2015.63: Functional Mindfulness for Trial Lawyers I

This is totally adorable:

Jim, a litigator with a busy practice, spends 20 minutes each morning practicing something called mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is great, but meditation is to mindfulness as “litigators” are to trial lawyers.

I’ve written about mindfulness before; the topic is getting some attention now. Scott Greenfield sees two threads of discussion: a) stress release for lawyers (which should be uncontroversial; and b) “put[ting] personal happiness ahead of … responsibilities, … claim[ing] under the guise of mindfulness that stress is an excuse to fail to do your job, to fail to fulfill your responsibility to your client.” Scott picks this quote as an exemplar:

Practice cognitive restructuring. Recognize that your thoughts are not facts. Let’s imagine you’re at a hearing and the judge says, “Well, what about the decision in Smith vs. Jones? Why shouldn’t that apply in this case?” Assuming you have no idea what the judge is talking about, your mind might think, “I didn’t prepare enough. I’m a bad lawyer.” You can use cognitive restructuring and challenge your thoughts by saying, “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this hearing. I did the best I can. And I am a good lawyer.”

While you probably guessed, “Stuart Smalley,” it‘s by Jeena Cho, who “offers training programs on using mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress while increasing focus and productivity.” But it isn’t couched as mindfulness advice, so it might not be the best example for Scott to choose.

(If it is intended as mindfulness advice, it’s shitty mindfulness advice. The mindful lawyer in that situation isn’t going to be thinking about whether she’s a bad lawyer or a good lawyer. She’s going to be lawyering, and saving judgment for the postmortem, when she will, if she is worth her salt, accept that she screwed up and resolve not to do so again, even though the path to that acceptance and resolve is through regret and self-doubt. Our mistakes that hurt our clients should hurt us too.)

There is nothing mystical or magical about mindfulness. It’s just an altered mental state, “altered” not because it’s unnatural, but because mostly we spend our lives outside it, judging ourselves or thinking about what happened before or what happens next. Before we called in mindfulness we called it “the zone,” or “the moment,” or “the flow,” as in, “I was in….” It’s a focus on the job at hand, and only that.

Meditation is easy. When you meditate, there is no job at hand, except to breathe. You get into the zone, focusing only on your breathing and then—since your breathing will, left alone, take care of itself—on nothing. Meditation can teach you what mindfulness feels like.

The trick is getting into that focused state, and staying there, when there is a difficult, stressful, and frightening job to be done. Being mindful while you are sitting on a cushion in your living room focusing on your breathing is a whole nother thing than being mindful when your client is facing life in a cage, a cop is making shit up on the stand, the judge is threatening you with contempt, and your second chair just passed you a note saying that your key witness decided not to honor her subpoena.

Complete focus on the job at hand in that situation is functional mindfulness. It’s a third way, which Scott doesn’t acknowledge, probably because the hucksters of mindfulness for lawyers are not selling it.

Easy solutions sell. Stress relief sells. Affirmation sells. Functional mindfulness doesn’t sell, and I’m going to show you why.

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2015.62: An Apostrophe Too Far

Public defender “Norm DeGuerre” asks:

The answer is simple: because we do not serve our clients’ best interest. We serve our client’s best interest. And what is in the clients’ best interest has nothing to do with what is in the client’s best interest.

Put more concretely: say that there are 100 people charged with felonies, and the court system could, by keeping up a grueling pace, conduct four jury trials1. If everyone demanded a jury trial there is no way the criminal-justice system could convict everyone; 96 cases would have to be dismissed. But the system could convict four people.

We’ve got 100 people facing charges. Divide them roughly, for the purpose of illustration, into five tranches. 20 have a 90% chance of being convicted, 20 have a 70% chance of being convicted at trial, 20 have a 50% chance of being convicted at trial, 20 have a 30% chance of being convicted at trial, and 20 have a 10% chance of being convicted at trial.

The government offers each defendant a plea bargain with a sentence discounted according to the government’s view of the defendant’s chances of winning at trial: the guy who has an 90% chance of getting 20 years and a 10% chance of walking gets a eighteen-year offer. If a defendant’s assessment of the value of a trial to him2 is less than or equal to the government’s, he makes a deal. The cases that are tried or dismissed are those in which the defendant assesses a trial as more valuable than the government does (or the government assesses a trial as essentially valueless).

