The Adventures of Steanso brought my attention to a bill filed by Representative Jerry Madden of Plano that would inject a modicum of reason into our current controlled substance probation laws. 

The biggest obvious change would be to shorten the maximum length of probation for 3rd degree felony drug offenses from ten years to five. [See also Scott Henson’s continuing and excellent coverage on the subject of why shortening probation terms in Texas would be a good thing: start here and here.]

But there are other important changes tucked in there too, that need to be implemented. For example, it would require Texas judges to give credit to revoked probationers for the time they spent successfully completing SAFPF (the underlined portions are the proposed changes; they have not taken effect):

SECTION 1.  Section 2(a), Article 42.03, Code of Criminal Procedure, is amended to read as follows:

(a)  In all criminal cases the judge of the court in which the defendant is [was] convicted shall give the defendant credit on the defendant’s [his] sentence for the time that the defendant has spent…

(2) in a substance abuse treatment facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Section 493.009, Government Code, as a condition of deferred adjudication community supervision granted in the case if the defendant successfully completes the treatment program at that facility.

Government Code 493.009 refers to SAFPF (pronounced by judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and defendants alike as “SAFE-P”), which is a six to nine month therapeutic community program served in TDCJ (prison) followed by three months at a residential facility, and more outpatient treatment after that. 

Basically, it can mean being locked up for a year.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Defendants in Texas who are offered probation on a 3rd degree Possession of Controlled Substance charge might now be offered up to 10 years of probation with SAFPF as a condition of probation. Or they might get an alternate recommendation of 3 or 4 years in prison, if they chose to turn down probation.  Anywhere between 2 to 10 "to do"(as we say).

Since under current Texas law, the defendant will not get credit for the year he spent completing the SAFPF program, if he is later revoked on probation, he may decide “just to take the prison time” instead. For someone who was offered the minimum of two years TDC, factoring in the possibility of parole, it might actually mean the defendant spends less time locked up by turning down probation.

That’s right: there are currently many scenarios where defendants turn down probation if SAFPF is a condition, because they calculate that they may parole more quickly if they take a “low” prison sentence instead.

I’m sure most practicing criminal defense attorneys in Austin have had these discussions with their clients.

From a public policy standpoint, it’s idiotic. We ought to be encouraging drug offenders to seek treatment; not giving them common sense reasons why they ought to use tax payer money to be incarcerated.  And not crediting them with the time they’ve done towards potential future revocations is both unfair to them, and overly burdensome on the taxpayer.



    Open Letter to D.A. Craig Watkins, members of Dallas County ‘Justice’ and all the Texas State Legislators. My two sincerest questions are, doesn’t innocence matter, and does no one do an honest and ethical job anymore? I want you all to know that I have just sent the following email to approximately 82,000 people with many more who will see it onsite.

    For over three and a half years, while waiting on justice in a Dallas Court, many individuals concerned with seeing the truth prevail have quietly built Sharif’s and other cases on angelfire. No more silence on the part of myself or MTWT and our supporters. After what Bill Hill’s administration has started and the current D.A.’s staff continues to carry out along with the dishonest police, unethical judges and other public officials in Dallas County what you all have done ,and are still doing, with this case and other cases MTWT and Justice Watch can do no less than make as much noise about all of you and the shady system you work in as possible. Your Indigent Defense system that appoints people like Sharif’s former court-appointed attorneys John Read and Douglas Schopmeyer and judges like Manny Alvarez who turn a blind eye to this and other illegal activities from perjured testimony of the states so-called witness/victim Cathy Jonette Hawkins, the D.A.’s office destroying and/or concealing exculpatory evidence,thereby depriving Sharif any chance for ever receiving a fair trial. What a shameful thing you are doing under the false guise of seeking justice.

    Some of Many Points To Ponder On:

    1. Why haven’t you, Mr. Watkins, taken up the offer made to you by Sharif to prove his innocence. This offer was made to you at the Criminal Justice workshop held at Friendshipwest Church in May of 2007.

    2. Sharif’s cases dates back almost 3 years, and trial in these proceedings have been postponed “5 or 6 times”. The latest trial date of October 29, 2007 has been set off until April 21, 2008. What kind of justice is this? If the DA’s office keeps delaying Sharif’s day in court his chances of conviction are increased more as witnesses memory fade, and their whereabouts fade change; one of many problems that have already greatly affected Sharif’s current attorneys (former Dallas Judge Dianne Jones, and former Dallas DA candidate Larry Jarrett) ability to prepare his defense.

    3. Why has your office deprived Sharif of his right to a speedy trial in the misdemeanors pending against him. One of these charges is 3 1/2 years old and if Sharif has a jury trial and is found guilty the judge can only sentence him to “TIME SERVED” because Sharif has served 16 1/2 months in jail already.

    4. Its not fair to us tax payers and it makes no sense to keep pursuing convictions on these misdemeanor charges.

    5. Did you know that to date, over $250,000.00 (and counting, with the April 21,2008 trial date scheduled) in taxpayers money has been wasted in pursuing convictions on the felony charges which are based on the knowingly perjured testimony of Cathy Jonette Hawkins, and the overzealous and questionable activities of the Dallas and Farmers Branch police and staff from the former and your present D.A.’s administration.

    6. Why didn’t the D.A.’s office or Sharif’s former court appointed attorneys interview any of the 30 + witnesses they were aware of years ago? Now Sharif’s current attorneys are unable to locate most of these witnesses.

    7. Why didn’t D.A.’s office or Sharif’s former court appointed attorneys subpoena the victim/witness work, cell and home telephone records years ago when they were available. These records would of rebutted the D.A.’s theory of a crime and substantially discredited Ms.Hawkins claims of a crime and ;claims in which Ms. Hawkins falsely alleged she was not involved in a personal relationship with Sharif as far back as August 2004. Now Sharif’s current attorneys can not get any of these records, records that would prove Sharif’s innocence.

    8. Why didn’t the D.A.’s office or Sharif’s former court-appointed attorneys subpoena the video camera footage available following Sharif’s arrest that would show Sharif has never stalked Ms. Hawkins? Isn’t this about seeking justice, finding out the truth?

    9. Your D.A.’s office is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Sharif in the Northern District Court (Case No.3:06-cv-2277). This lawsuit is currently on appeal before the US Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit, New Orleans, LA (Case No. 07-10382), yet Mr. Watkins your office is being allowed to proceed to trial and prosecute Sharif.This “undeniable conflict of interest”.

    10.One of your campaign promises Mr Watkins was to restore the people’s trust and confidence in the D.A.’s office, but the case of Sharif is evidence that the D.A.’s office hasn’t changed that much since the days of Bill Hill’s beleaguered administration. In this case you have assistant DA’s who have knowingly aided and abetted the sole witness/victim Cathy Jonette Hawkins in committing perjury on numerous occasions. These same assistant prosecutors are withholding or have caused exculpatory evidence to be destroyed, and this was done with the knowledge of Judge Manny Alvarez, and Sharif’s former court-appointed attorneys Mr. Read and Schopmeyer.

    Sumbri Omalua

    P.S. The time has come for you Mr. Watkins to step up to the plate and end this charade or forever have this and other stains on justice blemish his record and the integrity of his administration.

  • Angie Jetson

    In Harris County Tx my hudband was sentenced to 5 yrs Tdc. He appealed the judges decision a year ago and got on an appeal bond. When u on an appeal bond canyou get time on bond credited towards tdc sentencing time 5yr”s?