Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Quiet' consensus, slippery slopes, integrity lapses, conservatism, clemency, and justice, 'sanguinary and cruel'

Just a few, disparate items that may interest Grits readers:

Texan named to advise federal science grants
Reports the San Marcos Mercury, "Joycelyn Pollock, a professor in the department of criminal justice at Texas State, has been named by Attorney General Eric Holder to the newly created Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Science Advisory Board."

Lutz on 'quiet' bipartisan consensus for Lone Star criminal justice reform
Reacting to the new 'Right on Crime' initiative, Will Lutz at The Lone Star Report declared that "One of the most interesting, albeit quiet, developments in the Texas policy world has been the bipartisan consensus that has developed on criminal justice since about 2005. Basically, the idea is that putting non-violent offenders in prison for technical violations wastes public funds and that rehabilitation and restitution should play larger roles in the criminal justice system. This approach places more emphasis on controlling costs in criminal justice by focusing incarceration for the most dangerous and violent offenders." Maybe it's because I've been running a blog on the subject the whole time, but I didn't think it'd been all that quiet. :)

Slippery slope: Motive for license plate readers changed after implementation
I have mixed feelings about the idea of having officers with license plate scanners and the capability of processing warrants with credit cards in the field, as described in this story about a constable's office out of San Antonio. There's a slippery slope aspect going on in SA: "The automatic license plate readers were built specifically for the use of warrants on sex offenders and stolen vehicles according to the Constable. However, their use has grown over the past year" to include Class C misdemeanors. On one hand this is better than taking the same folks to jail. But the changed mission comes off as a bait and switch, and using license plate scanners to farm the 1 in 10 drivers with outstanding warrants begins to feel more like some kind of hustle or shakedown than law enforcement - a feeling that's not entirely unfamiliar to Alamo City residents.

Local DA 'public integrity unit' rarely prosecuted elected officials
The Dallas News last week reported, "The specialized unit Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins assigned to look into allegations of corruption against two elected county constables has little success with such cases and in fact has rarely prosecuted elected officials since its inception three decades ago."

Why Kino Flores and not Sharon Keller?
I don't quite understand the difference between the reporting omissions by state Rep. Kino Flores that earned him a felony conviction and the omissions by Judge Sharon Keller regarding assets she owned and several corporate boards she sat on which reportedly had not been disclosed to the Texas Ethics Commission. The TEC, in response, levied its largest ever administrative fine against Keller for what sounds to me like essentially the same thing for which Kino Flores was found guilty. I get how her father might move investments around in her name without her knowledge, but I fail to understand how there could be corporate boards she supposedly sat on where either a) she wouldn't have been aware or b) someone had an as-yet-unknown reason not to tell her. That said, there isn't an obvious political motive why the Democratic prosecutors who pursued Flores would abstain from prosecuting Keller, a prominent statewide Republican, so perhaps there's a distinction between the cases that I don't understand. (Even off the record explanations offered up to me from the County Attorney's office have been vague and unsatisfying.) No reporter to my knowledge has ever looked more closely at those companies and Judge Keller's role in them beyond the initial Dallas News coverage, but it might make a good story.

A 'police state' doesn't come cheap
Debbie Russell at the Austin Post laments "The High Cost of Austin's Police State."

'Innocence Unmodified'
Doug Berman points to an academic article titled "Innocence Unmodified" which lays out in its abstract the quite legitimately debatable point that, "The Innocence Movement has unwittingly participated in the construction of a binary between actual' and 'legal' innocence.  Because the Innocence Movement has focused on defendants who did not commit the actions underlying their convictions, courts, lawyers, and the larger society have come to believe that a person is wrongly convicted of a crime only if the person is 'actually' innocent.  This perception overlooks the fact that a person can be wrongly convicted if their constitutional rights were violated in the process of obtaining the conviction.  As such, the Innocence Movement devalues 'legal' innocence and the constitutional values that underlie a broader conception of innocence." I can think of good arguments on both sides of that question.

Originalism, Conservatism, and Clemency
In the best reaction so far to the Texas Public Policy Foundation's "Right on Crime" initiative, P.J. Ruckman at Pardon Power has an outstanding essay titled, "The Conservative Case for the Pardon Power," making the conservative ideological case for more extensive use of the executive clemency power. He reminds us that:
the Founding Fathers made a conscious effort to emphasize the importance of this power. Federalist 74 (authored by Alexander Hamilton, who argued for the pardon power in his first speech at the Constitutional Convention) notes that pardons are a logical by-product of "humanity and good policy." Why? Because "the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity." The cure for this tendency? "Easy access" (yes, you read that right), "easy access" to "exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt." Otherwise, says Federalist 74, "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."


Anonymous said...

Of course leos abuse the license plate readers. Cherry picking is s.o.p. for our boys in blue, nobody ought to be surprised. Money, money, money.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, if he beats and rapes your neighbor, he's innocent. If there is a technicality. I'm sure she would appreciate having a liberal neighbor "arguing it both ways".

Anonymous said...

Joycelyn Pollock, besides her other work, is the author of an excellent text on criminal justice ethics - specifically the ethics of social control.:~)

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:31, what kind of technicality are you talking about, maybe DNA? Are is everyone who is accused automatically guilty?

Charles in Tulia

Anonymous said...

"..specifically for the use of warrants on sex offenders and stolen vehicles.."

I must not be getting something here. Wouldn't finding a murderer warrant such technology? Yet, to get support for the tech usage, some gut laden LEO decides to pull out the SO card to scare everyone into believing that the tech is a 'must' have. I say to those that spread such bullshit.. Fuck you Johnny Law.

Anonymous said...

The cops are becoming revenue collectors. Who'd a thunk it?