Friday, February 26, 2010

Clearing the desk: Rounding up Texas justice stories

Here are a few items about which I apparently won't get around to writing full blog posts this week, despite my best intentions, but which may interest Grits readers heading into the weekend:

DNA database for infants as well as crooks?
The state appears to be backtracking now, but a lot more babies than crooks have had their DNA compiled in state databases over the last few years, reports the Texas Tribune.

Clean car, following the law = 'reasonable suspicion'? Not.
Liberty and Justice for Y'all assures us that, at least in the jurisdiction of Texas 7th Court of Appeals, "It is not a crime in this State to drive a clean car, look away from passing police officers, drive a vehicle of one's choice, obey traffic warnings, and abide by posted speed limits." Remarkably, both a state trooper and a local judge had earlier reached the opposite conclusion. Reversed and remanded. Paul Kennedy also has a good post on "When does a traffic stop become unreasonable?"

DEA Agents aren't embedded in Juarez anti-drug units
In case you were wondering.

Forensic analysts seek scientific basis for their work, find little
At the nation's largest forensic science conference in Seattle, reports the Seattle Times:

"The theme of this meeting is 'Putting our house in order,' " said Thomas Bohan, the physicist-turned-forensics-expert who leads the 6,000-member organization. ... "The dominant message here ... is that the emperor really doesn't have all his clothes on," said Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University and an organizer of the NAS review.

A curious murder charge
In Collin County, prosecutors took a murder case to trial after an overdose where one heroin user helped another shoot up. Reports the Dallas News Crime Blog, "Although evidence indicates that Stevie May, 21, was a willing participant in obtaining and using the heroin, prosecutors contend that in this case, the drug was a deadly weapon that Metz wielded in a 'clearly dangerous' manner."

A rare CCA victory for 'weenie wagglers'
Mark Bennett brings word of a win by his former officemate Melissa Martin at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which found that Harris County's longstanding standard charging language in indecent exposure cases was defective.

Law enforcement administrators losing control of deployment, promotion decisions
If I had more time and energy, I've got a rant brewing about the difficulties faced by law enforcement administrators at all levels to promote or transfer officers according to the needs of their departments, thwarted by antiquated civil service rules that value length of tenure over skills and competence and emasculate administrators. Recent cases at Austin PD and DPS reflect this trend. In Austin the chief can't name his own administrative team and at DPS, unlimited overtime has apparently become a God-given right.

'Failing to punish prosecutorial misconduct only invites more'

So argues John Terzano of the Justice Project in this editorial.

'How to really fight DWI - mass transit and neighborhood bars'
That's the headline to a post by John Lomax at the Houston Press' Hairballs' blog, who interviewed me briefly this afternoon following up on themes raised in a Grits post in January.


Anonymous said...

On the DNA story, it is beginning to sound like an episode of the X-Files or a Ludlum/Larkin novel. One of the first things that comes to my mind is if as they say, the samples have been sent to the Armed Forces Lab as part of the DNA Initiative, a program that was the cause of a great deal of concern when I first heard of it, in anonymous form exactly how would such samples be of use in identifying victims of a disaster or for future ID in cold cases if they are anonymous? With no information of this use given to the public, let alone the parents of those children tested, can we really believe that they were given with no way of tracing them back to the infants? How were the samples chosen and if one were to take a much closer look at the family the sample originated from would we find that these children were related to “persons of interest”? Is it conceivable that years from now we would learn that these children have grown up on a criminal “watch list” or for some reason would be automatically denied joining the armed forces, or any security sensitive jobs? The possibilities and conjecture boggles the mind.

