Saturday, September 24, 2005

Do Texas counties violate drug offenders right to a speedy trial?

I'm no lawyer, so maybe some commenter can help me understand these things. If one category of offender spends, on average, 102 days in jail awaiting trial, and all other types of defendants receive trials in just 42 days, are they receiving "equal protection" regarding their right to a "speedy trial"?

That's what's happening to drug offenders in the Collin County jail, and apparently in other local jails around the state, contributing significantly to Texas' ongoing overincarceration crisis. The Collin County Sheriff and the District Attorney want to fix the problem by paying for a quicker, private lab -- not because they're worried about the constitutional rights of defendants, mind you, but because they need the jail space.
Reported Krystal de los Santos of the McKinney Courier-Gazette:
Sheriff Terry Box said that the county is wasting money housing the drug offenders while they await trial, which cannot start until the District Attorney's office has proof that the substance they are charged with possessing or distributing is actually a drug.

"That's been one of our biggest problems," Box said "The drug tests are taking too long, while the inmate sits in jail taking up space."

Housing an inmate costs the count $69 a day when including indirect costs like salaries, or just more than $40 a day directly.

District Attorney John Roach said that city law enforcement officials are using the Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory, which takes weeks or in some cases months to return results for their drug analysis.

The Texas DPS provides the service free of charge, but is much slower than a local laboratory.

Roach said the average amount of time it takes for the county to start a case against an offender in possession of a substance is 102 days, while the average for other offenders is 42 days.

"That shows you how big that gap is," Roach said.

The 49 offenders awaiting lab results who are currently housed in the Collin County Detention Center have been in jail for 3,273 days total. At $40 a day, those inmates have cost the county $130,920. At $69 a day, they've cost taxpayers $225,837.

Those costs all come before the defendant is even found guilty, folks, much less sentenced. What's more, if DPS waiting times are the problem, that means the same time lag in drug defendants getting to trial must be occurring everywhere in the state. This is madness! Constitutional questions aside, how much savings could be had just by releasing most non-violent defendants on personal bond? It'd be cheaper even if you applied special conditions to their release like regular drug testing. Once again, one wonders where are the judges in this, and how are they allowing this mess?

I'm a proud Texan, but some mornings I look around at the criminal justice system in this state, in this country, and wonder if all the much-ballyhooed constitutional rights I was raised to cherish have become just hollow idols to which our government pays lip service, but no longer any real heed.

9 comments:

markm said...

Contrast this with the time it takes to get medical lab tests done: a few minutes to about a week, depending on the complexity of the test and the distance to the lab. Major hospitals have automated blood testers - you mark vials of blood with barcode labels and load them in the input hopper, and the machine adds chemicals and evaluates the results. I've also seen test kits that identify Streptococcus bacteria right in the doctor's office. These tests are considerably more complicated than a test just to identify a substance - but apparently it's OK to keep a poor man in jail for half a year in order to save a few bucks on the testing.

Cliff said...

The War on Some Drugs is a war on our freedom, pure and simple. Any drug user is an enemy of the state, just like those people who were locked up in the gulags of the Soviet Union.

lauxa said...

Is this only in cases where there is a not guilty plea? My friend was picked up in downtown Austin for marijuana possession of about a quarter ounce and it was only a week or so before his trial. He pleaded guilty and got off with time served. Maybe this is just for powders since mj is pretty easily identifiable.

Anonymous said...

I see you would like persons to be given special conditions upon release from jail. And in return,the arrested persons would recieve a pr bond. All this to free up jail space...hmmmmmmm
It seems the persons in jail "MIGHT" have a problem following the rules that I abide by everyday. The special conditions you refer to, shouldn't the state and federal laws already in place suffice.

Anonymous said...

In San Antonio, people accused of drug crimes routinely spend months and months awaiting trial. And if you plead not guilty and are stuck with a public defender, you are extremely lucky if you ever even see the lawyer before you go to trial. Where he will ask for a continuance because he knows nothing about the case.
What ever happened to speedy trial? I know of one on-going case where the prisoner has been in jail for nearly six months, seen his PD only once, nearly two months ago, and won't be going to trial for at least another six or eight weeks.
Isn't there SOMETHING in the Texas Constitution on how long you can keep someone in jail before trial?
BTW, the person in question has no criminal record, was caught up in a drug sweep, never saw any drugs, never had any drugs on his person and never arranged for any drug deal. Oh, yeah, his bond is $150,000. He had a good job which he (of course) has lost. And there is no end in sight as to when he will actually get his day in court.

mardisbro said...

As a defense attorney, I routinely here the argument from the D.A.'s office that "we are still within our 90 days!" My point being that if you have enough evidence to keep someone in jail then, hey, let's just go to trial RIGHT NOW! Clients don't understand the (legal) delay and that makes me look bad. Sure there are motions that can be filed but they also take time to get heard. BUENOS SURETE.

Anonymous said...

RE: The person in San Antonio Jail
He's still there, now awaiting sentencing. I read up on the law; a prisoner is supposed to see his lawyer (court appointed or not) in two days. What is the legal explanation for not seeing ANY lawyer for two months, although repeatedly requesting one?

Anonymous said...

My son was charged with possesion of marijuana one year ago and was received defered adjudication and six months probation. Now he has been arrested again; this time for 1/2 a joint. Any idea what he can expect? jail?

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