by Ed Lyon
During our nation’s formative years, Native Americans faced subjugation and betrayal by the U.S. government. They were torn away from their land and assigned tracts called reservations. Whenever a reservation became valuable because of mineral deposits or a new railroad route, the government would abrogate its treaty obligations and relocate the hapless Native Americans to a new reservation. This happened so frequently that they came to believe all government representatives were untrustworthy liars.
Today’s governments are no different, even if they are politically correct about it, particularly Texas. From a 1977 mandatory prison-release law the state had begun to completely ignore by 1997 [See: CLN, September 2018, pages 18-19], to the present practice of wholesale violations of plea agreements with defendants in criminal cases, it would seem that Texas still lives by the code of the Old West regarding the value of the government’s word—and it includes all citizens, not just Native Americans, with its practice.
The overwhelming majority of criminal convictions secured by governments today are through plea agreements—actual enforceable contracts under the law. Many people accused of sex offenses plead out rather than face trials that publicize their names in connection with an offense many people find repulsive. Many of these plea bargains require probation with therapy and/or community service with the prosecutors, representatives of the state, promising a sealed record or even expungement after the probationary term is successfully completed.
Texas has been busy passing more and more draconian laws regarding sex offenders with the more onerous of them concerning registration. The first of these was enacted in the 1991 legislative session. It was a simple law covering only select sex offenses. In 1997, the legislature amended that first law to include many more sex offenses and took a step backward by unconstitutionally retroactively applying registration requirements to sex offenders from decades ago whose probations had already been successfully completed and prison sentences served since 1970. In 2005, the legislature struck again, mandating that all sex qualifying offenders, no matter what they had been promised by prosecutors to induce their pleas or the length of time they had been out of prison, would have to be included in the new and improved Texas sex offender registry.
So many new sex offenders were registry-qualified by the 2005 law that in just a year the state police had to hire twice as many employees to keep up with the increased workload. That department’s budget increased four-fold.
Former Texas Representative Ray Allen said the intent of the 2005 law was to target “the really dangerous people,” adding, “I think we threw the net too wide.”
Retired Texas Senator Florence Shapiro said she continued to support an expanded sex offender registry to include as many sex offenders as possible.
Attorney Richard Gladden stated, “it’s the state of Texas reneging on their deal,” requiring old plea cases to register now in violation of existing contracts.
Travis County resident Donnie Miller pleaded out to a sexual assault in 1993 for a 10-year probationary term with a record expungement. Yet, a year after successful completion of his probation, he was informed by police that because the legislature changed the law, he now has to be added to the Texas sex offender registry.
Tarrant County resident Jack Hearn found himself in the same predicament. Coming off a five-year probationary term, he was called to his probation officer’s office and told he must register because of the law’s change. When Hearn objected, his probation officer merely told him to “Sign the son of a bitch or I’m going to have you arrested.”
Miller and Hearn are suing Texas for breach of contract. The Austin American Statesman has identified at least 2,800 other people on the registry whose circumstances are the same as Miller’s and Hearn’s. Attorney Angela Moore of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association is preparing an amicus brief in support of the suit.
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