Sunday, August 16, 2015

Catching up on criminal-justice reform news

Having just returned from a much-needed and oft-interrupted two-week vacation, your correspondent today spent a little time perusing the news I've missed while I've been focused elsewhere. Here are a few highlights which caught my eye and may interest Grits readers:
  • Ana Correa of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has taken a job as criminal justice program officer at the Public Welfare Foundation and will be moving to Washington D.C. in the fall. The Houston Chronicle published a somewhat hagiographic announcement praising Grits' long-time ally and some-time employer.
  • I'd rather see Rio Grande Valley officials battling corruption as opposed to "perceptions of corruption." Stop the corruption and perceptions will take care of themselves.
  • Houston mayoral candidate and state Rep. Sylvester Turner has proposed increasing manpower at the Houston PD by about 10 percent. Grits has opposed hiring more cops in Austin, where we've hired too many cops at too-high salaries over the last 15 years, but in Houston the case for more officers is stronger. "The department employed 5,470 officers in 1998, and is projected to operate this budget year with about 5,260, despite enormous population growth during that time." The big problem, unstated in the article: Police pensions are already underfunded in Houston and adding more officers without fixing the situation exacerbates the situation. Even without factoring in pensions, the Chronicle estimated Turner underestimates the cost of expanding the police force by more than $20 million.
  • Last month Grits published an interview with Rebeccah Bernhardt of the Texas Fair Defense Project on high caseloads by lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants in Texas. Now, a lawsuit out of California will address whether public defenders handling 700 cases per year can effectively represent their clients. In Texas, lawyers with caseloads that high experience an even greater burden because they typically must also manage a small business - their own practice.
  • Doug Smith, a former inmate and past colleague of your correspondent when I worked for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, has a new blog on which he published a letter to a human resources manager discussing his criminal history and why it shouldn't preclude him from employment. Good read.
  • What if mass incarceration actually increases crime? According to this report:
A new paper from University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith measures how much incapacitation reduced crime. He looked at court records from Harris County, Texas from 1980 to 2009.Mueller-Smith observed that in Harris County people charged with similar crimes received totally different sentences depending on the judge to whom they were randomly assigned. Mueller-Smith then tracked what happened to these prisoners. He estimated that each year in prison increases the odds that a prisoner would reoffend by 5.6% a quarter. Even people who went to prison for lesser crimes wound up committing more serious offenses subsequently, the more time they spent in prison. His conclusion: Any benefit from taking criminals out of the general population is more than off-set by the increase in crime from turning small offenders into career criminals. 
    See the full article by Mueller-Smith.
  • To reduce prison populations by half, as the #Cut50 movement has suggested, would require reassessing sentences for violent as well as nonviolent offenders. Here's a rare op ed focused on why and how to reduce incarceration for offenders convicted  of violent crimes.
  • The New York Times last week published an excellent story on the nexus between high bail and innocent defendants pleading guilty to avoid losing their jobs or remaining incarcerated for long stretches awaiting trial.


Anonymous said...

Bitemarks? Really? Let's take on phrenology and witchcraftery next. Maybe polygraphs.

Peerwani has already stated that the science is bunk.

Why doesn't the Forensic Science Commission re-visit those previously submitted complaints that they stated were outside their jurisdiction (before the change in law). There seems to be about 80+ cases that were summarily ignored. What is their excuse now?

sunray's wench said...

I shall be checking out the #cut50 ~ thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

"...Bradley's main theme, to which he returned several times, was that the Forensic Science Commission had been "hijacked" by people with anti-death penalty agendas..." (November 2009).

The Ghost of JB has awakened!

Why, GFB, is the national IP moving this forward? Hmmm?? IMHO the proper etiquette would have been to go through you first. The IPofTEXAS should have some input as to the importance of wrongful convictions in TEXAS regarding bitemark analysis.

Mentioned during the FSC meeting, only two wrongful convictions in Texas, and both of those men have been freed (1993 and 2001).

What is the point? Bitemarks are crap and haven't been performed in Texas for the past 20 years.

Surely the corruption in TEXAS crime labs hasn't subsided.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't have much of an ego about such things, 12:31, and anyway there was coordination. IPOT submitted a letter of support for the commission to review their complaint and I was quoted in their press advisory last week (which is one reason my vacation was "oft-interrupted). IPOT is a small shop, they've got more resources, and there's too much work to be done to worry about "etiquette" or who gets credit.

