Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hundreds of Bexar DWI cases dismissed because of missing police witnesses

To hear complaints about the "stop snitching" slogans proffered by law enforcement, you'd think there's an epidemic going on of witnesses who don't cooperate with criminal prosecutions.

It's true, in a sense, but in San Antonio the witnesses most likely not to show up in court turn out to be police officers, reported WOAI radio (4/29), which recently analyzed missing witnesses in DWI cases. WOAI reporters:
pored over hundreds of DWI cases and discovered that 609 cases have been dismissed since 2005 because of a missing witness. Those witnesses in the overwhelming majority of cases were the law enforcement officers who made the arrests.
This is an excellent piece of paper trail journalism, and it really makes you wonder what the similar data are on missing police witnesses in other jurisdictions, and for other types of crimes. A furious Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative was interviewed for the story, and Bexar District Attorney Susan Reed had this to say:
“It does not do us any good to enhance patrols, to put all the officers in the world on the street to arrest people, unless they are all committed to coming down here and testifying in court when we need them."
However, Ms. Reed may not be entirely correct about that. Because alcohol treatment often isn't part of DWI sentences, even for offenders with multiple violations, I'm not sure the prosecution is of as great a benefit as the DA implies. In fact, it can create a whole new set of problems.

I wonder if having officers take a drunk off the street at the moment he or she is risking the public might not produce a greater public safety benefit per enforcement dollar spent than punishment after the fact?

Indeed, especially for misdemeanor cases, the hassle of getting arrested, paying a lawyer, and other time and money expenses may be as big a punishment as the court metes out as a sentence. Even if the case is ultimately dismissed, as the cutline to this blog declares, "You might beat the rap but you won't beat the ride."

Certainly it's important for officers to testify, but when resources are scarce it may well be a bigger benefit to public safety to have an officer take two or three new drunks of the street than sit for hours in court waiting to prosecute a sober person. Maybe not. I don't know the answer but its worth asking the question. At a minimum, I'm not sure the tradeoff is so cut and dried as Ms. Reed suggests.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any idea how many DWI's were prosecuted and "punished" during the time these 600 cases were dismissed, just to be fair and balanced? Scott, I'll swear you've been injured in the head lately what with some of these nutty ideas you are coming forth with.

Plato

Cindy said...

http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/index.html

"Local 2 Investigates Charges Of Prison Corruption" at Terrell Unit in TDCJ.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not a clue, Plato, it wasn't in the fair and balanced WOAI story.

Which other nutty ideas make you suspect a head injury? To be fair, you're not the first to suggest it. ;)

Anonymous said...

It's not surprising that San Antonio police aren't able to do a simple job like showing up for a court hearing, they can barely do anything half ass right to begin with. Corruption on the other hand seems to be what they do best. Even Assistant Chief Rudy Gonzales is under the microscope for a relationship with a drug dealer and a prostitute, all the while on paid leave.

Anonymous said...

A large portion of DWIs occur between 9pm and 3am... so the arresting officer works the night shift.

So then big surprise when the cop misses the suppression hearing scheduled for 1pm.

If you work 8am-5pm imagine that you are occasionally called to meetings at 1am. Yeah you'd miss some of them too. Now imagine that it was some tasks you did at work that caused these 1am meetings... pretty soon you might start overlooking the task.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's a far superior explanation for what's happening than any that appeared in the article, 5:11, thanks.

I also don't think those officers would agree their efforts do not "do us any good" if they don't get up from their sleep go to court every time. The main DWI punishment for first and second offenders isn't incarceration (most receive probation) but the "driver responsibility" fee, and it's so high most people can't pay it. So if the main benefit to the public is a punishment that typically can't be implemented and creates other public policy problems, I'm not sure I'd get up from my sleep, either.

Anonymous said...

A little "trick" the defense counsels would play in the 70's would be to find out when the officer was off, then try and get a continuence the first go-round( after the officer showed up of course!). I do not know if that is still happening but it wouldn't surprise me.

Another trick: "He is going to cop a plea so you do not need to show up". And the one that made me love lawyers: "Didn't you get the word?;he agreed to a plea bargin last week".

As many "leaky" employees in the police agency's and courts now I imagine officers only go to court on their days off. Of course they now get paid for it(but it does interfere with their second job).

Retired 2004

John said...

I don't know about DWI cases, but for traffic tickets and failure to appear cases, municipal judges practically direct defendents to plead not guilty, whereupon the judge dismisses the case especially if it is clear that there is no money available to pay the fine.