By controlling the dockets and the plea offers the government keeps rational defendants and ethical, competent lawyers from crashing the system.

The defense wins eighteen outright (mostly dismissals, with a not guilty), the parties try two (one of which is a not guilty), and the other 81 are resolved with guilty pleas (numbers? numbers!).

But the defense could do better, right? Because the most the government could convict, if everyone insisted on a trial, is four. Well, sure, and if the defense bar could act monolithically and disregard the client’s best interest in favor of the clients’, 96 cases would be dismissed and only four poor schmucks would go down hard. But we aren’t and we can’t.

It’s frustrating. I feel Norm’s pain. I wish there were something we could do about it. Something good for the cause, but not at the expense of the individual.

Ah, but there is! Stay tuned.

 


  1. In Harris County, multiply these numbers by about 300 

  2. Taking into account such ineffables as principle. 

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2015.61: Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material

Texas’s new revenge-porn statute, Texas Penal Code Section 21.16, is effective 9/1/2015. It’s unconstitutional (content-based restriction on speech, and no recognized exception applies), but it’s “only” a class A misdemeanor, so defendants will be less motivated to take the time and spend the money to hire me to fight it, and lawyers taking their cases will be less motivated to seek my help:

Sec. 21.16. UNLAWFUL DISCLOSURE OR PROMOTION OF INTIMATE VISUAL MATERIAL.
(a) In this section:
(1) “Intimate parts” means the naked genitals, pubic area, anus, buttocks, or female nipple of a person.
(2) “Promote” means to procure, manufacture, issue, sell, give, provide, lend, mail, deliver, transfer, transmit, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, or advertise or to offer or agree to do any of the above.
(3) “Sexual conduct” means sexual contact, actual or simulated sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality, masturbation, or sadomasochistic abuse.
(4) “Simulated” means the explicit depiction of sexual conduct that creates the appearance of actual sexual conduct and during which a person engaging in the conduct exhibits any uncovered portion of the breasts, genitals, or buttocks.
(5) “Visual material” means:
(A) any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide or any photographic reproduction that contains or incorporates in any manner any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide; or
(B) any disk, diskette, or other physical medium that allows an image to be displayed on a computer or other video screen and any image transmitted to a computer or other video screen by telephone line, cable, satellite transmission, or other method.
(b) A person commits an offense if:
(1) without the effective consent of the depicted person, the person intentionally discloses visual material depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct;
(2) the visual material was obtained by the person or created under circumstances in which the depicted person had a reasonable expectation that the visual material would remain private;
(3) the disclosure of the visual material causes harm to the depicted person; and
(4) the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner, including through:
(A) any accompanying or subsequent information or material related to the visual material; or
(B) information or material provided by a third party in response to the disclosure of the visual material.
(c) A person commits an offense if the person intentionally threatens to disclose, without the consent of the depicted person, visual material depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct and the actor makes the threat to obtain a benefit:
(1) in return for not making the disclosure; or
(2) in connection with the threatened disclosure.
(d) A person commits an offense if, knowing the character and content of the visual material, the person promotes visual material described by Subsection (b) on an Internet website or other forum for publication that is owned or operated by the person.
(e) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the depicted person:
(1) created or consented to the creation of the visual material; or
(2) voluntarily transmitted the visual material to the actor.
(f) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (b) or (d) that:
(1) the disclosure or promotion is made in the course of:
(A) lawful and common practices of law enforcement or medical treatment;
(B) reporting unlawful activity; or
(C) a legal proceeding, if the disclosure or promotion is permitted or required by law;
(2) the disclosure or promotion consists of visual material depicting in a public or commercial setting only a person’s voluntary exposure of:
(A) the person’s intimate parts; or
(B) the person engaging in sexual conduct; or
(3) the actor is an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230, and the disclosure or promotion consists of visual material provided by another person.
(g) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
(h) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under another law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

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2015.60: Another Day, Another Lawyer Ego Scam

I’ll admit it: I sometimes envy guys like Steve Fairlie a bit.

Meet Steve Fairlie of North Wales, Pennsylvania. Steve is:

But it isn’t these meaningless “honors,” unrecognized by our peers and valuable only as far as they can be dishonestly sold to potential clients as meaningful, that make me envy Steve.

