Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Vetting police arguments against limiting Class-C misdemeanor arrests

In preparation for tomorrow's hearing on HB 482 (Thompson) limiting Class C misdemeanor arrests Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, I just watched last session's hearing on Chairwoman Senfronia Thompson's similar bill, which passed out of that committee on a 7-1 vote.

A few thoughts:

First, on defining the problem: the ship has sailed on the idea that Class C misdemeanor arrests are rare or only used in extraordinary circumstances. They happen tens of thousands of times around the state every year. and are a significant contributor to local county jail costs. No need for that debate again. The problem is much bigger than even the most vocal critics estimated.

Second, nobody has "Spidey Sense": Almost all the police testimony involved war stories of times when an officer had no evidence of a crime but sensed something was wrong and arrested a serious criminal on a hunch. The problem is, nobody knows how many times officers guess wrong, and the likelihood is, it's a lot. After all, every time a defendant is booked on Class C charges, it means the officer was unsuccessful at finding evidence of anything more serious. And that happens tens of thousands of times per year.

In the comic books, Peter Parker may have a "Spidey Sense" that lets him detect danger. But police officers aren't superheroes who've been bitten by radioactive spiders. And they are constrained by legal doctrines like "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" that do not concern masked comic-book vigilantes.

Third, a police officer opposing the bill outlined a scenario where a suspect left a drug buy and police wanted to arrest them with the evidence, but chose to arrest them for a Class C misdemeanor traffic violation because they didn't want to "burn" their confidential informant.

Grits had so many questions on this one! So you're not going to mention the confidential  informant or the undercover drug operation in the arrest report, even though you're going to charge the person with drug possession? I am not a lawyer, but wasn't this officer in essence admitting to using Class C misdemeanor arrests to get around the Michael Morton Act and Brady v. Maryland? Nobody asked, but the whole scenario didn't sound kosher.

Fourth, nearly everything specific that police named as a problem, like public intoxication or Class-C assault, are excepted in the committee substitute, which allows police to arrest for Class Cs if failing to do so would result in a continued breach of the peace.

Finally, the lobbyist for CLEAT repeated a phony re-imagining of the Timothy McVeigh story to argue against the bill. Grits has written about this before. McVeigh was arrested because he informed the Oklahoma state trooper who pulled him over that he was carrying an illegal handgun. That's what he was arrested for, not a fine-only traffic offense. The trooper has said so publicly many times.

None of that sounded too convincing, frankly, which I suppose is why the bill passed out of committee two years ago by a 7-1 margin, dying on the General State Calendar on the final day awaiting a House floor vote. Now that the legislation has returned with new life, having been endorsed by both state political party platforms after being stripped out of the Sandra Bland Act in 2017, here's hoping the committee looks favorably on Rep. Thompson's bill once again. It's time is now.


Anonymous said...

Will you be testifying? I hope so.

Anonymous said...

And if you're testifying will we get to see another epic Grits shirt?! :D

Anonymous said...

So glad you're finally seeing the light of the criminality of the entire JustUs system, "law enforcement" and the politicians who come up with increasingly stricter laws not to mention an effluent of new laws designed only to make more people criminals.

And to defend oneself against an out of control cop automatically thrusts you into felony territory regardless if the cop is going to kill you. Just "not resist" as the offending LEO beats you into your grave. This country has flat out gone to hell since 911 and it was all planned.

I grew up in a time when the local sheriff didn't even wear a gun. It wasn't because people were so virtuous back then, it was because the laws, were almost always, laws that involved someone as a victim. Now, victimless crimes are all the rage and the corrupt system that creates, enforces and convicts is out of control...and has been for some time.

Anonymous said...

Did you check to see which specific offenses were the most common a person was charged with when arrested for a Class C traffic misdemeanor? As I recall, not having a valid driver license was #1, often in conjunction with not having insurance/financial responsibility; officers encouraged to arrest violators that were not carrying a TDL/ID. It was exceedingly rare that a motorist was arrested for a moving violation or equipment violation without also being charged with the license charge.

Anonymous said...

I think that large swaths of information are missing from this. There are actually very few Class C arrests, and I am curious as to an actual breakdown of alleged arrests by offense.

Most jails in Texas have refused most Class C arrests for decades, and certainly all of the jails in the Central Texas. They will basically only accept breaches of the peace like Public Intoxication, Disorderly Conduct and Failure to Identify and DUI by a Minor, and the last three of those offenses are relatively rare compared to PI. All other Class C offenses are typically handled by Citation.

I would hazard a guess that most of the citations are for traffic offenses, with the number one non-traffic offense cited being Theft, particularly since the changes in value ladder for Theft. And for UCR stats, a Class C citation for a reportable UCR offense (like Theft) counts as "cleared by arrest," so that may be further skewing these numbers.

In most jurisdictions, Public Intoxication makes up the vast majority of on-view Class C arrests, probably somewhere in the 90th percentile of all Class C arrests. Unless you are counting Class C warrant arrests, which the jails are mandated to accept.

Despite that law and the USSC ruling, there is no vast number of motorists being arrested and taken to jail for an on-view traffic violations. Nobody does that, and very few jails in this state, and almost none in the metro areas, would accept those kind of arrests. I have a strong suspicion that those stats are reflecting PI arrests, warrant arrests and/or UCR reportable crimes that are listed as "cleared by arrest" when a citation is issued. Non-PI, non-warrant Class C custodial arrests in this state probably make up less that a couple percent of the Class C custodial arrest total.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Anon 7:42, thank you for your comment Although the cop testimony mentioned by Scott was pretty lame and an embarrassment to law enforcement, your comment deflates one of his many anti-police articles.