Of course those are just a few of the more sinister possibilities and our government would never, ever do anything like would they? I don't generally fall into the category of a conspiracy theorist or sci-fi nut (think pod people or any number of novels and flicks that have played with this scenario), but the possibilities for misuse under the guise of “public safety” are vast and quite frightening. As for the reason of identifying victims in a disaster, one need only look to the last few catastrophic disasters that have hit our planet to realize that when faced with what could be hundreds of thousands of bodies doing what they naturally do once dead, that is rotting and causing further health hazards to survivors, the logistics of not only supplying the necessary tools for collecting the DNA of the dead as well as hoping that those dealing with the dead have the capability of taking a DNA sample from each corpse before disposal is nothing but complete nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, driving the speed limit is suspicious. On most Texas highways, you have two choices: 90+ in the left lane or 50- in the right lane. Nobody will let you cruise unmolested for very long. Left laners steadily increase their speed -- pushing on your back bumper -- under the assumption you will hit the radar beam first, so there is no good reason for them to control their speed in any way. Then, if you move to the right to let them pass, they will slow down, many times even refusing to pass. This shows a complete inability to understand the point of view of another -- the classic Texas tradition of narcissism. Then the right laners will steadily reduce their speed, sometimes to near nothing in order to close any distance between a following car and themselves -- just to make sure you understand that they aren't going to get out anyone's way.

With this kind of psychological abuse on a constant basis, it is easiest to reach a sort of unconscious equilibrium at about 78 MPH. That minimizes the differential between the lanes and allows for the smoothest serpentine pattern to avoid assaults form both extremes. In 70 MPH zones, it also won't get you stopped very often, but it will in work zones and other slow-down areas where the fines will break your back.

I can understand how driving the speed limit looks suspicious, but I think there is a fundamental problem with it being used to establish probable cause. Whenever anyone is coerced into a behavior, making that behavior probable cause seems wrong. Texas has no serious strategy nor desire to actually enforce its speed laws -- the tickets are simply a randomly assessed tax and drivers are expected to keep the left laners happy.

Soronel Haetir said...

On the overtime court opinion, the only thing that seemed really odd was the front pay award. Especially the way the court simply dismissed the speculative nature of any such award. However, given that there was apparently no punitive award the front pay may be a reasonable substitute.

Anonymous said...

Grits, your comments regarding "law enforcement administrators at all levels to promote or transfer officers according to the needs of their departments" and the DPS "unlimited overtime has apparently become a God-given right" is dismaying. While I understand your overtime issue, here's a guy who raises concerns about discrimination ("protected activity") and then systematically loses his rights (including overtime, enjoyed by all his coworkers) and ulimately the position he held. He was pushed out. So, you're not allowed to raise legitimate concerns without fear of retaliation. You have to go along with the status quo. How do you maintain high standards in this type of (go-along-to-get-along) environment? You don't. That to me is the more important issue - a workplace with high standards, which includes equality. In this atmosphere issues such as an abuse of overtime takes care of itself. But, not in a good-ol'-boy environement of kissing a** to get "privileges" (equal to what everyone else is getting).

doran said...

Anon 8:54

On long road trips in my pickup truck, I try not to exceed 58--60 mph, as my mileage (according to the instrument in the truck} is much better than at a faster speed. Mileage would be even better at 45 mph, but it would take forever to get to where I want to go, and I'll probably get rear-ended before I get there.

I've found that on a 25 mile drive into Austin, on a highway with which I am familiar due to long term use of the route, 55 mph is just fine, as I can usually make all lights while they are green.

Cops who stop drivers for driving the speed limit are looking for stoners, to whom 55 must look and feel like 95. They may also be looking for drivers who read the morning paper or a book while making the commute. I have indeed seen drivers doing just that.

Anonymous said...

Scott... and anyone else who gives a damn...

DNA’s Dirty Little Secret

Jesus Christ.. they're past just throwing darts...

Anonymous said...

I know you think these guys are innocent and mistreated, etc. but man they are into slavery! Wake up. Sex slavery is the big thing for the guys you are so so so eager to protect.

Just like the head of the Innocence Project (Barry) was so eager to help OJ beat his rap, some folks aren't that bothered about slavery.

Anonymous said...

As for the car stop, sounds like good police work to me. This wasn't a civil rights violation case where the poor guys were stopped searched harassed and nothing found. Amazingly, they had drugs. Good arrest. Good work!

poster printing said...

I absolutely agree that failure of punishing criminals will only add to their number.