Rather, I envy Fairlie because, recognizing that other lawyers like him would pay to have their egos stroked, he created the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, handing out to ego-starved lawyers the honor of calling themselves “the Nations Top One Percent.” Oh, and selling merchandise: a plaque for $150, a personalized statute for $300, a personalized video for $400. I envy, just a bit, the chutzpah of taking insecure lawyers’ money for imaginary recognition so that the lawyers can deceive potential clients. Every time I see another of these scams, I think “I really ought to do that.”

Then I think, “that pond must be fished out by now.”

Then the next time another lawyer ego scam pops up I realize that I was wrong.

Is it possible that there is an unlimited market for stroking insecure lawyers’ egos?

There are organizations that recognize quality lawyering; they’ve been around for more than a few years; they don’t charge lawyers “membership dues” to advertise their meaningless honors; and they offer more benefits than just bragging rights. But they’re probably not going to honor you.

(Carl David Ceder is a “Top One Percent” lawyer, along with a bunch of Texas criminal-defense lawyers I’ve never heard of and a couple I have. Bring a First-Aid Kit!)

 

 

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2015.59: Revenge Porn Statutes and Confidentiality

If I were to write a penal statute that was a content-based restriction on speech, I would come prepared with an explanation of how the statute passed constitutional muster, since such restrictions are presumptively invalid.

The proponents of revenge-porn-criminalization statutes never have picked a constitutional justification for their statutes. Instead they have, in post after article after column, thrown a bunch of possible justifications at the wall, hoping that something will stick.

When I visited the topic in January, Danielle Citron had written an article on Forbes.com entitled “Debunking the First Amendment Myths Surrounding Revenge Porn Laws.” In it she threw a couple of theories against the wall: “disclosing private communications about purely private matters” and “confidentiality.”

In a lengthy post fisking Citron, I wrote “Since maybe three people will have gotten this far in this post, I will give more thought to a breach-of-confidence revenge-porn-criminalization statute and write a post on that.”

Now Citron has made another run at it, highlighting confidentiality. So I guess it’s time to write a post on that.

“Breach of confidentiality” is not a category of speech that the Supreme Court has recognized as unprotected. Citron hangs her confidentiality hat on Cohen v. Cowles Media, in which the issue was whether the First Amendment barred damages against a newspaper for a violation of its promise of confidentiality (spoiler: it did not).

Cohen is a civil case; those who would criminalize speech like to pretend that the rules applicable in civil cases also apply in criminal cases. This is untrue. Even in civil cases, the rules are different depending on whether there is money at stake, or a prior restraint. In civil cases, there are no as-written attacks on statutes, but the civil proceeding most similar to an as-written attack on a statute is an attack on a prior restraint: when the legislature passes a content-based restriction on speech, the effect is the same as that of a court issuing a prior restraint on speech, except much broader.

And as Justice Brennan wrote in his concurrence to Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart:

[T]here is effectively an absolute prohibition of prior restraints of publication of Any material otherwise covered within the meaning of the free press guarantee of the First Amendment.

While there is no absolute prohibition of content-based penal restrictions on speech, such restrictions are presumed to be invalid and subjected to strict scrutiny. Civil judgments in cases between private parties—as in Cohen v. Cowles—are not subject to such scrutiny.

Of Cohen, Citron writes, “Breaches of confidentiality have no First Amendment salience.” I would go further: breaches of confidentiality have no First Amendment relevance. Cohen is a red herring. It did not find a “breach of confidentiality” exception to the First Amendment. Rather, Cohen was decided on the unexceptional principle that “generally applicable laws do not offend the First Amendment simply because their enforcement against the press has incidental effects on its ability to gather and report the news.”

Citron writes:

We can contract around the First Amendment. That is why we can criminalize breaches of confidentiality related to health data (HIPAA), federal agency records (the Privacy Act of 1974), and nude images.

So what about HIPAA?  What about the Privacy Act?

42 USC § 1320 d-6 criminalizes the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information. 5 USC § 552a criminalizes the prohibited disclosure of individually identifiable information by an officer or employee of an agency. It’s an interesting question whether either content-based restriction on speech passes constitutional muster; neither has been tested yet. So saying that we can criminalize breaches of confidentiality related to nude images for the same reason that we can criminalize breaches of confidentiality related to other things begs the question.

