David Dewhurst, Affluenza and ‘Apostrophe’ Laws
Eric Nicholson of the Dallas Observer makes a very good point in his recent post regarding Lt. Governors David Dewhurst’s comments expressing outrage for the recent probation sentence handed down by a Tarrant County Judge for 16 year old Ethan Couch who had killed four people in a drunken driving accident. Nicholson insightfully argues that politicians who change laws based on public outrage of one case often lead to public policy disasters.
In this case the legislature would change the law so that the Judge would not have probation as a sentencing option. One of the reasons I like the Texas Criminal Justice system is that it gives a Judge or Jury a wide range of punishment options for most crimes. Every case has it’s own unique facts and multiple punishment options allow defense attorney’s, prosecutors, judges and juries lots of room to find a just sentence for each case. The Judge in the Couch case has been highly criticized, however if there is a problem, it is with that particular judge not the law. If the citizens have a problem with the way a particular judge makes punishment decisions then they can remove that judge through the election process.
When the legislature begins to cut off punishment options in criminal cases then prosecutors have less room to plead cases. This tends to force certain cases to go to trial that normally could be worked out through a plea bargain. Jurors also may be unable to reach a verdict if sentencing options are limited. When when the legislature has dramatically raised the minimum punishment range then sooner or later unjust results begin to occur.
We need to keep a wide range of punishment options open in criminal cases. If there is a problem with the way a Judge hands out justice take care of it in the voting booth.