I was at the Mykawa police complex in South Houston keeping an acquaintance company while he tried to straighten out a mess of tickets. The Mykawa fortress is for traffic offenses mainly, and consists of muni court, police, and jail.

There is a kind of plaza in front of the entrances where we met a young, overjoyed Latino. He had a speeding ticket, no way to pay, but showed up for his hearing. He was guilty, he told us, and indicated so to the judge. But she advised him to plead not guilty, which he did. She then dismissed his case.

The jails are so full that judges and cops are doing the only reasonable thing they can. As soon as they see there is no fine to be collected, they discharge the case.

Why are our jails so full?

Grizzled Cynic said...

When wealthy people get stopped for driving drunk, the SOP is to take their keys, drive them home, and keep all of this business off the books.

It's good to win friends of importance.

Monty said...

The Troubleshooters see themselves as the fourth branch of government.

They want the power of the veto, judicial review, and the jury all rolled up into one.

Many of the dismissed cases are dismissed because trial judges deny prosecutors' repeated motions for reset.

Once dismissed, the same cases are then sometimes refiled in court, with new case numbers, new arrest warrants, and multiple new court dates. The defendant must attend multiple routine appearances prior to trial and file new pretrial motions.

Ask a defendant, such as the woman in the featured video, whether dismissal is such an easy way out.

If she had just rolled over and taken probation the way she should have [snark], if would have been far less inconvenient and inexpensive. She likely would have never been jailed a second time, never had to pay a second bondsman, etc.

And if she was indigent, her appointed attorney may have advised her just that, after all, Bexar County pays appointed attorneys the same $100.00 flat fee for misdemeanor guilty plea cases as was paid 22 years ago in 1986.

Yet the law schools keep churning out kids who line up en masse early every morning for the chance to earn that $100.00.

But I digress to a different topic...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

A reader who works for Bexar County forwarded this information in response to Plato's initial question:

From 1/1/2005 – 3/08 in Bexar County

DWI’s in County Court (Misdemeanors)

* 14,072 Dispositions (trials & pleas)
* 186 Acquittals
* 5193 Dismissals

Info if recorded by Bexar County Clerk & reported by the Office of Court Administration.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whoops, should probably be info IS recorded - I think that was just an email typo.

Anonymous said...

When the courts stop defense attorneys from playing the "reset game" then this problem will be greatly reduced.

Officers get tired of working nights, coming to court only to be told "uh....the defendant isn't here so we have to reset" or "uh....the defense attorney got tied up so we have to reset" and then they get to go home and start this game all over again.

And the courts are seemingly willing to give the defense as many resets as they want....but if an officer can't make it just once then it's "You have to be here or we'll have to dismiss!!" (which is what the defense attorney has been waiting for) and then of course, it is all the officer's fault....after all, these prosecutors want to be defense attorneys some day and they don't weant to upset any potential partners, by exposing this game?

I had one case where the witness to the driving (it was a DWI accident) had terminal cancer...the defense kept resetting until the witness died...and then they were ready for trial....and the prosecution and judges just let this happen!!!

In just about any case involving civilian witnesses, the defense attorney's will try to keep resetting the case until the civilian gets tired of taking off of work and doesn't show...and then voila!! the defense is ready for trial. It is just sickening.

It would have been interesting to see how many times the cases that had been dismissed had been reset by the defense before dismissal....but that would not have helped the writer's goal to paint officers in a negative light would it?

It's also fun to see how the prosecutor's like to pass the buck...in my 15+ years as an officer I can't tell you how many times I have called a court the day before I was supposed to show up to verify that the trial was going to go, been told it was a go, showed up (after working all night) only to be told a) "he pled last week" or b) "oh...that case? We reset that one days or weeks ago".

So now the prosecution's incompetence has cost me sleep or one of days off....that happens enough times and you just lose interest in showing up.

What would help is if PD's start billing the prosector's office for all of the wasted OT spent in court. Make an officer show up for a case that was pled out or reset well in advance? Pay up....once you start hitting them in the pocketbook, things will change.

Also, limiting the number of resets the defense can take "just because". I have seen the prosecutors and defense haggle over trial days. The prosecutors will always defer to the defense attorney's calendar...so the defense is setting the trial day. He set it, he needs to be there or face a fine (which would go to charity). That would also put a halt to the "reset game".

So...no, unlike what the person who wrote the article would like you to believe it is not all the officer's fault.

Monty said...

When the courts stop defense attorneys from playing the "reset game" then this problem will be greatly reduced.

Yes, and when prosecutors are no longer permitted to disingenuously announce "ready" on every single case on the docket, only to (surprise!) discover that they're really not ready after all the problem will go away.