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How confused Texas Democrats killed #SandraBland legislation, twice; or, how police kill a civil-rights bill when legislators overwhelmingly support it

The death of HB 2754 (White) limiting arrests for Class C misdemeanors was the strangest bill ride in which Grits has ever participated. Readers will recall that this provision was stripped out of the Sandra Bland Act in 2017, so reformers came back this year for another bite at the apple. The bill has overwhelming support in the Texas House, but now it's dead.Let's try to unpack what happened:In essence, Democrats killed the bill twice: first because they didn't understand the legislation (or w...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Democrats, House, Homeland Security, Martin Luther King Jr, White, Thompson, Sandra Bland, Democratic, Legislature, James White, Texas House, Thierry, Gritsforbreakfast


Dems killed #SandraBland bill - details to come

This blog has closely covered efforts at the Texas Legislature to pass HB 2754 limiting arrests for Class C misdemeanors, but the bill died last week  thanks to Democratic incompetence. (See coverage here and here, plus Twitter commentary.) First, Democrat Shawn Thierry misunderstood the bill, driving her colleagues to vote against legislation that, had it been law at the time, would have prevented Sandra Bland's arrest, incarceration and death. Then, on a motion to reconsider after Dems recogni...
Tags: Law, House, Sandra Bland, Democratic, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Senfronia Thompson, Shawn Thierry


Bail-bondsmen amendments made 'reform' bill actively harmful

Texas' bail-reform legislation remains a mess and Grits has said for weeks the bills not ready for prime time during the 86th Texas Legislature. But after an amendment from the bail-bond industry was tacked on to HB 2020 (Kacal) yesterday in the Texas House by Democrat Oscar Longoria, "bail reform" has gone from a premature, ineffectual and pointless bill to an actively harmful one. (See the Texas Tribune for a quote-both-sides version of the story.)According to our friends at the Texas Fair Def...
Tags: Law, Gritsforbreakfast


My last sliver of hope regarding 2019 marijuana reform in Texas: political pragmatism

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared HB 63 (Moody) reducing penalties for marijuana possession "dead" in the Texas Senate, and Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire has said the bill wouldn't get a hearing in his committee, though he's backtracked on that a bit. Grits still harbors the slightest of hopes that the Lt. Governor may change his mind. Here's why. First, the bill is different from what he's criticizing. Patrick opposed "decriminalization" in his comments, which is what El Paso D...
Tags: Texas, Law, Democrats, Gop, House, Donald Trump, Greg Abbott, Legislature, Patrick, Moody, Texas Senate, Texas Tribune, Dan Patrick, Texas House, Joe Moody, Texas Republicans


As jarring #SandraBland news arrives, Texas House will consider limiting arrests for fine-only traffic offenses

Against the odds, and the wishes of police unions, HB 2754 (White) limiting arrests for fine-only Class-C misdemeanor violations is scheduled for a floor vote in the Texas House tomorrow (though it's about 100 bills down on the calendar, and so could be pushed til Tuesday).The legislation has its roots in the US Supreme Court case, Atwater v. Lago Vista, which was decided in 2001. And the issue came to a head in Texas after the death of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail following a traffic-...
Tags: Texas, Law, Dallas, US supreme court, Sandra Bland, Legislature, Waco, Harris County, Texas Legislature, Texas House, Atwater, Travis County, Waller County Jail, Texas DPS, Appleseed, Gritsforbreakfast


In Austin, a reminder why indigent defense should be independent of the judiciary

Judges in Travis County later today will consider a public-defender proposal that became controversial when the local criminal-defense bar stormed away from the table like spoiled children. (The judges initially opposed a PD office outright, but some of them appear to have softened up.) Luckily, not all the defense lawyers on the working group quit, more were added, and the county-convened working group continued its work, producing this proposal for a public-defender office to handle 30% of the...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, American Bar Association, Aba, Travis County, Gritsforbreakfast


#cjreform on life support: Good TX justice bills need a House floor vote

How much criminal-justice reform the Texas Legislature can muster this year will largely be decided over the next few days. Marijuana-penalty reduction should receive a House floor vote today, and a vote on eliminating the Driver Responsibility surcharge should happen this week. The Senate hasn't done much at all, tbh.Otherwise, much of the bipartisan Texas justice-reform agenda remains bottled up in the House Calendars Committee, facing deadlines that could kill them off soon if that body doesn...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, House, Davis, Johnson, Federal Reserve, Santa, US supreme court, Blanco, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, HARRIS, Legislature, Coleman, Carpenter, Gonzalez


Podcast: Creuzot critiques, pot possibilities, Twin Peaks prosecutions peter out, and other stories that may or may not alliterate

