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Apr 25
2016

Abuse of Power | Felonies

Former governor and one-time 2016 presidential candidate Rick Perry visited the state’s highest criminal court recently for another salvo in his legal battle. What is the case against Perry all about?

Abuse-of-power charges

In August 2014, a grand jury in Travis County indicted Perry on two counts related to alleged abuse of power. The charges stemmed from Perry’s veto of $7.5 million in funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s office that was to be earmarked for fighting public corruption. Perry had vowed to refuse the funding unless Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County’s district attorney, resigned following a conviction and sentence served for driving under the influence.

Perry’s lawyers argued that the law used to charge him was too vague, and they alleged that the prosecution was politically motivated.

A second rejection and one dismissed charge

In January 2015, a judge again ruled that the case against Perry would continue after rejecting a request to throw out the felony charges. Perry’s lawyers claimed that the indictment against the former governor violated his right to freedom of speech. However, a special prosecutor asserted that a jury should hear the case, and the district judge agreed.

In July, Texas’ Third Court of Appeals dismissed one of the two counts, coercion of a public servant, leaving one charge against Perry pending. The court left standing the remaining charge, abuse of official capacity, holding that legal precedent precluded a dismissal at that time. The state’s prosecuting attorney appealed the dismissal of the charge of coercion.

Perry team argues for dismissal of remaining count

In November, Perry and his attorneys appeared in Texas’ highest criminal court to argue for dismissal of the remaining charge. Each side had an hour to make its arguments. Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor, spoke for the defense. In October, Volokh and others filed a friend of the court brief on Perry’s behalf.

Volokh argued in a brief that the Texas Legislature may not “criminalize” the exercise of a governor’s legitimate powers, including the power to veto. He also argued that the first count against Perry violated the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers. Volokh argued that the second count, by inhibiting Perry’s use of his lawful veto power, violated his right to free speech.

For the remaining charge, abuse of official capacity, the maximum punishment is five to 99 years in prison. For the dismissed charge, coercion of a public servant, the sentence can range from two to 10 years in prison. Perry has said that the charges against him represent an abuse of power and were responsible for his failed 2016 presidential bid.

If you are charged with a crime, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the Fulgham Law Firm, P.C., at (817) 764-1392.

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