Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Big Brother, felony pranks, and rebates for 'murder insurance'

Let's do a roundup post to clear out the mounting, increasingly daunting sea of tabs across my browser that have relentlessly taunted Grits for several days now:

PBS features Kerry Max Cook saga
PBS Frontline has a new feature on Kerry Max Cook, following up on a New York Times story last week by Michael Hall.

Picking grand jurors
This Austin Statesman story gives one of the best descriptions you'll see of the nuts and bolts of how grand juries are selected in Travis County - either by appointed commissioners or from the same jury pool as regular jurors. I prefer the latter, even if the commissioner system generates more "diversity." I don't want prosecutors cherrypicking grand juries - as DA Rosemary Lehmberg said she did in a recent, high-profile case involving a police shooting - based on the grand jurors' skin colors, either to affect the outcome or to pander to public perception.

Big Brother in Big D
According to the Dallas Morning News, tomorrow Dallas Police Chief David "Brown will unveil the latest in crime-fighting technology that, he hopes, will ensure that the city’s crime rate stays permanently on its declining trajectory. The technology consists of monitoring devices such as cameras, license-plate readers for squad cars and tracking equipment" for use in bait cars and other "bait" items. The News editorial focuses on the "bait" strategy, but I'm more concerned about the expansion of cameras with little credible evidence they're cost effective or prevent crime, much less "license plate readers for squad cars," which would amount to a massive data mining project operating in the field with little regulation. The Dallas City Council should reject those two items.

Big Brother meets the Alamo
James Bamford at Wired has a lengthy, must-read story on the domestic intelligence gathering apparatus of the National Security Administration, including a massive campus at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio which "Focuses on intercepts from Latin America and, since 9/11, the Middle East and Europe. Some 2,000 workers staff the operation. The NSA recently completed a $100 million renovation on a mega-data center here—a backup storage facility for the Utah Data Center."

Defense can explain 'guilty beyond a reasonable doubt'
The Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld a pro-defense ruling to say that defense counsel has a right to explain to jurors what "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt means." Good luck with that! In my experience if you get five different lawyers in a room you'll get at least six different opinions on the question. As the judge in the story pointed out, reasonable doubt "is not mathematically quantifiable, but rather is a level of certainty of belief in the minds of each of the jurors."

Counties get 'murder insurance' rebate
The regional capital public defender office in West Texas - what some have dubbed "murder insurance" - refunded $400K to the 77 counties in its jurisdiction, reported the Lubbock Avalanche Journal.

Public interest lawyering recognized
Congrats to the UT Law School's Texas Law Fellowship Public Interest Award recipients. "They are: Ian Spechler, ‘07, founder of the Legal Representation for Dually Managed Youth Project; David Gonzalez, founding partner of a sliding-scale criminal defense firm in Austin; UT Law Clinical Professors Bill Allison and Patricia Cummings of the Criminal Defense Clinic, who are being recognized for their work on the Michael Morton case; and Jordan Pollock, a third-year UT Law student."

Corrupt in Covington?
Attorney Michael Lowe writes about a Texas Ranger investigation of alleged police corruption in Covington, TX.

Felony pranks
In College Station, a young Aggie has been charged with a third degree felony for online impersonation after posting a woman's cell phone number in the Craig's List casual encounters section as a prank. Though not a Texas case, in Georgia a valedictorian and senior class president has been charged with a felony for participating in ritual graff writing with a group of classmates as the end of their senior year approached. Texas has a similarly harsh law making any graffiti on school property a felony.


Anonymous said...

'guilty beyond a reasonable doubt'

That's our verdict on George Zimmerman. Tried on TV and found 'guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.' The crowd, whipped up by 24-hour coverage, demands punishment.

Anonymous said...

Me and my compadres used to have so much fun. On Senior Rec Day, we picked up every realtor "For Sale" sign we could find and placed them in front of the school in the middle of the night, then let some turkeys loose in the hallways while the underclasses were in session.

I think they put a photo of the front of the school in the newspaper. It was all in fun.

So now, the photos in the newspaper would be our mugshots?

Anonymous said...

Prosecutors don't have a role in picking grand juries. The judge takes the first 12 qualified.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:19, I did not say prosecutors have a role in choosing grand jurors. However, they choose WHICH grand jury they want to take a case before.

The reference was to the part of the linked story declaring "Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg waited several months before presenting the case to a grand jury. One reason: She didn't think the grand juries seated at the time were diverse enough." She's picking and choosing which grand jury will hear the case based on skin color, if that quote is accurate. That aspect disagrees with me.

TominAustin said...

The 'murder insurance' program seems like a good program being run honestly. Wondering if this is a purely local inititative, or if there is a state Law which authorizes such organizations.

Charlotte workers comp said...

Indeed, hard to explain the importance and the subtlety of "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" 's meaning!

Anonymous said...

In most communities you'll find retired cops on every grand jury empaneled. And they intimidate or cajole their fellow jurors into going along and voting with them. In Harris county the only grand juries who are presented cases involving alleged misconduct by law enforcement officers always have several former or retired officers serving as grand jurors. That's why we see the ridiculous no-bills that we do. Kinda like having convicted burglars deciding whether or not to indict someone for burglary, ain't gonna happen...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Tom, this is something that originated out of Lubbock through grants from the Task Force on Indigent Defense. It's designed, and appears to work well, for smaller counties that seldom see capital cases but could be bankrupted from prosecuting one. So the DP abolitionists probably don't like it because it makes money less of a barrier to seeking a death sentence. I support it because it gives indigent capital defendants far superior representation and makes loads of economic sense. I agree it's a very smart approach. Other counties can join too, I believe, if they're willing to pay the premium.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous and Grits,

In Harris County (Houston) the district attorney's office has in fact picked the grand jury on more than one occasion. Judges have asked the district attorney's office for grand jury candidate lists in past years.:~)


Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits and /or Anon. regarding Harris County (Houston),

If possible, please consider running through a typical day in the life of a G.J. being presented with a felony Agg. Rob. case.

*Prior to casting votes, are they all located in one room, presented with copies of the HPD Incident Report complete with crime victim's original description(s) of suspect(s), description of alleged weapon used, copies of all photos used in the photo array, copies of photos of all participants of the Show-Up, are provided with a detailed description of Suspect(s), are notified if suspects are on probation or not? And what is done afterwards? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yes, automatically excluding anyone with a past or present direct tie to the criminal justice system or reducing the number of retirees since they obviously can't think for themselves seems like such a good idea...

Since that biased article ran in the Chronicle, various changes were instituted. Former law enforcement were not on every grand jury then, nor are they now, at least in Harris County.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:41,

Please explain how the Chron's article was biased. Do you actually think that the DA's office should be handing lists of people to serve on grand juries to the judges? Do you believe that all the commissioners selecting candidates for a specific grand jury should be probation personnel serving under the court? Is it appropriate for an HPD cop to be serving on a grand jury invesigating her onw employers - especially when on the following week she would be back under them?

Finally, why do you think some of the judges actually addressed their grand jury selection procedures if there wasn't a problem? Kudos to the judge's that did.