By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Texas Penal Code Chapter 39.03 governs official opression which occurs when a public servant acting under the color of office:
“(1) intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful;
(2) intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful; or
(3) intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment.
(b) For purposes of this section, a public servant acts under color of his office or employment if he acts or purports to act in an official capacity or takes advantage of such actual or purported capacity.”
Official oppression is a Class A misdemeanor punishable up to a $4,000 fine and/or one year of county jail.
Generally speaking this statute keeps public officials accountable in the event they misuse their office. The difficult part in proving this offense would be to show that the public official knew their conduct to be illegal. Ignorance of the law is no excuse but having a good faith belief that what you are doing is legal is a different matter. Official acts of police, judges and prosecutors are given extremely broad leeway so they do carry out their public duties in constant fear of being prosecuted themselves. The law is subjective and as long as an official has some sort of good-faith belief in the legality of their actions, it would be extremely difficult to prove official oppression.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice for any situation you should contact an attorney directly. Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship and communications with regard to this blog are not confidential.