Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Around the Web: From Tragedy to Farce

There's a lot going on this week and these items deserve Grits readers' attention:

UT and VT
: Like everyone in the nation, I was stunned and saddened by the tragic events in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech. At the Chronicle of Higher Education, the UT-Austin admissions research director Gary Lavergne, who authored the book The Sniper in the Tower, makes the same connection I'm sure millions of Texans immediately did to Charles Whitman, whose methodical killing spree at the University of Texas occured almost 41 years ago. He writes,
The Whitman case taught me that sometimes our zeal to champion causes important to us or to explain the unexplainable and be 'enlightened' blinds us to the obvious. Charles Whitman was a murderer; he killed innocent people. We should not forget that. In Virginia we appear to have a Whitman-like character. It is vitally important for all to remember that there is only one person responsible for what happened in Blacksburg, and that is the man who pulled the trigger.
Good stuff. Read the whole thing to put recent events into a little perspective, if that's possible. And my sincerest condolences, for what little it's worth, to everyone affected by the tragedy.

Madden's TYC Restructuring Clears House: The bill would reduce the number of incarcerated offenders and bolster staffing to achieve youth to guard ratio of 12-1, reports Christy Hoppe at the Dallas News.

Immigration Bills Back In Play: I thought we were told immigration bills wouldn't be moving through the House State Affairs Committee this session thanks to federal law, the Texas Association of Business and their GOP allies, but apparently things have changed, says Megan Headley at the Texas Observer blog. Read her analysis of key legislation Chairman David Swinford says he intends to vote out of committee, including HB 13, discussed here on Grits.

Extra House Funds On Border Target Immigrants: A story I'd missed from the El Paso Times' Brandi Grissom (4/7) explained the difference between the House and Senate budget amounts for border spending as a difference in scope of work to be funded. The House bill foresees funding immigration enforcement, while over on the eastern side of the building, "The senator working on border security spending plans [Tommy Williams] said the state should focus on violent crime and drugs, leaving immigration to the federal government."

'Spasms of Prissiness': Mack Hall at the Jasper Newsboy finds a little hypocrisy in the proposal for random steroid testing of high school athletes.
If Senator Kyle Janek's (R - Houston) proposed law is fair and just, let him consider expanding his drug-testing program, starting with him. Here's your cup, m'lord. Let the senators require that each other be tested for drugs at the door to the senate chamber. Would the honorable senators find being required to pee into a cup humiliating and presumptuous? Well, let's ask the teenagers that the honorables so easily bash in their frequent spasms of prissiness.
Stop the Runaway Prosecutors: What do Duke prosecutor Mike Nifong, Tulia prosecutor Terry McEachern and Travis County DA Ronnie Earle have in common? Former Congressman Bob Barr offers a theory in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Chairman Peña says prosecutors are the sole opponents to the journalists' "shield law" he's carrying with Rep. Van Arsdale.

Are You in the TDEX Database? The Texas Observer tells where and how to file an open records request by email to find out. See prior Grits coverage.


Anonymous said...

OK there may be unintended consequences to this piece of legislation:

“In addition, both versions agree that offenders charged with misdemeanors could not be sent to TYC. The House provides additional funding for probation officers to better handle youths in the community.”

Some of these counties have been allowing these kids to plea down a felony charge to a misdemeanor so that the felony charge won’t impact his/her future. I agree that TYC should only be sent felons; however, I believe that more judges will be less likely to allow a felony offence to be reduced to a misdemeanor knowing that the kid will be ineligible for placement in the youth commission. Some of these 13-14 year olds, still wet behind the ears, selling that crack on the corner, are going to get popped with these felonies and their future adult lives ruined forever. Something to think about….

Anonymous said...

can juvenile records no longer be sealed at 18?

Anonymous said...

A felony committed as a juvenile can be used, under certain circumstances, to enhance adult punishment.

Anonymous said...

