Without “express permission” from prosecutors, Houston Police Officers will no longer be permitted to speak with criminal defense attorneys about ongoing cases.
The reasoning behind the new policy, as City Attorney David Feldman explained to the Houston City Council, is that Houston’s police officers “were incurring excessive overtime charges by communicating with defense lawyers about cases in Municipal Court.”
Mr. Feldman went on to further explain that police officers and defense attorneys were forming relationships that were seen as “clearly against the interests of the people of the city of Houston.”
Not Everyone Agrees With the Policy
Councilman C.O. Bradford, who served as the Police Chief of Houston for seven years, stated, “… I never saw the need to put this type of restriction on officers.”
Several defense attorneys stated that they felt that the new policy violated the Constitution in that it limited attorneys’ investigation of evidence against their clients.
“It’s just fundamental to due process that you get to present a defense and you get to know the accusations against you, and that includes talking to police officers who are key to any prosecution against you,” stated Robb Fickman, a former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
There is also a concern that the policy may put prosecutors in the position of violating ethics rules or state law. While any witness, including a police officer, has the right to refuse to talk to defense attorneys, having a prosecutor bar a police officer from talking to a defense attorney may be construed as witness tampering.
Aside from the outcry from defense attorneys and the precarious position that prosecutors may be put in, it is hard to imagine that overtime concerns will trump the concerns and rights of defendants. The new policy is far from settled.