Saturday, March 23, 2013

Discovery, drug policy, drones and more: Packed agenda for House Criminal Jurisprudence

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has a packed but interesting agenda on Tuesday, March 26. Not only is Rep. Hughes' bill on cell phone location tracking on the agenda (its companion, SB 786 by Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa is on deck in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on the same day), an array of other big items dot the day's landscape.

Discover this: House and Senate to debate Brady, discovery
In both the House and the Senate, "reciprocal" discovery bills are up on Tuesday. In the House, bills by Moody and McLendon are on the agenda, while in Senate Criminal Justice, Rodney Ellis' SB 1611 comes up to bat. All are likely to have new "committee substitute" language, but the defense bar seems pretty dug in. After Tuesday, I suppose we'll discover whether these bills will move forward regardless, without their consent. Should be quite a show.

Reducing less than a gram penalty range, defining trace cases
Rep. Senfronia Thompson has a pair of bills up, HB 1417 and HB 2914, the first of which would reduce possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance from a state jail felony to a class A misdemeanor, and the second of which would eliminate "trace" cases from the felony docket by requiring there be .02 grams or more of substance to qualify for a state jail felony offense. Readers may recall that one-term Harris County DA Pat Lykos stopped charging "trace" cases as a felony, contributing to reduced jail crowding, but her opponent in the GOP primary, the current DA Mike Anderson, ran on a platform of charging those cases as felonies again. Most other large jurisdictions treat the same type of cases as Class C paraphernalia charges. Thompson, a Houstonian and chair of the House Local Consent Calendars Committee, finds her interests on this momentarily aligned with Republican District Judge Michael McSpadden, who has made it a biennial ritual to round up fellow district judges from Houston to sign on to a letter calling for reducing less-than-a-gram cases to Class A status. His main goal is to relieve the district courts of petty cases he doesn't believe warrant a felony charge. Not the first time this has been proposed, but it's a moment when Houston in particular needs the law adjusted if the DA's Office intends to go back to the bad old days of overcharging petty drug cases.

Honing in on drones
The committee will consider HB 912 by Gooden, which in its original form would have criminalized drone photography generally with a handful of specific exceptions. I understand the committee substitute may look quite different, but whatever it says, it's up on Tuesday. See related, recent Grits coverage.

Time to talk: Regulating pretrial defense-victim communication
There's a bill up by Rep. Charles Perry that would allow victims to decline contact with a "victim outreach specialist" if that person is employed by  defense attorneys for the accused, but by doing so make the DA's "victim service provider" that person's sole point of contact, whose decisions will be relayed to the defense through the DA's office. Seems like they're trying to streamline the cabining of prosecution witnesses into a formal process. With the defense bar there for the discovery debate, I suppose somebody in the room may have something to say about that. By contrast, HB 167 by McLendon would expand victim-offender contact through voluntary, pretrial mediation.

Meet Texas' Spring winner of 'Most Likely to Be a New Crime'
And the winner is, "Voyeurism," a proposed new Class B misdemeanor! See the filed bill text for details, just don't look too close! Committee member Jeff Leach filed HB 2371 and four committee members are joint authors, making it perhaps the most likely bill on the agenda to make it out of committee.

Regulation can be liberating, if you're a prosecutor
HB 1849 by Sterfani Carter, who's vice chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, would clarify language in the DAs' asset forfeiture statute that set limits on what the money can be spent on but in a way that gives prosecutors maximal discretion as well as legal certainty for all the ways they're currently spending the money. The question arises, is it wise to endorse this whole "eat what you kill" environment? Does it create perverse incentives to allow prosecutors to generate these sometimes sizable slush funds? I think this bill would be fine except, if I were made philosopher-king, the money would go to the county treasury and they should be the ones who decide which "law enforcement purpose" to spend the money on.


Anonymous said...

Carter is prosecutors BFF. Wish her and all her buddies would move to Florida and take an early retirement. Even better idea....take Rep Toth with them. Now that's a plan!!

Anonymous said...

DA employee allegedly brings drugs into office, rides on stolen motorcycles, provides info to criminal defendants

- SleeplessinSanAntonio

Anonymous said...

The plot thickens...

Unknown said...

What are the other jurisdictions that don't charge trace amounts?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Lee, as I understand it, Harris is the outlier among large counties. Most use a misdemeanor paraphernalia charge when the amount is too small to allow for defense testing. (Lykos set that threshold at .01 grams, while Thompson's bill would put it at .02 - both pretty low amounts.) Post Melendez-Diaz, that's just common sense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, 10:20, don't hate on Carter and Toth. None of this stuff is easy. And if you pay attention to framing, Toth may agree with you more than you imagine. Carter's perhaps a harder sell, but she's smart and her views represent a particular constituency that gets to have its say, too. Don't make it personal.

Anonymous said...

I was born in Houston grew up in Houston.Lived in Houston for 30 years.Im ashamed to be from Houston because of the nazi Harris County criminal justice systmem That is full of self loathing,self rightous Rick Perry cloans that plague this country and help make it the most inarcerated population on the planet.Sheriff Jack Heard would roll over in his grave.The Old Houston I used to know was never full of such insidious agendas.

Stephanie said...

Not sure why prosecutors think they own the victim. In our case everything was hunky dory until we wanted something different then they were swift to remind us that they didn't "represent" us.