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May 21, 2012

Federal judge rules Texas officials can be liable for sex offender conditions

This new article from the Austin American-Stateman, which is headlined "Judge: Parole officials can be held liable over sex offender restrictions," reports on a notable ruling from a federal judge concerning suits against how Texas has managed its sex offender registry.  Here are the details:

In the latest rebuke of state policies for classifying parolees as sex offenders, an Austin federal judge has ruled that top state parole officials can be held personally liable for continuing missteps.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin, in an order issued late Friday, blasted the state's continuing refusal to provide due process hearings before imposing restrictive sex-offender conditions on felons never convicted of a sex crime.  Yeakel for the first time ruled that the seven-member state Board of Pardons and Paroles, 12 parole commissioners, state parole director Stuart Jenkins and other parole officials can face monetary damages for their actions.

It's a significant determination that, if not reversed on appeal, could prove costly for both the officials and taxpayers, if several pending inmate lawsuits are successful.  A jury verdict in another case two years ago cost the state approximately $80,000, officials involved in that case said earlier....

The order was the latest setback for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and state corrections officials, who have insisted for years that, to ensure public safety, they could impose the stringent conditions on parolees without a due process hearing.

Although previous court rulings have required the hearings, the state has not routinely offered them until recently — and only then under certain circumstances.  Yeakel's order — the latest ruling to indicate that federal courts have lost their patience with the state — came in a suit filed by parolee Buddy Jene Yeary.

Last fall, the judge blocked the state from enforcing the sex offender restrictions — officially known as Special Condition X — on Yeary, an unusual step for a judge to take. According to state records, Yeary pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2003 in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Though he was initially indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, his sentence order states that "the sex offender registration requirements (in state law) do not apply to the defendant," according to the suit.

Despite that, state records show that when Yeary was paroled in the summer of 2007, parole officials required him to register as a sex offender, placed him under the restrictive sex-offender conditions of release and ordered him to participate in a sex offender treatment program.

In his order Friday, Yeakel ruled that the state has for six years been aware that it must provide hearings to parolees in such cases and that officials' continuing failure to do so leaves them open to liability.  "In light of the resistance of the state of Texas to providing parolees with the procedural due process guaranteed them by the Constitution, even after receiving repeated mandates from federal and state courts, the court is unconvinced that Texas will not return to its unconstitutional policies and practices," the 31-page order states. "Any stigmatic injury suffered by Yeary due to the imposition and continued enforcement of Special Condition X may entitle Yeary to compensatory damages."

Yeakel refused to dismiss Yeary's lawsuit, as state officials had asked.  Instead, he said it would head to a trial....

The ruling comes after years of legal decisions requiring state parole officials to provide hearings before they impose sex offender restrictions on felons never convicted of a sex crime. In addition to federal courts, the state Court of Criminal Appeals last fall ordered the restrictions removed from the parole conditions for a Houston kidnapper because he was not afforded a due process hearing before they were imposed and because he had not been convicted of a sex crime.

May 21, 2012 at 10:43 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The sex offender registry is a joke and an unnecessary evil. Not all sex offenders are deviants, perverts or pedophiles, just as everyone convicted of drunken driving in not an alcoholic. Not all Muslims are terrorists.. But the minute someone sees someone on the registry in their neighborhood, they automatically equate them with being "sexually dangerous" and most be avoided and feared at all costs.

It's worse than having both aids and cancer at once. At least those people are treated with and die with dignity.

Posted by: Hadenuf | May 21, 2012 10:57:16 PM

All sex offender should start by renouncing their citizenship and expatriate themselves from America. Tear up your driver's license, SS card and birth certificate. Why? YOU WILL NO LONGER NEED THEM! Because nobody is going to touch these people with a ten-foot pole, much less give them a well-paying job, be able to afford housing or a place of worship without being stigmatized, vilified and demonized until the day they die.

There should be constitutional limits to protecting children under "what if" scenarios. Using a preemptive, hypothetical mechanism (sex registry) to "safeguard" a child while stripping others of their privacy, security and safety is unAmerican, unconstitutional and fascist. Not to mention mean-spirited and draconian.

The registry doesn't prevent victims.. it creates them.

Posted by: Hadenuf | May 21, 2012 11:21:27 PM

If someone could post a link to the opinion -- or knows the case's docket number, so the opinion could be located on PACER -- I'd greatly appreciate it.

Posted by: url | May 22, 2012 12:13:29 AM

Dkt No 1:11-cv-00768-LY (W.D. Tx.).

Posted by: Jay Hurst | May 22, 2012 7:17:45 AM

Actually this case is not about the "registry." In Texas, "Condition X" means they're applying sex-offender conditions to people who haven't been convicted of sex-crimes as a condition of parole, which they've done by the thousands without so much as a hearing, which the due process violation Judge Yeakel is talking about. But the one thing they can't assign as a parole condition is make them publicly register, which requires conviction of a sex crime from a particular list of them. So these are people who, though never convicted of a sex crime, are being required to comply with sex-offender conditions EXCEPT registry. It's a little confusing.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 22, 2012 7:47:35 AM

to impose sex offender conditions they should require a hearing which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of commission of a sex crime. they could call it a trial and then if they are able to prove the commission of a sex crime beyond a reasonable doubt they can even send the offender to prison.

