Felony and misdemeanor charges remain pending against a local couple, who lost their case in a state appeals court, concerning charges filed two years ago alleging they used their adopted children as slave labor in a puppy mill operation.
Jeffery and Barbara Barrett are awaiting trials in the Hunt County Court at Law No. 2 on misdemeanor charges of cruelty to non-livestock animals. A trial date is not yet scheduled.
The couple also has trials set on the Aug. 17 docket of the 354th District Court on indictments of trafficking of persons-continuous.
They have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The felony cases are in line to be considered first.
As it is yet unknown how soon jury trials will be able to be presented in the Hunt County district courts, because of ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the trials may be reset.
Attorneys Jessica McDonald and Frederick Shelton had filed multiple motions in the felony case, seeking the quashing of the indictments, alleging the charges against the couple were unconstitutionally overboard and vague.
In response prosecutors lodged additional allegations against the Barretts, claiming the couple also sexually molested and exploited their children.
The Barrett’s filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals with the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas. A hearing on the appeal was conducted in November 2019.
The appeals court issued a decision on July 17, denying the appeals.
On Sept. 25, 2017, the SPCA of Texas joined with Hunt County Constable for Precinct 1 Terry Jones and the Hunt County Sheriff's Office in seizing 117 animals from a home on County Road 3103, off Interstate 30.
The agency reported the majority of the animals, 100 dogs and puppies, were housed in a metal addition to the brick home on the property and were found living in cages, crates and kennels, up to three dogs in each. Another 15 dogs and puppies and two cats were found inside the residence. The Barretts were said to have told investigators they were selling the dogs.
The investigation into the puppy mill was followed by allegations the couple forced their children to help run the business.
The Barretts were again arrested on Aug. 2, 2018, as a result of the investigation by the Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime section of the Texas Attorney General’s office.
The Hunt County grand jury charged the Barretts on one count each of trafficking of persons-continuous.
In presenting a brief to the appeals court, McDonald again argued the case raises constitutional issues.
“Prior points of this brief have discussed how the conduct charged in this indictment and implicated in this statute receives First Amendment protections because it involves close, familial relationships, the raising of children, and the Supreme Court has long held these relationships and associations carry First Amendment protections,” McDonald stated. “Additionally, in previous points of error, we have discussed how the statute is vague and overbroad, specifically in its definition of ‘traffic” and “forced labor.’ Finally, in a previous point of error, we have discussed how the statute has a substantial number of unconstitutional applications.”
Hunt County Attorney Noble D. Walker Jr. argued the child’s rights must also be considered.
“Parents have certain fundamental rights, but so do children,” Walker said. “And the state has a well- established authority and duty to protect children from harmful adults, even – and sometimes especially – when those adults are the children’s parents.”
In issuing its 30-page ruling, Justice Robbie Partida-Kipness summarized that the articles of the Texas Constitution which were argued in the appeal, “are neither facially unconstitutionally overboard nor facially unconstitutionally vague. If appellants are convicted at trial, they may raise a challenge to the constitutionality of the statute as applied to their particular circumstances. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s orders denying Jeffrey Leon Barrett’s second application for pretrial writ of habeas corpus and denying Barbara Jean Barrett’s second application for pretrial writ of habeas corpus.”