Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mostly true: Grits' crustacean crime claim perhaps understated, or not, mostly

Politifact Texas fact checked a claim by Grits regarding oyster felonies, saying my claim in an interview with the Austin Post that there are eleven different felonies you can commit with an oyster is "mostly true," getting a "mostly" because I should have said "sixteen." Or maybe seven. Or something. I'm not sure what answer I'm supposed to have given that would rate a plain old "true," but my apologies for any error.

BTW, since we're fact checking, PolitiFact Texas author Gardner Selby wrote that there are 2,324 offenses in the Texas parole guidelines offense severity list (pdf), when in reality there are more than 2,500. His source for the lower number was a 2007 Grits post, but dozens more offense categories are typically added every legislative cycle.  

UPDATE: Via email, I'm told the "true" answers would have been 16, a number I consider overstated, or seven, which is an estimate never published before Gardner solicited it for his story. I replied that IMO Marc Levin's estimate was "truthier" He was gamely attempting to count felonies across codes using a consistent methodology. The Parks and Wildlife person is a practitioner unburdened by the need to apply consistent categories to accommodate the array of statute types and variations in Texas law beyond just oysters. So how many oyster felonies are there? Seven, 11, or 16. Whatever the number, the fact that different counters can't agree, much less that the offenses are seldom if ever charged, at a minimum is humorous and also shows why the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee should consider and pass HB 990 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson authorizing a comprehensive re-evaluation and cleanup of all these junk enhancements that have accumulated over the years.

MORE: Find below the jump the "mostly true" response I sent to Selby when he questioned the number.
Hi Gardner,

My original source on that was TPPF. Marc Levin calculated it. First time I wrote about it was here:

Note that in the comments someone actually named a bunch of them. See also this somewhat satirical followup:

There are also, of course, oyster related misdemeanors, see:

It should be mentioned that the way the code is written it's VERY difficult to count crimes because it's hard to know whether to count each enhancement as a separate crime and there's inevitably a lot of interpretation. Notably, nobody actually knows how many federal crimes exist - there are several estimates, each of which have been disputed.

The parole board after each session updates the list of crimes in its "Offense severity list" which is the count I tend to rely on. They have to identify each individual crime in order to classify it for risk categorization purposes. See the most recent one at:

I'd suggest searching on the word "oyster" and counting them.

See related Grits posts:


doran said...

I'm gonna go way out on a limb here, and betcha that none of those felonies with an Oyster include murdering the oyster. Or even assaulting the oyster. Although, since this is Texas, sexual assault of an oyster might be a felony.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I am reliably informed that none of the 16, or 11, or 7 oyster felonies are sex crimes.

An Attorney said...

But I bet you would get charged with a felony if you stuffed an oyster into a portion of a human body that every human body has or into that portion that only a female body has!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

AA, this is the wrong venue to suggest potential crustacean-related enhancements or prosecution strategies. Big Bivalve is watching! Don't give anybody ideas!

Stephanie said...

Is there an Oyster Offender Registry?

Skifool said...

Something you may not know about the offense severity list -- it will contain some crimes that no longer exist, because there are still inmates in prison serving sentences for those crimes.

Skifool said...

BTW, you should check the penalties for cattle rustling!

Anonymous said...

This is dumb. They should hold their own feet (Austin American Statesman) to the fire for once.