Saturday, April 01, 2017

Bad enhancement bill boosts pressure for false convictions

On Monday in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Rep. Todd Hunter has a bill up - HB 2908 - that contains no redeeming qualities that I can tell. Grits dislikes everything in it below the author's name.

Essentially it makes offenses motivated by bias against a police officer hate crimes and jacks up up already-enhanced penalties for assaulting a cop. These penalties are already so high they can and do coerce false convictions. In San Antonio, Officer Matthew Belver beat Carlos Flores while handcuffed, then accused him of assaulting a peace officer. Flores pled no contest to avoid the possibility of a very long sentence, even though video of the incident shows he was not the aggressor and did not assault Belver. (The Bexar DA's Conviction Integrity Unit later discovered Mr. Flores was innocent and convinced the courts to overturn his conviction.)

So the penalties facing Mr. Flores were already so severe that he pled no contest rather than risk a trial. (Nobody outside the police department at the time knew video of the incident was available.) Increasing those penalties creates even greater pressure for innocent defendants to succumb and plea guilty to charges they didn't commit.

Similarly, HB 2908 creates a new second-degree felony offense of unlawful restraint if you're restraining a police officer "in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power." So, for example, when Trooper Brian Encina reached into Sandra Bland's car to arrest her for failure to signal a lane change, she would have committed a second-degree felony under this bill for grabbing his wrist to stop him.

The bill repeats this pattern in several places throughout the law, senselessly boosting already boosted penalties. Terroristic threat - already enhanced from a Class B to a Class A if the target is a public servant - would be boosted to a state jail felony under the bill if the target is a police officer. Intoxication assault would be enhanced a second time to a first degree felony (up to life in prison) if the victim is a police officer; right now it's a second degree felony if the victim is a police, firefighter or EMS tech, third degree for everybody else.

These enhancements won't change behavior and won't make anyone safer. After all, all these crimes are already enhanced for police-officer victims and apparently that hasn't solved the problem. But if the only tool the Lege can find is a hammer, then everything apparently looks like a nail. So this legislation goes back to the enhancement well.

Finally, the bill mandates a rather ham-handed propaganda campaign by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to "develop and implement a campaign to educate children in this state on the value that peace officers bring to a community." What this peace officer licensing agency knows about educating children is anyone's guess, but the point isn't really for the children to be educated - it's to pass something that leaves the public with an impression that the Legislature backs law enforcement. Hell, so do I. But this is not the way.


Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, Eric Frein's trial begins this next week. Frein, who killed a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounded another, is charged under a state terrorism law which requires prosecutors to prove he shot the officers with the goal of intimidating or coercing the government to change its policies.

Depending on whether or not the judge is fair and the tactfulness of defense attorneys, this may prove quite interesting as it will allow for Frein to present a case to jurors showing the dozens, possibly even hundreds of cases where police murdered innocent unarmed citizens, and allow him to make the claim that his actions were justified to prevent the government from committing illegal acts.

Anonymous said...

"So the penalties facing Mr. Flores were already so severe that he pled no contest rather than risk a trial" - Thanks to incompetent District Attorney's this is generally the case, especially in small counties. DA's that get paid too much and have deep tax payer pockets but fail to investigate for the truth and serve justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

This one wasn't on the DA, 10:16. The officers' supervisors had the exonerating video and did not share it with prosecutors in the case, thus allowing Mr. Flores' false conviction.

In fact, the Bexar DA Conviction Integrity Unit deserves credit for following up after the fact to investigate the case and help overturn his conviction. It's one of the only examples I know of where a CIU fairly aggressively investigated an innocence case where the false conviction was primarily based on police misconduct. Gotta give credit where it's due!

Anonymous said...

Something similar happened to me. I kept telling my court appointed lawyer what had really occurred and begging him to get the video of my arrest and he kept telling me that I had better hurry up and take the plea deal before the district attorney (Brett Ligon in Conroe Texas) pulled the offer off the table and prosecuted me on felony charges. I sold my pickup truck and a few other things and hired an attorney who got the video and she got the charge dropped. Crooked cops, crooked lawyers, and crooked prosecutors all conspired against me in an attempt to destroy my life.

mapi said...

Cops want Americans charged with a hate crime for criticizing police:

A newly enacted Oklahoma law makes any “assault” on an off-duty cop a felony even if they're acting in self-defense against a drunken off-duty cop. Any physical contact with a cop is considered a felony.

Still doubt this is really happening?

Recently, an Oklahoma woman was charged with inciting violence because she called police "pigs".

"We don't think it was very nice of her to threaten the lives and safety of our clients," Attorney David Kirk said. (A Google search for "man arrested for criticizing police" returned 9.4 MILLION hits.)

Anonymous said...

Following the cold blooded assassination of the Harris County Chief Deputy Constable yesterday, it's pretty quiet on here. The opponents of the texting while driving legislation have been pretty silent lately too in the aftermath of that horrible church bus crash in Leakey. It's interesting how these public policy discussions can turn on a dime given the relative fluidity of public sentiment as molded by current events.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Alternatively, 3:07, I'm just busy with work. Don't read into light posting schedules. As it happens, I don't think either of those events changed much on the public policy front. Unfortunately, neither are unprecedented.

DLW said...

3:07, I would be interested in your take the percentage chance that an in place texting ban would have prevented the bus tragedy.

And I'm also interested in what you find objectionable in this prior post on the subject by Grits:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to set the record straight on just exactly who Clint Greenwood was. Firstly, he was a defense attorney who represented murderers, thieves, rapists, wife beaters, drug dealers, drug addicts, and pedophiles. All of his clients were police officers, and he had an immaculate record and most of the cops he defended went on to murder, steal, rape, deal drugs, and molest children for decades more.

Then Greenwood pulled off one of the most insane acts you would ever believe, he was hired by another crooked ex-cop and, get this, was put in charge of prosecuting dirty cops in the HCDAO. And he kept defending cops all the while he was supposed to be prosecuting them. I don't have the exact figures but to my knowledge only a handful of cops were ever indicted for felonies, and none, zero, nada, zilch were convicted.

Then he was placed in Internal Affairs, where once again he protected his dirty colleagues. It's not a stretch to say Greenwood is responsible for the ongoing murders, brutality, and other misconduct that permeates law enforcement throughout Harris county. Had he been an honest cop and went after dirty cops with the same zeal other cops go after everyone else, he could have changed the entire landscape of Houston's network of police corruption.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:58, you need some serious counseling. Attorneys are supposed to zealously represent their clients, Clint Greenwood did just that. He also did his job at the DA's office, and as a LEO. I knew Clint outside the law enforcement arena. He was a good guy, with a great family, and more integrity than most folks I've met.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know him but it sure sounds to me anyway that he had one huge conflict of interest if he did indeed defend police officers and then worked at the district attorney's office prosecuting them. Who was the ex cop who hired him?

Anonymous said...

MY opinion: In my 70 years, I have not witnessed an honorable Judge or an honorable District Attorney. I would have felt honored if I was requested to sit on a Jury, especially a Grand Jury but I am not in their click.

Anonymous said...

What's new? The DA's have carte Blanche for false convictions and nothing yi stop them!

Anonymous said...

Key word "was"!