Check out the April 2019 episode of Just Liberty's Reasonably Suspicious podcast, covering Texas criminal-justice politics and policy. This month, we spent a lean half hour discussing law enforcement attacks on Dallas DA John Creuzot, prospects for Texas marijuana penalty reduction bills, whether the Twin Peaks biker massacre was the biggest prosecutorial screwup in Texas history, and other important Texas-justice topics. As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Sou...
Tags: Texas, Law, Dallas, Mandy, Tuff, Gritsforbreakfast, Austin Travis County, Harris County DA, John Creuzot, Creuzot, Dallas DA John Creuzot Marijuana, Texas Legislature Fill


Time to move NOW on Driver Responsibility surcharge abolition

The Texas Legislature has its best-ever chance to abolish the Driver Responsibility surcharge before it in HB 2048 (Zerwas). All the major interests have signed off. Early in the session, leadership appeared prepared to (finally) move on the issue, and the bill was voted out of committee in early April.But the legislation remains stuck in the House Calendars Committee and has yet to be considered, much less set for a vote, on the House floor. Although, officially, the last House calendar is May ...
Tags: Texas, Law, House, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, House Calendars Committee, Major State


Class-C arrests by Austin PD plummet after policy restrictions implemented

As bills are considered at the Texas Legislature to restrict Class-C misdemeanor arrests, Austin PD revealed that new policies limiting such warrantless detentions have radically reduced their number. "In the first three months of the year," the Statesman reported, there was a 57% decline over 2018 arrest numbers."The new changes eliminated the majority of allowable reasons officers could make an arrest for Class-C misdemeanor violations, for which the maximum punishment is only a fine, not jail...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, US supreme court, Sandra Bland, Harris County, Manley, Texas Legislature, Atwater, Travis County, Appleseed, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Austin PD, Office of Court Administration, Texas Appleseed


The Creuzot Crucible: Critic raves over entire cast's performance in media-driven melodrama

The kerfuffle over Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot's rather modest decarceration proposals, discussed in this Grits post upon their announcement, has taken on rather telling and delicious overtones I had not expected.What a delight! The DA's law enforcement critics came off like a Greek chorus of scalded cats. And I loved Governor Abbott in his new role as Inspector Javert!The howls of recrimination from the usual tuff-on-crime crowd, using every nasty tactic in their rhetorical arsenal, c...
Tags: Texas, Law, Dallas, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Burns, TX, TANF, Scrooge McDuck, Gritsforbreakfast, Saul Alinsky, Larry Krasner, Ron DeLord, John Creuzot, Creuzot, DeLord


'Thousands of Sandra Blands': Just Liberty analyzes new arrest data from Texas traffic stops

As the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today prepares to hear HB 2754 (White), the committee substitute to which would limit most Class C misdemeanor arrests (with certain public safety exceptions), Just Liberty put out a new analysis of data titled, "Thousands of Sandra Blands: Analyzing Class-C-misdemeanor arrests and use-of-force at Texas traffic stops."  The analysis relies on the new racial profiling reports which came out March 1st, analyzing information for Texas police departme...
Tags: Texas, Law, Houston, Texas Department of Public Safety, Sandra, Appleseed, Gritsforbreakfast, Sandra Blands, House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee


$12K bail for stealing $1?; Twin Peaks prosecutions petered out; Harris justice system still digging out after Harvey, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused elsewhere: Hurricane Harvey aftermath still affecting Harris County The Houston Chronicle reports on long delays and an uncertain future for Harris County criminal courts. Commenters are blaming the new county judge, but this is a crisis she inherited. Meanwhile, terms of the county's bail settlement proffer has been announced; more on that development once your correspondent has time to digest it and talk to ...
Tags: Google, New York, Texas, Law, Austin, New York Times, Houston Chronicle, HARRIS, Moore, Harvey, Harris County, York Times, Austin Police Department, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee


Austin PD misreported use of force data at traffic stops

After The Atlantic and the Austin Chronicle picked up on the data Grits first crunched in this blog post regarding use of force and Class C arrests at Texas traffic stops, the Austin Police Department issued a correction regarding its use-of-force data in the department's most recent, annual racial profiling report.New reporting on use of force was mandated by the Legislature as part of the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, which required departments to include much more data about traffic stops than anyon...
Tags: Law, Gritsforbreakfast


Dallas DA dishes decarceration decisions: John Creuzot releases a much-anticipated memo

At a debate co-hosted by Just Liberty last fall, then-Dallas-DA-candidate John Creuzot promised to produce a memo three months into his term to identify changes/reforms designed to reduce mass incarceration.Here's the memo. Check it out! Let's run through some highlights: Marijuana : The Dallas DA will not prosecute first-time offenders unless the offense occurred in a drug-free zone, involved a deadly weapon, or there is evidence of delivery. He also said he'd decline first-time 3rd degree felo...
Tags: Texas, Law, Dallas, Philadelphia, Gritsforbreakfast, Dallas News, Larry Krasner, Dallas DA, John Creuzot, Creuzot