And that—Cohen, HIPAA, Privacy Act—is the full extent of Citron’s confidentiality argument. An irrelevant case and two untested statutes.

If the government wrote a penal statute of general applicability forbidding all breaches of confidentiality regardless of content, revenge porn could be punished under that statute. The statute would not be subjected to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment because it would not be content-based.

But revenge-porn statutes are by definition content-based. Citron’s proposed “criminal law [that] would apply only to publication of nude images in circumstances where the perpetrator and the victim had an implicit or explicit understanding that the image would be kept confidential” would be a content-based (“nude images”) restriction on speech, and therefore presumptively invalid.

The government has the burden of showing how a content-based restriction on speech is constitutional. To do so it must show that there is not a real and substantial set of potential unconstitutional applications of the statute—that is, applications to protected speech.

The Supreme Court has listed the narrow categories of speech that it recognizes as unprotected:

  1. Advocacy intended, and likely, to incite imminent lawless action;
  2. Obscenity;
  3. Defamation;
  4. Speech integral to criminal conduct;
  5. So-called “fighting words”;
  6. Child pornography;
  7. Fraud;
  8. True threats; and
  9. Speech presenting some grave and imminent threat the government has the power to prevent, “although,” says the Supreme Court, “a restriction under the last category is most difficult to sustain.”

“Violations of privacy” are not a category of unprotected speech.

“Intentional infliction of emotional distress” is not a category of unprotected speech.

“Breaches of confidence” is not a category of unprotected speech.

Eugene Volokh’s suggestion that nudity posted without consent constitutes obscenity is “fascinating” only because it’s a dumb idea from a smart guy. No revenge-porn criminalization statute I’ve seen includes the elements of obscenity, but if revenge porn were obscene then current obscenity statutes could be used to deal with it.

Some revenge porn might incidentally fall into a category of unprotected speech—might be obscene, might be child pornography, might be defamatory—but revenge porn qua revenge porn fits into no category of unprotected speech, and so is protected.

Citron writes, “What about the argument that statutes proscribing the unauthorized publication of nude photos require an intent to harm? The ACLU has argued that revenge porn laws should only punish intentional, malicious privacy invaders.” Citron herself has taken this position:

Revenge porn laws should also make clear that to win a conviction, prosecutors must show that the poster of the revenge porn intended to do harm.

So it’s interesting that Citron now attributes that position to the ACLU, without copping to it herself.

Shame on the ACLU, by the way, for taking that position.

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2015.58: New Jersey’s Revenge-Porn Statute

c. An actor commits a crime of the third degree if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he discloses any photograph, film, videotape, recording or any other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact, unless that person has consented to such disclosure. For purposes of this subsection, “disclose” means sell, manufacture, give, provide, lend, trade, mail, deliver, transfer, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, advertise or offer. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection b. of N.J.S.2C:43-3, a fine not to exceed $30,000 may be imposed for a violation of this subsection.

That’s New Jersey Statute 2C:14-9(c). It’s unconstitutional as hell, it has been the law since 2004, and there are no appellate decisions interpreting it.

Have Gun, Will Travel Business Card
Have Gun, Will Travel Business Card

I’m just sayin’.

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2015.57: 170 in Waco

More than one hundred seventy bikers are in jail in Waco on charges arising out of the Twin Peaks melee that killed nine. According to the LA Times article, in McLennan County, “there are just 100 [lawyers on the court-appointed list] and many of them do not do the kind of felony proceedings that have stemmed from Sunday’s violence.”

Each defendant has bail (not “bond”) set at $1 million at the moment; they have a constitutional (under the Texas Constitution) right to “reasonable” bail, so as they get lawyers and those lawyers file applications for writs of habeas corpus, the bail amounts will take a nosedive. In Texas (contra Las Vegas lawyer Draskovich, quoted by the LA Times) a murder doesn’t merit a million-dollar bail. In Harris County, for example, the standard bail for murder is $30,000 [correction: $50,000]. A person can be held without bail for capital murder, but only if the State jumps through some procedural hoops within seven days of the arrest and proves at a hearing that the proof of the crime is “evident.” Because there are very few bonding companies that can make a million-dollar bond (none in Houston, unless the defendant puts up a million dollars of collateral), a million dollars might as well be no bail.

