Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pre-Thanksgiving Roundup

Here are a few odds and ends I don't have time to write about today but which may interest Grits readers:

The Politics of Bail
Steven Kreytak at the Austin Statesman had a pretty good story this week on the issue of personal bonds, contrasting anecdotal complaints with systemic issues arguing for their more frequent use.

Solitary Men
Dave Mann at the Texas Observer has a piece on the effects of solitary confinement on mental health, focusing in particular on death row. And speaking of solitary, it's been too long since I've linked to the blog Solitary Watch, which has several interesting recent posts up.

Safe on the Border
A new report says El Paso is the safest large city in America, despite rampaging violence across the river in Mexico: "Last year, there were more than 2,640 murders in Juárez, compared with 13 homicides in El Paso. This year, there have been more than 2,700 killings in Juárez and four homicides in El Paso."

Responsibility Lapses
A cop in Dallas is under investigation because his driver's license was suspended as a result of not paying his Driver Responsibility Surcharge. Another DPD officer was suspended for lying about his reasons for skipping a court date. A deputy constable in Dallas won a whistleblower lawsuit over allegations that he was fired 13 years ago after testifying against his boss in a bribery scheme.

Medical Parole and Budgets
Searching for ways to reduce its prison budget, California is turning to medical parole. See a good story on their new program. “Taxpayers should not be forced to bear the high cost of caring for prisoners who no longer threaten public safety,” said one lawmaker. “Rather than continue wasting millions incarcerating these individuals, we could use the funds to keep our schoolteachers employed.”

Innocence and Harmless Error
I may have more to say later about this academic article, "Revising Harmless Error: Making Innocence Relevant to Direct Appeals"; the author argues that "It is in assessing whether an error was harmless that the courts come closest to thinking about innocence on appeal."


Prison Doc said...

Medical Parole...what about the prisoners? Who is going to take care of the elderly, debilitated prisoners? Most are estranged from family, who will look after them? You can't just dump them on a park bench.

titfortat said...

The politics of bail… The Austin Statesman (Judge Baird)

Baird’s thinking is more than a bit skewed, naiveté at the very least on every level.

While we hope that our judges have qualities that compel them to be (just) in their actions toward the accused we are just as concerned with how their actions affect victims and society as a whole.

Their actions are a matter of the public interest; judge Baird is an embarrassment to the office he holds.

His self proclaimed neutrality completely ignores the victim, the prosecution, culpability, the nature of the offense, and prior criminal record. He puts society at risk. His blindfold slips to look favorably in one direction and his scale weighs heavily on one side. He is as guilty of negligence as those who tilt it the other way.

What is even more reprehensible is that he wishes to be seen as benevolent in his wisdom. His actions appear to be much more along the lines of an arrogant narcissist (a king with no cloths).

Justified in his position (he) determines the quality of liberty for the presumed innocent, where they will work, where they will live, with whom they are allowed to speak. Such statements are in direct contrast with his statement about how we must work from a presumption of innocents.

He makes clear his belief is that a pretrial employee will effectively carry out his orders and police the presumed innocent in his twisted form of legal slavery. Then, he stands prepared to quickly strip the presumed innocent of their liberty if they do not submit to his drug testing or for that matter if they talk to another human being with whom he disapproves, he reigns supreme (whip in hand). He is actually quite scary.

Baird is quick to point out; (he) is the judge and therefore it is up to (him) to decide a criminal defendant’s pre-trial release. His cavalier remark stating that he is not personally interested in having knowledge of those who fail to appear as though it is inconsequential is truly appalling and leaves real questions as to his mental health.

He claims that in his approach he saves the county money. Since he isn’t interested in failure to appear statistics which is reported to be one fifth of those released (his) way I doubt he has any interest in what it cost the county in pretrial employee’s salaries, healthcare and pensions or the cost of drug testing and monitoring his (subjects). He has no clue nor does he care of the financial cost to re-arrest or the cost to society when one of his subjects absconds.