Agreed that bitemarks were never as prevalent as, e.g., hair comparisons, but they've got a case where bitemarks are key evidence and the FSC is a good venue to expose the hokum. If the process generates a list of cases - even if it's just a couple dozen or so - where bite marks were key identification evidence, it'll be worth the effort. (That was an important outcome in the hair review, arson cases, the Salvador case, etc..) To the extent there are people still imprisoned over such "evidence," as with the case they brought - it's still a relevant issue.

@11:43 (same person?), perhaps you're right some of those old complaints should be refiled. You seem to know more about them than I do (I don't have that list of 80, fwiw, and hadn't heard that number, which sounds high to me). But the FSC is doing good work in several areas - their hair review is particularly important and has national significance - and their practice has been to take cases brought to them. They stay pretty busy.

Anonymous said...

11:43 here-

From the FSC's 2014 Annual Report, regarding all the complaints that have been submitted...

"...To date, the Commission has received a total of 106 complaints, including 8 laboratory self-disclosures, and has disposed of 85 complaints or disclosures, either through dismissal, investigation, and/or referral to another agency..."

Most of the dismissals were because the FSC lacked jurisdiction --mostly the pre-2005 date and some out-of-state. There's a handy-dandy "TFSC Complaint Assignment Table" at the back of the report. Although, deciphering it may be tricky.

And questionably, the FSC dismissed some through "investigation". But per TCCP 38.01, the investigation: (1) must include the preparation of a written report that identifies and also describes the methods and procedures used to identify:all investigations must have a written report from the FSC.

Of the 85 complaints dismissed through "investigation", where are the reports?

Of the complaints "referred to another agency", where are those reports? Or, are we to believe that the unaccountable ASCLD/LAB and DPS will publically post the reports on their webpages, or pass them along to the FSC to review and publication?

(You will be glad to know that they spent $10,000 on office supplies for the year. So there's one crime solved!)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:16/11:43, are there particular complaints you think should be revisited or are you just, as it appears, complaining for the sake of complaining to promote some unstated agenda? Doing so behind a shield of anonymity reduces your complaint's credibility, particularly since there are numerous reports and disposition forms linked on their website. And why you'd begrudge an agency purchasing office supplies I fail to understand. E.g., the Salvador case involved gathering data about cases in 36 counties, if memory serves. Should they correspond via telepathy or is it okay to use computers, paper, envelopes, postage, etc.?

The FSC is limited by both statute and resources in what it can do and what issues it can take on. They're not authorized to produce reports on complaints beyond their jurisdiction so grousing that they referred some to others without producing a report is a red herring.

They're not perfect and perhaps could do more, but on several key issues the FSC put forensic problems on the front burner that nobody else was talking about or doing anything on. I'd welcome complaints about them with substance and specificity. Generalized whining is less useful.

dfisher said...

The problem with the Forensic Science Commissions is the ignorance of the state legislature and public.

Currently there are two medical examiner and on former medical examiners on the commission, yet the the TX Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 38.01, sec. 5(f)states:

"This article does not apply to the portion of an autopsy
conducted by a medical examiner or other forensic pathologist who
is a licensed physician."

Add to this two of the so called medical examiners are unconstitutional, those being Nizam Peerwani and Jeffrey Barnard. Peerwani performs autopsy for Tarrant CO under an Autopsy Services Contract as a county vendor, not as a county employee or officer per the statute. You can verify this by contacting the Texas Ethics Commission and requesting copies of his ethics filings. You will find he states he is self employed physician practicing forensic pathology through the professional association, "Nizam S. Peerwani, M.D., P.A.". This professional association charter had been revoked for tax default some 7 months before Perry appointed him to the Forensic Science Commission on Dec. 14, 2009 and continued in tax default until September 2010.

The Governor cannot appoint anyone to a board or commission who is in tax default to the State, much less someone whose every act as a medical examiner is illegal.

