Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On forensic oversight, backlogs, and prospects for revenge-porn statute's constitutionality

As I head out of town again for a couple of days, here are a few items which merit Grits readers attention:
  • Anthony Graves' appointment to the Houston crime lab board has been making headlines. Perhaps just as significant, his attorney Nicole Casaraz who secured his exoneration will replace Scott Hochberg as the board chair. That's an unusual profile for a crime lab, particularly one whose management was recently made independent of the police department. Congrats to both of them!
  • The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit by two former Houston crime lab employees (from when it was run by the police department) who alleged that "Harris County prosecutors retaliated against them after they exposed problems with the city's breath-alcohol testing vans, or 'BAT vans.'"
  • In San Antonio, somehow I'd missed news this spring that hundreds of DWI blood tests were mishandled in a contracted lab and the new DA couldn't use the evidence in cases. Oops.
  • Dallas is beefing up staff in its sex crimes unit in anticipation of performing DNA testing on more than 4,000 backlogged DNA tests.
  • Texas' much-lauded revenge porn statute appears on a collision course with recent First Amendment jurisprudence, as Mark Bennett tried to explain to legislators during session. For my part, I wish the debate weren't as facile as it has become, where valid legal criticisms are dismissed as detritus and the Lege just passes laws which poll well but cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. We've done this a bunch in Texas now, with online solicitation, improper photography ... now we appear poised to go through the same rigmarole on revenge porn. Grits has nothing good to say about anyone who would engage in this activity, but acknowledging the legal complexity of the situation does not condone the behavior. In fact, it's how serious people go about actually solving a problem. We'll see how the courts receive the new statute; I'm not sanguine it has much chance of withstanding scrutiny, good intentions and high-toned rhetoric notwithstanding.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If mayoral candidate Bill King wins the spot, the crime lab appointments will be a moot point. He has stated he would close it down in favor of using the county lab to save money.

Anonymous said...

Grits could someone go after say State Senator Joan Huffman for willfull waste of taxpayer funds for pushing constitutionally challenged legislation?

Soronel Haetir said...

If Texas has an analogue to the federal speech and debate clause then the answer to that question would be 'no'. Although given the Perry prosecution you could likely find a prosecutor and judge who would go along with it for awhile.

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