Tag Archive for 'texas'

Students Are Jailed for Skipping Class in Texas School District

News recently broke that the Fort Bend Independent School District just outside of Houston has been incarcerating truant students. In Texas, students are forced to pay fines if they miss 10 or more days of school within a six-month period. Most of these students are of low-income families. When they fail to pay, they are taken into custody. These students in turn miss even more school once in custody, and some are kicked out of school because of the added absence.

student truancyOver a thousand teenagers have been incarcerated for truancy related charges in the past three years within the Fort Bend school district. Because of the recent revelation, the school district announced it will stop sending truant students to court while a review of the attendance policies takes place.

In addition to this questionable practice, the advocacy group Texas Appleseed discovered that black and Hispanic students were disproportionately sent to court for truancy charges.

Serena Vela, an 11th grader, was jailed for nine days for failure to pay truancy charges. She accumulated more than $2,700, and was unable to pay the fines. Once freed, she was kicked out of school for her added absences. A year and a half later, she works at a pizza place and still does not have her high school diploma. She is just one example of the harmful effects this attendance process has on students.

John Payton’s Strict Oversight of Truancy Cases

Judge John Payton oversees about 80 percent of truancy cases in Collin County. On average, he sends 45 to 50 students to adult jail each year. He claims sending students to jail is a wakeup call for them and will motivate them to stay in school. But if students are being kicked out for missing even more school because of incarceration, how is this helping them?

Payton himself he hasn’t even earned his bachelor’s degree, yet he is in charge of almost all attendance cases in Collin County. He claims that he keeps students under the age of 17 away from felons when he sends them to jail, but jail officials have said this isn’t necessarily the case. He also jailed a student for 11 days whose Facebook page revealed his posts about suffering from depressing, suicide thoughts, and pain. This student spent the whole 11 days in solitary confinement.

Due Process Violations

In Texas, an accumulation of absences is a class C misdemeanor. The charges are held before a “justice of the peace” and municipal courts. The judges in these cases are not required to have a law degree. Buzzfeed News interviewed over 20 families whose child was sent to jail under truancy charges. Not one had a lawyer, directly denying their basic right to due process. Every incarceration of a student without proper due process is unlawful.

Parent Liability for Their Children’s Gun-Related Accidents and Crimes

Parent’s Liability When Children Find Their Guns

Two children have recently died and one has been injured in Harris County, Texas. All three incidences happened in a four day period last week. A three year old and four year old both accidentally shot themselves with a gun found at their home, and a five year old critically injured his six year old brother with a gun found as well.

parent gun liability for childrenOn average, between 2007 and 2011, 62 kids per year have died from gun related mishaps like the incidences above. After three tragedies in just four days, Houston authorities have urged parents to lock their firearms in a safe and inaccessible place to children.

Are Parents Responsible?

In Texas, residents do not need a permit to purchase a gun, a registration of firearms, or a licensing of ownership in order to own a gun. It’s common sense to keep a gun out of reach to children in the home, but clearly a lot of parents fail to recognize this basic safety precaution.

Texas has Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws that are specific to kids and guns. Depending on the circumstance, parents can be penalized with a prison sentence or a fine when their children get a hold of a gun in the home.

Texas imposes criminal liability on parents who allow their child access to a gun and do not store the gun safely. But, parents are not held responsible if the gun was in a locked container.

The three children’s parents will most likely not be prosecuted. But when a child (most likely a teenager) steals a gun from the home and shoots people in a public place (usually schools) the parents are much more likely to be held criminally liable.

How the Insanity Defense Will Be Central in the Trial of Chris Kyle’s Murderer

February 2nd marked the anniversary of Chris Kyle’s death. Legendary Navy SEAL sniper was murdered by a fellow veteran at the Rough Creek Lodge in Glen Rose, Texas on this date 2013. After putting his life on the line for fellow soldiers during four tours in the Middle East, his murder by a veteran is disturbingly ironic.

chris kyle american sniperThe release of the acclaimed film “American Sniper” does not bode well for Eddie Ray Routh, the man who killed Kyle. Since the film’s release, Routh sought to move his trial out of Texas. His request has been rejected. At this point, it is going to be near impossible to find a set of jurors who haven’t seen the movie, or haven’t heard of Chris Kyle.

Background on the Murder

Kyle took Routh to the shooting range about an hour from where Kyle lived. He got in touch with Routh after his mother contacted Kyle asking for his help. Kyle’s plan was to help Routh with his PTSD, by providing a safe place for Routh to talk and open up to Kyle. A huge problem that comes along with PTSD is the inability to trust others. Kyle wanted to help Routh with this problem and make him feel heard and not alone.

Once settled at the gun range, they raised the red Bravo flag, to indicate they were going to start shooting. Kyle had helped design the range, and could come and go as he pleased. He reserved the space until 4 pm. At 4:55 pm, a guide noticed the flag was still up and drove towards the platform. He then discovered the body of Kyle with a bullet in his back and head and the body of a second veteran, Littlefield, with multiple gunshot wounds. Both were dead.

