Thursday, June 26, 2014

Surging toward Groundhog Day, and other stories

Here are a few items that deserve Grits readers' attention but haven't made it into independent posts:

Pointless 'surge': Waiting for the punchline
DPS' $1.3 million per week border surge IMO is a bad joke. Brandi Grissom must think it's Groundhog Day. How many "surges" have we witnessed in Texas since Operations Linebacker, Wrangler, etc.? What did they solve? And how will this one convince some teenager in Honduras not to begin the march northward fleeing oppression and poverty to come here for a job that Texas businesses want give him? The feds seem to have a more pragmatic response: bringing in emergency judges to process immigration cases. Maybe this would be a good time for the US Senate to fill some of Texas' empty federal judicial posts.

Eat This
A Tyler company admitted no guilt as it entered into a $392,000 settlement with the US Department of Agriculture after meat it sold as pet food wound up being fed to inmates at the federal Bureau of Prisons.

'Pregnant women in Texas county jails deserve better than this'
Horrific. From the Dallas News (June 26), "A federal lawsuit in Wichita Falls shines a spotlight on a dramatic example of how the opportunity for lifesaving medical intervention is often missed in county jails. In this case, a child was tragically lost." See the full, gut wrenching column coauthored by the Texas Jail Project's Diana Claitor and Burke Butler of the Texas Civil Rights Project.  

Arson and false convictions
As evidence that Texas' arson review has had national influence, check out this NBC piece on a Michigan man exonerated in an arson-murder case. It hails Texas as authoring "the most comprehensive overhaul of fire investigation in the nation" and holds up the state fire marshal's review of old cases as a model.

Weather litigation heating up with summer
The Dallas Observer has details from one of the lawsuits over excessive heat at Texas prisons focused on the Hutchins State Jail. Wrote Sky Chadde, "Larry McCollum's death received most of the press. McCollum was a 58-year-old Hutchins inmate -- in for a nonviolent crime -- who suffered a seizure after several 100-degree-plus days in a row. At the hospital, his body temp was 109.8 degrees. He fell into a coma and died six days later, from living in a place with high temperatures and no A/C. Lawyers from the Texas Civil Rights Project sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state's prison system. That lawsuit is still playing itself out, but now the department has another one on its hands." The story noted at the end that, "Recently, the AP reported that the criminal justice department is hoping to make seven state prisons a little more bearable by using large fans, like those football teams use to cool down on game days."

FBI to TX: Give our informant a PI license
Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman has the story of an FBI informant with impeccable references from his handlers who was nonetheless turned down for a private investigator license because of his criminal history.

Bad analogies and the Fourth Amendment
Here's hopeful assessment from Vox of the import of yesterday's SCOTUS decision that cell phones can't be searched incident to arrest. "The Supreme Court's new attitude is best summarized by a single sentence in the opinion. The government had argued that searching a cell phone is no different from searching other items in a suspect's pocket. That, the court wrote, 'is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.'" Much of the debate surrounding the Fourth Amendment in the 21st century hinges on bad analogies, the author argues.

Habeas corpus post-Guantanamo
The Stanford Law Review has a nice little summary of the effectuation of federal habeas corpus and due process rights in recent D.C.-circuit case law for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

There are also worthy, recent items at Texas Prison Bidness, Defending People, and The Defense Rests.


chaconalaw said...

Thanks for bringing attention to the changes in arson investigation spurred by the Willingham case. It is great to see Texas paving the way to debunk the old myths about arson. Too bad no one is willing to admit the mistakes in Willingham that led to the realization that a change was necessary. Check out Incendiary.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

chaconlaw wrote: "no one is willing to admit the mistakes in Willingham that led to the realization that a change was necessary"

I wouldn't say "no one," just not the governor or his board of pardons and paroles. The Forensic Science Commission wrote a big report about "the mistakes in Willingham" (and also the Ernest Willis case which was investigated with it) and the fire marshal review was one of that report's recommendations. Perry's machinations around the case were perhaps IMO the lowest moment of his governorship, but overall Texas (through the FSC) acknowledged the errors and (through the fire marshal) took corrective action. True, the parole board recommended against a posthumous pardon and the governor politicized the case. But you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, anywhere, who would dispute that "the mistakes in Willingham ... led to the realization that a change was necessary." That would be a silly and ahistorical stance.

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