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Archive for April, 2011

Texas Driver Responsibility Program Revisited

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

At least 1.9 million Texans have lost their drivers licenses due to not paying surcharges under the Driver Responsibility Program. Recently the Texas House passed legislation (HB 588) allowing the Department of Public Safety to encourage drivers to pay off their surcharge obligations up front instead of over a three-year period. Read about the incentive program here.  As we all know, just because the House passes it, doesn’t mean the Governor will sign off on the legislation.

If this legislation is implemented, drivers will be able to pay a percentage of the three years worth of surcharges in a one-time sum. These rules were originally drafted when the Amnesty and Indigence programs was approved to help people save money on paying tickets, but were not immediately put into effect.

The Driver Responsibility Program was established to assess surcharges based on certain traffic offenses that occurred on or after September 1, 2003. These surcharges (administrative fees) charged to a driver are either point system or conviction based and are in addition to all other reinstatement fees. Point system surcharges are based on moving traffic violation convictions, while conviction-based surcharges include Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), DWI- Subsequent Offense, DWI w/blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more (Texas or out-of state conviction), No Insurance, Driving While License Invalid or No Driver License. Read further details here.

HB 588 is now on its way to the Senate.

If have questions you should contact and experienced Texas Traffic Attorney.

The Accountability Factor

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Justice Clarence Thomas on Civil Rights and the Right to Sue Government Officials:

An innocent man wrongfully imprisoned and slated for execution is almost not news in this country. Mismanaged blood samples, paid informants and egregious mistakes are common factors that have led to years wasted behind bars, innocence lost.

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana.He spent 18 years in prison, and just before his scheduled execution in 1999, a private investigator discovered that prosecutors had failed to turn over important evidence. Read the whole story here.

In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant’s innocence. Thompson sued the former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr. for failing to train his prosecutors about this legal obligation. (Connick claimed that he misunderstood Brady and was unsure if his prosecutors had adequate Brady training.) Thompson was awarded $14 million (plus $1 million for court fees) for the civil rights violation.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently threw out the verdict, claiming that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a solo prosecutor. Read his first majority opinion here.

Thomas’s opinion not only ignores a man’s near-death because of prosecutorial concealment, it removes district attorneys’ accountability for their subordinates leaving no one responsible for civil rights violations.

Silencing the Twitter

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Most potential jurors understand and are familiar with the traditional rule that jurors are sworn to silence during criminal trial proceedings. It’s common knowledge that they aren’t allowed to discuss the case with fellow jurors, witnesses or lawyers. Jurors are supposed to keep an open mind until all the evidence and arguments are presented, which means that watching newscasts, listening to radio broadcasts and reading newspaper articles that might give them a biased view of the case is out of the question. Unless you somehow missed these basic juror requirements in your middle school civics class, these rules are a given.

But electronic communication devices have eased into our social consciousnesses, commenting on everyday occurrences from the sidelines. These devices, media tools and social networking sites spew information, making it very difficult to keep a balanced view with all of the information flying around. Cell phones, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, iPhones, BlackBerry smartphones, text messaging and blogs have completely transformed how information is spread.

Catching up to the times, the Judicial Conference of the United States has released these gadget use rules to the federal judiciary to be included in juror instructions in order to curb all the twittering.

State courts continue to set their own jury instructions.

Will the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole Be Incarcerated?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Could Texas Board of Pardons and Parole officers find themselves in jail for contempt of court because they have failed to comply with a U.S. District Judge’s order?

Raul Meza, 50, was convicted of murder in the 1982 killing of 8-year-old Kendra Page at a Southeast Austin elementary school playground. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and later received another four years for possessing a weapon while in prison. While Meza was never convicted of a sex crime, his lawyers said during his trial that he admitted to sexually assaulting Kendra. Read more here.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that before instituting sex offender restrictions, state officials must follow certain procedures including alerting a defendant of allegations, offering an opportunity to attend an evidenciary hearing and providing a written final decision including detailed reasons. Last year, the board unanimously decided that Meza “constitutes a threat to society by his lack of sexual control,” but they did not give specific reasons for their decision. Hence, Yeakel’s contempt of court ruling.