Thursday, March 30, 2017

Three good bills in CrimJur committee Monday

Looking at the agenda for Monday's Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, here are three items which merit Grits readers attention. (Not that there aren't other important bills up that day, these just jumped out at me as particularly noteworthy.)

First, the big innocence-related bill of the year:

HB 34 (Smithee) Relating to measures to prevent wrongful convictions. This bill came out of the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission recommendations and is being carried by that group's chair. It requires tracking and disclosure of confidential informant arrangements, recording of custodial interrogations, and requires law enforcement agencies to adopt the model eyewitness ID policy created by Sam Houston State's Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT) instead of each coming up with their own. These are modest but important reforms, the most obvious next steps in the Legislature's decade-long, bipartisan effort to prevent false convictions.

Grits is also a big fan of another bill on the agenda Monday, HB 1465 (Moody) which tells judges to waive court costs if they determine a defendant is indigent. This makes loads of sense. If they're indigent, after all, they cannot pay.

One passing thought, though: On the House floor, Rep. Andrew Murr included an amendment to HB 351 (Canales), which earlier passed out of the same committee, to say courts could charge a "reasonable" fee if they assign an indigent person community service. Language in those two bills may need to be reconciled if both make it all the way through the process.

Finally, this blog doesn't generally follow capital issues, but I'm interested in HB 3054 by Herrero/Smithee requiring unanimity changing faulty jury instructions for imposing the death penalty in capital cases and allowing lawyers to inform the jury of the implications if they can't agree. (Presently, that's not allowed.) As it happens, yesterday Grits met a gentleman who announced he's from the "Fully Informed Jury Association." He was a conservative at the capitol for the asset-forfeiture subcommittee hearing. I know next to nothing about his group, much less if they're even aware of HB 3054, but it's almost like informing jurors about the power they wield is a theme in the air this week. I'm looking forward to hearing debate on this bill Monday.


  1. Here is a wiki for the Fully Informed Jury Association.

    I have no idea if it is all correct.

    And their website:

    Sort of interesting I must say. I know that the jury in my husband's trial had questions for the judge and she refused to respond to them. I've seen the handwritten note. I dare say he'd have not gotten the screwed up sentence he got had she responded to them. It was clearly a compromise between those who wanted vengeance and those who wanted even handedness.

    You all realize that if every defendant were to insist upon a jury trial as afforded in the constitution that the system would collapse under its own weight? 95% of all convictions come from plea deals. It is shameful. Over zealous prosecution, terrify the defendant and family, and they roll like a kicked dog.

  2. Grits, you're not telling us how much you "love" the West/Whitmire bill to teach our teenybopper drivers to silently shut up and fear the cops, almost certainly without teaching them about something like the ACLU driver's bill of rights?

  3. Looks like HB 1465 has better lanuage and results than HB 351. GRITS: A question please,
    HB 1441 is similar to HB 1465 (both by Moody) piease explain why representatives author similar bills? Some times by the same author as noted above or by diffrrent authors.
    Thank you

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  5. I am surprised not see anything about HB 2120 here. A link to the bill is included below:

    There is a lot of fear mongering around this Bill. Passage of HB 2120 does not suddenly set dangerous criminals free. It only makes the good behavior of these people a consideration for their release. Other offenders already receive this consideration. Release is still completely at the discretion of the Parole Board. People who still pose a danger will remain in prison, but those who are ready to be an asset to their community will have the opportunity to be free. Some of the 3g offenses have ruined lives. Keeping people in prison who have repented and changed themselves is just ruining another life. We can't change the past, but we can change the future.

    Passage of this bill is very important to Texas. It has the potential to reduce our prison population and thereby the financial strain of our current mass incarceration and allow people who are reformed to at least have their good time be considered in the parole process.

    1. Yes, really would like HB 2120 be looked at more closer. Many innocent "convicted" are serving time. Many times extended time that will only allow them to be considered for pardon at elderly age. This bill would allow their good behavior to give them a goal of possible pardon at age that looks attainable to them. More attainable goal.

  6. No, Gadfly, I'm not.

    Members file similar bills for a few reasons. Sometimes interest grouops shop them to multiple people looking for an author and more than one bites. Or they'll file a bill, realize a problem with it, then file a slightly different one, not intending to push the first one. There are a lot of different scenarios that can explain it.

    @D007, I was just looking at bills on Monday's CrimJur hearing, and not all of them at that. I heard that was a contentious hearing on HB 2120, but I wasn't there and haven't watched it. I agree it sounds like the prosecutors over-demagogued on the issue. I've just been focused on other bills.

  7. HB 2120 is a bill to grant work time credit for 3(g) offenders. Some consider these to be the "worst of the worst" crimes and they may be, but what they are not is the "worst of the worst' criminals. This bill will incentivize participation in educational, vocational, treatment, and work programs. That in its self promotes positive behavior and strengthens skills and ethics. These offenders will one day be released. I, for one would rather they be skilled and mentally ready to contribute to our communities.

    Because the parole board maintains discretion for parole, this Only gives inmates an opportunity for parole review to come sooner, based on participation. THE PAROLE BOARD HAS THE FINAL DECISION REGARDING RELEASE TO PAROLE OR MANDATORY SUPERVISION. TDCJ and the people of Texas trust the BPP to make the right decisions, correct? If not, well that's another issue.

  8. Oh, @1:30, I just realized I should have clarified: 351 and 1465 address different things. HB 351 lets you take care of your fine through community service or a waiver if you're indigent. HB 1465 is not about fines but court costs.

  9. Everyone shoud visit the site and support it. Anyone that has ever been on a jury and had the powers they have explained to them by a judge please raise your hand. The power of a jury are the only power we have left and the corrupt legal system is doing everything in it's power to remove that.