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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Texas Attorney General Cannot Independently Prosecute Electoral Matters, Judicial Rules

The Texas Superior Criminal Court ruled that the attorney general cannot independently prosecute electoral matters.

In Wednesday’s 8-1 ruling (pdf), the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals said: “The attorney general can initiate criminal proceedings. [election cases] with the permission of the local prosecutor, but cannot initiate a criminal case unilaterally. “

This refers to the provision of section 273.021 of the Texas Electoral Code, which, in particular, states: “The attorney general may prosecute a criminal offense under the electoral laws of this state.” The court stated that this provision violated the separation of powers provision in the Texas Constitution.

The decision was related to a case involving a Southeast Texas sheriff charged with campaign finance misconduct. Texas Rangers discovered that Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stevens allegedly accepted individual campaign contributions in excess of $ 100 during her 2016 sheriff’s run, in violation of campaign finance laws.

The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Stevens, whereupon Attorney General Ken Paxton referred the Texas Ranger investigation to a grand jury in neighboring Chambers County and relied on the prosecutor’s office in Section 273.021 of the Texas Election Code. … Later in April 2018, Stevens was charged with three criminal charges by a grand jury: forging a government file and two counts of illegally receiving donations.

Stevens appealed and argued that the section 273.021 provision violated the doctrine of separation of powers in the Texas Constitution. She also argued that the district and district attorneys are part of the judicial branch of government and the attorney general is part of the executive branch.

The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals on Wednesday sent the case back to Chambers County Court of First Instance and ordered the dismissal of indictments against Stevens. The members of the commission wrote in the majority decision: “Any attempt to overlap the constitutional duties of the attorney general with the constitutional duties of district and district attorneys in the sense of a kind of Venn diagram is unconstitutional.”

The Court noted that the Texas Constitution “clearly divides the powers of government into three separate departments — legislative, executive and judicial — and prohibits the exercise of any authority“ duly assigned to any of the others ”unless that authority is based on constitutional law. security.”

Wednesday’s ruling also overturned a previous ruling by the lower court, the First Court of Appeals, which found that section 273.021 of the state electoral code “clearly and unambiguously empowers the attorney general to initiate criminal proceedings under electoral laws. generally, whether these laws are within the Code or outside of it. “

Paxton issued a statement condemning the decision, tweet“Now, thanks to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, Soros-funded district attorneys will have exclusive power to decide whether there has been election fraud in Texas.”

He added: “This decision could have devastating consequences for future elections in Texas.”

Christian Menefee, District Attorney for Harris County, Texas’s largest county, praised the decision on Twitter… “NEW: It is now a law that TX AG * cannot * unilaterally prosecute people for electoral violations. This is the case of the local prosecutor’s office. This is a big victory for local authorities and Texans who are tired of government officials exaggerating claims of vote rigging to undermine elections, ”he wrote.

To follow

Mimi Nguyen Lee is a distribution editor and world news reporter based in Australia. Has experience in optometry. Contact her at [email protected]

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