A prosecutor’s discretion was once part of the criminal justice system here in Texas. In fact, as defense lawyers, we often appealed to that discretion in several ways while trying to get prosecutors to elect to drop or dismiss charges before pushing the process forward in court.
On June 7, 2023, the Governor signed HB 17 into law. This law allows courts to remove district attorneys for misconduct if they choose not to pursue certain crimes. Whether you agree or disagree with the provision, the truth is that it’s going to make it somewhat more difficult for defense attorneys to defend you if you are charged with a crime.
In some districts, DAs decline to prosecute low-level pot possession cases, alleged abortion crimes, and alleged election crimes, moves which are part of the Progressive Prosecutor movement. Arguments in favor of the bill state that the role of a DA is to enforce the law rather than to interpret or to make it.
The bill becomes law in September.
Locally elected officials may only be removed through a court process in which a local resident accuses them of incompetency, official misconduct, or drunkenness. HB 17 defines failure to prosecute specific types of crimes as “official misconduct.” It also requires a judge from outside the DA’s district to preside over removal proceedings.
The governor can then appoint a successor until the next election cycle.
This bill would still require a “local resident” to take issue with a prosecutor’s activities.
It’s too early to tell all the ripple effects this could have on certain issues, but we don’t expect this bill to reduce the number of plea bargains. Pleading down to a lesser crime is still prosecuting a crime.
While this law does remove one tool from the toolbox of defense attorneys, it does not negate the need for a private defense attorney. It increases the need for experienced, focused representation and attorneys who will investigate your case to mount a stronger defense.
Texas has always been a tough place to be charged with a crime, and it’s only getting tougher.
Turn to criminal defense attorneys who are equally tough. Contact Greco-Neyland to schedule a case review today.
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