Williamson County to allow citations for pot, DWLI
Great news: Williamson County has decided to let Round Rock police officers issue citations for low-level marijuana possession and driving with an invalid license, utilizing a 2007 statute authored by former House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden. The move is being pitched as a pilot program which could expand to other agencies if successful.
Capital Appellate Fail
The Texas Defender Service today released a major report from our pal Amanda Marzullo on the inadequacy of the direct appeals process in capital cases. See the executive summary and the full report, as well as initial coverage from the Houston Chronicle. More on this later, perhaps, after Grits has had the chance to read it.
Guidance on operating inmate web pages
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Dave Maas offered guidance for people operating social media or web pages on behalf of Texas prison inmates, after TDCJ earlier this year banned such accounts when operated by a third party.
Ticketed drivers need 'safe haven' to deal with debt
College Station muni Judge Edward Spillane had a great suggestion for encouraging drivers with outstanding tickets to come to court: "Why not encourage defendants to come to court and not be in jail by mandating legislatively or as a start courts having a policy that coming to court removes any pending warrant out of that court for misdemeanor charges on fine-only cases?" Comparing the idea to the mediaeval concept of "sanctuary" in churches, Spillane argued that "Safe Haven" legislation would reduce incarceration, encourage defendants to come to court, and "make it clear that jail is not the proper punishment for fine-only cases."
Contemplating collateral consequences
Noting that more than 7,000 felons return to Bexar County every year, the SA Express-News published a good story recently on collateral consequences from felony convictions. The gist: "Tough-on-crime policies extend well beyond harsh sentencing. There is a series of invisible sanctions we impose after the official sentence is met. People with felony records, especially drug-related cases, are legally discriminated against when seeking jobs, public housing, food assistance and student loans, not to mention voting and jury duty. One of the most harmful of these sanctions may be the discrimination of employment because a stable job with a living wage is a critical factor in keeping former convicts from relapsing into the criminal justice system."
Against 'drug-free zone' statutes
In Texas, drug offenses in a "drug-free zone" can result in lengthy mandatory minimums rivaling those for deadly weapon offenses. Texas prosecutors especially like the statute because, in the wake of earlier drug-law reforms, "keeping drug offenders in prison is becoming increasingly difficult." As other states reconsider drug free zones, eliminating that enhancement seems like a good way to stop sending a discrete class of nonviolent offenders away for super-long sentences.
Requiem for junk science
At the Wall Street Journal, Judge Alex Kozinski opined on the significance of a "new study from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [which] examines the scientific validity of forensic-evidence techniques—DNA, fingerprint, bitemark, firearm, footwear and hair analysis. It concludes that virtually all of these methods are flawed, some irredeemably so." Wrote Kozinski, "Some forensic methods have significant error rates and others are rank guesswork." For example, "Bitemark analysis is about as reliable as astrology."
Most police pursuits over nonviolent offenses
What crimes generate police pursuits? Very few are violent felonies.
An academic paper confronting debtors prison issues from earlier this year has been appended to Grits' ongoing reading list. Here's the abstract:
Criminal justice debt has aggressively metastasized throughout the criminal system. A bewildering array of fees, fines, court costs, non-payment penalties, and high interest rates have turned criminal process into a booming revenue center for state courts and corrections. As criminal justice administrative costs have skyrocketed, the burden to fund the system has fallen largely on the system’s users, primarily poor or indigent, who often cannot pay their burden. Unpaid criminal justice debt often leads to actual incarceration or substantial punitive fines, which turns rapidly into “punishment.” Such punishment at the hands of a court, bureaucracy, or private entity compromises the Sixth Amendment right to have all punishment imposed by a jury. This Article explores the netherworld of criminal justice debt and analyzes implications for the Sixth Amendment jury trial right, offering a new way to attack the problem. The specter of “cash-register justice,” which overwhelmingly affects the poor and dispossessed, perpetuates hidden inequities within the criminal justice system. I offer solutions rooted in Sixth Amendment jurisprudence.