Friday, October 03, 2014

Roundup: Innocence in Waco, record tampering at the parole board, and other stories

Here are several items that haven't made it into independent posts this week but merit Grits readers' attention:

Judge: Waco murder defendants actually innocent
A district judge in Waco has recommended habeas corpus relief for four defendants convicted of murder in 1993, declaring they wouldn't have been convicted despite their confessions if DNA evidence had been tested using modern methods. The hits just keep on coming.

Bear justice 'tests the standards of judicial propriety'
While we're in Waco, the Tribune Herald published a blistering staff editorial this week criticizing District Attorney Abel Reyna over alleged special treatment afforded two high level staffers at Baylor University arrested for DWI. See Tommy Witherspoon's story on which it's based. This story might matter more if Democrats had fielded an opponent. We pretty much know the State Bar won't do anything so nothing can be done to rid McLennan County of Reyna for at least four more years.

Parole commissioner indicted for record tampering
The Huntsville Item is reporting that parole board commissioner Pamela Freeman has been indicted for tampering with government records. No more detail than that so far but I'm eager to learn exactly what she's been accused of doing. MSM reporters need to get on this. MORE: A reader forwarded these minimalist case details. She was initially charged The offense allegedly took place back in April but she was only indicted by a grand jury on Oct. 1. Hard to understand why this hasn't been reported before.

Banished but not rehabilitated
I was unaware exile was still a punishment utilized in 21st century courtrooms, but at least two Texas judges banished sex offenders from the state who committed assaults in their new homes, reported the Houston Chronicle late last month.  Officials are calling for the law to be changed so it won't happen again, but according to the paper, "the Texas Constitution prohibits banishment." That's law enough: What's needed are for judges and prosecutors to respect the Constitution and for offenders' counsel to defend it. Without that, changing the law won't matter much.

Houston PD can't/won't rein in bad cops
The Texas Observer's Emily DePrang last week honed in on the new scandal at HPD in which four officers peppered false information on more than six thousand traffic tickets now being dismissed, placing it in context of the department's shoddy record on disciplining its officers who engage in misconduct. She noted that the scandal is "nothing new for Houston. In 2012, four veteran HPD officers were found to have been pulling the same scheme for years, netting almost $1 million in overtime pay. Not one of those officers was fired."

Commission: Hidalgo County should spread indigent cases among more lawyers
Hidalgo County may "tweak" its indigent defense system based on recommendations from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. Under the new rules, "The commission recommends the top 10 percent of attorneys receive not more than three times their share appointments. The top 10 percent most-appointed attorneys in the third degree/state jail felony, misdemeanor and juvenile wheels received nearly four times their share of amount of appointments." TIDC could withhold state funding for indigent defense if they don't change their appointment rules, reported the McAllen Monitor.

DeLay decision: Justice, a 'tad shady,' or outcome-based judging?
Grits hasn't closely followed the campaign finance case against Tom DeLay overturned this week by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (see the majority opinion), but the concurring and dissenting opinions were especially interesting. Judges Cheryl Jones and Cathy Cochran in a concurrence concluded that DeLay's actions, "Like some of Goldman Sach's dealings with a Spanish bank, the wheeling and dealing was a tad shady, but legal." But Judge Larry Meyers' dissent laid into the majority more severely than any recent CCA opinion I can recall, alleging they were taking "marching orders" from DeLay's attorney, Brian Wice. The dissent opened, "You can always tell when an opinion is written with the outcome decided before any legal analysis is done because it reads like a medical report written by a doctor who has never conducted a physical examination of the patient. This is precisely how the court of appeals' opinion comes across in this case." And the CCA's decision, he said, was "just as deficient in its analysis as the one from the court of appeals." Indeed, he wrote, "The majority in this case has changed the law and ignored the facts in order to arrive at a desired outcome, as it has done before." Ouch! I'd love to be a fly on the wall when CCA judges are deliberating some of these controversial cases; things seem to be getting more and more heated among them.

Improving access to public data
The City of Houston wants to make their records and data more accessible to the public, but the idea is being embraced more by planning and regulatory divisions than cops and the courts. My suggestion: Scan responsive data to OR requests and upload it to the web, indexed, on the assumption that if  one person is interested, others would be too. Then the next time somebody asks for it, they don't need to file a request, just email them the link. State government should do the same thing. Data storage is cheap and getting cheaper.