He uses words like (power) in place of discretion, the great powerful liberator, please.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, they'll almost certainly qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Medicaid long-term care costs less than prison and the feds pick up 2/3 of the bill.

titfortat, I'm just curious, have you ever spent any time sitting in Baird's courtroom? I have, and I find much of the coverage of his work fails to adequately convey what he's really doing day to day. Instead we get planted stories based on one or two "gotcha" moments out of thousands of cases he's heard over the years as judge. Or, as in your post, words used by others (in this case, the reporter's phrase "power") are falsely attributed to him and then used to beat him over the head for things he didn't do.

Baird is a good judge and a good man. I don't agree with everything he does, but that's true of anybody. In any event, he'll be gone soon. But I find much of the vitriol toward him distasteful, reminding me of how people would talk about William Wayne Justice in Tyler when I was growing up. They were wrong about him, too.

The piece that stuck out most to me:

"The county budget office estimates it costs $30 a day to keep a defendant in jail. Using that estimate, the defendants awaiting trial in Baird's court as of Nov. 5 had cost $202,860 to incarcerate. The average cost to jail the defendants with pending cases before each of the other felony judges was $380,970."

So if the other six judges used personal bonds at Baird's rate, they'd save the county more than $1 million per year in jail costs by these (conservative) estimates. In a tight budget year at the county level, that's a significant sum. And nobody has demonstrated (certainly in this article) that his overall public safety outcomes are any worse than the other judges.

Prison Doc said...

Grits, I'm just trying to point out that "compassionate release" isn't always compassionate. Sure, 'care and'caid will pay expenses if you can find a provider, but there is still housing, transportation, etc. Releasing them, while I'm for it, isn't a cure-all.

sunray's wench said...

Prison Doc - but where the support is still there from friends and families, it should be considered as a viable option, surely? Let's not fall into stereotypes and assume that ALL elderly inmates have no one on the outside who would be willing and able to offer accommodation and support. For TDCJ, "elderly" means 55 and over.

PirateFriedman said...

"Medicaid long-term care costs less than prison and the feds pick up 2/3 of the bill."

We'll see. Texas is actually talking about getting out of Medicaid. Woo hoo! Happy Thanksgiving, and be grateful that the fire of the tax revolt is still burning.

titfortat said...

The answer is no; I have not sat in Charles Baird’s courtroom. I have in my lifetime spent thousands of hours in criminal courts.

I felt no particular bias in this piece and was in fact surprised to see journalism that simply reported the facts rather than the all too often bias of the individual reporter or news paper, kudos to all, the reporter, the editor and the owner of the Austin Statesman. Life really is a box of chocolates and I’m sending a box to the reporter.

This story is such a can of social worms that it is impossible to touch on even the smallest of issues effectively here. I admit my own prejudice and that my remarks toward Judge Baird lack the objectivity of personal knowledge. I sometimes regress to ugliness when I should simply give an opposing argument; issues like these invoke a hostility that is often too difficult to suppress and I start typing.

What I can attest to is how over years of observation judges distinguish themselves as either being of even temperament and capable of actually playing the part of an impartial judge over court proceedings or they rule to the extreme one way or the other on issues based on personal viewpoint. Judges that cannot separate themselves from their personal beliefs and the office they hold are to say the very least bad judges. As I have already stated to expound further would take us into tomorrow, so I’m only going to touch on this particular issue.

And, I am only going to address what was quoted by the reporter as being Judge Baird’s statements, "You've got to work from the presumption of innocence, not the presumption of guilt," Baird said. "What you are doing (by holding someone in jail) is depriving people of their liberty and their freedom, and you don't want to do that unless there's a good reason," as well as the statistics given.

titfortat said...

These statements along with the statistics do in fact support the article in demonstrating Judge Baird’s predisposition and belief that releasing criminal defendants without bail should be the norm. My concern is that he has demonstrated that rather than being impartial as we the people hope the disposition of all judges to be he sees himself as something special. This unfortunately is or becomes the disposition of far too many judges.

