to jail (under authority affirmed by the US Supreme Court in Atwater v. Lago Vista, a Texas case).

What kind of situations are we talking about? Under what circumstances might you be "detained" when police have no cause to arrest you? The examples given were things like "taking pictures in front of a nuclear power plant," but I think the new power would be used more widely than that, and mostly in non-terrorism related cases.

I wrote about a situation last year where I was detained on the street for, essentially, "babysitting while white." Some busybody called 911 because they saw me walking down the street with a two-year old of a different race. Three police cars were sent to detain and question me over this grave matter. That was a formal "detention" and Sen. Patrick's statute would have applied. More than a few commenters were offended that I wasn't more cooperative with police - though I did give my name and address when asked, I refused to answer detailed or personal questions. I thought a lot afterward about why I reacted the way I did. Mostly it's because the officer precisely didn'task for my name at first, but instead asked a series of questions aimed at determining whether I was some sort of child molester or kidnapper.

Sen. Whitmire asked why any law abiding citizen would refuse to identify themselves, and while I can't speak for others, I know why I wouldn't answer questions that day. As I said in reply to a commenter in that post, "Talking to cops who want to investigate you for false allegations of sex crimes has many potential negatives that simply refusing to speak to them wholly avoids." When the conversation starts out with an accusation, it's wholly justified and probably wise from the perpective of a potential defendant to not give police any information at all.

Whitmire himself identified another reason someone might not want to tell police who they were - if they were having an affair or some other "domestic situation." There are many possible scenarios where someone might not want their spouse, their job, etc., to know their whereabouts, but that wouldn't imply a crime was committed. The point is, in a free society, that person has free will to make bad choices as long as they don't harm others or violate the law. "None of your business" is still a valid response.

To demand, "if you don't have cause to arrest me, let me go" IMO is a reasonable exercise of one's rights and shouldn't require subjecting yourself to a check in the warrants database, which is the main thing this is really about at the end of the day. With more than 10% of adult Texans having outstanding traffic warrants, every time someone walks away without running them through the system, police miss a 10% chance they'll owe money that can be leveraged from them with a trip to the jail.

This is not a slippery slope toward a police state but a straight chute. I've joked before how, during the Cold War, we used to consider it the height of totalitarianism that Communist police might stop an average citizen on the street, demand to see their papers, and arrest them if they didn't comply. But that's exactly the kind of power Sen. Patrick's legislation would give police in Texas: Identify yourself or go to jail. "Can I see your papers, comrade?" That's unnecessary. The law's just fine like it is.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

If only something like what happened to you happened to Senator Whitmire then he would be singing a different song!

Like TDCJ's continued search for WMD's (oops I mean cell phones)!

Anonymous said...

Always interesting to watch the lords of liberty (Patrick) wrap us in chains tighter and tighter...red meat for the mindless voters...anathema to our Constitution. Of course the lege recognizes no test of constitutionalism relative to its arrogant mission of permanent tenure and dominion over everything.

Anonymous said...

I read your 'Babysitting While White' story, and was amazed there were 3 police cars sent to question you. It seems, in recent times, there are more 'busybodies' out there, and I feel it stems from a sense of overparanoia. I blame part of this false perception on the media-newspapers and television news. All the crime dramas and reality based shows (CSI, Parole Board,etc)do not help with this situation, and simply feed this paranoia. I am sorry your granddaughter was scared by these authority figures, and hope she doesn't remember this incident when she gets older.

Anonymous said...

"All the crime dramas and reality based shows (CSI, Parole Board,etc)do not help with this situation, and simply feed this paranoia."

Now how's the recent murders of the four Oakland and three Pitssburgh officers working for you 2:48?

Anonymous said...

The fact is we are not moving towards a police state....we have arrived! It's naive to believe we are represented in Austin or Washington or where ever. The meek will NOT inherit the earth.

I applaud your keen observations and on-target analysis of the erosion of our basic freedoms. Even the Ruskies have more sense.

JTP said...

So Grits,

Who and what are behind Patrick's legislation?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's coming from the police unions, JTP.

Anonymous said...