Dr. Barnard holds two appointments for profit at the same time, which is a violation of the TX Constitution, Art. XVI, Sec 40. AG John Cornyn wrote Opinion JC-0577 in 2002 warning adjunct professors at state universities are not exempt under Art. XVI, Sec 40 so may not hold two paid appointments at the same time or that conflict at common law. The last time I checked Dr. Barnard was receiving a salary of more than $27,000 a year from the UT Southwestern Medical School and more than $247,000 from Dallas CO. Add to this that both Dallas and Tarrant CO district attorneys wrote Amici Briefs to the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston arguing their medical examiners were judicial officers under the statute, yet neither took the oath of office until I confronted them. Peerwani took his oath in 2009 and Barnard in 2011.

Dr. Vincent DeMio never took his oath of office during his tenure at the Bexar CO ME's office, yet the Bexar CO DA also wrote an Amici Brief to the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston as well.

The TX Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Prieto Bail Bonds v. State that all judicial officers in this state must execute the oath documents before entering into the duties of the office or all official acts are void.

Since Texas won't enforce our statutes and constitution, I've started the ball rolling to have a suit filed in Federal Court in the coming weeks raising this issue.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with Grits about the need for action when it comes to Rio Grande Valley corruption - corruption in law enforcement and local government there is almost daily news in the pages of the Monitor, so how can the editor of the Monitor write an editorial claiming the problem is one of perception?

Unfortunately the corruption in the RGV courts is less widely publicized, although the sanctioning of a local judge for extreme generosity with other people's money did at least make the cut:

Anonymous said...

11:43 here again-

The anonymity is because I'm a forensic analyst, and revealing my identity most likely would lead to a premature termination of employment and career-ender. Happy now?

As for my "unspoken agenda" it too much to expect a forensic science commission to perform its job as described in the statute?
Unfortunately, the FSC is the last option for the bench analysts who need to get scientific answers. Lab Directors have no interest in pursuing costly validation studies or exposing weaknesses in their protocols. ASCLD/LAB and DPS have no interest (or incentive) investigating matters that they should have rectified many years ago. (Accreditation for hair analysis protocols = joke.) And they have no accountability for NOT doing anything. The FSC is supposed to be educating us. (They allow anonymous complaints without criticism.)

Many of us on a daily basis have to deal with using unvalidated protocols KNOWING that they are unvalidated, KNOWING that they are questionable. Many of us have to testify that we used such-and-such protocols to reach "scientific" conclusions which inculpate the defendants, knowing that not much science is behind the protocols. And we really don't like to testify that we know the techniques are crap, "but our supervisors make us use them." This too is a career-ender. The alternative is perjury.

Arson science has been crap for 20 years.
Hair analysis has been crap for 20 years.
Bitemark analysis has been crap for 30 years.

The forensic analysts already know this. But I certainly don't want to be responsible 20 years from now for contributing to the wrongful conviction of a defendant because I used a protocol or technique that I knew at the time was crap.

Some of us rely on the FSC to generate their scientific reports so that we (the analysts) can cover our asses. Some of us rely on these reports so that we can take them to our supervisors and say "See? They said so."

So I'm not "complaining for the sake of complaining."

This is my job. This is my career. If I'm expected to do an exceptional job analyzing evidence, I expect nothing less from those MDs and PhD in the FSC driving the forensic "science" in Texas.

And, insofar as "They stay pretty busy", if this is true then they should demand from the legislature more money, for more employees. "Pretty busy" shouldn't be the limiting factor at getting forensic science investigated properly, transparently.

Sorry, Mr. Wrongfully Convicted, but our Forensic Science Commission was "pretty busy".

Sounds "pretty heedless", and "pretty callous" coming from the new director of the IPoT.

Anonymous said...

Note to self, ad forensic analyst to the list of cause(s) related to false arrests being allowed to morph into wrongful convictions.

Welcome to the Team Effort 'FAs', without your professional (expert testimonies) the jury would be forced to do their duty relying solely on the merit of the evidence. Nice try but no cookie Mrs. FA, blaming your actions on your supervisor, won't work here. Blow the fucking whistle all the way or take your silly lil girl crap elsewhere. Anyone that actively assist their supervisors and the prosecution in their collective endeavors to obtain convictions of the innocent is a 'criminal' even if that person expresses after the fact remorse or outs the process in a vague manner. You don't have to wait 20 years to know that you are a member of the Team Effort.

It truly takes a Team Effort.

Anonymous said...

To 11:29-

You can ask Fred Whitehurst (FBI) what it means to blow the whistle. Fired.
Ask Amanda Culbertson and Jorge Wong (Houston) what it means to blow the whistle. Fired.

