Saturday, September 01, 2018

Twin-Peaks prosecutions will wait for next McLennan DA

Even a local, elected judge in McLennan County is now openly questioning lame-duck District Attorney Abel Reyna's judgment.

The Waco Tribune Herald reported that Judge Ralph Strother decided to postpone the next trial related to the roundup following the Twin Peaks biker massacre in order to let the next District Attorney make decisions about the cases.

Strother said he'd been “troubled by the whole Twin Peaks matter from its inception.” Reported the Trib's Tommy Witherspoon:
It was Strother, even more than [defendant Tom] Mendez’s attorney, Jaime Peña, who questioned prosecutors Thursday about the riot indictment and expressed concerns that they, in effect, had turned what normally is a Class B misdemeanor into a crime that possibly subjects the defendants to life in prison.
Finally! Grits has been waiting three years to hear somebody in authority criticize Abel Reyna's blatant prosecutorial overreach, which IMO amounts to an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. Nearly all of the 155 people indicted over the incident had nothing to do with the shooting (four of the nine dead were shot by police officers, and the identified biker shooters reportedly are all dead).

Prosecutor Robert Moody doubled down defending the system and criticized the judge: “Honestly, I think it’s a little inappropriate for the court to be making its own judgments on whether it is the charge or not,” Moody said. “I think that’s for a jury.”

Here's the unfortunate thing: In a way, given how the system works now, he's right. Prosecutors in 21st century America have near-complete discretion to charge whomever they want with whatever they want. Many prosecutors routinely over-charge, either to gain leverage against a defendant or, as in this case, whenever they find it politically useful.

That authority was baked into the system from a time when judges and juries had more say in the process. But in recent decades, the justice system has come to rely almost exclusively on plea bargaining instead of jury trials. As a practical matter, that removed judges and juries from the process in 97% of Texas criminal cases, leaving nearly all of the institutional power of the state in the hands of prosecutors.

So Moody is right: Prosecutors in general have unrestricted power when it comes to what charge they should bring against defendants. But prosecutors' overarching power in the modern justice system is a bug, not a feature, and Strother is reacting to its seldom-discussed, unintended consequences. Most people would view the abuse of power demonstrated in the Twin Peaks debacle as evidence the system must be fixed, not that absolute prosecutorial discretion is a valuable thing to be defended.

Clearly Judge Strother is tired of sitting by while DA Abel Reyna botches the Twin Peaks cases to a degree that makes the ATF raid on the Branch Davidians look like a well-planned surgical strike. He's hoping, like the rest of us, that McLennan County voters have selected a rational, grown-up person to run the department and is willing to wait to see. It's probably the best alternative.


Gadfly said...

You know what's really sad?

In purplish greater Waco, the Donkeys couldn't find anybody to run against Reyna, who had shown plenty of incompetence even before Twin Peaks.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The Dems had fielded someone, but he withdrew after Reyna lost.

Unknown said...

Someone has to do something about this happening.Hood county is another county that the DA is out of control.People are getting sentenced 40-75 yrs for DWI AND DOPE. This is life to one that is in their 30's

Pat Baker said...

In any case where the Prosecutor is charging a felony crime in the Penal Code where the actual "crime" is addressed with specificity in a different code then in accordance with a court case that was decided in 2008 is applicable, Azeez vs Texas. PD-010-07. It is more than just misconduct but an absolute crime on the part of the prosecutor. As a minimum it is enough to get dismissal with prejudice.

Steven Michael Seys said...

Now that there is teeth in the law describing a DA's job, I have yet to see if a single prosecution arise from a DA who violates this law. If you know of one, please let me know too.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And yet, Pat Baker, Reyna charged dozens of people with 1st degree felonies when the judge in the cases thinks they merit at most a Class B misdemeanor, and no one has accused the prosecutor of a crime. Which begs the question, since the AG can't bring a case in the county without the elected DA's approval, how would such a thing even get charged?

Anonymous said...

Dan Hare is a smart cookie. I mean who in their right mind would want that job and have to clean up the huge mess that Reyna created? Nothing against Johnson but he'll have to at least play the part of the crooked DA as he helps the county attorney defend against all the lawsuits being filed.

TriggerMortis said...

I doubt seriously if any of the "Twin Peaks Fiasco" lawsuits will reach trial. Smart money will reach OOC settlements. The county simply won't take a gamble on what new revelations could come out at trials which in turn could force them to file for bankruptcy, and plaintiffs will probably be happy with a new Ultra Limited.