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Galveston County Judge Says He Won’t Consider Plea Bargains For Those Who Threaten Or Endanger Police Officers

The announcement has some defense attorneys in a tizzy.

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Photo by Thomas Shea/Getty Images

Last week, Galveston County Judge Kerry Neves issued an order saying that he would not approve probation, plea bargains, or deferred adjudication in any case that involves threatening or putting a police officer in harm’s way.

That list includes not just assault on a public servant and resisting arrest, but also evading arrest. Also included, in Neves’s own words, is “any other offense in which a member of Law Enforcement is threatened or placed in danger.”

Should the defendant, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor all sign off on a plea bargain agreement, Judge Neves might consider it, so long as the the defendant pens and reads in open court “a sincere written statement of apology to the officer or officers involved,” but only if the victim—meaning the police officer—should also agree to the plea bargain. According to Neves, prior criminal history would be a crucial factor in the approval of an agreement.

In essence, Judge Neves has publicly announced that some victims get to have more of a say in the range of punishments on the table for the alleged perpetrators than the rest of us.

“I think he is just trying to take advantage of the feeling right now in support of police,” says legendary Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. “Certainly what he was trying to do [with that Facebook announcement] was get it out to as many police and police supporters as possible. It’s a political thing. He has no authority whatsoever to rewrite the statute.”

Houston defense attorney and legal analyst Mark Bennett echoed DeGuerin’s concern that this was a political move. “It’s unusual and arguably unethical,” Bennett says. “Yes, judges are politicians, but they are not supposed to allow their political pandering to affect their treatment of cases.”

After Judge Neves took his public stand on Facebook, many defense attorneys argued that the judge should recuse himself from presiding over such cases. As a judge, proclaiming that you are willing to publicly declare your willingness to eliminate a range of punishment will certainly provoke a reaction from the defense bar.

“I am not sure if I could give a legal opinion on whether he could be recused, but I think that lawyers ought to certainly be trying that,” Bennett says. “ And in the interest of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, yes, he ought to recuse himself. Now will another judge recuse him? I don’t know.”

DeGuerin had even stronger words for the judge: “By what he has said, he is disqualified from sitting on cases such as [these]. He’s already got his opinion regardless of what the facts are, and so anyone who has such a case before him should bring a motion to recuse him.”

DeGuerin wonders if the the state’s governing board for judges, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, should get involved. “Whether they will step in and do something, I don’t know,” he says. “That depends on whether they get a complaint. I do know that a couple of the lawyer organizations are considering filing such a complaint.”

Years back, DeGuerin recalls, he once had a judge recused after that jurist had publicly declared that any defendant in his court who was charged with a crime while on deferred adjudication would be going to jail. “Doesn’t make any difference if you are guilty or not, you are going to jail, period. So I recused him. He couldn’t be fair. He couldn’t consider the full range of punishments.”

Absent of cell phone footage, these kind of cases tend to be shadowy of fact and long on accusation. DeGuerin worries that the order would further complicate trials involving police and citizens.

“What this would do, particularly if there was a change in the law to enforce something like this, is, it would give the police far too much discretion in bringing charges,” adds DeGuerin. “And they do it all the time. And it would basically say, in any such cases, the cops are always right. But that’s not true.”

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  • DebS

    Judge Neves is up for reelection and has a serious challenger. His grandstanding is to draw attention away from his poor record. His supporters will see this as supportive of law enforcement in an emotional time when in reality it highlights his partiality and questionable judgment. He should not be on the bench.

    • NireSev

      LOL Deb. Legitimately everything you’ve said in this comment is wrong. From “poor record” to “strong opponent.” Make sure you update your comment after those results come in in November! Until then, might want to do some more research instead of prophesizing from behind your computer screen. 🙂

  • ChknBttrBscts

    Isn’t the whole idea of being a judge to…judge, evaluate, weigh, etc. the facts of individual circumstances and apply the law or laws to individual cases? That would include judging whether or not a plea deal is appropriate in a particular circumstance. This judge is saying he’s not going to do a pretty substantial chunk of his job.

  • sunshipballoons

    This is plainly illegal.

  • DebS

    In response to “Niresev”: I’d be happy to address any response in productive discourse but frankly, I’m mystified by your comments other than the usual put downs and generalities, which are usual for anonymous internet users. Mr. Neves does have a serious, and very qualified, challenger. Challenging incumbents is important; it shines a light on their records and keeps them accountable for their work. That said, win or lose, Mr. Neves’ record should and will be highlighted. What I see on Mr. Neves’ site is a lot of patting himself on the back. It is good to be involved in community but that’s not his job. His job is to adjudicate and he himself should be judged on that alone. His plea bargain comments are a big red flag and not just to me but to defense attorneys. These very public comments invite discussion and consideration. As to my research techniques and abilities, I only comment after reviewing information on both candidates. My conclusions are based on the facts that I have read (and not on Facebook trivia and planted comments). I own them comfortably and am happy to have productive discussions with anyone regardless of his or her beliefs.

    For the record, what I see is this, in general terms: Mr. Neves, while qualified, has been skating and is now defending himself with peripherals, condescension, and name-calling. He is making grandstanding remarks that speak questionably about his ability to judge. He is attempting to focus voters on issues other than those that point to his beliefs and record. Thus, he is uncomfortable with his challenger, Mr. Walker, who is eminently qualified whether you want to admit it or not. He brings vast experience and good judgment to the table.

    This is what a democracy is all about! We, as voters, should celebrate this; it elevates us all.