Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Roundup: In search of miracles, coming up empty

Here are several items that haven't made it into their own, individual blog posts while I've been focused  at the Lege, but which merit Grits readers' attention:

Non-DNA cases nearly require 'miracle' to exonerate
Grits has frequently discussed how DNA exonerations are really just a sampling of actually innocent people in prison, since DNA evidence exists in fewer than 10% of violent crimes and often was not preserved in older cases. The Texas Observer's Laura Burke recently published a story of just such a case where the state relied on a jailhouse snitch and failed to turn over exculpatory evidence (a statement from a now-deceased witness declaring "He didn't do it") to convict a man of murder. His one, pro se habeas writ failed and while the story raises many haunting questions, years after the fact there appears simply to not be enough evidence to exonerate. Concludes Burke, "For every person exonerated for a crime they didn’t commit, there are many like James Legate: questionable cases, bulldozed through a flawed system, with no recourse left. Only a miracle could exonerate him."

Parole officers seek ministers' reentry help
Reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Tarrant County parole officers appealed to ministers Tuesday to help them cast a wider net.  Parole officers who once focused on capturing parole violators and returning them to prison are now setting their sights on finding resources to help parolees stay on the outside. Parolees need jobs and places to live -- things that ministers help members of their flocks with every day." Smart idea.

Don't ban "a plant that God made"
Freshman Republican David Simpson killed a bill banning Salvia Divinorum today on religious grounds, arguing the state shouldn't make it illegal to be "possessing a plant that God made," particularly if it is used by some for religious purposes. He declared what's needed is "parental responsibility," not legal bans. Quite a remarkable stance given that in 2009, 58% of all drug arrest in Texas were for marijuana, most for user-level amounts. I wonder if, in the mind of the representative, the same analysis translates? Salvia smokers needn't celebrate, though, as the bill sponsor successfully attached the measure to another piece of legislation soon thereafter.

Police Monitor sought harsher punishment for SWAT members
Reports the Austin Statesman, "Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier recommended harsher discipline than what several officers received after a member of the department’s SWAT team last year left a party, crashed his unmarked patrol car and was charged with drunken driving."

Teachers to be notified of felonious students
Reacting to incidents in Austin and Tyler, the Senate this week approved a bill that "would require teachers to be alerted when they have students in their class who have been arrested or accused of serious crimes." The law already required oral notification but now it must be in writing and requires administrators to inform teachers who have direct supervisory authority over the student.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, inmates: Smith County smoking ban excludes jail
In my hometown, Smith County Commissioners implemented a smoking ban in and near all county buildings EXCEPT for inmates in the jail, reports the website Texas Watchdog. "The court briefly flirted with a smoking ban in jail until reminded by Smith County Chief Deputy Bobby Garmon that the inmates, nearly 100 percent of whom smoke, started a small but violent riot the last time Sheriff J.B. Smith issued a ban. 'Aside from the commissary and visitation, cigarettes are my best tool to keep these inmates under control,' Smith told the court. 'You take that away from a cell full of men, and they will be fighting all day long.'” Meanwhile, legislators are poised to enact a statewide smoking ban for customers of bars and food purveyors licensed by local health departments (presumably with a new Class C criminal statute to enforce it), though the measure wouldn't affect jails. Cigarettes have been banned as contraband in Texas prisons for years. Relatedly, proving the fifth time to be the charm, Smith County voters finally approved a much-downsized jail expansion earlier this month.

Class action suit over jail healthcare in Abilene
Former inmates at the Taylor County Jail (Abilene) have filed a class action lawsuit related to alleged poor healthcare at the facility. One of the lead plaintiffs "claims to have suffered a broken back at the hands of jailers, the suit alleges, and now suffers from a permanent injury due to abuse and neglect by jail staff." The suit claims the jail deprived plaintiffs "of reasonable medical care and resulted in an impermissible punishment of these pretrial detainees in violation of their substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment for the United States Constitution."

Bail schedule contributing to Harris County jail crowding
Earlier this month, Murray Newman had an essay on the practice of requiring bail for penny ante misdemeanors, declaring "in my opinion, it is silly and oppressive to hold people in jail on low-level crimes while complaining of jail overcrowding in the next breath."

