Friday, August 06, 2010

Keep 'em waiting

Paul Kennedy has a couple of posts up alerting me to the City of Houston's new policy of requiring citizens to wait needlessly for hours in municipal court while instructing officers to "ignore subpoenas for morning appearances" to save money. Reported the Houston Chronicle ("HPD's new municipal court policy wins few fans," July 28):
In an effort to slash $4 million in Houston police overtime, officers have been ordered to ignore subpoenas for morning appearances in municipal court, a policy change that has infuriated citizens, riled defense attorneys and angered police union officials.

Houston police have been ordered by Police Chief Charles McClelland to appear in court at 1 p.m., even if they have been subpoenaed to a trial at 8 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. by the seven municipal courts that hear jury trials. Citizens who show up for their trials are not allowed to leave the courtroom — except for restroom breaks or to put money in parking meters — resulting in a wait of up to five hours before their cases begin. ...

"The city wants to save on (overtime) money they pay officers, and they want to force citizens into pleading guilty by having them sit on these hard benches," said Houston attorney Paul Kubosh.
Kennedy reminds the mayor and city attorney in an open "Memo" that:
The motorist also has a right to confront the witnesses against him - even if the City of Houston is going to have to shell out some overtime money for the officers.

The motorist is issued a notice informing him of where and when he is to appear for his trial. The officer who issued the citation is served with a summons to appear at the same time in the same place. If the motorist is not sitting in the courtroom when his name is called, the judge will have a warrant issued for his arrest. If the officer isn't present, the case is dismissed. But now y'all have decided that the law doesn't apply to the city and that officers don't have to be in court for the morning docket call.

It's the government who's attempting to take money out of the motorist's pocket. It's the motorist's money. It's the motorist's time. If the government wants to infringe on someone's liberty then it's the government who needs to deal with these messy inconveniences of our criminal justice system, not the motorist. Yet it's the government who decides to make innocent people sit in a courtroom for hours waiting for their accusers to show up in court. The state may have the burden of proof, but I guess the citizenry have the burden of exercising their rights.
How infuriating that would be for those involved! If police can ignore the summons, would it be okay if drivers ignored the morning docket call and everyone showed up after lunch? Perhaps they could tell the judge the Mayor said "Trials don't start until 1 in the afternoon." And since when did cities begin looking to find budget savings by ignoring routine court orders?

16 comments:

Prison Doc said...

So what else is new? The only people that are fans of the criminal justice system are those who have never had to deal with it.

R. Shackleford said...

Here here PD. If regular folks ignored a summons, they'd be staring at a warrant.

celtictexan said...

The only people that are fans of the criminal justice system are those who have never had to deal with it.

And the lawyers, judges, state, and feds that created it and profit so nicely from it.

Anonymous said...

Houston's actions probably wouldn't hold up under a constitutional challenge. But, like we have seen govt entities do before, they will try and get away with everything they can until someone calls them on it.

Anonymous said...

What's the old saw - "You can't fight city hall"?

Soronel Haetir said...

Too bad the judges will go along with this rather than dismissing cases when they are called and there is no prosecution witness.

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of more bureaucratic nonsense.

The City has a financial problem and so steps are taken that are once again counter productive.

A recent post here indicated that because of a build up of class c misdemeanor arrests impacting the jail, both Harris County and City jails were implementing a policy to stop arresting for class c defendants with open warrants for their arrest.

Manpower to release defendants from jail was the first major change several years ago. Since this change took place the time frame of being able to receive information in order to get someone released from the City jail increased dramatically. Now in a vast majority of cases the defendant if arrested is taken to court immediately after the booking process. A very small window of opportunity exists to try and obtain the defendants release before they are taken to court and then the process of release turns into hours and hours and many times it turns into days.

If the defendant pleads guilty then either they are released for time served or they must pay a fine or sit out the time. The fine is typically more than can be raised by the family and so the defendant stays in jail until all the time is served or until it becomes low enough to be affordable. In both scenarios the City loses money.

If the defendant were able to be released from custody timely (within an hour) after arrest through financial obligation then two things occur; the overcrowded jail goes away and the City collects money from the fines when the defendant appears in court.