Every biker charged in Waco will require a separate lawyer. Conflicts of interest bar one ethical lawyer from representing two defendants unless each defendant, advised by separate conflict counsel, waives the conflict. This is not to say that there are not unethical lawyers who will represent multiple defendants, but the courts can’t very well appoint conflicted counsel. So for each defendant who remains in jail (and is presumptively indigent), the courts will likely need a lawyer. I would guess that there are fewer than 25 court-appointed lawyers competent to handle a murder case in McLennan County, which leaves a huge gap.

Even those who bail out are likely to need court-appointed counsel: while the clubs probably have war chests, I doubt that they have the millions (a meager $50,000 per case times 170 cases equals $8.5 million) needed to defend everyone.

This is a fascinating situation. If the bikers (who see themselves as outlaws) stick together and reject cooperation with the law, they can gum up the McLennan County criminal-justice system for years to come.

That’s not likely to be allowed, though, because the trains must run on time. My early prediction: once the investigation is mostly complete, a move to federal court (charges could include ViCAR) for the defendants against whom the evidence lies heaviest, and dismissals or sweetheart pleas for the rest.

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2015.56: HB2777 Is Unconstitutional

House Bill 2777 (Herrero) purports to provide trial courts with broad authority to admit evidence of prior bad acts for the purpose of showing action in conformity therewith in many cases.

The statute would add an article 38.371, which would state, in pertinent part, that:

Notwithstanding Rules 404 and 405, Texas Rules of Evidence, evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts committed by the defendant against the victim of the alleged offense shall be admitted for its bearing on relevant matters, including:

(3) the character of the defendant and acts performed in conformity with the character of the defendant.

House Bill 2777 is a derivative of the Huffman Special, article 38.37 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and like article 38.37 it violates due process. Continue reading

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2015.55: Texas SB344 vs. HB861

Texas Senate Bill 344:

By: Huffman S.B. No. 344

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to the prosecution of the offense of online solicitation of a minor.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Section 33.021(a)(1), Penal Code, is amended to read as follows:
(1) “Minor” means:
(A) an individual who is [represents himself or herself to be] younger than 17 years of age; or
(B) an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age.
SECTION 2. Section 33.021, Penal Code, is amended by amending Subsections (b), (d), and (e) to read as follows:
(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to commit an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedure [arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person], the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:
(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or
(2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.
(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that[:
[(1)] the meeting did not occur[;
[(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or
[(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense].
(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection [(b) or] (c) was committed:
(1) the actor was married to the minor; or
(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.
SECTION 3. The change in law made by this Act applies only to an offense committed on or after the effective date of this Act. An offense committed before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect on the date the offense was committed, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose. For purposes of this section, an offense was committed before the effective date of this Act if any element of the offense occurred before that date.
SECTION 4. This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.

Texas House Bill 861:

84R17156 JRR-F By: Dale, King of Parker, Sheffield, Burkett,
H.B. No. 861
Frullo, et al. Substitute the following for H.B. No. 861: By: Herrero
C.S.H.B. No. 861

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to the prosecution of the offense of online solicitation of a minor.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Sections 33.021(b), (d), and (e), Penal Code, are amended to read as follows:
(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to induce a minor to engage in conduct with the actor or another person that would constitute an offense under Section 21.11, 22.011, 22.021, 43.25, or 43.26 [arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person], the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:
(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or
(2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.
(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that[:
[(1)] the meeting did not occur[;
[(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or
[(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense].
(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection [(b) or] (c) was committed:
(1) the actor was married to the minor; or
(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.
SECTION 2. The change in law made by this Act applies only to an offense committed on or after the effective date of this Act. An offense committed before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect on the date the offense was committed, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose. For purposes of this section, an offense was committed before the effective date of this Act if any element of the offense occurred before that date.
SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.

Both bills restore the “fantasy” defense, which is the other half of the amendment required to bring Section 33.021(b) and (c) in compliance with the First Amendment.

