Interim Update: November 20, 2020

November 20, 2020

If some big-brained scientist could figure out how to use tryptophan as a delivery system for a COVID-19 vaccine, we could have this pandemic licked by this time next week.

TDCAA business meeting & elections

Remember, TDCAA’s annual business meeting and regional director elections will take place on December 2, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. Elected prosecutors who are members in good standing should receive the required Zoom link the week before the meeting. If you have any questions about the election or your membership status, please contact Rob at 512/474-2436 or [email protected]. For more details, see our original notice in this previous update.

Bill tracking

Curious about what is being filed for next session? Of the 809 bills filed through yesterday, we are tracking 222 (27 percent) of them, including 37 bills relating to firearms, 33 that would create one or more new crimes, 32 relating to policing, and 22 relating to marijuana and other drugs. To see bills that would amend the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and other “Bills to Watch” (a curated list of some bills you might care about), use the links on the right-hand side of our Legislative page for a complete list. We maintain more than 40 different bill tracks for various topics, but these three lists will give you a good idea of what is being proposed so far. (And if you or someone in your office has proposed a bill that gets filed, please drop Shannon a note so he can track it as such.)

More interim FRIs

The House Corrections Committee has issued a formal request for information (FRI) relating to its interim charges. The notices and topics—including DWI treatment, blue warrant revocations, and probation department funding—can be viewed at this link. Instructions for submitting comments are also found in those notices, the deadline for which is Friday, December 4, 2020. If you have questions about any of this, please email Shannon.

COVID & the Lege

Another interim meeting fell victim to coronavirus concerns as the Senate State Affairs Committee cancelled its hearing on abortion and so-called “taxpayer-funded lobbying” that was scheduled for this Wednesday. That hearing has now been re-scheduled for Monday, December 7. (For details on how to watch from home or office, see the new committee hearing notice.)

COVID & the Courts

The Supreme Court of Texas issued Emergency Order No. 29 last week to extend through February 1, 2021, its previous edicts limiting jury trials during the coronavirus pandemic.

And for those curious about the ongoing “¿Quién es más macho?” fight between the State and local officials in El Paso (which is facing a worrisome surge in coronavirus cases), be sure to check out the recent Eighth Court of Appeals majority opinion and dissent mentioned at the end of today’s case summaries.

Blue warrant changes

Your friends at TDCJ wanted to make sure felony prosecutors are aware of a new policy they have implemented for certain parolees being detained on blue warrants alleging new, unindicted criminal conduct.

In response to the Court of Criminal Appeals opinion in Ex parte Jimenez, 2020 WL 5933212 (Tex. Crim. App. Oct 7, 2020) (seven-month detention on a blue warrant violates 41-day deadline of Gov’t Code §508.282 and related constitutional due process protections), the TDCJ Parole Division is adopting a new policy for offenders on supervision who are picked up on a blue warrant alleging criminal conduct that has not been formally charged. For those offenders who have been held for more than four months without indictment, the Parole Division will either:

  • withdraw the blue warrant and the offender will be released from custody (absent another warrant or hold from a different agency); or
  • request the Board of Pardons & Paroles to move forward with a revocation hearing before indictment of the new offense.

Many of you who have been unable to attend grand jury proceedings have benefitted from the suspension of the 90-day deadline under CCP Art. 17.151 (per Executive Order GA-13), but the governor did not suspend the 41-day deadline in Gov’t Code §508.282—and even if he tried, the related due process concerns may be beyond his power to suspend. Therefore, please keep this new potential consequence in mind when considering the timing of your limited grand jury presentations.

Legislative rotation

As you know, TDCAA can serve as your eyes and ears at the capitol, but the voice legislators need to hear is yours. To help you do that, we organize a rotating schedule of volunteer slots for elected prosecutors or their surrogates who wish to come to Austin to be a part of the legislative process. If you would like to plan ahead and schedule a time to watch (or help) the sausage being made in Austin, contact Shannon for more details—he can tell you when to come, what to bring, and what to expect. (Although as noted above, we have no idea what next session will actually look like in operation, so we will proceed under the assumption that they will conduct business in person as usual until we know differently.)

[NOTE: There will be no update next week due to the Thanksgiving Day holiday; look for our next update in your inbox on Friday, December 4.]

Quotes of the Week

“The fact that we’ve got felons out on a combination of low-dollar bonds and we’ve had five dozen murders allegedly from this, it’s just got to stop.”
            —State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), in response to news reports of murders allegedly committed by accused felons previously released by Harris County judges on personal bonds or minimal cash bonds.

“Hate drives readership more than any of us care to admit.” 
            —Anonymous New York Times employee, quoted in a New York Magazine article analyzing how the internet, social media, and related phenomena have altered the business model of “the paper of record” (and many other traditional forms of media, no doubt).

“The reality is you gotta have someone with the moxie to stand up to the Senate and the lieutenant governor. There’s no question in my mind [Phelan] has that capacity. He’s not somebody with a weak personality and not someone who’s gonna get pushed around.”
            —State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), quoted in an article about the challenges that presumptive House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) will face in his first session in that role.

“I’ve been telling everybody they should anticipate we will be in this same posture through summer of next year, if not fall. If we go till April 1, we will have over 11,000 jury trials in backlog, which is more than we try in a normal year. It means years of digging out of jury trials. We are encouraging people try the cases virtually when they can be tried.”
            —David Slayton, administrative director of the Office of Court Administration, on the latest status of the coronavirus’s impact on Texas courts.

“Pretrial diversion is a great program, and I’ll continue to do it, but I’m not going to collect donations that by law I’m not allowed to collect. … You don’t want a system where you can just buy your way out of trouble.”
            —Erin Lands, DA-elect for the 69th Judicial District, who plans to ask state authorities to investigate her predecessor’s diversion practices. (Read the linked article to find out what went wrong, and remember that if you have questions about what you can or cannot do in your pretrial diversion programs, TDCAA is always here to help!)