It could be used to enhance punishment if they do something else wrong later in life- but would it interfere with going to college or getting jobs?

Anonymous said...

It can. I have seen kids who, for whatever reason, go ahead and put it down on apps. Sadly, those are the ones who probably learned a lesson. THe ones who reoffend are the ones who will swear that they were never arrested!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the youth just need to be better informed by those around them that they don't have to put that information. Otherwise, it appears that unless they make that mistake, the only way it can really come back to haunt them is if they continue to make bad choices with further crimes. I'm not seeing the bad in this. I've never been fond of many plea bargins that diminish what really happened when it involves violence or sex crimes. As far as drug crimes concerning amounts that increase or decrease the offense, there more "play room" there. Still, if their records can be sealed and the youth informed that they are not required to provide that information on job or college applications, I'm not seeing this as so bad. To Whitsfoe- how are you defining it as having their "adult lives ruined forever"? How? Something different than what has been said here?

Anonymous said...

This is so hipocratic! Why does it have to be a plea bargain? Why can't the law provide more protection for juneniles?

Why can't a person get on with their life after they've been punished? Why do our representatives insist on ruining the live of anyone that makes a mistake?

The entire system is far more complicated than it needs to be. I'll agree that people and circumstances are complicated. The legal attempts to accommodate complications just make the whole system a mess and do not serve the interest of society to protect citizens from unjust treatment.

Anonymous said...

I don't think when we speak of juvenile records being sealed at age 17, that felonies just disappear. Maybe if we have a lawyer out there, he or she can explain this better. However, some of the people we just let go because of the felonies on their record had those convictions when they were teenagers. So, I'm not so sure that felony convictions just disappear ay age 17.

And to the commenter who ask "adult lives ruined forever"? How? Felony offenses are like a tattoo. They are very visible and never go away. They limit what you can do in life. Well, that's my opinion at least. Now if you were an adult and got convicted of a felony, then that's too bad. You’re an adult. But these kids, I take a very different point of view. We have all done stupid things in our lives when we were kids.

Well folks, that's my opinion. I'm sure there are opposing views. I welcome your thoughts….

Anonymous said...

Can a lawyer out there who knows about juvenile law clear this up?

I understand that felonies are like "tattoos" and are visible- but I still want to hear if sealed records prevent this and if the only way they are "visible like tattoos" is if the person tells on themselves when they don't have to or if their records really aren't sealed (barring any future criminal acts as adults).

Anonymous said...

Drug-testing the politicians is an excellent idea. It doesn't matter if it has any impact on their drug use, but it will give them first hand experience with the perils of false positives. After a number of politicians lose their jobs despite not using drugs, they will start to see the injustice of a test procedure bearing false witness. How do you confront the witness against you in a court of law when the witness is a test -- one that cannot be repeated?

We should require daily drug testing of every judge and prosecutor across the country.

Anonymous said...

Sealing records requires a lawyer to go to court. Restricted access is automatic at 21 if the youth does not get in anymore trouble after 17 if I remember correctly. Restricted Access is open to law enforcement but not schools and employers.

If the need is great enough it will always be available. The Army recruiter can access the criminal record as a matter of national security so one told me. This is for sealed records. The recruiter doesn’t even need the judge to allow it.

I used to give this speech to new commits at Marlin. I have not had to do it in a while so it may have changed.

Anthony Mikulastik

Anonymous said...

And Anthony, wouldn't you agree that the kids we get don't have parents with the kind of money it takes to seal those records? The retainer fee for the attorney has to be around the 5-7 G mark. Most of the kids we get come from families living in low income neighborhoods. They certainly lack the knowledge or the finances to get them out the cycle. This piece of legislation just needs more attention to the unintended consequences.

I would update you on this issue but all of our attorneys have been fired or have been tied up with plaintiffs’ attorneys.

I know, or rather I heard that district attorneys and judges have gotten involved in this matter. Any word on that Grits?