Governor Abbott radically scales back support for reduced pot penalties

I'll take "Things you say in a campaign that you don't really mean" for $500, Alex What a disappointment!During his campaign last year during a debate with Democrat Lupe Valdez, Governor Greg Abbott announced his support for making possession of up to two ounces of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor. But the governor has now backed off of that position, radically limiting his earlier proposal. He's still for reducing marijuana penalties, but only for amounts so small that it won't affect mos...
Tags: Texas, Law, Alex, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Moody, Dutton, Lupe Valdez, Texas GOP, Gritsforbreakfast, House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Nicole Collier


Texas bail-reform legislation not ready for prime time

Competing bail-reform bills are up in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today, but in this writer's view, none of them is ready for prime time. For reasons articulated before, the Texas Judicial Council bill carried by Murr/Whitmire (HB 1323) fails to address the main constitutional flaws identified in Texas' system by federal litigation. The Governor's bill, carried by Rep. Kyle Kacal and backed by the bail-bond industry (HB 2020), is even worse. It creates a new layer of governmen...
Tags: Texas, Law, 5th Circuit, Gritsforbreakfast, Office of Court Administration, Texas Judicial Council, House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Kyle Kacal, Murr Whitmire, Bail Advisory Program


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 arou...
Tags: Maryland, Law, House, Oklahoma, Thompson, Brady, Peter Parker, McVeigh, Spidey Sense, Timothy McVeigh, Gritsforbreakfast, Senfronia Thompson


'Epidemic' of Class-C arrests poo-pooed in 2001 by SCOTUS now documented by new Appleseed report, racial-profiling data

"Data, data, data, I cannot make bricks without clay." - Sherlock Holmes One of the frustrating aspects of debating the issue of Class C misdemeanors in Texas has been a general lack of information about how often people are arrested for these low-level infractions. When legislation to limit such arrests was heard in 2017, law enforcement claimed Class-C arrests almost never happened and were nothing to worry about. "Move along," we were told, "nothing to see here."Except that was patently false...
Tags: Texas, Supreme Court, Law, Kentucky, Austin, House, Rick Perry, Dallas, Homeland Security, Sherlock Holmes, Connor, Thompson, Legislature, Kathy Mitchell, Harris County, Atwater


Class C misdemeanor arrests and incarceration in Texas, by the numbers

Beginning with the consideration of HB 482 (Thompson) in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, the Texas Legislature will spend quite a bit of time over the coming weeks considering the consequences of arrest and incarceration for Class C misdemeanors, which in Texas are minor offenses carrying a maximum punishment of a $500 fine and no jail time.There are two ways people end up incarcerated over Class C misdemeanors. First, after the US Supreme Court okayed the p...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Harper, US supreme court, Thompson, Texas Department of Public Safety, Sandra, Harris County, Atwater, Gritsforbreakfast, Office of Court Administration, Municipal Judges, Percentage of Americans the Federal Reserve, Office of Court Administration Judicial Statistics


Bail-reform blues: Can't please all parties when reforming pretrial-detention process

Governor Greg Abbott's endorsement of bail reform last year appeared to give the issue fresh life. But Abbott has now backed a bail-reform bill that eschews best practices and instead puts his office at the center of future decisions about pretrial reform.The Houston Chronicle editorial board rightly opined that the move puts legislative reform efforts at extreme risk, but it's hardly just the governor. There's a swirl of backroom drama surrounding this topic with an array of competing interests...
Tags: Law, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Houston Chronicle, Laura, Legislature, 5th Circuit, Gritsforbreakfast, John Arnold Foundation, Office of Court Administration, Texas Judicial Council, Whitmire Murr, Damon Allen


Why Police Should Be Required to Get a Warrant to Use Cell-Site-Simulators (aka, "stingrays")

Legislation heard this week in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, HB 352 (Blanco) would require warrants for Texas law enforcement to use so-called “stingrays” or “cell-site simulators” to track people's cell phones, and provide more transparency surrounding use of these devices.So-called “Stingrays” or cell-site simulators are examples of relatively new surveillance techniques hovering at the bleeding edge of both cell-phone technology and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Because ...
Tags: Texas, Supreme Court, Law, Navy, California, US, Houston, US supreme court, Blanco, US Department of Homeland Security, Sims, Carpenter, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals, Cesar Blanco, Gritsforbreakfast


Podcast: Elsa Alcala says Texas death penalty unreliable; parsing new TX traffic-stop data; prospects for Lone-Star marijuana reform, and other stories

