Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Today in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meets today and several bills are on the agenda that may interest Grits readers.

First, a number of exonerees are coming into town to testify for Rep. Ruth Jones McLendon's HB 166 which would create an innocence commission to study the causes of false convictions and issue recommendations on how to prevent them. This always makes for dramatic testimony and should be the highlight of the hearing. My colleague Cory Session, the half brother of Timothy Cole, who famously was posthumously exonerated, will be testifying on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas.

Rep. Jim Murphy's HB 884 seems problematic to me, reducing notice for government to sell off property seized from people arrested for Class C misdemeanors. Requiring notice before the state sells off your seized property seems perfectly reasonable and hardly imposes as great a burden on the state as does the loss of property for the arrestee.

Rep. Eddie Lucio III's HB 281 would require courts to allow an oral victim impact statement from immediate family members of deceased peace officers at the time the state enters into a plea bargain if the officer died from the defendant's alleged criminal conduct. The bill would allow those family members to be cross examined, let the defense comment on their statement, and even  present additional testimony to attack factual inaccuracies. This bothers me for several reasons. First, an immediate family member can already submit a written impact statement so the bill is redundant and unnecessary. Second, why only police officers? If you're going to do it, why not for everybody? The answer is because if you do it for everybody it would gum up the process. By the time a plea deal is presented to the court, the die has been cast. The only purpose for allowing it would be to convince the judge to un-do the deal, dragging out the process and potentially sending the case to trial. Finally, we frequently hear victim families in death cases claim the process "re-victimizes" them, so putting them in a position where a defense attorney gets to attack their credibility and veracity may not have the cathartic effect victim impact statements are supposed to provide.

HB 516 by House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts would allow judges to issue warrants for DWI blood draws outside their own jurisdiction, letting them issue warrants in contiguous counties. IMO, if they're going to do this, it should only be for rural counties with very small populations. There's no good reason larger jurisdictions shouldn't simply make their judges available if they want to do blood draw warrants.

Those aren't the only items on the agenda but they're the ones that jumped out at me. Expect these agendas to grow longer as the session wears on.


married to probation said...

I was a VAC and worked almost exclusively with victims of violent felonies and surviors of homocide victims. Not only does this bill place added value on the life of a peace officer over that of another victim; it is redundant. The law already not only allows for a written statement, but most judges will allow a victim, or a survivor of a homocide victim, to give an oral statement to the court after sentence is handed down. To open up a victim, or their family member to cross examination sounds almost primative and horrid. In additon and to the dismay of many of my former colleagues, the judicial process isn't about the victim. It is about the defendant.

Anonymous said...

Why not just do away with victim impact statements entirely? Face it, they serve no judical purpose but are merely tawdry and maudlin affairs which allow the prevailing party to verbally assault the convicted, who has already been punished more by society and the State than any extraneouis "piling-on" by the breaved can accomplish.

These statements are an unnecessary throwback to an earlier era

PAPA said...

What about OUR CONSTITUTION???? It more less says there is "NOT" to be any type of enhancement in criminal cases, well what is the STATEMENTS that family give & now going to allow DAs to make Cross Examinations of STATEMENTS ... that is nothing more than ENCHANCEMENTS and is Breaking our CONSTITUTION/BIll of Rights ... it is NOT right and all of those STATEMENTS need to be shut down ... all that stuff just influnces the Judge, DA, Jury and it is not how our founding fathers intended for our Judicial System to function, let the facts stand for themselves, it is bad enough that the Constitution/Bill of Right has gotten to the point that "circumstancial evidence" is allowed...in the eye of two or three witnesses plus the evidence, no dead body no case, etc etc...more less to say, the court system is over run with cases of "emotions" and not evidence, the prisons are full of Inmates convicted on circumstanial evidence ... that is NOT how the Judicial System was set up ... the prosecutors will do anything to get a case won in court by lying, false evidence, paid witnesses, bribery, etc and it needs to be corrected and stopped, those DAs are working to get themselves a Judge Seat and they do not care if they use your love one to be the one more step on the ladder to get therer, many of them are evil, corrupt, and not doing their jobs, they run on how many cases they have "ran" through the system, ask them how many cases they took to court and how many were forced plead bargains, then re-evaluate how they are doing their jobs,time to stop the convictions of innocent people just because that person is handy or has a prior criminal record - this law must be stopped dead in it tracks and I pray there is one person in the voting Legislation that knows what the Constitution/Bill of Rights says and He/She is willing to uphold the Oath they take to Uphold the Constitution of the United States of America

Anonymous said...