While I agree with his statement entirely I disagree with his actions unequivocally.

The example used of the DeCastro case and the judge’s actions were reprehensible. It was stated that the judge was impressed by the fact that DeCastro had hired an attorney and had turned himself in. The investigation and the defendant’s alleged criminal activity held no sway whatsoever in the judge’s decision. Evidence showed culpability, the punishment could be severe possibly life in prison and the defendant should have been considered to be a substantial flight risk.

titfortat said...

Rather than looking at this situation on the merits the judge moved upon in his own personal decision and bias belief. A hypothetical since I do not have the same powers as the special judge does in determining a criminal defendant’s state of mind would mull around in my mind something like this.

I have resources to run but I know I’m being sought after by the authorities and my options are at the moment quite limited. My attorney suggests that I am currently out on $90,000.00 in bail and that we are lucky that this case was filed in Travis County. He feels very strongly that he can argue favorably to a special judge that if I were a flight risk I could have simply absconded and that I already out on a large secured bond. I can’t risk leaving the country because there’s a high probability that I could get caught. My attorney has told me that if I get caught trying to leave the country my chances of ever getting out on bail again are over. My attorney suggests that if he is unsuccessful in obtaining my release for free then he still feels very confident that he can get the same special judge to set a reasonable bail maybe an additional $90,000.00. Once out on bail I no longer have the threat of being captured and I might be able to just walk right through the airport and before you know it I will be safe in Brazil. If for any reason I do get caught trying to leave the country I will have to make up something, my mother is dying, something, I will have to contact my family to back up my story and if I do get caught maybe this special judge will let me stay out of jail. This is my only chance. I can’t risk getting caught trying to leave.

There’s a reason violent offenders have high bail, there’s a reason the record reflects one fifth of the defendants released on free bail have failed to appear, and coincidently there’s a reason Austin’s crime rate is up while most other places its going down.

Happy Thanksgiving, I wonder how the victim is doing today.

sunray's wench said...

titfortat - but what if the victim is family and they still want the inmate home?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

titfortat, thanks for at least granting that you're reactions are based on hearsay and your own biases. We can each place as much weight on those things as we feel appropriate.

But it's not true that Baird thinks "releasing criminal defendants without bail should be the norm," since he requires bail of defendants all the time, just at lesser rates than his colleagues. Perhaps instead he simply takes seriously the Constitutional charge that "excessive bail shall not be required," while the Texas judiciary, including in supposedly "liberal" Travis County, has largely been migrating the other direction for the last 20 years.

The strange part to me about all the Culture-Waresque vitriol over this is that these folks would be eligible for bail, anyway. They're not going to stay locked up in the county jail forever and if they serve their time day for day they just get out with no supervision. If they bail themselves out they have no supervision. Doing it his way lets him set conditions, which in general improves safety and saves taxpayers money. Everybody makes mistakes, and nobody's responsible for a murder but the murderer. But day to day Baird is essentially implementing the same kind of strong probation practices used in specialty courts in a day-to-day district court docket, which is the kind of forward thinking approach I said I approved of in this recent post.

There's a false but common belief that jail or prison is "punishment" and community supervision is somehow escaping punishment. In reality, for many defendants it's more difficult, and a more significant "punishment," to require them to live straight in the free world than to spend a short period of time in lockup, after which they'll get out and resume their old behavior. It's actually not that difficult to sit in jail, at the end of the day, compared to changing your friends, lifestyle and attitude.

I'd like to see recidivism rates for defendants from these various judges, and I'll betcha Baird's caseload is at or near the top in that all-important stat.

titfortat said...

To sunray’s wrench:

I was specifically speaking of the victim in the DeCastro case.

I do not know what your family member was arrested for or the circumstances surrounding you being victimized by them.

Family Violence or theft comes to mind.