I am opposed to such bills. They give dim wit, over-zealous officers with little man complex way too much power.
My friend and I were detained by a state trooper and a sherrif's deputy for nearly two hours in the sally port of the SO'S office.
It happened when my friend and I decided to go fossil hunting in a local creek. We parked leglly and entered the creek legally. When we climbed out of the creek about 2hrs. later my truck was gone. We are female and found ourselves on a rural highway after dark with no vehicle. I called the SO to report my vehicle as stolen and they told me that they would have to call me back. I told them we were alone on the road, afraid and in need of a ride. Another friend of ours called me and told me that she had just received a call from my friend's cell phone, from a state trooper (She had left her purse in my truck ) who told her that I was going to be under arrest and started asking her questions and drilling her. He intimated to her that we were methamphetamine cooks and that my truck had been towed. She asked him where we were and he replied that he did not know. She asked him if he realized that he had stranded two women out in the country. She aslo asked if we had been told what happened and he was just ugly to her. So we learned fro another friend, not the po po, that my truck had been towed as an abandoned vehicle. I called the SO back and they still wouldn't tell me anything. I called again and demanded help. Finally a deputy came and picked us up. He asked if we had weapons and took our bakpacks and placed them in the truck. He would not answer my question and kept a bright light on us the whole time. I asked where we were going and he said to your truck. When I asked where he said just wait. He pulled into the SO and drove to the sallyport where I saw my truck inside. We got out and a tropper came rushing toward me and asked me if I was blah blah, he grabbed my arm and jerked an arrowhead I had found in the creek and told me that it was his because I had been trespassing, and he told me that I was under arrest for felony fire arms and probably some drug charges. I was absolutely outraged. He told me that I was obviously a methamphetamine cook. I asked why, and he said look at your arms, your pathetic. I told that I had a terrible case of poison ivy that had goteen in my system. He scoffed. He asked why I had a fire extinguisher in my truck and batteries for a flashlight. I was so furious and so outraged that I just told him enough. I said if I'm under arrest then read m my rights and let me call my lawyer and he said no, when I get ready. I stood firm and told him either arrest me or let me go, I also asked him why he towed my truck illegaly, why he used my friends cell and most importantly why he wasn't concerned about why he wasn't concerned about our well being since we were not around and he told me that he was there in his car for a while and we should have heard him. I told that I thought his job was to protect and serve and he got furious. He told me to go ahead and admit that I was a cook and he would help me out. I refused and told him that he was violating several of my rights, that this was the USA, and that I believed in the constitution of the United States of America. He asked what that had to do with anything and I toold him everything. I jus started spouting the law and my rights over and over and he finally had to let us go. He kept my arrowhead until the next day when I called his supervisor and madea formal complaint. That was a terrifying night and I still feel sick when I see a trooper, or any other law officer when I am walking at the lake or on a lonely road alone. It's scary.

Anonymous said...

Hey 08:05 take a few less "speed bumps" of meth before you post and use the spell check.

I mean was the state trooper really "drilling" your friend? I mean did she like it? Some women are badge bunnies!

Oh and what "tropper" came rushing towards you? He really had enough energy after "drilling" you friend to go after you as well. He is a better man than I.

I am sure the "dim wit, over-zealous officers with little man complex" are just as sickened by you as you are by them.... As a matter of fact I am certain of that.

Anonymous said...

Correction that response was for 08:45...

Anonymous said...

OK, Anonymous at 1:26 AM:

I am going to take the liberty of blasting you in a similar manner.

You attempted to come back and correct the time of the previous post and although it was right there on the screen in front of you, you failed to correct it.

What are you up to at 1:26 AM? Seeing double, are you?

I suggest you refrain from responding to someone who has been terrorized by a power-happy fool until you have had it happen to you. I have been there and it is much more frightening than you could imagine.

And just for good measure, let's add to the suggestion of "little man's complex", the additional possibility of an anatomical deficiency.

Anonymous said...

1:26 AM. Your response to my post reflects the same attitude of the trooper, sheriff's deputy and many other members of law enforcement. That is unfortunate because you and your ilk give law enforcement a bad name. Your vitriolic comments support my belief that law abiding citizen's have much to fear from officers of the law. I believe laws exist to protect our rights and freedoms, not abuse and restrict them. Nowadays it seems that members of law enforcement officers are power mad, and have now respect for the rights of the public. What happened to "To serve and protect."? It is never acceptable to treat another human being the way that trooper treated my friend and I.
I forgot to add mysogonist to my description of that trooper. I just finished reading two recent stories about officers indicted for abusing their wives. Your comments speak volumes about the type of person you are. Thank you for proving my point.

Anonymous said...

1:26 AM. Your response to my post reflects the same attitude of the trooper

It is probably the die hard Blues just didn;t log in. Cops are nazi's.. Doesn't take crap to be one.. Just the want to hold a gun on 70 year old grandmother, or pistol whip a teen out after dark.

Why aren't I a cop? I prefer to be looked at as something more than a little napoleon, with a nightstick.. I am sorry you had to go through it, but damned happy you didn't give in to the fascists.
Most 'cops' I ever served with on a tour pissed themselves when the enemy started firing, or worse, they wouldn't come out of the hole to return fire themselves. Don't trust one on the battle field, certainly don't trust one as the protector on the streets. I think we should fire all of them and allow the military to take charge of it all. No BS, no pot smoking cops stealing dope from offenders, just soldiers doing what they do best, taking care of the American citizen.

David said...

You can add "talking too loud in the food court while black" to the list of crimes.

See http://www.myfoxhouston.com/dpp/news/weird/100830-woman-banned-from-mall-for-10-years