Monday, February 09, 2015

Cochran: Tell jurors financial cost of prison sentences

Texas Monthly's Michael Hall has an extended exit interview this month with recently retired Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran up on the magazine's website. I especially enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes from Judge Cochran into the court's internal functioning:
It’s like having a very large dysfunctional family and you may fight amongst yourselves and have arguments, but to the outside world you project that you’re a family. You get to know each other quite well and you get to know what’s going to go over with someone and what won’t. So you try to fashion your opinions with the concerns and issues of other people in mind to make sure you could get the majority. And so how do you go about making sure you put things in there that would satisfy one judge and not upset another judge? And those judges are doing the same with you. There’s a lot of chess playing that goes on here.
And I particularly liked her idea for informing juries about the cost to taxpayers of prison sentences before they're assessed. Asked what issues the court and the Legislature should be focused on, Cochran opined:
I think there’s going to be a much greater emphasis on not going to prison. The jury ought to know just exactly how much it costs to send somebody to prison for a year. I think that the evidence-based studies these days show that criminal justice reinvestment and putting money into the community and having people on a short leash and keeping them out of jail—with jobs, with families—does a whole lot better job not just for that person, but for all of society in general. And speaking of keeping people out of jail, I really think the law needs some help with pre-trial bail, letting people out before the case is sentenced. We’ve had a lot of cases recently where we’ve granted relief because here’s somebody arrested for possession of cocaine or meth or whatever and they plead guilty because they’ve got a job or a family or they just can’t stay in jail for the next six months before trial; they don’t have enough money to make bail, but they plead guilty. Then sure enough six months later the analysis on the drugs comes back and guess what? It’s not a drug. 
Finally, here's a notable exchange on the impact of innocence cases on the court's jurisprudence:
MH: How is it that Texas, a conservative law-and-order state, has enacted all these groundbreaking reforms?

CC: I think that when you come right down to it, Texas is a pretty open-minded place. People listen and pay attention and acknowledge issues if you bring them to their attention in an appropriate sort of way. And all those DNA exonerations woke a lot of people up. I was as surprised as anybody.

MH: They were a big moment for you and others?

CC: Yes. I think that we knew there were mistakes, but we thought it was maybe a one-in-fifty-million kind of thing. Clearly, it was much worse, and if we can’t be accurate in the results in the criminal justice system, we will lose the respect of the people on the street. And the second big thing was in 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences came out with the report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States,” and that really was an eye-opener. It basically said that most of the forensic sciences being used in criminal cases were not very valid, or not validated, except for DNA.

Perhaps the single most important development was the Innocence Project’s survey of the various reasons for wrongful convictions, giving some coherence to when and how mistakes are made. We rely heavily on eyewitness testimony, and it turns out that eyewitness testimony is the number one reason for wrongful convictions. We had no idea it was so unreliable. And number two is forensic science. And then false confessions, and then Brady issues—prosecutors not turning over information that would have been helpful to the defense. We wrote several opinions dealing with these issues. In 2008 Judge [Barbara] Hervey started the Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, and eyewitness identification was an early focus, bringing together players from every area of the law, including the police officers, because if the police officers aren’t on board, no reform is going to take place. Along the way we also saw the Forensic Science Commission, the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel, and the Michael Morton Act.
All good stuff. Go here to read the whole thing.


Brad Walters said...

"We had no idea..." Okay I guess that explains and excuses the CCA that has contorted the plain meaning of CCP 38.23 and other statutes while turning a blind eye to Brady and writing opinions that encourage spoliation of evidence in order to save convictions from the fire. No idea my ass. Callous indifference to abuses of due process for years were only addressed when denial was no longer possible. You folks at the CCA have a long way to go to correct case law which gives law enforcement and prosecutors license to cheat coming and going and get away with it under flawed harm analysis. No idea, yeah right!

DEWEY said...

How about comparing the cost of executions with life sentences for death penalty cases ?

Anonymous said...

I bet if the county of conviction had to foot the bill, very few would go to prison. Stop those wasteful and tax-payer fraud diversion programs such as SAFP and IPTC Programs. Those two programs are the biggest waste of tax-payer money in Texas; however, they must put a lot of kickback money in peoples pockets.

Anonymous said...

Yes, SAFP and IPTC are as worthless as a run over pile of dog crap. They exist solely to allow parole to game "successful" release.
The half-way houses that follow placement in SAFP need to be shuttered. Lots of manipulating statistics just for this program to give a false impression that it works.

Anonymous said...

Those half-way houses run by Gateway, Salvation Army and Volunteers of America are criminal!
Who ever is the state employee pushing these programs and writing the checks should be prosecuted for fraud against the tax-payers of Texas! That Gateway program sells nothing more than an illusion.

Anonymous said...

Those after care programs serve as punishment only! No rehabilitation at all! This is about state contracts, state employees, judges, and those unqualified counselors getting kick backs from these contracts and the contractors.

Anonymous said...

The transitional treatment center after SAFPF and IPTC has been a joke since day 1 way back when Ann Richards was Governor. The 1/2 way house idea sounded good but its implementation and practice has never made any sense whatsoever.

Today, the SAFPF/IPTC Continuum of Care is diluted beyond belief.

I think most jurors won't care what it costs to put someone in prison. If there is a trial jurors would like to know what is available as far as sentencing goes, but the cost attached won't hold as much influence as their own value system. Jurors are people; just like lawmakers are people. It is their value system that drives their decision making.