Saturday, January 15, 2011
In commenting here Wednesday about former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's shameful money laundering prosecution of Tom DeLay, I noted that:
"The election code conspiracy charge [against DeLay] was almost immediately thrown out because there was no such crime in existence in Texas, as Earle should have known, and as the state’s highest criminal court later confirmed."
R. K. Weaver sent in a comment disagreeing with my analysis. According to Weaver:
"While it is true that there is no express 'conspiracy' provision in the Election Code, there is a general 'conspiracy' provision in the Penal Code which, on its face, and historically was considered to apply to all crimes in Texas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, an elected body that is entirely occupied by Republicans, held for the first time in the history of Texas law, and contrary to abundant precedent, that this provision was limited to Penal Code crimes and was not applicable to the thousands of crimes that exist outside the Penal Code. That decision is generally considered by Texas lawyers to be absurd on its face and blatantly political. Unfortunately, it is also not terribly uncommon. There is a good reason that this court is referred to as 'the clowns on the Colorado.'" [emphasis added].
"When Earle indicted DeLay for conspiracy to violate the criminal provisions of the Election Code he was acting on established and well known Texas legal principals. DeLay's victory before the Court of Criminal Appeals was more about the political landscape in Texas than about the state of the law. I anticipate that when the current case gets before that court they will once again carve a 'DeLay exception 'to the law." [emphasis added].
Weaver is mistaken.
Title 4, Section 15.02 of the Texas Penal Code is the general criminal conspiracy statute. In 1977, long before Tom DeLay's rise to prominence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in Texas authorized to rule on criminal cases, held in Baker v. State, 547 S.W.2d 627 (Tex.Cr.App.1977), that Section 15.02 (the general conspiracy statute) could not be applied to a criminal offense defined by another law (that is, defined by a law located outside of the Penal Code) unless the other law explicitly referenced the Penal Code. The non-Penal Code offense at issue in Baker was the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Baker followed a similar holding in Moore v. State, 540 S.W.2d 140 (Tex.Cr.App. 1977), which had found Section 15.01 of the Penal Code, the general attempt statute, inapplicable to the Controlled Substances Act. Both rulings were based on a strict reading of Penal Code Section 1.03(b) which stated in part that “[t]he provisions of Titles 1, 2 and 3 of this code apply to offenses defined by other laws, unless the statute defining the offense provides otherwise.” Since the conspiracy and attempt statutes were contained in Title 4, they could not apply to the Controlled Substances Act, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned, unless the Controlled Substances Act provided otherwise. The Controlled Substances Act did not provide otherwise, and did not contain its own attempt or conspiracy provisions. (The Texas Legislature later amended the Controlled Substances Act and it now expressly references Title 4 Penal Code offenses.) Both Baker and Moore were written by Tom G. Davis, a widely respected mainstream jurist. Judge Davis was a Democrat, as were all of the judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals at the time. In reversing Baker’s conviction and ordering the prosecution dismissed, Davis ruled that “[t]he complaint and information in the instant case do not allege an offense against the laws of this state."
Baker was still the law in Texas in 2005, when Earle brought his indictment against DeLay, and had been the law for 28 years. The pertinent portions of the conspiracy statute (Section 15.02) and of Section 1.03(b) remained the same. Earle’s original indictment of Tom DeLay charged that DeLay conspired in October of 2002 to violate the Texas Election Code. The Election Code is not a part of the Penal Code. In 2002, the Election Code did not contain a conspiracy provision or reference or incorporate Section 15.02. In other words, under authority of Baker and Moore, one could not conspire to violate the Election Code. The Election Code was amended, effective September 1, 2003, to permit application of Title 4 offenses, including the Section 15.02 conspiracy statute. But the amended version could not be applied to DeLay’s alleged conduct without violating Ex Post Facto principles. Ergo, Earle’s original indictment of DeLay did not, in the words of Tom G. Davis, “allege an offense against the laws of this state.”
According to a story in the Washington Post, Earle did not learn that there might be a problem with the original charge until his assistants told him about it, shortly after the indictment was returned. How sad. The Penal Code went into effect in 1973. The Election Code was enacted in 1975. Earle was elected Travis County District Attorney in 1976. Baker was decided in 1977. DeLay was indicted in 2005. When Earle found out about his mistake, he did not drop the Election Code conspiracy charge, which would have been the right thing to do. He re-indicted DeLay, using a new grand jury under dubious circumstances, but kept the Election Code conspiracy charge in the indictment. The trial court properly threw it out. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed in a 5-4 opinion.