I stated that I am in agreement with judge Baird’s position that we must work from the position that a person is presumed innocent. My position also is that judges achieve this by being fair and impartial to all and exercise their power over 8th Amendment declaration thoughtfully. Allow both the prosecution and the defense do their job without bias. Take into consideration and be considerate of all sides of a criminal issue both the criminal defendant and the victim. This is basic to society as a whole and when abused derelict beyond any reasonable explanation.

Therefore if you were the victim of theft and all is forgiven my position would not be to release the defendant without bail but to release the defendant period and dismiss the case. I feel this way toward any theft crime involving any set of circumstances provided (violence) was not instrumental in the theft and if the victim wants the case dismissed. Of course my position leaves out “the peace and dignity of the state,” and rubs wrong the prosecution, my take on that is once again (consideration) to all. The word peace holds value and meaning to me and is the desired end result and I guess the state would just have to suffer some small indignity, (whatever that means).

In family violence there (are) many factors to consider.

My first consideration would be if children are in the household. This alone represents a multitude of possible circumstances that affect the family structure and wellbeing. All too often in family violence issues the family is harmed more so by the courts than by the act. A determining factor would be obvious evidence showing physical violence. If physical violence is evident then regardless of the adult victim’s desire to make it all go away the children are the considerations. My disposition would then be to rely on character witnesses and the more the merrier. If between family and friends I were moved to believe that the criminal act was completely out of character and abnormal behavior and felt that the defendant was outwardly remorseful only then would I consider release without bail and even still only if I had determined that any amount of bail would prove impossible to achieve.

titfortat said...

To Grits,

I’m not big on supervised probation and really not big on government intervention of pretrial presumed innocent defendants.

My feeling is that the requirements are so incredible for many that failure is inevitable and for those who succeed their success would have been just as likely with unsupervised probation.

As I have stated before in my opinion recidivism alone should be the measuring stick.

Many probationers fail because they simply can’t meet the conditions and as a result become even more susceptible to criminal behavior through negative association.

A positive outcome must be perceived by probationers in order to stimulate motivation to succeed and as little negativity as possible injected.

Just my opinion but I do not feel studies adequately question motivational input from probationers. Studies on reparative probation are the only ones that I have looked into that compare to unsupervised probation and the recidivism results showed a much more positive outcome and where less equal more than results from standard probation practices.

My opinion about pretrial defendants is that enough supervision to insure court appearance be administered, make a phone call.

The government intervention of time consuming drug testing and the requirements of reporting at the government’s whim place undue burden on someone that is already burdened financially with court appearances and defense preparation.

The negativity associated with pretrial intervention is once again my own opinion; however the input I have received by those who have experienced pretrial intervention has never once been a positive one.

My solution to bail issues would be bail reduction first in all circumstances.

Bail is not meant to be a form of punishment but a protection of both the rights of the accused and of society, (hence the words fair and reasonable). While Judge Baird’s take on this construes the intent to favor the accused, (AND I AGREE) my feeling is that the intent does not weigh heavily toward the accused but fairly. It is meant to protect the defendant’s rights, it is also meant to insure court appearance so that justice is served, and it is meant to protect society both in serving justice and in insuring that further harm cannot be done to anyone by releasing the defendant.

My statements make it rather easy to believe that my perception of Judge Baird as a human being is contemptuous, it is not, in fact he sounds like a very passionate and caring man with incredibly honorable qualities and an earnest desire to make a positive difference in the role criminal justice plays in society. I do not feel however that his methods concerning bail are not at all appropriate.

His views are actually closer to my own than those of most District Court Judges, we differ greatly on application. I too feel that presumed innocent defendants should be released with as little bail as is appropriate to ensure accountability of appearance.

His method depends way too much on speculation and intuition, it’s almost like he’s playing blackjack from the bench and his bank roll is unlimited so it’s ok with him if he loses a few and as long as third base doesn’t hit a 17 he can play at the judges table.

(Excessive) bail is and has always been the real issue and continues to be the (missing link).

Why it is that we have to bat the ball from one end of the spectrum to the other is just plain crazy, why not give common sense a try?