Innocence Project of Texas in the news
My employers at the Innocence Project of Texas received some good press in the New York Times and Texas Monthly where Maurice Chammah had a piece (April 19) describing a suggestion "to have all of the state’s innocence clinics adopt a single, centralized intake system for letters, with a single process for identifying viable cases." Currently, the state's four law-school-based innocence clinics suffer from a great deal of redundancy as inmates may send the same request to each school and resources are wasted vetting the same cases with thousands of others stacked up behind them. The story also mentioned that IPTX has taken on the case of Emanuell Randolph, a Fort Bend County man who was convicted based on a dog-scent lineup conducted by then-Fort Bend Deputy Keith Pikett, whose methods have been criticized as junk science by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. (For details of the case, see this 2012 appellate ruling on a different issue.)
TX House committees to consider mental illness, substance abuse
Terri Langford at the Texas Tribune has a preview of a hearing today at the Texas Legislature addressing issues related to inmates with mental illness and substance abuse problems. Go here to watch it online beginning at 10 a.m..
Judge: Lack of conviction no reason not to imprison Jerry Hartfield
The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday on the strange case of Jerry Hartfield, a "57-year-old prison inmate who has spent more than three decades in prison without a lawful conviction on the books." Reported Mike Tolson:
State District Judge Craig Estlinbaum was not swayed, pointing out that for all the years Hartfield sat in prison without a valid judgment against him after his conviction was overturned, it wasn't until 2006 that he was moved to do something about it. That delay meant he pretty much forfeited his right to complain about it now, the judge said. That places the fault for years of incarceration with no valid conviction not on the judges or lawyers involved, but on an inmate with an IQ supposedly below 60.Gov. Mark White commuted his original 1976 sentence from death to life, but the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his original conviction because of errors in jury selection and ordered a new trial, which Matagorda County prosecutors never pursued. Wrote Tolson, "'There is one thing it should draw attention to,' [his lawyer] said. 'Guys who are not sentenced to death don't have lawyers appointed for them. Once the death sentence was removed, he didn't have anyone to represent him. They are left to raise these appeals on their own. And Mr. Hartfield, with an IQ below 60, couldn't really do that.'"
"The responsibility placed upon the defendant or his counsel to assert the right is not a burdensome one - a motion for speedy trial or motion for trial setting need do little more than demand that a trial should be set and conducted," Estlinbaum ruled, rejecting a motion that if granted would have dismissed the charges against Hartfield.
HPD failed to investigate numerous homicides
The Houston Chronicle reported over the weekend (April 19) on allegations that HPD Homicide Sgt. Ryan Chandler failed to investigate numerous homicides he was assigned and his supervisors failed to catch the problem for years. After he was transferred to another division in October, "files in 11 homicides assigned to him couldn't be located, that the Houston Police Department launched a full investigation." The department accused Chandler of:
failure to adequately investigate 15 deaths, misplacing files and evidence, and falsifying police records. [Chief Charles] McClelland fired Chandler this month.Should judges be removed from indigent defense decisions?
Those and other serious shortcomings involving Chandler and seven other officers in the elite homicide division - all of whom received lesser punishments announced April 4 - were laid bare in disciplinary letters obtained last week by the Houston Chronicle through an opens records request.
Among the seven were two lieutenants who supervised Chandler and knew of his failure to testify and his incomplete investigations for more than a year without reporting him to higher-ups. Two other officers disciplined for poor performance were Chandler's partners, one of whom, alongside Chandler, failed to even go to a murder scene in the death of a 30-year-old Hispanic man.
That's the question posed in an article published on Sunday in the El Paso Times, citing an "American Bar Association recommendation from 2002 that encourages the legal community to keep judges out of the 'selection, funding and payment of defense counsel' to maintain the independence of the judiciary and prevent perceived or real conflicts of interest." El Paso (and most other counties) also does not follow the ABA principle that "resources should be equal for prosecutors and defense attorneys," the article noted.
Prisoner art as rehabilitation
The Texas Tribune has a story on an exhibit sponsored by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (for whom your correspondent has recently been performing some unrelated consulting work) and the City of Austin featuring art by women inmates. "The project aimed to draw focus to the more than 12,000 women currently in Texas prisons, said TCJC executive director Ana Yáñez-Correa. Art, she said, brings life to the mental health problems and the trauma that can lead women to make bad choices that result in prison time." Reported the Trib, "advocates for prisoner rights say they plan to ask lawmakers next year to put aside more money to provide inmates with better access to art supplies and more rehabilitative programs that include art therapy."
Domestic violence rates way down since mid-90s
Per capita rates of domestic violence - like crime rates generally - have been steadily dropping for 20 years, according to a new report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The rate of domestic violence fell 63% from 1994 to 2012, said the report, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 to 5.0. The rates of serious domestic violence also dropped, with intimate partner violence dropping far more than violence by immediate family members or other relatives. Even so, according to the feds, "Intimate partner violence (15%) accounted for a greater percentage of all violent victimizations, compared to violence committed by immediate family members (4%) or other relatives (2%). Well-known or casual acquaintances accounted for 32% of all violent victimizations, and strangers accounted for 38%." The Dallas News has been featuring an extended series on domestic violence cases in the DFW area.
Obama may embrace clemency for non-violent drug offenders
President Obama has one of the stingiest clemency records of any American president. But that may soon change, according to this Yahoo News article.
A senior administration official tells Yahoo News the president could grant clemency to "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people locked up for nonviolent drug crimes by the time he leaves office — a stunning number that hasn't been seen since Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s.
The scope of the new clemency initiative is so large that administration officials are preparing a series of personnel and process changes to help them manage the influx of petitions they expect Obama to approve. Among the changes is reforming the recently censured office within the Justice Department responsible for processing pardon petitions. Yahoo News has learned that the pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, who was criticized in a 2012 Internal watchdog report for mishandling a high-profile clemency petition, is likely to step down as part of that overhaul. Additional procedures for handling large numbers of clemency petitions could be announced as soon as this week, a senior administration official said, though it could take longer.