Everyone – regardless of the person they are or the type of crime they’ve committed – has a right to a fair trial that is free from prejudgment. If one Galveston County district court judge had his way, however, this civil liberty may have been threatened in a significant way. Luckily, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association stepped in to put a stop to something that could have had much bigger and more serious implications, had it gotten any further.
Judge Kerry Neves, of Galveston County district court, recently issued an order that would prevent anyone who had been accused of either “threatening” or “endangering the life of” a police officer under his jurisdiction, from entering a plea agreement of any kind, unless he found a “compelling reason to do so.” Judge Neves stated that his order came about largely in part as a reaction to an increased air of danger surrounding law enforcement in the area, particularly in the wake of the deaths of several police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge earlier in the year. Almost immediately, the order was met with a flurry of controversy, particularly from criminal defense attorneys in the area.
Detractors of Judge Neves’ order said that not only did this action make it possible to aggressively prejudge cases, but they also saw it as biasedly siding with law enforcement in what is supposed to be a “fair and balanced” court of law. This kind of impartiality could lead to any convictions in his courtroom being appealed or overturned. The original order banned probation and deferred adjudication not only for someone who had directly threatened the life of a police officer, but anyone who evaded arrest as well, which clearly isn’t directly threatening a law enforcement officer. This is an example of one of the many discrepancies defense attorney took issue with.
Enter: The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. The TCDLA, along with other local criminal lawyers’ associations, immediately criticized the order on the grounds that it showed prejudice to an entire, yet very specific class of cases. The TCDLA was outraged to the point of creating a special task force to look into the matter. They were in the process of deciding whether or not a formal complaint against Judge Neves with the Judicial Conduct Commission was warranted when he withdrew the order himself.
To his credit, Judge Neves indicated that the order itself was originally issued with only the best of intentions. He indicated in a revised order released in August of 2016 that he was only attempting to protect law enforcement from what he referred to as “disrespect and aggressive behavior against our police officers.” He has repeatedly indicated that he was not attempting to make a political statement of any kind. No word yet on whether this will actually satisfy the TCDLA, who say that the withdrawal is “just another [one of the] factors” that they will consider when determining whether to actually file their original formal complaint. Judge Neves’ Facebook posts dating before the Dallas and Baton Rouge incidents, in which he shows strong support for law enforcement and pledges to do everything in his power to protect them, are also reportedly being examined.
While Judge Neves took the steps to hopefully avoid a formal complaint, his inherent views certainly haven’t changed. It is possible that a fair trial would be unlikely in his courtroom, for someone who he perceives as a threat to law enforcement. At The Hill Law Firm, we fight aggressively to ensure our clients’ rights are being protected. If you feel that there was unfair bias at trial, or in any dealings with the Houston criminal court system, contact our office for a free case evaluation.