- The Michael Morton exoneration: The Michael Morton exoneration and the subsequent prosecutorial misconduct investigation rocked the criminal-justice political establishment in Texas, prompting renewed discussions on how to retard prosecutorial misconduct that could reverberate into the 2013 session. The case also spawned a supposed "road to Damascus" moment for John Bradley, Texas' most outspoken tuff-on-crime District Attorney out of Williamson County, who is facing a tough re-election challenge. The state bar is investigating him and his mentor, Judge Ken Anderson, who preceded Bradley as DA and originally prosecuted Morton.
- One step forward, two steps back on de-incarceration: The Lege closed Texas' first-ever prison in 2011, which was a milestone, but also cut probation, backtracking from reform and shifting more financial burden to inmate families. In all, the Lege retreated from the reform agenda it had staked out in 2007 and 2009, forcing the agency to add 2,000 beds at various other facilities.
- Hasta la vista, TYC and TJPC: The Texas Youth and Juvenile Probation Commissions were merged to form the new Juvenile Justice Department. The legislation received wide support at the Lege, but privately some fear the new agency's prison function will overwhelm the much smaller number of probation staff. The agency ends the year leaderless, with the new board expected to select an executive director in January.
- Parole board defies courts on 'Condition X': Throughout the year, federal and state judges repeatedly ordered the Board of Pardons and Paroles to cease assigning sex offender conditions ("Condition X") to parolees who were never convicted of a sex crime. The parole board has balked and largely defied the courts beyond the individual prisoners whose cases they ruled on, leaving the board and thousands of similarly situated parolees in legal limbo.
- The Forensic Science Commission and the Willingham denouement: Forensic Science Commission Chairman John Bradley was ousted after Texas Senate failed to confirm him. The Attorney General curtailed authority of the agency to pursue older investigations but the FSC issued a strong final Willingham report anyway, launching a joint inquiry with my employers at the Innocence Project of Texas and the state fire marshal into possible innocence cases stemming from past arson convictions. Meanwhile, a prominent documentary on the Willingham case, Incendiary, was released, bringing the story to a national audience.
- Eyewitness ID reform: More than three-quarters of false convictions overturned by DNA exonerations in Texas were mistakenly accused by an eyewitness. A landmark eyewitness ID reform bill passed in Texas this year will require local departments to have their own detailed written policy in place governing photo and live lineups by September 2012. As of 2008, nearly 90% of departments had no written policies on the subject and of those that did, only a handful actually followed best practices and national guidelines. Sam Houston State University was charged with creating a model policy to guide departments on best practices, which is due out soon as of this writing.
- When criminal convictions trump scientific truth: In Ex Parte Robbins, a state habeas corpus application, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that legal and scientific truth may diverge when evaluating habeas claims, finding that a medical examiner's testimony was false according to science but true according to Texas law. Terrible case from the perspective of seeking exonerations for innocent people convicted based on junk science.
- Lege picks jail instead of treatment for mentally ill: Mental-health cuts in the state budget exacerbated a competency restoration crisis involving hundreds of, inmates who've been declared incompetent to stand trial waiting in local county jails for months on end until a state hospital bed opens up. Coupled with a general lack of mental health treatment outside the justice system, state legislative policy is turning county jails into de facto mental asylums. Budgets for mental healthcare inside prisons were also cut.
- Health expenses busting prison budget: The Lege under-budgeted prison healthcare by more than $100 million for the biennium. As a result, UTMB wants to cease providing prisoner health care. A recent contract extension cost the state an extra $5 million per month, obliterating ostensible budget savings from TDCJ.
- Reverse 'spillover' rampant but mostly ignored: In this year's budget, state border security grants expanded dramatically while all else was cut. However, the money is focused on equipment and US-side patrols that ignore the real "spillover" threat: US-side gangs working as soldiers across the river in Mexico's cartel wars.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Biggest Texas criminal justice stories of 2011
What were the biggest Texas criminal justice stories of 2011? Here's the list Grits came up with; let me know what I missed:
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at 5:30 AM