Every two years the legislature meets and tweaks the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. I normally receive a publication after the session is over which will advise me of the changes in a very user friendly way: new laws will be underlined while repealed provisions will be represented with a strike through.
A large question mark sometimes forms over my head when I see what they have done.
This year I was glancing through the Penal Code and noted that the law regarding Criminal Trespass had been changed. The revision now makes it an offense to trespass on an airplane where heretofore you could only be convicted of trespassing in a building, habitation, or on other real estate.
I wondered if there had been a rash of airplane trespassing that I didn't know about.
Well, I got my answer when I was flipping through another publication, West's Texas Cases Advance Sheet, which provides the full text of recent opinions handed down by every appellate court in the state. That's when I learned the story of Rosemary Sarsfield.
Rosemary, on October 12, 1997, had purchased a ticket for a Continental Airlines flight to travel from Houston to Washington D.C. As she boarded the plane, a flight attendant told her that the flight was overbooked so there would be no room for Rosemary's carry on bag. Thus, she would have to check it. Rosemary didn't like that because, it seems, she had some breakable items in the bag and she was apparently none to pleased about the possibility of the items being damaged in the general luggage cargo hold.
Amazingly, "an argument ensued" and Rosemary pulled the flight attendant's hair. The flight attendant, now the one who was none to pleased, reported the matter to her captain. At this point, Rosemary had made it to her seat and was holding the carry on bag. Several flight representatives attempted to persuade her to take another flight if, in fact, she was adamant about the need to carry her bag. Rosemary said "no". At an empass, the police were called and Rosemary was arrested for criminal trespass.
Somehow, someway, this whole crazy thing could not get resolved so a jury trial was held in a misdemeanor court in Houston over the matter. Rosemary was convicted, but, not surprisingly, she received probation.
Not to be deterred, her lawyer appealed the case to the Houston Court of Appeals for the 14th Appellate District. The court, after reviewing the law, reversed Rosemary's conviction for the simple reason that the Penal Code (before last year's revision) prohibited trespass on real estate only, not personal property (even big personal property) like a jet airplane.
Apparently, the legislature had a pretty good idea about how Rosemary's case would end up, because they amended the Penal Code after Rosemary's trial but before the appellate court rendered its decision in December of 1999.
My point (and I do have one), is that it appears the legislatures bi-annual meeting is unnecessary. If they believe that the case of Rosemary is so important that the great Texas Penal Code needs to be changed, then one meeting every five years is sufficient. After all, we don't need a law to handle Rosemary nor do we need the involvement of the criminal justice system. Continental Airlines has every right to remove her from the plane for violation of airline policy. If she doesn't want to fly by the rules, kick her out and tell her where she can find the American Airlines terminal. We do not, however, need to involve the Houston Police Department, the Houston District Attorney's Office, the County Criminal Court at Law no. 15 of Harris County, the 14th Appellate Court sitting in Houston, the 76th Texas Legislature, and a frightening amount of tax dollars.
(The case can be found at Sarsfield v. State, 11 S.W.3d 326 (Tex.App. Houston[14th Dist.] 1999)).
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.