Thursday, May 22, 2014

Roundup: Naming the new Travis DA's office, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that didn't make it into independent posts this week but deserve Grits readers' attention:

Troopers association litigation fails
A judge dismissed the civil suit against the state from the Texas State Troopers Association, which faces penalties and the removal of boardmembers over an illegal telemarketing scheme. Reported the Austin Statesman, "In its lawsuit, the troopers association accused the attorney general’s office of trying to bully the group into signing an agreement that called for fines and the resignation of executive director Claude Hart and board members Lee Johnson, Anne Johnson and Herschel Henderson. Those leaders would also be banned from working for or volunteering with any Texas group that purports to benefit public safety, the document states." Further, "According to the organization’s 2012 tax forms, the group raised more than $3.2 million and paid $2.5 million of it to a telemarketing firm. The association’s largest expense, $311,000, was for salaries. Other costs included $76,000 for lobbying and $35,000 in benefits to members." For long-time readers, this is a different group from the Texas Highway Patrol Association, though the economics of their telemarketing program operated on the same model.

Audit draft criticizes Dallas probation on technical violations
Reported the Dallas Morning News, a leaked TDCJ-CJAD audit of the Dallas County probation department found that "officers did not follow court or department policies more than two out of three times when handling 'technical violations' by probationers, according to a preliminary draft of an audit" obtained by the paper. But "Michael Noyes, the head of Dallas County adult probation, said he doesn’t believe the numbers in the state’s draft report are accurate. He said auditors from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice may have confused strict policies that apply to probationers only in certain court programs and applied them to all probationers."

CCA: New punishment hearing because prosecutor failed to turn over snitch jacket
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week ordered a new punishment hearing in a capital  murder case because the prosecution did not reveal that a confidential informant planted a shank in the defendant's cell that was used to argue his "future dangerousness." Remarkably, "Following the evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that the State did not fail to produce exculpatory evidence or knowingly present false testimony. However, the trial court also found that [the informant] fashioned and planted the shank as described. Therefore the evidence that applicant possessed the shank was false. The trial court also found that this evidence was central to the State’s future dangerousness case and to the jury’s decision at punishment." The court deferred to those findings, including the declaration prosecution "did not fail to produce exculpatory evidence," even though the exculpatory evidence they failed to produce was the basis for a new punishment hearing.

Out of control: A substantive claim
Note to prosecutors: Before accusing someone of committing fraud to obtain a controlled substance, first make sure the substances you're after are, you know, controlled. In another CCA habeas writ granted this week, the "Applicant was convicted of attempting to obtain a controlled substance by prescription fraud and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment." Her prevailing habeas claim: "there is no evidence that Naproxen is a controlled substance." The trial court agreed, the CCA agreed, bada bing, bada boom, relief granted. This sounds like another episode where lengthy crime lab wait times may have ended up coercing a plea from someone for a crime they didn't commit.

All in the family bank robbing
From the "only in Texas" file, and Texas Monthly's Skip Hollandsworth.

Dumb: Life in prison for pot brownies?
With a possible first-degree felony sentence for drug possession of 5-99 years, it's possible, if unlikely, for a 19-year old defendant to spend the rest of their life in prison on a weight-based drug charge, a possibility touted in KEYE-TV's report on a Williamson County case. But how ridiculous is it for authorities to include the brownies in calculating the weight of the controlled substance (hashish) being used to bump that charge up to first-degree felony levels? Really?

If the feds can do it ...
Now that DOJ has told the FBI, DEA, and other federal investigators to begin recording custodial interrogations, shouldn't the Texas Legislature follow suit and require it for law enforcement agencies here? The Lege considered such legislation in 2013 and, next spring will have an opportunity to polish off this last, unimplemented recommendation from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions.

The era of mass incarceration in America is not over
Regular readers know we're seeing declining incarceration rates in Texas, like many other large states, but most American states have seen incarceration increase over the last decade, judging from these data.

Naming the new Travis DA's office
Travis County is trying to decide an eponym for a new building that will house the District Attorney's office. Some are saying "Ronnie Earle," but I think it should be named after Richard Danziger. Or perhaps, in light of the current DA's recent history, the "Happy Hour Tower." Offer up your own suggestions in the comments.


rodsmith said...

so again we have another fucking gov't agency FAKING evidence to shaft a citizen. With little or NO fucking punishment.

rodsmith said...

sorry scott I know you don't like it. But it's long long past time for the gov't to either clean up it's damn act. Or be removed with extreme force.

Anonymous said...

Why do I get the feeling Dr. Noyes is talking about the SO case loads? From my experience the standard procedures to deal with technical violations no longer apply for them. Not sure why, but the witch hunt continues..