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DA's office, judge battle over order for officers' criminal histories, P.2

In our previous post, we looked at the current battle between the Dallas district attorney's office and Criminal Court Judge Julia Hayes. Judge Hayes, as we noted, recently ordered a prosecutor handling a family violence case in contempt of court for refusing to obey an order to turn over the criminal histories of testifying police officers.

The issue is relevant to cases where an officer with a criminal history provides testimony against a defendant. By law, felony and theft convictions, as well as crimes of "moral turpitude" can be used to impeach an officer's credibility.

The law already requires that any information that could benefit a defendant be handed over to the defense. Defense attorneys only have limited access to some criminal background information.

Prosecutors have argued that compelling a prosecutor to turn over such evidence violates federal law, though a 2001 letter from the U.S. Justice Department has said that federal law only prohibits a court from compelling prosecutors from searching out the information. A different situation would be when a criminal history already exists in the prosecutor's case file.

The prosecutor hit with the contempt order had a hearing postponed until the appellate court rules in the case. Judge Hayes also faces legal action as a result of the incident.

The Dallas County district attorney's office is, to be specific, seeking an official-oppression against Judge Hayes. The charge means that she has been accused of intentionally subjecting another public servant to "mistreatment, arrest, or detention." She, however, contends that the District Attorney's office is retaliating against her for doing her job.

The whole incident leading up to the charges demonstrates the complications that can take place in criminal cases. Defense attorneys have the goal of securing justice for their clients, and in this case a judge pursuing justice got caught in the crossfire.

Source: Dallas News, "Dallas County DA seeks to indict judge for official oppression," Jennifer Emily, February 7, 2012.

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