Several cases dismissed as Harris County judge, prosecutors clash over procedure
HOUSTON – A Harris County misdemeanor court judge and prosecutors are at odds over a point of procedure. Sources in the county tell KPRC 2 Investigates the dispute has led to at least 10 criminal cases being dismissed.
When a person is arrested, an officer will write a narrative explaining why they believe that a person committed a crime. This action is called a probable cause statement.
Judge Franklin Bynum, who presides over Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8, wants that probable cause statement filed with the court when a person is charged. Prosecutors argue the law does not require that affidavit to be filed with the charge.
"They're at odds for a very good reason," said KPRC 2 Legal Analyst Brian Wice.
One example of this dispute is seen in a recently filed 'motion to reconsider.' The case involves an accident that happened earlier this month and led to DWI charges being filed.
Prosecutors wrote the judge "in essence, dismissed the complaint." Prosecutors argue Bynum dismissed the complaint because "the complaint did not establish probable cause."
The motion asks the judge to reconsider his decision, again arguing the law does not require the probable cause statement to be filed with the charging instrument in cases where the defendant is already in custody. In cases where a person is charged before they are arrested, a probable cause statement is attached to the charge.
"The code of criminal procedure does not require the state to do what this judge wants them to do," said Wice. "The DA's Office has essentially told the judge, 'you're way out of line, you need to step back and check yourself.' And in my estimation, they may have a valid point."
Wice said evidence, witness statements and other factors supporting a charge are then vetted through the court process.
"Judges have the constitutional duty to provide oversight of police and prosecutors. I cannot comment on any particular case. Legal arguments can only be adequately considered in courtrooms, not in the media," Bynum wrote in a statement to KPRC.
A hearing was held this week on the DA's motion, but a ruling has not yet been issued.
However, prosecutors aren't the only ones voicing their concerns.
"He definitely appears to be anti-police, he also appears to be anti-DA's office," said Ray Hunt with the Houston Police Officer's Union.
Hunt said they've gone as far as filing a formal complaint with State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Hunt points to a serious of tweets where Bynum discussed his reason for dismissal in at least one case.
"This kind of stuff is outrageous behavior from a judge," said Hunt.
Hunt said that the complaint is still pending before the commission.
When KPRC was in Bynum's courtroom earlier this week, we witnessed a disagreement between the judge and prosecutors on this exact point in another DWI case.
"The court has a constitutional duty to review probable cause," Bynum told prosecutors.
Prosecutors explained filing the probable cause statement with the charge was not required and not customary. Prosecutors spoke with their supervisors and eventually printed an officer's affidavit from a confidential law enforcement database.
Bynum still expressed his displeasure.
“It can’t be this hard every day, gentlemen,” Bynum said. “We are not going to have court in fits and starts while we wait for you to call middle management.”
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