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Can a veto be a crime?

Prosecutors say Texas Governor Rick Perry committed two felonies. He insists he was just doing his job.

Photo by Governor Rick Perry (Flickr)

This article is the second in a three-part series following the progress of Governor Perry’s case and addressing its potential effects. You can read Part One here.

Texas Governor Rick Perry was arrested last month following allegations of misconduct relating to his official office.  He has been charged with one count of abuse of official capacity, a first degree felony, and one count of coercion of a public servant, a third degree felony.

Abuse of official capacity may occur in two ways.  Perry was charged under Section 39.02(a)(2) of the Texas Penal Code, which makes it a crime for a public servant to misuse government property.  Section 39.02(c) classifies the severity of an offense depending on the value of the misused property.  If its value equals or exceeds $200,000, the offense is a first degree felony, under subsection (7).

Section 36.03 of the Texas Penal Code defines the crime of coercion of a public servant.  A person is guilty under subsection (a)(1) if he or she commits a coercive act that “influences or attempts to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influences or attempts to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty[.]”  When such coercion is a threat to commit a felony, as in Perry’s case, the offense is a third degree felony.

Perry’s legal team argues that his actions were a permissible use of the governor’s veto power.

The main issue facing the prosecution is whether Perry truly “misused” government property.  Perry’s legal team argues that his actions were a permissible use of the governor’s veto power.  According to the Texas Constitution, the governor has the power to decide when to sign or veto a bill.  Should this argument prevail, Perry’s veto of $7.5 million of funds marked for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit would not constitute misuse.

A trial date has not yet been set.  Each side’s trial strategy, however, seems clear: Perry’s counsel will make constitutional arguments, while the prosecution is likely to paint the governor’s conduct as an overstep of office.

Cabell Sinclair, Former Senior Staff Writer
About Cabell Sinclair, Former Senior Staff Writer (13 Articles)
Cabell Sinclair served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. In 2012, Cabell graduated from Campbell University with a degree in Business Administration. Cabell also served as Negotiation Chair for the Old Kivett Advocacy Council and has represented the university in the Regional ABA Negotiation Competition. Following his first year of law school, Cabell worked as a summer associate at Safran Law offices. He is from Raleigh, North Carolina and attended St. David’s School. Cabell graduated from Campbell Law School in May 2015.
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