Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Odds and ends

Here are several stories I won't get to but which may interest Grits readers:

Should ethical constraints keep DAs from advising counties on civil matters?
Is it ethical for a District Attorney to give legal advice to members of a governing body when he has the authority to prosecute them if they don't follow it? Robert Wechsler at says "No," and he makes a strong argument. (Via the Dallas News Crime Blog.)

72 judges races on Harris County ballots
Seventy-two judicial candidates on the Harris County ballot help make it the longest ever in Texas. How can anybody be expected to keep track of so many races and knowledgeably evaluate candidates? That's particularly true in the era of what Karl Thomas-Musselman recently called the "Shrinking Media." Big Jolly and Kuff are trying to pick up the slack, but, come on! That's absurd.

Dallas jail inmates may be housed in Waco
Crime is supposedly down, but the Dallas County Jail is fuller than ever and costing the county a fortune for reasons unrelated to the crime rate. They're going to begin leasing space at the empty, semi-privatized jail in Waco, which was built speculatively to house federal prisoners for which contracts never came.

Big states cutting corrections budgets
They've finally got a prison budget in California, and they're fighting over theirs in Florida. California cut more than $1 billion from their Department of Corrections, basically following the ineffable path suggested by TDCJ: Cut staff and medical services without significantly reducing the number of inmates. IMO it's possible to cut prison budgets safely, but not without policy changes that will reduce the number of inmates overall.

The whys and wherefores of false confessions
"Why do people confess to crimes they didn't commit?" That's the subtitle of a recent article from New York magazine on the subject of false confessions. It was mentioned by Rebecca Brown from the national Innocence Project at last week's Texas Forensic Science Seminar that more than 200 people famously confessed to kidnapping the Lindbergh Baby. Nationally 25% of DNA exonerees either gave false confessions or pleaded guilty.


Charles Kuffner said...

The 72 judicial elections in Harris County is nothing unusual. We have a lot of district and county courts, and many of them are up in the off-year cycle. The only variable is the number of unexpired terms that need to be filled. In 2006, there were 67 judicial elections on the ballot. The difference is that in 2006, 56 of those races were uncontested. This year, every race has an R and a D in it. Call me crazy, but if you're going to elect judges - yes, I know, there's a good case to be made not to elect judges - then isn't it better to have a choice than not have a choice? That's how I see it.

Anonymous said...

Didn't know Kuff had this up, and he's to be congratulated for it.

I'd love to see peer reviews of the lawyers running. I know many of them, but many I don't, and I'd like to vote for a few if I knew they were going to be better than who is in office right now.

Funny thing is, with one, maybe two, exceptions, I'm voting R all the way down on the judges. The new Dems have been awful, with two excepotions who aren't up for election this time.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Kuff, there's such a thing as too many choices. That's expecting a lot of average voters, not to mention any new ones generated through GOTV.

So Rage, you're saying the 2008 elections in Harris County didn't bring change you can believe in? ;)

sunray's wench said...

I still dont understand why you rely on the general population of Texas (many of whom can't vote anyway, and of those who can, many don't care enough to turn out) to elect your judges. Why don't they have to submit a resume and go through an interview process with people as or more qualified than they are to get their jobs just like the rest of us? Relying on the ballot leaves them open to impartiality, corruption and influence, because they have to convince people of whatever manifesto they stand on. Judges are not politicians (or shouldn't be).

Anonymous said...

Nope. I think you and I are in agreement on Obama being little different from Bush in many areas.

As far as a serious answer where judges are concerned, the Democratic judges here have really been shaping the jury panels in voir dire in a way that clearly favors plaintiffs--which I rarely am. Some can justify it better than others, and some don't even try to be fair about it. That's wrong no matter who's on the bench, but they're all doing the same thing and it looks like a concerted effort at payback for a couple of decades of Republican judges predominating in Harris County.

As for a serious answer on Obama, I feel that we should spend more money making sure Americans are fed, clothed, educated, and healthy instead of bombing brown people under false pretenses. So I like some of his healthcare initiatives, and actually agree (like McCain and most Republicans before the election) with the TARP payouts.

But on civil rights, he has fallen disgracefully short of any sort of change. It's embarrassing when Justice Scalia has to point out to your AG that the argument he's making means that prosecutors will be exempt completely if they knowingly use false evidence at trial, giving them a vested interest in trying the case instead of pleading it.

Aside from health care, I have yet to see any change whatsoever.


Anonymous said...

go through an interview process with people as or more qualified than they are

Like who? Rick Perry or his appointees?


Or who else would you suggest. Most of Perry's appointees think the earth is only 6,000 years old, and probably flat. Hell, just yesterday one of them asked me why I thought Darwinism and sex education should be taught in schools. I told him I'd ask Palin's daughter about the latter, and he hung up on me.


Paul UK said...

On the issue of false confessions, I always keep in mind the post from the "Nightjack" blog (He is a British Detective, sadly not blogging now since he was exposed by the "Times") Which was titled "A survival guide for decent folk" here are a couple of passages from it.

Never explain to the Police

If the Police arrive to lock you up, say nothing. You are a decent person and you may think that reasoning with the Police will help. “If I can only explain, they will realise it is all a horrible mistake and go away”. Wrong. We do want to talk to you on tape in an interview room but that comes later. All you are doing by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that stuff a significant statement and we love it. Decent folk can’t help themselves, they think that they can talk their way out. Wrong.

Admit Nothing

To do anything more than lock you up for a few hours we need to prove a case. The easiest route to that is your admission. Without it, our case may be a lot weaker, maybe not enough to charge you with. In any case, it is always worth finding out exactly how damning the evidence is before you fall on your sword. So don’t do the decent and honourable thing and admit what you have done. Don’t even deny it or try to give your side of the story. Just say nothing. No confession and CPS are on the back foot already. They forsee a trial. They fear a trial. They are looking for any excuse to send you home free.

Keep your mouth shut

Say as little as possible to us. At the custody office desk a Sergeant will ask you some questions. It is safe to answer these. For the rest of the time, say nothing.

Always always always have a solicitor

Duh. No brainer this one. Unless you know 100% for sure that your mate the solicitor does criminal law and is good at it, ask for the Duty Solicitor. They certainly do criminal law and they are good at it. Then listen to what the solicitor says and do it. Their job is to get you off without the Cops or CPS laying a glove on you if at all possible. It is what they get paid for. They are free to you. There is no down side. Now decent folks think it makes them look like they have something to hide if they ask for a solicitor. Irrelevant. Going into an interview without a solicitor is like taking a walk in Tottenham with a big gold Rolex. Bad things are very likely to happen to you. I wouldn’t do it and I interview people for a living.

I know it has a British flavour to it but I suspect it would work over there.

sunray's wench said...

Rage ~ c'mon, you know I didn't mean Gov. Perry. But there must be some highly qualified, highly professional criminal justice specialists in Texas who could sit on an interview panel, surely?

Anonymous said...

Paul UK, excellent advice.

For your own safety please go to Google video and type in this: "10 Rules for Dealing with Police" or "flex your rights".

Know your rights!! But, please don't get stupid and escalate a police encounter - you can only loose. Many people think it is smart to "cooperate" with the police and they end up digging themselves a hole. Learn to calmly and politely say "officer I don't consent to a search" or "officer, am I free to go?" or "officer, I will not talk until I consult with my attorney."

Whatever you do, don't get smart and create a confrontation.