Routh is facing charges of capital murder.

Insanity Defense for Veterans with PTSD

As expected, Routh’s lawyers will be defending him with an insanity defense. He admitted to police that he killed Kyle and Littlefield, and then fled the scene with Kyle’s truck. Routh was formally diagnosed with PTSD, and also suffered from depression, mania, and nightmares. According to Routh’s family, he has had a long list of incidences relating to his PTSD. He had threatened to kill himself and his family in the past, and was admitted to psychiatric wards numerous times. He was in the Dallas V.A. Medical Center and Green Oaks Hospital in Dallas just days before the murder.

A 2014 study revealed that veterans suffering from PTSD or alcohol abuse are seven times more likely to commit violent crimes than fellow veterans. Also, dozens of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been accused of murder, some even killing themselves. 2.6 million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and half a million suffer from PTSD. Some people with PTSD can also have flashes of anger, that turn into hallucinations. These hallucinations can bring veterans back to the battlefield, and make violent decisions that can turn them into criminals.

In recent years, it has become apparent that a change needs to be made to the criminal justice system. Too many soldiers are being sent to jail for crimes committed due to their PTSD. In 2013, the Veterans Defense Project published a manual for defense attorneys to use when defending a veteran with a post-battle mental illness. The book is “The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court.” The book helps explain PTSD and traumatic brain injury and its effects on soldiers. It also has a section that explains how PTSD can be used as an insanity defense in court. The projects goals are to help rehabilitate suffering veterans, assist attorneys in understanding their clients and their illness, and to help increase public knowledge of issues within the criminal justice system.

Individual Veterans Treatment Courts have started to spread throughout each state. A key aspect to these courts is the option of alternative rehabilitation treatment instead of incarceration. The programs can be for mental health or substance abuse, and are often lead by veteran mentors. PTSD has increasingly become a defense for an insanity plea because of this system. This type of court is essential to keeping mentally unstable veterans out of jail, and into the help they really need. But it does not come without its issues. It is still being decided if felonies or violent crimes should be held in veteran’s court, or go through the regular criminal justice system.

In the case of Routh, he will be tried in the conventional criminal justice system. His PTSD and depression will definitely be used by his lawyers as a basis for the insanity defense plea. Either way, the murder of legendary veteran Chris Kyle, will not be forgotten.

Behind Texas Court’s Decision to Strike Down “Upskirt” Photography Ban

The recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling regarding “upskirt” photography – pictures taken covertly under women’s skirts in public and without their consent – has understandably drawn much outrage. The case has been widely described as ruling that it is legal to take these kinds of photos, which has generated a great deal of shock and anger.

texas court upskirt photo banThe court’s ruling did strike down a statute that would have outlawed this practice under the First Amendment’s Free Speech protection. However, a closer examination of the court’s decision and the statute in question demonstrates that this outcome was, more than anything, the result of extremely poor statutory drafting on the part of the legislature.

A law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment when it is overly broad. That is, even if the law aims to achieve a permissible purpose, if the language used encompasses substantially more conduct than intended, the law is unconstitutional.

The portion of Texas Penal Code Section 21.15 (the “improper photography or visual recording” statute) that was called into question was subsection (b)(1), which stated photographing or electronically recording a person is a crime if the photo or recording “is made without that person’s consent” and “made with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”

The State Attorney argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the statute did not target the “speech” (the photograph), but rather the “act” (the taking of the photograph). The State Attorney further argued that, even if the First Amendment did apply, the statute was limited by the consent requirement and, thus, not overly broad.

Under the State Attorney’s interpretation, if the photograph is of an area that is not exposed to the public, (such as a photograph taken up a woman’s skirt) the improper-photography statute criminalizes the behavior, if done with the requisite intent (to arouse or gratify sexual desire). However, if the photograph is of an area that was exposed to the public, (such as a photo of a woman wearing a swimsuit) the statute does not apply.

The State Attorney is bending over backwards to make this statute work, essentially asking the court to approve of an entirely different version of the statute than what is “on the books.” The argument that the act of photography (as opposed to the photo itself) is not a form of speech that invokes the First Amendment is nonsensical; and the State’s interpretation of the term “consent” is extremely broad.

The Defendant argued that, while the legislature has a legitimate interest in prohibiting “upskirt” photography, the statutory language used “fails to distinguish those situations from merely photographing a girl in a skirt walking down the street.” The court seemed to agree.

It is possible for a court to “save” an overly broad statute by utilizing a narrow interpretation. However, the Texas court felt that the “narrow interpretation” offered by the State Attorney – narrowing the statute, ironically, by using a broad definition of “consent” – was not possible in this case.

The court had previously construed “consent” as meaning “an actual or real agreement after thoughtful consideration,” and felt that the idea that a person consents to be photographed by merely appearing in a public place ran completely counter to this definition.

The court was concerned that imposing a definition of consent as broad as the one proposed by the State Attorney, when no such definition was provided in the statute, invaded the legislative domain and diminished the incentive for the legislature to draft narrowly tailored statutes in the first place. The court was also concerned that a very broad definition of “consent” might be a dangerous concept that, if utilized in this case, might be expanded to apply in other scenarios.

