Monday, June 29, 2009

Next we'll tack on a portion of the electric bill as a court cost...

I was down in Missouri City Municipal Court this morning with a couple of traffic scofflaws. The judge came out and explained to those gathered in the courtroom what was going on. He informed those in the gallery that today was set for pre-trial conferences and that they would try to work out as many cases as possible but, if for one reason or another a case couldn't be worked out, it would be set for trial. Fair enough, nothing unusual in any of those remarks.

Next he told the court that in a jury trial on a traffic case the jury would decide two things: (1) whether the motorist was or was not guilty and (2) the fine to be assessed. Then he informed those in attendance that should they select to go to trial and they lost, the court costs they would be assessed would include the overtime pay for any officers subpoenaed to appear as well as the jury fee.

It seems as if Missouri City has finally found a stick to beat folks into submission and discourage them from exercising their constitutional right to a trial by jury in any criminal matter. The Sixth Amendment affords criminal defendants compulsory process in any criminal proceeding and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure outlines the manner in which a defendant may exercise that right.

If Missouri City really wants to prevent people from exercising their rights, maybe the city counsel should consider making all traffic offenses administrative matters. That way city prosecutors wouldn't have to worry about proving their cases beyond a reasonable doubt -- a hearing officer could be appointed to rubber-stamp the tickets and anyone wishing to challenge the word of the city lackey would be forced to appeal the decision to the municipal court where the city's burden would be a preponderance of the evidence.

Once again our rights are slowly eroding.

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