Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fees, Police Misconduct, Technocorrections and Guns: Monday's Law Enforcement Committee Agenda

It's time to take a look at the bills up in tomorrow's Texas House Law Enforcement Committee that deserve Grits readers' attention. I've already mentioned legislation on the agenda that would gut Texas' Forensic Science Commission, but here are the rest of the high and lowlights:

Guns and Traveling, Once and For All
HB 1815 by Isett: This bill would settle the debate in Texas once and for all over traveling with a firearm in a personal vehicle. Last session legislators thought they'd fixed this problem by passing HB 823, but some prosecutors refused to abide by the new law and continued to tell police to make arrests when they found someone with a concealed weapon in a personal vehicle. I filed a bunch of open records requests on the subject last year and authored a public policy report (pdf) released last month that identified DAs who flouted the law. HB 1815 contains clear language that should simply resolve the question once and for all by redefining the crime of unlawfully carrying a weapon (UCW) as not applying if a person is "inside of or directly en route to a motor vehicle that is owned by the person or under the person's control." That should setlle the question and stop the legal hairsplitting some DAs have engaged in to continue to harass otherwise law abiding motorists who carry guns in their vehicles.

Will TCLEOSE regulate officer misconduct, or not?
I find Rep. Brian Hughes' HB 2813 an interesting piece of legislation because it appears to fly in the face of two bills the Law Enforcement Committee already approved (discussed here), so I don't quite understand why the chair gave it a hearing. Hughes' bill would expand the authority of investigators for the state police licensing agency, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. However, last week the committee approved Chairman Driver's HCR 96, which called for a moratorium on expanding authority under the section of code Hughes' bill would alter. Even more interesting, the Chairman's HB 488 strips TCLEOSE of all regulatory authority, leaving local prosecutors as the only agents capable of causing an officer to lose his or her license (under the bill, officers' licenses can only be revoked if they commit a crime). Given that context, I don't understand a) why Hughes' bill wouldn't violate the HCR 96 moratorim, and b) what these newly empowered police officers would investigate if HB 488 passes. I generally support greater investigatory power for agencies investigating law enforcement corruption, but I'm not sure empowering TCLEOSE officers make much sense if the agency's regulatory authority may be curtailed

Technocorrections for Drunks
HB 934 by Harper Brown would require manatory ignition interlocks for everyone given probation for DWI, changing a provision that says judges "may" order interlocks to say they "shall" do so in every case. For my part, I think ignition interlocks may well be part of a long-term solution for drunk driving, but they're not free and even if probationers pay for them, ignition interlocks still require extra staff and resources for monitoring the devices (which record how often drivers' blow and are disallowed from driving). For my part, I'd like to see this policy begun on the second or third offense, not for every drunk driver receiving probation. Repeat drunk drivers are the big problem - the vast majority who are arrested for DWI once are never arrested again. Besides, a program like this should start smaller to see if it's effective before expanding it to every drunk driving arrest in the state. Still, with those modifications this could be a bill I'd support - technocorrections for DWI IMO show great promise.

Should citizens pay a fee to have charges dismissed?
HB 588 by Gonzalez-Toureilles has to be one of the most ill-conceived pieces of legislation I've seen this year. Though it's just a small bill, I find it particularly offensive that if it were to become law, motorists who receive dismissals on alleged traffic violations must pay a $10 processing fee to the court. What hogwash! Why not make the police department pay that fee to the courts? They're the ones who gave a ticket that wasted the court's time and the defendant's. Forcing defendants to pay a fee after the court ruled they never actually broke the law and dismissed the case makes a mockery of justice and fairness. They didn't ask to be pulled over, didn't ask to be given a bogus ticket, and have already take time out to contest the ticket to seek dismissal. Mulcting them with fees, anyway, just piles on injury to insult. OTOH - if you made police departments pay court fees when tickets are dismissed, and it would create a financial incentive for officers to only bring forward stronger cases. If the fees are needed, that's who should pay them in my opinion.

So those are the highlights from tomorrow's Texas House Law Enforcement Committee hearing. If your representative sits on the commitee, be sure to let them know what you think about these bills.


Anonymous said...

Changing gun laws will have no effect on DAs who don't agree with the laws, as they will continue directing police policy, regardless of the statutes.

The fix is to go after the police. If a cop finds a gun in a car, takes it, and as a result hauls the owner off to jail, then that's (1) armed robbery, (2) false arrest, (3) kidnapping, (4) false imprisonment, and (5) filing a false police report.

Once the police departments start getting depleted by draconian prison sentences, this kind of flagrant crime will screech to a stop. If the DAs then give anybody any bad advice, the cops can arrest them on conspiracy charges, which will wreck their political careers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the DA's (and US Attys) have NO problem with filing on cops. In fact, in Harris Co. they take great pleasure. Cops just do what they're told to by the top brass and ruling elite politicians.
Your real problem with a screwed up criminal justice system is those who run the system.
There is no accountability for the governments attorneys (the DAs) and the Judges(they're just lawyers who got elected or promoted).
Cops don't go out looking for 20,000 wanted probationers for technical violations because they want to. They do it because they're ordered to.

Anonymous said...

Ignition interlocks are great - if people can afford them and if they are available. There is no vendor for them in my county - it is over 100 miles to find the nearest. So..200 miles round trip to get it installed, then the same trip monthly to get it read. When is the probationer supposed to work, report, and do community service?

Anonymous said...

well you state that cops dont go out looking for probationers but you might have forgotten that there are cops that arrest and/or ticket if they dont like someone, and i believe they only decide if they want to ticket you because they just saw your record and they know that you have previous altercations thus the court wont bother listening to you and / or believe you.