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Looking toward the Legislature Clayton & Briscoe are after criminals By Steve Russell Austin Depending on whom you ask, the 65th session of the Texas Legislature is going to be very hard on criminals or very hard on the Bill of Rights. “Crime control will be a major focus of the next session because people demand it,” Rep. Joe gpurlock of Fort Worth told the Observer’. Spurlock was appointed last February by House Speaker Bill Clayton to head the House Task Force on Crime and Its Control. Clayton charged the task force to hold hearings and make recommendations squarely within the bailiwick of the House. Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, currently chaired by liberal Rep. Craig Washington of Houston. Last session, Washington’s committee sat on reams of legislation that most civil libertarians agreed needed sitting on. Perhaps as a result, Clayton appointed Criminal Jurisprudence Vice Chairman Spurlock to head his task force. The belief widely held around the Capitolwhich both Spurlock and Washington refuse to confirm or denyis that the speaker asked Washington to form a subcommittee of Criminal Jurisprudence to hold hearings and propose crime control legislation. Washington was miffed because Clayton not only specified what measures the subcommittee should consider but also who would be named to it. When Washington refused to act on those terms, Clayton named his own task force and sent it into well-publicized battle against crime. With its marching orders, Clayton gave his task force six “recommendations”: *Denial of probation to persons using firearms to commit a felony. *Addition of five years to the sentences of persons convicted of assault while carrying a firearm. *Allowing the state a “limited” right of appeal in criminal cases. The state currently has no right of appeal. \(The main effect of this proposal Would be to take local control away from those counties with liberal electorates. Judges who interpret the Bill of Rights strictly would be reversed on *Correction of abuses in the bail system “if they exist.” *Permitting full use of oral confessions. *Legalization of wiretapping. Gov. Dolph Briscoe also has an anticrime package for the coming session,. substantially expanded from his 1973 calls for wiretapping and the death penalty. Briscoe’s, proposals are remarkably similar to Clayton’s, and both officials have said that they expect to be joined by Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and Atty. Gen. John Hill in leading an irresistable charge for law ‘n order. Of course, no one is really against law ‘n order. Charles Sullivan, executive director of C.U.R.E., the citizens’ lobby for criminal justice reform, told the Observer: “Obviously, the violent offender should be confined.” But Sullivan went on to characterize much proposed anti-crime legislation as “the General Westmoreland approach to crime control. All we need is a little more of the samemore prisons, more jails, more executionsand we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.” C.U.R.E. will adopt a legislative program at its August state convention, but Sullivan is already making his rounds as one of the state’s most persistent unpaid lobbyists. He met briefly with Hobby and Clayton. Hill refuses to see Sullivan because C.U:R.E. has a lawsuit pending against the state to force the Texas Department of Corrections to allow establishment of an inmate chapter. An aide to Briscoe has been promising Sullivan an audience for three months, but the elusive governor has yet to appear. As Sullivan gears up for his lonely crusade, other lobbies from the District and County Attorneys Association to the Texas Civil Liberties Union are preparing to mix it up over the Briscoe-Clayton anti-crime packages. Some areas of controversy can be predicted: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT Although recently declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas death penalty statute may be up for an overhaul. While there are a few practicing barbarians in the Lege who would endorse the death penalty for everything from mass murder to overdue library books \(neither of concrete proposal has yet been made public. Sen. Bill Meier, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee to Study the Texas Death Penalty, told The Dallas Morning News that 6 6 . . it appears we will have some leeway to expand our Texas law to provide the death penalty for murders committed under additional circumstances.” Several sources close to Meier’s subcommittee confirmed that there will “definitely” be an effort to broaden the death penalty. Only one member of the subcommitteeOscar Mauzyvoted against the current statute. The current death penalty is applicable for murder of a policeman or fireman, murder for hire, murder in prison or in attempting escape, and murder in the course of committing or attempting kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated rape, or arson. Garden variety murder-for-the-hell-of-it is not a capital crime. If Charles Whitman had lived and been tried under this statute, he would have been subject to the death penalty only because one of his victims was a police officer. Spurlock predicted “pretty serious opposition” to expanded capital punishment on the House side. ORAL CONFESSIONS As Briscoe never tires of pointing out, Texas is the only state that refuses to admit oral confessions in evidence unless made in open court or confirmed in writing. The current Texas law is based on the assumption that if a confession is really given freely and intelligently, there is no reason why a defendant should refuse to put it in writing or repeat it to a judge. While the assumption certainly seems valid enough, the political reality is that if the liberals have to trade off something, this rule is a prime candidate. Russell is an Austin attorney. George Mc Lemore A jail in West Texas August 6, 1976 3