Sunday, May 01, 2005

Happiness is good bills moving

Friday I mentioned several good criminal justice bills moving in the Texas Lege, and here I notice a few more moving along through the process this week:

Reciprocal discovery in criminal court
: Few who don't make their living at the courthouse believe it the first time you tell somebody Texas DA's don't have to give up offense reports or witness statements to defense counsel in criminal trials. They "may" do so, but they don't have to. The "may" in that statute will become a "shall," and prosecutors must start giving over such information if SB 560 by Carona, which is up Tuesday in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee becomes law. Discovery rights will be "recriprocal," so defense counsel must also give up their recorded witness statements and other previously undiscoverable material. As I understand it, the prosecutors and the defense bar struck a deal on this one, so it appears likely to make its way into law. This will constitute a significant change in Texas criminal trials, if it passes, and should make them more fair and accountable.

Allowing juries to give probation for state jail felonies
: Meanwhile, HB 1759 by Keel, which passed the House last month, will receive a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday. That bill would permit a jury to recommend community supervision, i.e., probation, for state jail felony offenses, which is presently disallowed. The change could have a significant impact on overincarceration in state jails. In many jurisdictions, these cases constitute 30-40% of prosecutors' regular caseloads.

Abolishing/reforming drug task forces
: HB 1239 by Hodge, which in its House rendition would abolish Byrne-grant-funded drug task forces, will receive a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. See prior Grits coverage here and here. While the House had no problem nixing drug task forces, the Senate appears more reticent to toss them overboard entirely, so expect some compromises to occur before this bill moves out of committee. Still, their passage of SB 1125 shows the senators want to clean up the task force imbroglio..

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