Ask Duane Deaver (North Carolina) how that works. He was fired for following protocols.
Ask Annie Dookhan (Massachusetts)how that works. She was encouraged by her supervisors. Now she's doing prison time.

And how do you know that Anon12:20 hasn't already "blown the fucking whistle all the way?" Maybe she did, and is waiting for a prompt answer. Or perhaps she should take her "silly lil girl crap elsewhere", so that a sycophantic ethically vacuous ignoramus can fill in her vacancy. At least she demonstrates some concern and urgency for the contemporary forensic science in Texas.

As dfisher pointed out (above), our Team Captains are ignorant of the state legislature and public [responsibilities]. Why whistleblow to them when they are, themselves, clueless (or serve an alternative agenda)?

Anonymous said...

11:43 -

"Many of us on a daily basis have to deal with using unvalidated protocols KNOWING that they are unvalidated, KNOWING that they are questionable."

Oh good grief.

Anyone working in any laboratory system who sincerely believes this to be true has a professional and ethical responsibility to bring the issue to the attention of the appropriate responsible people inside or outside the organization.

If you know things and remain quiet then you are engaging in unethical behavior and justifying it for your own personal gain. That is crappy behaviour in anyone's book. You do not deserve sympathy or understanding or kind words for behaviour like this.

Maybe what you need to do is return to junior high school and restart your training on what it means to be a responsible adult. Maybe you will do better with this training on the second go-around.

Anonymous said...

The DA's Office has been notified.
ASCLD/LAB has been notified.
Tx DPS has been notified.
The FSC has been notified.

No action was taken by any of these agencies to correct the lab problems.

What's your next suggestion? Who else should be notified? (And, you're not helping with your childish remarks. This is an adult conversation. Act like one.)

Anonymous said...


So you have done the notification bit, and no one agreed with you. But you are continuing to work using procedures you personally believe are unreliable. If you really believe that, then you are behaving unethically. You need to resign and stop participating.

But wait. You can't be expected to do that, because resigning would get in the way of your career and your cushy paycheck. Oh my, what a difficult problem for poor little you.

Anonymous said...

If you ride around town with robbers for years in return for a cut, you are basically a robber.

Have your lawyer assist you in turning yourself in to the FBI Field Office and confess to the crimes you have participated in and name names in return for immunity in writing. You don't deserve immunity but since its there, you might as well ask for it.(kindasorta) Confessing on a blog is the first step to gaining some form of personal redemption and gaining feedback from everyday folks will hurt, if you let it. Most don't take kindly to hearing excuses from professional criminals that commit crimes for a living and all of the sudden wake the fuck up and realize that its wrong. Instead of fighting with yourself and others that provide unsolicited mean words, thank them and contact those that you overlooked. Those that ignored your concerns can explain themselves to the DOJ. *I'm proud of you for coming clean, now finish the job and testify against those that forced you to conspire with them or remain sorta silent and we will forget about you and the moment that someone almost did the right thing. If you are fired, take your ass up to HomeDepot. In the mean time, pray that your life doesn't end up in the lab, in the gloved hands of someone that simply does what he/she is told to do vs. doing what the evidence tells them to do.

Anonymous said...

9:48 - Are you hiring at HomeDepot?

Since you and anonymous 5:54 have such disdain for the forensic analysts in Texas, you two will be responsible for solving the scientific problems in her lab. You seem to have all the "correct" answers. (Except for the fact that she hasn't done anything illegal, and she's fulfilled the ethical responsibilities of her position by contacting those agencies responsible.)

Simply post your names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and all the information she has will be forwarded to you. It's your responsibility now. You are accountable.

Anonymous said...

9:48 -

5:54 here.

My disdain is not for forensic analysts in general, but for this forensic analyst in particular. Here is a person who is absolutely certain that the work he is doing is unreliable. Yet he continues to do the work and take a paycheck. And that is according to the analyst himself.

Tell me truly, how is that behaviour not worthy of disdain? And derision? And contempt? Surely, you aren't implying that this is the way normal people would behave, are you? Sociopaths, yes. But not normal people.

As for getting more information from this person, can you trust that it will be reliable information? Here is a person who admits that he willingly and knowingly provides deceitful information to clients as part of his daily job duties. He basically makes his living by lying to people. Apparently, if you give him a little money, he is happy providing whatever untruths and misinformation you would like him to say. But now you are recommending to me that I blindly trust some hypothetical "information" he gives me? I would need to be an idiot to do that.