Huffman’s Senate Bill 344 is plainly superior, on First Amendment grounds, to Dale’s House Bill 861 because Huffman’s bill eliminates the prosecution of a defendant who is talking with an adult and knows it despite the adult’s “representing” himself as a child. Dale’s bill leaves the door open to such prosecutions.

Huffman’s bill is also superior on general legal grounds. Dale’s description of the required intent under subsection (b) is “to induce a minor to engage in conduct with the actor or another person that would constitute an offense….” This language comes from Section 15.031 of the Texas Penal Code, the general solicitation-of-a-minor statute, and it will not serve the intended purpose. When a defendant induces a child to have sex with him, the child’s conduct does not constitute an offense. It is the defendant’s conduct that constitutes an offense. We know what the legislature is trying to say; Huffman’s bill says it, but Dale’s does not.

Both bills limit the subsection (e) defense to violations of subsection (c) (actual solicitation). I think the reasoning may be that a defendant who is married to a child does not intend to commit a crime if he solicits her for sex. But age proximity and marriage are affirmative defenses under the predicate statutes; does the existence of an affirmative defense mean that the conduct would not be an offense?1 We don’t want to prosecute defendants for talking dirty to their spouses or their age-appropriate girlfriends, so why not simplify by applying the defense to (b) and (c)?


  1. Further, the 18-year-old boyfriend who solicits his three-years-young girlfriend for sex may still be violating Texas Penal Code Section 43.25, which has an affirmative defense only for a two-year age difference 

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2015.54: Statute of Limitations Law Geekery

In 2010 D is charged with communicating through a commercial online service in a sexually explicit manner with a minor under Section 33.021(b) of the Texas Penal Code.

He is convicted in 2011 and put on probation, which he complies with until 2014, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules that Section 33.021(b) is unconstitutional.

In 2015  D files an application for writ of habeas corpus in the trial court. His case is reopened and the charge is dismissed.

The State charges D under Section 33.021(c) of the Texas Penal Code with soliciting the same minor to meet him, through a commercial online service, with the intent that the minor would engage in sexual contact with him.

The statute of limitations for online solicitation of a minor is the catch-all three years under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 12.01(7).1 So at first blush it would appear that the 33.021(c) prosecution is barred by limitations.2

The statute of limitations is tolled during the pendency of an indictment, information, or complaint.3

But there is no charge pending while the defendant is on probation.4

But “during the pendency” begins with the day the charge is filed in a court of competent jurisdiction, and ends with the day the accusation is, by an order of a trial court having jurisdiction, determined to be invalid for any reason.5

But if there was a charge pending, it was not a 33.021(c) charge.6

But the Court of Criminal Appeals has held (in Hernandez, which was the appeal of a drug case) “that the first indictment tolls the statute of limitations if both indictments allege the same conduct, same act, or same transaction, even if the offenses charged do not fall within the same statute.”7

So the question comes down to whether both indictments allege the same conduct, same act, or same transaction. That’s a really interesting question to this law geek.

In Hernandez the defendant was charged in both indictments with the possession of the same drugs; the first indictment charged it as amphetamine, and the second charged the same substance as methamphetamine.

Since you can communicate explicitly without soliciting a meeting, and you can solicit a meeting without communicating explicitly, they could be separate acts. But since you could solicit a meeting in a sexually explicit way, they could be the same act.

Absent some indication of what specific message D was prosecuted for in 2010, whether the statute of limitations is tolled might depend on whether any soliciting communication was also sexually explicit.

If D’s lawyer had filed a motion to quash the 33.021(b) indictment in 2010 because it didn’t give him sufficient notice “to plead the judgment that may be given upon it in bar of any prosecution for the same offense”—Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 21.04—the State might have had to plead the specific communication that was explicit, so that now the State could only prosecute him under 33.021(c) for that communication.

But who among us thought to file such motions to quash? I didn’t, and I doubt that anyone else did. So D is left in 2015 fighting about whether the State is prosecuting him now for the same conduct, same act, or same transaction. There may be a lesson in there.


  1. You could argue, depending on the conduct that was solicited, that there is no limitation under article 12.03(c); I don’t think that’s right 

  2. Hooray! 

  3. Booo! 

  4. Hooray! 

  5. Booo! 

  6. Hooray! 

  7. Booo! 

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