Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Perusing the remains: No legal punishment for 17-year old capital murderers, several good bills still alive

There will continue to be no legal punishments on the books in Texas for 17-year old capital murderers after the Texas House of Representatives failed to get to SB 187 by Huffman on last night's floor calendar prior to the midnight deadline. Oops. Guess they'll have to charge them with "regular" murder, then, which still can get the 17-year old 99-life. Prosecutors say they will ask Governor Perry for a special session on the subject, but Grits wouldn't expect it unless one is called anyway on the budget, water, or some other reason. IANAL, but my personal view was that SB 187 did not provide enough discretion on sentencing to comply with the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama to which the legislation was reacting. (UPDATE 5/25: More from the Austin Statesman.)

Let's run through the fates of a few other Texas bills for which Grits has been following the end game:

The open-file bill for prosecutors, SB 1611 by Duncan/Ellis, dubbed by its authors and the media as the Michael Morton Act, has already been signed. Otherwise, there are a few good bills Grits mentioned previously which are now headed to the Governor or are about to do so:

Both chambers have approved SB 825 by Whitmire which disallows the state bar from issuing private sanctions when prosecutors are found to have committed Brady violations.

Legislation clarifying the standard by which courts judge habeas corpus writs in junk science cases, SB 344 by Whitmire, is on its way to the Governor's desk, the only recommendation from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions to make it there this year. State Rep. Sylvester Turner did a masterful job of shepherding it through the House.

SB 1003 by Carona creating a study commission related to solitary confinement received a second-reading vote before last night's headline. One more vote today and the Governor can consider it. And SB 1114 by Whitmire limiting the use of Class C tickets for school behavior violations made it all the way through the process.

Another bill headed to the Governor, SB 1238 by Hinojosa, would clarify the jurisdiction of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in the wake of a too-limiting Attorney General's opinion from 2011 solicited by former FSC Chairman John Bradley.

The only bill left with even minor potential to reduce incarceration rates by creating incentives for probationers' good behavior, HB 1790 by Longoria, was placed on the Senate intent calendar today and still has a shot. (UDATE: This passed.)

Bad wiretapping bill: Dead. Grand jury secrecy bill: Dead. Good drug policy bills: Dead. Sentencing review commission: Dead. Innocence commission bill: Dead. Bills of innocence commission opponent: Dead.

The action today shifts to the Senate side where there's a good grand-jury transparency bill on the intent calendar that still has a chance: HB 3334 by Hughes would require witness testimony to be recorded in grand jury proceedings as well as that of the defendant. (UPDATE: Failed w/o a senate floor vote.) After the Senate approved its version of HB 912 by Gooden, aka, "the drone bill," the House appointed conferees (Gooden, Burnam, Johnson, Moody, and Stickland) and is waiting on the Senate to do the same. (UPDATE: Senate conferees are Estes, Duncan, Ellis, Hegar, West.)

What else have readers been watching pass or die in these waning days? Update us in the comments.

RELATED: No shortage of good criminal justice bills but lower chamber never voted on them.

ALSO RELATED: Maurice Chammah at the Texas Tribune - who's about to leave the Trib to freelance and play fiddle professionally (suerte amigo) - has an article detailing which portions of the Texas Association of Business' new-found criminal justice agenda passed and failed.


Anonymous said...

"Another bill headed to the Governor, SB 1238 by Hinojosa, would clarify the jurisdiction of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in the wake of a too-limiting Attorney General's opinion from 2011 solicited by former FSC Chairman John Bradley."

In fairness, the problem that this bill corrects is not a problem in the AG's interpretation. The AG's opinion was a correct interpretation of the statute as it is currently written. The problem that is being corrected is that the statute was too narrowly written at the outset.

Anonymous said...

Grits--What about the surcharge bill?

married to probation said...