Anonymous said...

To 7:26-

You state, "But now you are recommending to me that I blindly trust some hypothetical "information" he gives me? I would need to be an idiot to do that."

Yet Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys blindly trust the "information" that forensic analysts present in reports and testimony. Are they idiots?

Receiving "information" is exactly what the FSC and DPS and ASCLD/LAB do. They take in the "information". Then, they perform an investigation. Then, they write a report. Then they have a discussion with the public. Except, as the forensic analyst stated, these agencies haven't done anything.

So now YOU are responsible. You are to investigate the "information", find out if it is reliable. Validate it or invalidate it. Demonstrate that you are not an idiot or a sociopath.

Post your name, email address, and phone numbers, and all the information she has will be forwarded to you. And don't forget to go to the FBI with your new info. They are gonna want the name of the forensic analyst, or her supervisors.

Or, do nothing and get back behind your register at HomeDepot.

Anonymous said...

5:54 here again.

Regarding the observation that the analyst "...hasn't done anything illegal..."

This analyst is acting illegally every time he testifies.

Analysts testify in court about the results for their forensic findings. They are asked if the methods they used are generally accepted as reliable (Frye), or are based upon reliable principles and methods that were applied reliably by the witness (Rule 702). Their testimony is only admissible if they answer "yes".

This analyst believes the answer is "no" yet he is testifying "yes". He has knowledge, he says, that his methods are not reliable. But he is testifying "yes" to questions about reliability. So he is committing perjury every time he testifies that his methods are reliable.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the trial transcripts? Was she actually asked if the methods are reliable? And let's not forget about the other 2 signatures on the lab reports (a second analysts and a supervisor must also sign each report -- accreditation rules). Per fraudulent lab report, at least 3 people participated. Do you have the lab reports? Do you have any information that you can validate?

If you have the information, give it to the Prosecutors so that the forensic analyst can be charged with perjury. Oh wait, she said the Prosecutors have already been notified of the unreliable protocols. So if she did testify the Prosecutors would be suborning perjury which is also illegal.

So, you're up to at least 4 people (2 analysts, their supervisor, and a prosecutor) conspiring to frame the defendant. You better get busy.

Again, it would be easier if you posted your name and email address so that she can get the information to you. This is your party now.

Anonymous said...

Hey 3:37,

You need to brush up on your rules of evidence.

Anonymous said...


You didn't want to leave a name or email? You didn't want to contact the FBI and DOJ? Do you fear the consequences? Embarrassed that you called the FSC "idiots"?

Hey 7:01-
At least 4 different agencies need to brush up on the rules of evidence. Although, they are not held accountable for educating the forensic analysts that do provide testimony. Ask the 26 FBI hair analysis agents if they testified falsely (knowingly so) or were they trained incorrectly about hair comparison and statistics. OR, if you want a Texas example see Grits,

No penalty for the administrations.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment re this thread.

Hopefully, no one will need this feedback. But leaving real names and email addresses on this board, as one poster is trying to get people to do, is a really bad idea. Leaving aside the posters in this thread, there are people who read this blog who I would be pretty worried about if they knew who I was and where I lived.

Staying anonymous is the best way to stay safe, imho.

Anonymous said...

"...members of the DNA/Serology Section raised concerns about the lack of consistency among analysts in the Section in adhering to the SOPs as well as the lack of specificity in some areas of the SOPs. This lack of specificity in the SOPs, said DNA/Serology analyst Maurita Carrejo in a 1994 memorandum provided to Dr. Sharma, could be used as a “weapon” against line analysts in the Section. Another analyst, Christy Kim, complained about the lack of training, stating that “I need to have a scheduled and more solid training in PCR.” In a staff survey conducted by Mr. Bolding in November 1994, members of the DNA/Serology Section complained about “destructive comments,” “cultural bias,” lack of standardized SOPs, and favoritism..."

If you can't fixed what's broken, you'll go insane.

Anonymous said...


...which is why the TFSC shouldn't haphazardly cater to the (NY) Innocence Project's project. Maybe Scheck and his group mean well, but inferences can be made -- especially since Blackburn left.

Tangentially related, for those who followed the commenters in this blog...another anonymous forensic scientist? What is there to fear?