The trickle-down of this one policy change has resulted in less revenue collected and more money being spent, (hence the officers can not be paid overtime), the jail must close down occasionally, and defendants are taking up jail space for class c misdemeanors that have always in the past gotten out of jail quickly.

An additional plus would be if the Municipal and Justice of the Peace Courts would simply re-issue a warrant for arrest with the ability to make bail again for capias profine warrants. In this instance a fine is due and if the defendant fails to appear to pay in full or fails to make an installment payment and obtain a reset date until the next installment is due, the court issues a warrant that can only be satisfied if the payment is made in full. If the defendant were able to appear and be reinstated to continue to pay, the Municipalities and County Government would save huge tax dollars spent on incarceration and in return generate huge tax dollars through the defendants ability to continue making installment payments. (NOBODY WANTS TO BE IN JAIL)

Scott Stevens said...

The chief of police is required to follow and enforce the law, not violate it. In my opinion, his order is contumacious and it should be treated as such. An officer following such an order is willfully following an unlawful order and is similarly in contempt of court.

The gravamen of contempt is the disruption of the due administration of justice. The chief's order should be the textbook example of disrupting the due administration of justice. Perhaps if the judges in those courts were to exercise their inherent power to enforce the jurisdiction and orders of their courts, this kind of garbage would stop.

Is there a place where a pro se litigant could find a writ of attachment to secure attendance of witnesses? Having the officers be required to post bond guaranteeing their attendance or wait for the next setting in jail would surely get their attention. Or perhaps giving the chief 3 days each time one of his officers follows his illegal order?

This is such a no-brainer I can't believe it is an issue.

Anonymous said...

I was going to ask if this is legal, however it seems that others have answered or given the answer that should be correct. This is truly amazing, and sickening at the same time. I wonder what is going to happen when the first 'conviction' is appealed...

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea. Have the court schedule the trials according to the officers work schedule. Voila! No overtime.

It might also dis-icentivize(if that's a word) the officers from writing citations on borderline violations.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if HPD officers might start issuing fewer citations knowing that the potential for overtime pay isn't going to be there for contested citations? I know some have the mindset that when they issue a ticket, either the city gets money, or they get paid overtime for contested hearings. So, to them it's a win/win. Even if it ends up getting dismissed, they have still been paid o/t to sit around waiting for a low level class c ticket to get dismissed.

I've never really heard of cops complaining about any type of overtime. They aren't spending any time on the street patroling or in the office doing paperwork. What a great way to generate extra income for doing nothing more that putting on your uniform, driving to a courthouse, or annex bld, and sitting around waiting for a case to be called.

Atticus said...

Even Municipal Court Judges and Justices of the Peace have the power to hold parties in contempt and to levy monetary sanctions. The big question is do the Houston and Harris County Judges on those benches possess the cojones to utilize those powers?

Hook Em Horns said...

Soronel Haetir said...
Too bad the judges will go along with this rather than dismissing cases when they are called and there is no prosecution witness.

8/06/2010 10:17:00 AM
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BECAUSE JUDGES IN HARRIS COUNTY TEXAS ROUTINELY ACT AS A SECOND D.A. WITH IMPUNITY

Prison Doc said...
So what else is new? The only people that are fans of the criminal justice system are those who have never had to deal with it.

8/06/2010 07:58:00 AM
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AMEN DOC...SO TRUE

Scott Stevens said...
The chief of police is required to follow and enforce the law, not violate it. In my opinion, his order is contumacious and it should be treated as such. An officer following such an order is willfully following an unlawful order and is similarly in contempt of court.

8/06/2010 10:42:00 AM
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IN MANY JURISDICTIONS THIS MAY BE TRUE BUT NOT IN HARRIS COUNTY

Anonymous said...

Police State has come to Houston so deal with it! You are nothing but scum to be screwed out of your money so shut up and pay up. The police and courts are gods, how dare you complain about them. You must be a home land terrorist to even allow a post about the police acting like criminals, it is not allowed Grits. I hope you don't need to fly or buy a gun because you are on all of our Terrorist Lists. No FLy - No Buy. I bet Grits is a closet Tea Party Member. Grits you hang with Ron Paul don't you?

From the government and here to help you!

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