Monday, November 19, 2012

Taking a look at notable criminal justice bills in the Texas House

It's that time of year again. It's time for our beloved state legislators to pre-file bills before the beginning of the biennial session in January. And, it's probably time to be thankful that they only meet for 140 days every other year - because, otherwise, they could do some real damage.

Today we'll look at some notable bills filed in the house.

First we have Rep. Tom Craddick's (R-Midland) latest attempt to criminalize texting while driving. Under Mr. Craddick's bill, it would be a Class C misdemeanor (traffic ticket) to send a text, read a text, send an e-mail or read an e-mail on a phone or tablet while driving. That is, unless your phone allows you to dictate a text or e-mail or listen to a text or e-mail.

I think we can all agree that it's just not a good idea to text while driving. There is too much else to worry about when out on the road without checking your Facebook status or Twitter timeline at the same time. The bill does not address talking on the cellphone while driving which, even though one's hands may be free, is just as distracting as trying to send that text message.

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has put forward a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Texas and replace it with life in prison without parole (or as Jeff Gamso would say, death in prison). Rep. Dutton's bill would also change the procedures by which appointed counsel is chosen in criminal cases.

In a contest to see who can submit the most obnoxious bill, Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano) has filed a bill that would require law enforcement personnel to determine the identity of a driver by use of various forms of state-issued identification or, if necessary, finger-printing. Of course we all know the purpose of the bill is to target Latino drivers in Texas and to force motorists to show that they are citizens if stopped for a minor traffic offense.

Mr. Taylor's offering is followed closely by Rep. Richard Raymond's (D-Laredo) bill that would create an on-line data base of everyone in Texas who has been convicted of driving while intoxicated (or other offense involving drinking and driving) in the last ten years.

The database would contain a photograph and the person's last known address. The next step in this march to stupidity will be to require a person convicted of an intoxication offense to register on an annual basis in order to create another offense with which they could be charged.

This idea, along with the current sex offender registration laws, are absurd. When a person has been convicted and has served their time in prison or on community supervision they have paid their debt to society. These registration bills force these folks to continue to pay a debt long after they have served their sentence.

Rep. Raymond has also filed a bill that would do away with the Court of Criminal Appeals and let the Supreme Court be the court of last resort for both civil and criminal matters. I have mixed thoughts about this proposal.

On the one hand, I think it makes sense to have one court handle nothing but civil matters and one court handle criminal matters. It streamlines the courts' dockets and, in a perfect world, provides us with judges who are well-versed in a particular branch of the law.

On the other hand, doing away with the CCA would do away with Judge Sharon Killer Keller which wouldn't be a bad idea. I don't know what Rep. Raymond's purpose in this bill is, but I am interested in finding out.

And finally we have Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) who wants to do away with what we in the criminal bar fondly refer to as The Rule.

Texas Rule of Evidence 614 states that no potential witnesses may be in the courtroom when another witness is on the stand. The purpose of the rule is to prevent witnesses from changing their testimony in response to questions they hear another witness being asked.

Rep. Fletcher's bill would allow the prosecutor to designate a courtroom representative for the state during a criminal proceeding. The purpose, of course, is to help the state's witnesses keep their stories straight when testifying before a jury. As anyone who has ever tried a criminal case with multiple police officers knows, The Rule is observed more in the breach than in the observance once the witnesses leave the courthouse. I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that Rep. Fletcher is a former police officer.

What Rep. Fletcher doesn't seem to understand is that the state already has a representative in most courts - it's called the judge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We sure do have some state oriented judges, don't we. Judge Jeremy Warren, a Brazoria County Judge in Angleton Texas, is the worst thing I have seen in years.