The court concluded by agreeing that a person being photographed in an area not exposed to the public, such as up a skirt, did violate the State’s legitimate interest in privacy, but pointed out that the statute in question was overly broad and did not even contain language addressing privacy concerns.

The court used the next subsection of the statute – Section 21.15(b)(2) – as an example of a provision narrowly tailored to address privacy interests: It is a crime to photograph or record a person in a bathroom or private dressing room. The court also offered some examples of ways that the legislature could have tailored the statute to make it less broad; such as requiring a person’s privacy interest to be invaded or prohibiting specific activities, such as “upskirt” photography.

These suggestions raise the question: Why did the legislature choose to focus on the sexual gratification of the perpetrator, rather than the privacy interest of the victim? What if the intent of the photography was not sexual gratification, but instead to mock or humiliate the victim? Should that victim be entitled to any less legal protection?

The court repeatedly refers to the statute as “protecting an individual from being the subject of someone else’s sexual desires,” stating that this is an unattainable goal. In fact, the statute was actually intended to protect individuals from dissemination of invasive photographs of their body parts by strangers. Clearly, the “sexual gratification” language in the statute confuses this purpose.

Thus, after a closer look, this case seems to illustrate the importance of a carefully drawn statute more than it does the ambivalence of the court towards privacy. It does not appear that the court is declaring “upskirt” photography legal or in any way condoning the behavior. The problem is that the legislature drafted a statute that was overly broad, while simultaneously failing to encompass situations in which personal privacy is invaded with non-sexual motives.

What is needed is a statute that encompass the entirety of the behavior the legislature is seeking to prevent, without also encompassing a wide variety of other behaviors.

TX Woman Shoots Husband After He Threatens Her Cat

When a couple decides to tie the knot, they do so with the intent to be bound to one another for life within the sacred bonds of holy matrimony.  But when one or both of the parties are cat-lovers, they enter marriage with a caveat known to every feline-keeper: the cat comes first.

Don’t believe this unwritten rule?  Well readers, Audrey Deen Miller is here to prove you wrong.  The 42-year-old Texas woman has been accused of shooting her husband in the stomach after he allegedly threatened to shoot her cat.  Apparently, the couple had gotten an argument on their way home.  But things turned serious when Miller’s husband announced his plans to fire a pellet gun at her cat.  So what would any respectable cat owner do in such a situation?  If you said pull out a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and shoot the potential cat-attacker in the belly, then congratulations, you know how Miller thinks.  Also, you’re probably mental.

While no decent human being would ever want to see any harm befall on their beloved pet, blasting a dude is a little extreme, especially if you’re married to the other party.  In Miller’s case, she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  Her husband was rushed to the hospital and later released.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Miller’s cat is fine.

This story is interesting on a number of levels.  The first being that Miller somehow lucked out in an odd way because so far she has only been charged with aggravated assault after shooting a person.  With a gun.  In Texas.

But don’t misunderstand, aggravated assault is still a serious felony and carries some major prison time in the state.  However, the penalty for attempted murder is much worst and could’ve fit the facts in Miller’s case just as well.  While there’s no word yet on what prosecutors plan to do, don’t be surprised if they push for this charge later.

The other interesting legal question in this story revolves around the issue of self-defense, or more specifically, defense of others.

It’s a long standing tenet in criminal law that killing another person is arguably the most heinous crime possible.  It’s for this reason that exceptions to murder are extremely limited.  One of those exceptions is protecting another person or yourself from being killed or severely injured.  In such situations, the killing is considered justified.

However, the keyword in this legal exception is “person.”  Animals, no matter how real or severe the threat or harm to them, are not covered under the laws of self-defense.  Furthermore, in Miller’s case, even if the exception did apply to animals, it still likely wouldn’t protect her against conviction.  That’s because the third party victim must actually be under attack at the time the protector acts.  A threat of future harm isn’t a sufficient basis to off an attacker.  As any law professor would say, the harm must be imminent.

But, this doesn’t mean that a person can’t act to protect a cat.  Animals are actually considered a type of personal property (or chattel).  As such, you’re allowed to use reasonable force to protect your belongings from theft or damage.  This legal exception applies in Texas and the majority of states.

However, you’re never allowed to use deadly force to protect your property, regardless of the property’s emotional and/or monetary value.  Also, like with the defense of others exception, the harm to a person’s property must be imminent for the exception to apply.  And if you remember, Miller’s husband only threatened to shoot her cat, but as far as all reports say so far, the cat wasn’t with the couple at the time of the alleged threat.  This means that even if Miller could somehow convince a jury that she was justified in using deadly force to protect her cat, the exception still wouldn’t apply because the feline wasn’t under any imminent threat of harm at the time.

So, in closing, there are two lessons that you should take away from this post.  The first is that our justice system has created legal arguments for nearly every situation imaginable.  The second is don’t mess with cat owners.