Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hot-button bills highlight first Senate Criminal Justice hearing

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has a full plate today at its first meeting of the 81st Texas Legislature. Here's a brief description of bills that are up, including several sure to generate controversy:

Pardon me
Royce West has a bill (SB 233) that would allow people with deferred adjudication to receive gubernatorial pardons, though this Governor's miserly use of his pardon power makes one skeptical this would have wide application.

I want your blood
SB 261 by Robert Deuell would expand authority of police to coerce blood draws of DWI suspects when someone is taken to the hospital after an accident.

Enhancements going to the dogs
SB 554 by Chairman John Whitmire would expand the definition of dog fighting crimes to include possession of dog fighting equipment with intent to use it as such.

Government wants more DNA
SB 727 by Dan Patrick would massively expand the number of Texans in the federal DNA database to include all adults on probation, all youth sent to TYC, and all juveniles convicted of felonies. That's a huge expansion from the 400,000 or so Texans in the database now. The debate here is whether potential abuses down the line from the government keeping tabs on DNA from millions of its citizens is worth the public safety bang for the buck, or should the database only include violent and sexual offenders? DNA evidence only exists in fewer than 10% of violent crimes and usually it's matched to a known suspect, not through the federal database. Of particular concern: There are no provisions in the bill for how people, especially juveniles, can have their DNA removed from the database.

Is that a gun in your truck or are you happy to see me?
SB 730 by Glenn Hegar would allow Texans with concealed carry permits to leave their firearm in a locked, personal vehicle while they're at work. My question: Since non-concealed carry permit holders are legally allowed to carry a gun in their personal vehicle, why does the bill exclude them?

Rethinking LWOP for juvie killers

SB 839 by Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa would eliminate life without parole for juveniles whose cases were transferred to the adult system and make the penalty for juveniles charged with capital crimes "life," making them eligible for parole after serving 40 calendar years without consideration of good time. That seems plenty tuff from a utilitarian, public safety perspective, but you can already hear critics declaring "that's better than the victim got." Since the Supreme Court already eliminated the death penalty for juveniles, though, what the victim got isn't an option. Given that, to me the utilitarian arguments trump and this bill balances the retributivist need for punishment with the insensibility of locking up a juvenile until they die of old age.

You can watch the hearing here at 1:30 p.m. or upon adjournment of the Texas Senate.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully SB 839 will stay afloat. To give juveniles LWOP flies in the face of all the educational programmes and psychology of recent years. How can you possibly know with any certainty that an 18 year old is not going to mature into a sensible being and does not deserve consideration at some point in the future? Anyone with that kind of psychic ability would surely have retired on their lottery winnings by now.

Anonymous said...

Sunray, the strong arguments for
punishment come from the vast body of research showing that it
makes society safer by deterring future crime.

Anonymous said...

That's simply untrue, 11:27. Please point us toward the "vast body of research" demonstrating that. Because all of the vast body of research I've seen does the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Just a question, with respect to the DNA database. Does anyone know what the prospects are for a searchable DNA database comparable to the national Automated Fingerprint Identification System, where police can submit a print and AFIS compares it to known prints? That might sway my opinion on SB 727, if in some future assault, DNA could be submitted and a search yielded the name regardless of the prior crime.

Anonymous said...

This SB 223 by Senator West is missing the mark entirely. Anyone who has successfully completed a deferred adjudication community supervision, has the charge dismissed. There is NO CONVICTION imposed, but current law only allows for expunction rights to those with a past Class C misdemeanor only(for deferreds with community supervision). This bill is a diversion from dealing with the real issue at hand, and that is, removing the current bar to expunction for these folks, once and for all. This would be acheived with SB 2075 by Senator Hinojosa, HB 2213 by Rep. Farrar, or HB 945 by Rep. Dutton.It's time to quit stalling with this SB 223.

Anonymous said...

Why are they just now having their first committee hearing?

TxBluesMan said...

SB 261 does not "coerce" blood draws as you put it. It complies with the requirements of Constitutional law, see Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966) and subsequent decisions by both SCOTUS and the 5th Circuit. The bill merely allow an officer to gather evidence of a felony DWI, in complete compliance with the Constitution.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"SB 261 does not "coerce" blood draws as you put it."

So Bluesy, you're telling me the drivers from whom peace officers will "require the taking" of breath or blood samples under the bill are at liberty to decline? If not, it's coercive.

And who claimed the bill was unconstitutional, anyway? Why do you argue against red herrings?

Anonymous said...

