One less felony on the books: Texas ban on sex toys struck down
I've mentioned before that Texas had 2,324 separate felonies on the books, but as of yesterday the new number is 2,323. Via this post, we learn that the 5th Circuit struck down Texas' statute criminalizing the sale of sex toys. See the 5th Circuit opinion, which relies primarily on the 14th Amendment as explicated in two landmark cases - Griswold v. Connecticut and Lawrence v. Texas - to determine that the state could not prohibit the toys' sale. From a distance this looks like quite a shift for the 5th Circuit, which at times has seemed barely aware of either the 14th Amendment or this line of cases. The Denton ADA who posted the item hoped wistfully the case might be appealed to the US Supreme Court, but more likely than not this decision will stand and simply erase Texas' prudish and outdated law.
I found this thread quite interesting on the limits of police ability to hack into hard drives using the PGP ("Pretty Good Privacy) encryption system.
Yet another interesting thread focused on allegedly "bogus forensics," where one prosecutor declared ""the chances of being wrongly punished because of a false positive or bogus test are smaller today then they've ever been." Another commenter disagreed, though, declaring:
I'm not so certain this is true, because today there are so many tests (with attendant experts) out there - many of them with no real scientific grounding. What's worse, even if the theory underlying the science is valid, the actual practice is often undertaken by people/organizations with less than stellar competence. Example 1: The Houston crime lab fiasco. On CSI you see all these hyper-smart highly motivated experts working with 'state of the art' technology in an aesthetically pleasing laboratory....reality is often an under-achieving lab tech with a 'safe' government job in a crowded, dirty, underfunded, basement lab who knows there is little chance of being caught 'drylabbing.'See the rest of sjf's comments for an interesting discussion of the downsides of science in the courtroom.
It may be a felony but you still have to catch them
This TDCAA discussion string focused on copper theft, which the Texas Legislature just made a state jail felony last year, even for stealing small amounts. The discussion tells me that the main problem isn't how harshly copper thieves are punished, but how to catch them? This seems to me another case where the Lege increased penalties to look like they're doing something, but the real problem goes unresolved because what's really needed is better front-end enforcement. The strategy described in Houston seems more likely to yield results:
Undercover police officers would go to scrap metal dealers posing as employees of an air conditioning company. They told the operators of several scrap metal places that they wanted to sell the coils from air conditioning units. But, they would ask if the dealer ever did business with the company that hey "purportedly" worked for. They didn't want someone from their company or thier boss to show up while they were trying to sell the coils. They made it clear that they were stealing the coils from their employer and wanted cash for the copper in the coils. All of this was recorded. They wouldn''t arrest anyone at that time but just sell them the coils. After they visited several places on more than one occassion each selling "stolen" coils to them the officers then met with me and I dreafted search warrants of each location for documentation of the purchase of the items. Texas law requires that they document the purchases. In every purchase, the owners of the scrpa metal dealership would fill out a receipt, as required by Texas law, but they put in phony names and dates, which we could substantiate from the taped recordings of the purchase.See other discussion threads from Texas prosecutors - they always make for interesting reading.