Texas Exile (7/25/00)

I've heard the strangest advertisement on the radio over the past couple of months.

With a very dark and ominous voice, the announcer states that if you commit a crime in Texas using a handgun: "You will not receive probation. You will not receive parole. You will receive the maximum sentence the law allows. You have been warned."

The entity paying for the ad was simply identified as "Texas Exile".

Well, I knew that Texas law says no such thing. Anyone who has never before been convicted of a felony is eligible for probation even if a gun is used in the crime. I also knew that although the parole laws had been strengthen over the past five year,  there was no such thing as "no parole". And the concept of guaranteeing that the "maximum sentence" would be assessed struck me as very odd. No matter how much pen time I want a defendant to serve, it is only a jury that can sentence him to the "maximum sentence".

So who was running the ads? I had guessed it was some crazed anti-gun group that was simply misstating the law for shock value.

I was wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the ad was bought and paid for by your tax dollars with the support of the Attorney General of the State of Texas.

Upon realizing that the AG was behind the program, I became curious. How does the AG back up his promises of "No probation", "No parole", and "The maximum sentence" when Texas law did not support these assertions?

I got my answer: The federal government.

That's right, Texas Exile is explained on the AG's web site in this manner:

Through a grant from Governor Bush's Criminal Justice Division, the Office of Attorney General hired eight prosecutors who work solely on Texas Exile cases. The program opens the federal system to these eight "cross designated" state prosecutors so that criminals with weapons receive maximum jail time. These special prosecutors work hand-in-hand with your local law enforcement and the county prosecutor to determine in which court the offender will face the harshest penalty.  If a Exile case goes to the federal system, then under federal laws offenders are not eligible for  probation or parole. The offender will serve the entire term in a federal prison which is usually located out of state, far away from their friends and family - and are thus "exiled" from their community.
Let me explain what is going on here: Your state government is hiring prosecutors to take cases away from the local elected district attorneys and route them to the federal prosecutors and federal judges who do not answer to the voters.

This should scare you to death.

The federal government has been slowly usurping the state's roles in the area of crime fighting. Now our own attorney general is helping them.  (The Feds are only supposed to have jurisdiction of crimes the affect interstate commerce, but Texas Exile makes no mention of this constitutional requirement.) The State should be fighting the federal government's intrusion into the area of criminal justice, not supporting it.

What's worse, the whole concept is politically ingenious. Listen, 95% of the public could care less whether it is the State or the Feds that prosecute crime so long as they see "tough" results. There is no question, since they get to pick and choose its cases, the Feds are going to have better results every time. Texas Exile is already flaunting the tough sentences the program has resulted in (all in federal court) so it's a matter of time until the ground swell of "The feds do it better so lets give 'em more cases" begins.

It's a bad idea.

Local control is always better than federal control. Moreover, does anyone care about the Constitution? Not too long ago the Supreme Court noted in Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977) that "[I]t goes without saying that preventing and dealing with crime is much more the business of the  States that it is of the Federal Government . . . ."

It appears that those behind "Texas Exile" do not subscribe to this obvious constitutional principle.

Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.

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