Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice informs us that, in the People’s Democratic Republic of New York, there is no right to expunction (only he calls it “expungement,” which, according to my OED, is “rare” — not that there’s anything wrong with that). So I presume that if you get arrested for something in New York, your friends, neighbors, employers, landlords, and any other busybodies can find out about it forever, even if the cops screwed up, even if you are acquitted, even if there was no probable cause. That hardly seems fair.
Scott’s post got me thinking about some of the ways the criminal “justice” system is better in Texas. Sure, we have issues with our appellate courts — they think every court east of the Appalachian Trail is loaded with namby-pamby liberal judges, and as a consequence refuse to consider any authority from any of those courts (including the Supreme Court). And sure, all of our judges (trial and appellate) are elected in partisan elections in which party affiliation is a greater factor than fairness, intelligence, or wisdom. And sure, PD’s offices are nearly nonexistent in the state.
But if you’re charged with any crime in Texas, from a traffic ticket on up,
• You are most likely entitled to reasonable bail. Bail can be denied only if the State proves that one of a few exceptions to the constitutional right to bail applies.
• If you’re accused of a felony, you may get an opportunity to make a presentation to the grand jury, which might result in a dismissal if you’re really really innocent.
• You probably won’t be treated respectfully by the judge, the prosecutor, or the court staff, but your treatment will be much more respectful than, for example, the treatment David Feige describes citizens accused receiving in the Bronx.
• If you have funds to hire a lawyer, you can choose a lawyer from the finest criminal defense bar in the world.
• You have a right to a jury trial. No ifs or buts.
• Your lawyer gets to actually talk with the jury panel while choosing the jury instead of relying on a judge to do it for him; he’ll certainly do a better job than the judge would and will probably do a better job than the prosecutor.
• If there is a factual dispute over the way the government obtained its evidence against you, you can get a jury to resolve it, and the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the police acted legally.
• If the cops interrogated you while you were in custody and didn’t record your statement, including your waiver of constitutional rights, it’s probably inadmissible.
• If, by some combination of bad luck and bad facts, the jury convicts you, you can have them set punishment.
• If you haven’t been convicted before of a felony or placed on felony probation, the jury can put you on probation for just about anything (the two exceptions that come to mind: capital murder and possession of more than 400 grams of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver).
• When the state accuses you of a crime in Texas and can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, you can (eventually) clear your name.
There’s a barbecue restaurant here in Houston, Goode Co. Barbeque. They purvey some of the best Texas-style barbecue (Wikipedia) in the state. The image is from their website (click on it to go there — they make a pecan pie that’s second only to mine, and they will ship it anywhere); it’s of their barn-style building on Kirby Drive. It’s not easy to read in the picture, but the inscription painted above their logo is “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you’re in Texas.”