11.27 ~ if locking people up deterred general criminal behaviour, prisons would be emptying, not overflowing. The ONLY way it can deter future crime is because it does not give the offender the chance to reoffend or not in the free-world, and using that logic, everyone should be forcibly sterilised and placed under house arrest right now, just in case. Are you seriously advocating that anyone who commits any crime be locked up indefinitely to stop them reoffending in the future? If so, are your pockets deep enough to pay for it? The more people you lock up, the smaller the pool of funding from taxes becomes, and the more those left on the outside end up paying.

TxBluesMan said...

Why do you argue against red herrings?

Why do you consistently oppose bills that help the police do their jobs and support bills that hamper them?

Besides, while coerce may be technically the definition, it does not accurately describe the situation or the procedure. Unless, of course, you would rather allow those who are committing felony DWI skate - and the bill only covers those offenders.

Your run of the mill drunk driver won't be affected.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

More red herrings, Bluesy. Re-read what I wrote: This blog post took no position on the bill! You now agree "coerce" is "technically the definition" so what's your beef? You're just arguing with your own strawmen now, not anything I've written.

Anonymous said...

if locking people up deterred general criminal behavior, prisons would be emptying, not overflowing.

Sorry, Sunray you've set up a straw-man or straw-wench argument. Think of it this way, deterrence acts to increase the price of criminal behavior. J

Just as people buy less coffee when the price of coffee goes up, they will commit less crime when the "price"(perhaps more punitive sentences) goes up.

Notice though, there are always some people who love coffee and will keep drinking it at high prices, there are some people who will commit crimes no matter what. But we can reduce crime if society becomes more punitive towards criminals.

Anonymous said...

8.09 ~ if you seriously think that potential criminals stop to work out the potential sentence for the crime they are about to comit, and come to a decision that it is probably not worth it, then show me the evidence. Most criminal acts are not premeditated, thus allowing no time for making such a decision. Prison is full of people who either did not think at all, or thought they would never get caught, not full of people who decided it was worth it. Its only when some of them get to prison that they start to realise it wasn't worth it.

Anonymous said...

"Why do you consistently oppose bills that help the police do their jobs and support bills that hamper them?"

Because Police Do not 'do their jobs'. Consistently, the public sees the Police trampling the civil rights of all, not minorities, not criminals, but everyone.

Police should have heavy oversight placed on them, so heavy infact that it makes them think about EVERY arrest, stop, question, etc. The laws should make them work HARD for any evidence. The current laws, as well as those trying to make their way on the Code, make it easy for continued enhancement of corrupt LE policy.

The US was not founded on ideals of a police state. We need to stop these laws from happening, and pull back others that are creating just that, a police state.

Anonymous said...

Sunray, You are basically saying almost the same thing as 8:09; there are people who are just going to commit crimes no matter what. They don't think about the consequences, they just act and maybe when they get to prison they might regret it. Absolutely so. Public safety is the issue that comes first. There must be some punitive consequence for criminal behavior. That doesn't mean that everyone should be locked up, It should depend upon the offense. We don't make use of the laws we have in place now. It only makes sense that people who hurt other people be taken off the streets. If someone harms my family, my town, etc.. I want them off the streets. I don't care if they had a bad start in life, they had no parents, or whatever excuse might be offered. We know that slapping someone on the wrist over and over doesn't work either. Let them go to prison, if the crime fits. It's up to them to decide what they do with their lives after that. If they go back, they go back. They take advanage of what prison has to offer or they don't.
We cannot make a law for everything. Rules were made to protect our freedoms, not stifle them. The police should be able to do their jobs without abusing people.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why Senator West does not understand Deferred Adjudacations are not convictions!

He needs to check out the Laws and rules governing Deferred Adjudacations before he writes a ridiculous bill saying the Governor can pardon those with DAs when they require no pardon.

Senator West, read Government Code 411.081, TX Criminal Code Section 55.01 and TX Code of Criminal Procedure (Art. 42.12) there you will find Deferred Adjudacations are not convictions and are to be removed from a person's record after completion of whatever was required when the DA was issued. Someone dropped the ball, whether it was the courts or DPS, the ball was dropped and this is where the problem lies. But get the bills written right or do not write them.

This just shows most of the Legiislators have no idea what the laws state and how the bills they write should be written. To give the Governor power to "pardon" something that is not a conviction makes no sense.

Senator, read and learn before you simply write a bill and want it heard and passed, you cause more harm than good when you do this, you were not the only Senator to write this type of useless bill, some of your fellow Senators followed suit. The only bill worth even hearing is the Bill written by Rep. Jessica Farrar, who did her homework and worded her bill correctly. You might want to take lessons from her on how to research and write a correct bill before making an example of how inconsistently you actually research each bill before you write it!!