Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New York Times focuses on "law of parties" that leads to frequent unjust outcomes at the ignominious Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Evan Smith from Texas Monthly forwarded me a link to this NY Times article, which Doc Berman also points to, about a Florida man convicted of murder under the "law of parties" for providing a car for a burglary that ended in homicide. Smith asked if this wasn't similar to a recent high-profile Texas case?

I think he's referring to Kenneth Foster, the driver of a vehicle used in a getaway after a murder whose execution sentence Governor Perry recently commuted to life. (In all honesty, given the state of Texas' prisons, I'm not sure LWOP is a better deal.) But the same situation also explains quite a few of the "murderers" who got probation in the big Dallas News series on "probation for murder." The "law of parties" as practiced has been expansively broadened at the ignominious Texas Court of Criminal Appeals under Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Co.. By contrast:
India and other common law countries have followed England in abolishing the doctrine. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court did away with felony murder liability for accomplices, saying it violated “the principle that punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender.”
That approach, to me, seems more just.Here's another great example why Democrats need some horses, er ... candidates, to step up and run for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, not just for Democrats to appear competitive in every seat, a laudable but not necessarily strategic goal, but just in case Democrats get lucky and experience a Dallas-style Democratic sweep because of national electoral trends. If that happens, failure to field candidates in these three statewide seats will appear, in retrospect, like leaving money on the table. If there's a chance to improve this egregious court in the least and Texans don't take it, it would be a tremendous waste.

There's only a short time left to get the necessary signatures from around the state, although I'll bet some of our friends in the netroots could help accomplish that quicker than might otherwise be possible. So if you're planning to throw your hat in the ring, shoot me an email to let me know and I'll help you tap into several other folks who are desperately looking for horses ... er, candidates, to run for these three seats.


Anonymous said...

You would have to get rid of or greatly limit the felony murder statute in Texas.

I'm all for prosecutorial discretion, but I agree with the felony murder statutes as-is.

Anonymous said...

This New York Times article wasn't about the Texas Law of Parties. It was about the Felony-Murder Rule. They are not the same thing. The Texas Law of Parties is far broader than the Felony-Murder Rule.

Anonymous said...

Doing away with the rule would simply create a demand in the legislature for more specific laws bringing more people into statute. For example, without the law of parties people who hire other people to do crimes are not guilty (without a specific statute making them so). So we would need to create a special law making it illegal to hire someone to do murder. Then you would need one for every other crime that a person would conceivably ask a person to commit. And don't forget, there are situtations in which the party is actually more culpable than the murderer. For example, if I get my retarded brother to rob a bank with me, I might get him to carry the gun, knowing he'd shoot if I asked him to. If he is incompetent to be tried for the crime, his punishment will be relatively light. If all I do is give him instructions, then without the law of parties, I can't be prosecuted, even though I am the more evil of the two actors involved.

We already have special statutes in capital murder that require proof that a party to the crime acted with a higher moral culpability than is required in other party charges. And any person who can convince the jury that the mitigating circumstances in such a case justify it will be spared a death penalty. In lesser murder crimes, the range of punishment can be as low as a probated five year sentence for parties to the offense who are convicted and convince the jury that despite their participation they are not as culpable.

Any objection to the law of parties as it exists in Texas is a complaint that juries aren't fair in accessing punishment for such crimes. If your problem is with juries, then why not advocate for the abolition of the jury system?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know you don't really care about this, but the law of parties was enacted by the virtually all democrat Texas Legislature of 1973 and regularly upheld by the virtually all democrat Court of Criminal Appeals of the 1970s and 1980s. Fact is, folks like you have gotten more mileage out of republicans since they took over in 2003 than you ever got out of democrats before then. So, before you start saying the d's oughta do this or that, maybe you oughta get your history in order. If you care about the truth.