'Our criminal justice system is making it really hard for people to get jobs'
This article explains why Texas' business community has embraced criminal justice reform: The system has become so onerous and restrictive it's limiting the labor pool. Plus, folks without jobs don't spend money as much money as consumers who are gainfully employed.

Fourth Amendment history
Read some little-discussed Fourth Amendment history re: federal government surveillance here, here, and here. Related, from The Atlantic, "The Barney Fife loophole to the Fourth Amendment."

Video games: Spur to violence or crime prophylactic?
A new study refutes the oft-repeated assumption that violent video games make those who play them more violent. For my part, I'd go even further. Grits believes the rise of the home video game industry actually contributed significantly to reduced crime because of the incapacitation effect: the teenage boy spending hours in front of a screen playing Grand Theft Auto can't simultaneously burglarize my house. And the demographic with which video games are most popular, young men, are statistically the most likely to commit crimes.


Thomas Hobbes said...

Improving Access to Public Data -

While simply sending a link seems perfectly reasonable to me and most requestors are fine with it, it isn't sufficient without requestor permission. According to the Texas AG's 2014 Public Information Handbook:

"Thus, in order to comply with section 552.221, a governmental body must either provide the
information for inspection or duplication in its offices or send copies of the information by first class United States mail. The attorney general has determined that a public information officer does not fulfill his or her duty under section 552.221 by simply referring a requestor to a governmental body’s website for requested public information. A requestor may, however, agree to accept information on a governmental body’s website in fulfillment of the request and, in that situation, the governmental body must inform the requestor of the Internet address of the requested information.
[Open Records Decision No. 682 (2005)]"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Agreed, Thomas, I stated that poorly. But if every time they fulfill an OR request they post the information online, from then on they will receive fewer requests and most people will just get the data themselves.

Anonymous said...

Grits, the Parole Commissioner you referenced was not "charged" in April. The wrongdoing is alleged to have occurred April 30. The Board was promptly notified of the wrongdoing. Board Member Chavez, the person directly over that commissioner, wanted action to be taken, but he was ignored by the Board Chair, Rissie Owens and Commissioner Freemen wasn't even suspended. She was still voting cases until all the was through the day she was indicted. Even now, the Board seems to be downplaying it and acting like it's no big deal. Oh, here's the best part, Board Member Chavez was forced out of his job by Owens the day before the indictment, and he's the one person who had the courage to try to hold Freemen accountable for her wrongful acts.

Anonymous said...

Here's a little more detail on the Parole Commissioner being indicted...

Soronel Haetir said...

The thing I could see about posting requested information online and then responding with a link, unless TX is very different from the norm that statute also allows the government body to charge for the information retrieval, I could see them foregoing that in a case where no copies need to be made and nothing needs to be mailed.

"Sure, we can send it to you snail mail, but it's going to cost you and it'll take longer. Wouldn't you just rather have a link to the already created response?"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Soronel, I've had exactly that happen many, many times. Common as dirt and as a requestor I always just look at it electronically, if available.

Anonymous said...

A few tidbits you might find interesting:

Regarding the 'banishment' post, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, via article 1.18, also prohibits "outlawry and transportation".

Regarding the 'video game & violence' post, Stephen King made a similar argument in his essay "Why We Crave Horror Movies", which ended with the memorable refrain, " long as we keep the gators fed" (referring to movies as a way of taming our fear and satisfying, by proxy, our urges to engage in perverse behavior).

Anonymous said...

“ban the box” legislation - couple that with a complete withdraw of the DPS surcharge "double jeopardy" rule would make a hell'va difference. We were talking about that surcharge BS is about to die. I advised them I contacted my rep on the committee and he still hasn't responded so I called again - still no response. We concluded by agreeing we (1) need a facelift in ATX as the old order is stuck in their ways, (2) to bombard our representative daily (we actually have a schedule now), and (3) to drop our blanket support for the Republican party while listening attentively to other candidates. These articles you have been submitting on these issues initiate great talking points. Please keep it up. Greenville, Texas.

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