July 27, 2016 — A Texas judge on Tuesday dismissed charges filed against two abortion-rights opponents who were involved in producing a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the New York Times reports (Fernandez, New York Times, 7/26).
In July 2015, the antiabortion-rights group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), began releasing a series of misleading videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. Further, a report by Fusion GPS, a research and corporate intelligence firm, found that the videos were manipulated.
Following the release of the videos, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called for the Harris County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. The Harris County grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and instead indicted CMP Director David Daleiden and employee Sandra Merritt.
Both Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record. In addition, Daleiden was indicted on a misdemeanor charge related to buying fetal tissue. The charge of tampering with a governmental record carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the misdemeanor charge carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail.
In April, Daleiden filed motions to dismiss the charges filed against him, claiming that the grand jury exceeded its authority in indicting him and violated his due process rights.
Last month, Harris County Judge Diane Bull dismissed the misdemeanor charge filed against Daleiden regarding the purchase of fetal tissue. Bull said the indictment must be voided because it did not address possible exemptions to the ban (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/14).
Record tampering charges dismissed
On Tuesday, District Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the record-tampering charges filed against Daleiden and Merritt after the Harris county prosecutor's office requested the charges be dropped, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports.
Prosecutors originally had brought the charges based on allegations that Daleiden and Merritt had presented fake driver's licenses to hide their identities from Planned Parenthood officials (AP/Los Angeles Times, 7/26).
According to the Times, attorneys for Daleiden had called for the indictments to be dismissed because they had been issued after the grand jury's term had expired and then extended. Jared Woodfill, one of Daleiden's attorneys, said the prosecutors were prohibited from introducing a new investigation during the extension period.
The Harris County District Attorney's office indicated it agreed, citing the legal technicality when it requested the charges be dropped, the Times reports. District Attorney Devon Anderson said, "The grand jury took the investigation where the facts led it; however, Texas law limits what can be investigated after a grand jury extension order is issued ... In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments" (New York Times, 7/26).