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | May 22, 2012 9:21:13 AM

Grits:

I was hoping you'd show up. Do you have any insight as to the policy logic behind this on the part of the parole board. The article suggests that the people directly affected were people who were charged but never convicted of a sex crime. Is that uniformly true?

Honestly, when I first read the article I just shook my head and thought "Well, that's just Texas being totally fucked up again." But maybe there is some solid policy reason even if there is no legal basis for it...

Posted by: Daniel | May 22, 2012 10:52:27 AM

"The article suggests that the people directly affected were people who were charged but never convicted of a sex crime. Is that uniformly true?"

Yes, that's what "Condition X" is. If they'd been convicted of a sex crime, they'd automatically go on the registry and these same conditions would automatically apply. Being on the public registry is the main if not the only (I'm not completely sure on that) difference between Condition X and conditions imposed on convicted sex offenders. At one point they swore in court that the number of people on Condition X was around 7,000, but now they say it's much lower and it appears they don't entirely know. In any event, the board doesn't remotely have resources to hold individual hearings for all of them.

As for the parole board's logic, it's basically an act of hubris. This all goes back to a single case where the parole board felt snubbed. They didn't want to release a murderer named Raul Meza when he was eligible, were told by the courts they had to, so they applied Condition X without even a hearing and began doing it en masse, thumbing their noses at the federal courts ever since, building toward what is now a spectacular mess. I've written about the subject quite a bit, if you're interested in more detail.

This is an odd situation that's become somewhat personal, with the parole board chair (with her board's support) openly defying multiple federal judges and them saying nasty things about her in their opinions. I've never seen another group of public officials - except maybe the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, now that I think of it - so willfully and openly defy federal courts for so long, and this outcome shows why most people have more sense than to do that. Truly extraordinary.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 22, 2012 12:01:32 PM

Raul Meza admitted violating an 8 year old girl before he killed her. Seems like Judge Yeakel screwed the pooch. I am glad that there are state officials willing to push federal judges on points like this. I haven't looked at everything, but with respect to Raul Meza, who should have been executed for such a heinous crime, I think Yeakel is all wet. Another federal judge with a soft spot for murders.

Funny how Grits fails to mention Meza's crimes and his admission of sexual assault.

Posted by: federalist | May 22, 2012 12:54:04 PM

Grits: thanks for clarifying the issue. Kind of remarkable that a parole board would be running amok on the federal judiciary like that, but then again maybe (certainly) I don't understand how Texas works.

Cheers,
Guy

Posted by: Guy | May 22, 2012 1:54:50 PM

federalist, there are many details I omitted in a two-sentence account of a years-long controversy which has been the subject of multiple rulings (all adverse to the parole board) by state and federal courts. This case is not Meza's, I was explaining the origins of the controversy.

Exceptional cases often make for bad law, and most cases with Condition X don't match Meza's profile (e.g., the guy in the instant case is a drug defendant, but you don't mention that). The question isn't whether Condition X might be appropriate in some cases, it's whether there must be some sort of due process before assigning that tag or can the parole board do it by fiat. No one says they can't do this, just that they can't do it without showing cause in a hearing. The parole board got slapped on Meza, then on a series of other cases, and now they've dug their heels in, doubling down on an unconstitutional approach and applying it across the board.

I'm sure federalist's smugness will be of great comfort when they start having to dig into their own pockets to pay judgments to parolees.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 22, 2012 2:17:17 PM

"I'm sure federalist's smugness will be of great comfort when they start having to dig into their own pockets to pay judgments to parolees."

But then it's just about power. Yeakel showed his true colors--a coddler of child-murderers.

Posted by: federalist | May 22, 2012 9:06:52 PM

federalist, this case is about a drug defendant. How is Yeakel a "coddler of child murderers"?

Very typical ... the only surprise about this know-nothing demagoguery is that Bill, Adamkis or SC didn't beat you to it.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 23, 2012 7:12:52 AM

Grits, if you go back and read what I have said, you'll see that I am not taking a position on this particular guy--what I am doing is trashing Yeakel for coddling Meza. Given Yeakel's ruling on Meza, which seems clearly wrong--um, Meza admitted sexually assaulting the girl before he killed her (once again, why this inhuman scum didn't face the business end of the needle is beyond me, and if it were my daughter, we wouldn't be worrying about parole conditions) so those parole conditions seem entirely appropriate and the parole board was entitled to impose them.

Given Yeakel's overreach in the Meza case and his apparent sympathy for a child molester and a murderer, his rulings in other cases are suspect.

Posted by: federalist | May 23, 2012 8:08:19 AM

well fed we could say the same about you.

The law and due process says you GIVE THEM A HEARING! i don't care if the individual is ADOLF HITLER! give him the HEARING!

they have been told over and over and over and over by at lest 3 lvl's of courts INCLUDING FEDERAL ones...sorry time to bring the hammer down. Now me i'd have issued this order while looking at the bunch of them IN CHAINS on their way to the nearest FEDERAL PRISON for contempt of court!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 23, 2012 5:05:25 PM

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