HB 1790 passed in the Senate last night and off to the Office of the Governor.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:51, it's dead. Only relief will be the implementation of the "incentive rules" this summer. The House Calendars Committee never set it for a floor vote and there were no suitable vehicles to which it could have been amended.

4:15, I agree to an extent. Bradley asked his questions to maximize strategic damage but I also thought the AG wen farther than they had to. Either way, SB 1238 ought to put the argument to rest.

Anonymous said...

The House has approved a bill that allows the state to drug test unemployment applicants. Not that it matters much as Texas has the lowest rate of approving unemployment benefits in the country if challenged by employers.

Anonymous said...

Grits, regarding the bills that should have been introduced two or three decades ago (the ones that seem to be dead) how do (should) we the people go about asking Gov. Perry for a special session?

Specifically -
*HB 3334

Since its creation, do you happen to know the exact number of recommendations the TCAP on Wrongful Convictions offered up & the number of those that became or about to be laws?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:28, it's solely up to the Governor what's on the "call" of the special session.

On the Tim Cole recommendations I want to say they've at least done something now on 8 out of 11, going on nine if Governor Perry signs SB 344, though some in fairly watered down versions. Recording custodial police interrogations is probably the most important outstanding item on the list they haven't passed. Here's the actual report (pdf). That said, the Tim Cole Advisory Panel covered the low hanging fruit but it would be wrong to portray the enactment of the majority of their recommendations as meaning the problem is solved. For the most part, it means the problem has been acknowledged.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To clarify further, 11:28: When you look at the TCAP recommendations linked above, the "eleven" recommendations were really five big ones - e.g., five of the eleven were components of an eyewitness ID bill. Of those five primary recommendations, two had been completed before this session; if SB 344 becomes law, then four of the five will be complete (including discovery and post-conviction writ reform) after this session.

Again, #5 recording custodial interrogations is the big holdout.

Troy Bollinger said...

The huge problem with HB187 is that it simply ignored the language of Miller v. Alabama.
It would have merely replaced one unconstitutional statute with a newer unconstitutional statute.

The automatic nature of the punishment in SB187 does not allow the fact finder (judge or jury) to consider the age and sophistication of the defendant. That is specifically what the Supreme Court justices said you must do.

The only bill that handled it correctly (which also did not pass) was SB3617.

SB3617 treated a Capital committed by anyone under 17 as a first degree felony. In that the judge or jury has a RANGE of punishment to consider. This follows the law.

(So, of course, it never made it out of committee.)


Anonymous said...

Both chambers passed and on 5-23-2013 sent to the governor HB 124, a bill to criminalize salvia divinorum, a species of plant in the mint family. It can produce mood-altering effects lasting up to eight minutes. It is used in religious ceremonies by the Mazatecs, an indigenous people in southern Mexico.

There's not one shred of scientific evidence showing harm to humans, or otherwise supporting its criminalization, and not even the DEA has pushed for it to be banned. This latest escalation in Texas' war on dried vegetables was totally driven by fear, and was led by Charles "Doc" Anderson, a Republican from the north Texas Bible Belt.

Come September 1, 2013, possession of less than one ounce will become a class A misdemeanor. An ounce or more will become a felony.

I can't help but think of the late great comedian Bill Hicks. "Doesn't the idea of making nature against the law seem a little paranoid?" To make it against the law, Hicks observed, "is like saying that God made a mistake."

Future generations will look back in horror upon our "war on drugs" the same way we look back at the Inquisition, and the buying and selling of other humans.

Anonymous said...

Grits, appreciate you taking time to verify, explain and linking.

We've been on the phones and in the in boxes of those charged with the taxpayers' best interest regarding this topic for a while now.

You won’t believe how hard it is to convince people of power that wrongful convictions are initiated at the point of contact, furthered at the point of Booking and subsequent secret one-sided interviews / interrogations, leading to photo arrays & live line-ups, leading to secrete one-sided Grand Jury sessions.

All done on the word of the arresting LEO. Recording is a no brainer.