Here's the March 2018 episode  of the Reasonably Suspicious podcast, recorded last week on the SXSW Podcast Stage hosted by Cadence13. Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala was our special guest, focusing on junk forensic science and the death penalty.Here's what's on this month's show: Opening Riff Would permanently shifting to Daylight Savings Time reduce crime? Top Stories Prospects for marijuana reform in TexasNew data on use of force at Texas traffic stopsLegislative pr...
Tags: Amazon, Texas, Law, Alcala, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Elsa Alcala, SXSW Podcast Stage, Cadence13 Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Death, Texas Public Information ActAs always Grits


Defining an 'undue hardship': Updating last session's debtors-prison reform bill

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday heard HB 465 (White), which is update legislation from debtors-prison reform legislation (HB351/SB1913) passed in 2017. (Attentive readers may recall that, when he laid out HB 351, state Rep. Terry Canales told the committee that the ideas in his legislation originated with a post on this blog!) Despite predictions two years ago that collections would plummet and indigent drivers wouldn't be held accountable, the opposite occurred: colle...
Tags: Law, Republican Party of Texas, Texas Democratic Party, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Terry Canales, Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed


New reports show Austin police use force at traffic stops much more often than other agencies

Austin police are more likely to use injury-causing force against drivers they pull over than any other large Texas jurisdiction, according to new "racial profiling" data reports out this month from law-enforcement agencies around the state. Go here to look up reports from various departments, which agencies were required to submit to the state by March 1st.These are called "racial profiling" reports because documenting racial discrimination was their original purpose when they were mandated in ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Odessa, Denton, Beaumont, Midland, Arlington, Waco, Corpus Christi, Lewisville, Gritsforbreakfast, John Whitmire, Garnet Coleman


A tale of two approaches to Texas property-theft thresholds

A pair of bills heard in two Texas House committees this week demonstrate opposing philosophies when it comes to incarcerating people for low-end property theft.At Monday's Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing, state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, proposed HB 760 making theft of packages delivered to someone's front porch an automatic state-jail felony, even if the value of the stolen items were just a few dollars. Wu said this was justified because going onto someone's porch ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Houston, Don, Plano, Wu, Shaheen, Texas House, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Matt Shaheen, Konni Burton, Andrew Murr, Gene Wu, Sen Konni Burton


TX marijuana reform news, notes, and questions

Grits' analysis of prospects for marijuana penalty reform haven't changed since the beginning of the legislative session. Full-blown Colorado-style legalization is off the table this year, but penalty reduction for user-level marijuana possession has an excellent chance.The Republican Party in its platform has endorsed one proposal making possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil penalty, a measure embodied in Speaker Pro Tempore Joe Moody's HB 63, which received an early hearing this w...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, Gop, House, Republican Party, San Antonio, Abbott, TX, Texas Department of Public Safety, Moody, Texas Tribune, Dan Patrick, Dallas County, Express News, Gritsforbreakfast


Funding needed to bolster Office of Capital and Forensic Writs

My Reasonably Suspicious podcast co-host, Amanda Marzullo, who is the executive director of the Texas Defender Service, asked me to publish this guest blog post she authored advocating for expanded resources for the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs. Give it a read:Members of the Senate Finance Committee’s Article IV Subcommittee should take a lead from their counterpart committee in the House  and adequately fund the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs (OCFW), which has been under-resourced...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, House, Dallas, Senate Finance Committee, Lubbock, Gritsforbreakfast, Forensic Science Commission, Texas Defender Service, Hinojosa, Office of Capital, Amanda Marzullo, OCFW, Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases


Pot debate at #txlege launches early, Soldiers as cops?, Tailoring corrections practices to women prisoners, and other stories

At the Texas Legislature this week, criminal-justice bills are finally being heard, although not yet in all committees, and all on the House side. Most of the major legislation remains to be seen; some of it has yet to be filed. Excepting marijuana discussions described below, all the biggest #cjreform debates of the session are all yet to come. But here are a few mostly-small bills up in committee this week that deserve Grits readers' attention: Marijuana reform debate launches early This after...
Tags: Amazon, Texas, Law, Gop, House, Republican Party, Greg Abbott, Legislature, Plano, Moody, James White, Wu, Texas Legislature, Juvenile Justice, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ


Reasonably Suspicious podcast: Harris commissioners nixed DA hiring request, and other stories

The Harris County District Attorney can't hire more prosecutors, the Houston PD can't find the informant behind a botched SWAT-style narcotics raid, and the chairman of the House Corrections Committee can't understand why local government spends so much money jailing people. My co-host Mandy "Tiger" Marzullo and I discussed all this and more in the better-late-than-never February episode of the Reasonably Suspicious podcast:Here's what we discussed on the show this month: Top Stories Harris Co...
Tags: Law, Houston, Chris Harris, HARRIS, DPS, Harris County, James White, Gritsforbreakfast, House Corrections Committee, Houston PD, Mandy Tiger Marzullo, Interview House Corrections Committee