To further expand on the comments by PAPA, there are too many cases of the accused being forced to take a plea by corrupt prosecutors. The prosecutors will in fact lie, make up evidence or use LEO's who will lie in order to justify an arrest or charge brought against an accused. They do this with the blessing of the taxpayers who elect them to "protect" them and turn a blind eye to the corruption going on under their noses. Add to that, judges who do not bother to determine what sentence is required for a specific alleged crime and it's no wonder so many end up taking a plea deal. They know that the deck is stacked against them and if they don't,they end up serving two to three times as long as they would by not taking the so called plea. Prosecutors are also known for stacking charges in order to get a conviction when they have a weak case. Until there is a complet overhaul of the judicial system in this country, someone who is accused has very little chance of defending themselves against a judicial system run amok.

Phillip Baker said...

On this, PAPA says it all. There's been a lot of attention recently to wrongful convictions involving murder, rape, and other "big" crimes. Yes, there is a systemic problem with DA's chasing trophy convictions in a quest for a judgeship and using lies, coercion, etc to win at any cost. But their big weapon remains overcharging- slapping far greater charges on a defendant than the alleged crime warrants, in order to coerce the defendant to take a plea. Many innocent people, faced with the certainty of long sentences if they lose, will plead guilty out of fear. After all, the only weapon for most ordinary folks ensnared in our justice system is an appointed attorney they "meet and greet" once and then see next at trial . These are just as "wrongful" convictions as those that get the big headlines.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, anyone starting to notice a trend being set by the State Reps. in the filing of bills' having no real purpose and / or real benefit to the public at large (taxpayers')?

It's as if they are 'not' aware of the fact that their bills will be noticed and if they are, they simply don't give a crap.

This blatant and public act of repaying donors' and / or fulfilling pledges to lobbyist representing special interest groups with bills that Cherry Pick and / or benefit a few, would end up in mass protest if Texas woke the f---k up. zzzzzzz. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

(On the heels of those above, allow me to add my documented feelings) As far as Plea Bargaining goes, hopefully HB 166 will lead to the Texas Innocence Commission addressing the elephant in the courtrooms regarding the Act of making deals (TappingOut) vs. Jury Trials to verdict 97% +/- of the time, snaring both the Guilty & Innocent on the taxpayers’ dime?

Using citizens as Juries on the front end, only to let them go, so the Judge can take Defendants into his chambers to sign Plea Bargain papers with the Guilty & Innocent alike, has & will result in more & more folks (generations of humans): refusing to participate in state sanctioned kangaroo courts, loose more faith in the system & seeing no value in voting, in a race to the bottom where State Reps. (Rs’., Ds’., & Is’). actively ignore real opportunities to repair & restore.

*The law abiding anti-crime mined humans will cheer every time the right thing is done, as the Rogue (active & retired) cringe in opposition to holding court utilizing Rules & Codes already in place. Of course we can all go “fly kites” and continue to ignore it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:15, Baker, et al...Just where exactly do you think the prosecutors get the authority to "overcharge," seek stacked sentences and plea bargain? This authority all comes from the Texas Legislature which has historically been tough on crime--establishing new crimes, increasing penalties, creating new enhancements, and so on. Jessica's Law and "three strikes and you're out" are just a couple that come to mind. If you don't think prosecutors should have these tools in their arsenal, change the law. But don't complain when prosecutors are using the law and the leverage given to them by the Legislature. Don't like plea bargaining? Go to trial and let the jury decide. Although in many Texas counties, juries can be a lot more harsh and punitive than prosecutors ever thought about being.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Some punk whisperd, "Don't like plea bargaining? Go to trial and let the jury decide. Although in many Texas counties, juries can be a lot more harsh and punitive than prosecutors ever thought about being."

Spoken like a true former or active Harris County ADA from the shadows no less and a recognizable speech pattern (et al, don’t complain, change the law, don’t like it) / I.P. address.

For the record ass-hole, consider this when you are handing out free advice from your closet. When I told my FAKE CDL: *I was Not Guilty, *I had a receipt showing exactly where I was, *I had 5 alibis witnesses, was offered a chance to take a polygraph but it wasn't administered, we took it to a felony jury trial 120 days later.

Listen up. On day one. Within seconds of a robbery victim pointing and saying "that's him but his hair is different.", he spent the entire lunch recess trying to convince me to take the plea. He won me over simply by saying these fucked up magic words. "Guilty or Not, you are going to prison just for being arrested on a new unrelated charge while on probation." Adding a cherry on top “it was revoked the very moment of arrest”.

Due to this being verified as a flat out lie, there was no reason to stop a jury trial to drag me into the judge's chambers to sign papers. The probation dept. confirmed it was revoked on the same day he TappedOut & I signed. The taxpayer’s of the “Great State of Confusion” aka: Texas - picked up all of the TAB’s. Next.