Staff turnover at jails monitored
Under legislation headed to the Governor, jails would be required to report to the Commission on Jail Standards how many staff members leave their jobs every month

Deporting jail visitors?
Since Barack Obama came into power, a common theme from his Administration has been that they wanted to focus scarce immigration enforcement resources on illegal immigrants in jail instead of workers, criticizing the Bush Administration for diverting US Attorneys on the border from actual crime fighting activities. The so-called Secure Communities push has since been criticized for casting its net too broadly, but apparently there's an effort behind the scenes to expand the program further from those in jail to their family members. In San Antonio, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently sought permission to check the residency status of visitors to the Bexar County Jail. The Sheriff said "no," but it's a safe bet Bexar isn't the only county in which Washington is seeking such an arrangement. Relatedly, San Antonio PD had refused to participate in the program ICE is mad that municipal courts in the Alamo City weren't contacting them on Class C tickets. But Republican state Sen. Tommy Williams helped out the Obama Administration this week by tacking an amendment onto another bill to require all law enforcement agencies to participate in Obama's Secure Communities initiative. His amendment also authorizes DPS to operate southbound checkpoints.

TDCJ staff fired for excessive force, contraband
Several firings at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice caught my attention recently. Three guards were fired and a fourth allowed to retire after charges of excessive force at the Neal Unit in Amarillo. And at The Back Gate, a website run by TDCJ prison staff, we learn that Maj. Julia Humphrey, wife of parole commissioner and former TYC administrator Billy Humphrey, was terminated for allegations related to contraband.

DA convicted of misusing seized assets
Former Jim Wells County DA Joe Frank Garza was convicted of running an asset forfeiture scam. He received 10 years probation, 180 days in jail, $10,000 fine, was ordered to pay restitution of $2,000,000 (how likely is that?), plus the episode cost him his law license. He was using forfeiture money to illegally boost his own pay and that of his employees.


Anonymous said...

Methinks if it takes a "miracle" for there to be an exoneration,...they are probably guilty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:38, when the government withheld a witness statement that said "He didn't do it" and bolstered their case with a jailhouse snitch, IMO that "probably" starts to run in the other direction.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Parole officers seek ministers' reentry help ...............

I think that is a fine idea - Question is how shall the ministers counsel the said parishioners?? I think the best advice that could be given to the recently released person is to attempt to locate some assistance getting ID and other documents needed foe employment and housing together, Job Training and resume assistance would be high on the list.There is the addressing of MHMR issues, Medical issues, and a plethora of other issues such as Birth Certificates and such. I would love to recommend an agency by name but I have not spoken to them to ask this permission. So I will simply say, : Google Re Entry Services In Texas ans see what you get. I think you will find great information at your fingertips. I have seen many people succeed after having utilized the proper services. Every person has a unique situation requiring a unique solution. Many Texas communities have great ReEntry resources, its a matter of making people aware of them and helping these agencies have the ability to provide the number of services needed.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in the criminal justice system for many years I have seen some bad stuff done to good people. Closing cases is what it is all about in the real world, not were they really guilty. The old saying is " Are they good for it", not are they guilty. I would think with the long history of DA misconduct used to win the case even though illegal folks would begin to see how the legal system works. I got sick of the dishonesty and have nothing to do with sewer legal system these days.

On another note did you all catch how the Texas Senate got scared by the TSA and US Attorney yesterday on the TSA Don't Touch My Junk bill passed out of the House by a unanimous vote? The TSA and US Attorney came to the Texas Senate and threatened to stop all air travel in and out of Texas if the bill passed. From news reports the Lt. Governor had a big hand in killing the bill. About 200 people showed up at the Capitol to protest the bill being killed. Since when do we allow the Federal Government to tell Texas which laws we can pass? What I still can't believe is how the Texas Senate turned "Yellow", tucked their tail and ran for cover from the TSA. Oh, let's not forget the Lt. Governor's part in letting the boys from Washington DC call the shots in Texas. I could care less about leaving Texas by air, hell why would you want to leave Texas in the first place? For the folks who like to get felt-up, I mean like to fly not to worry we could cut off something the rest of the country needs from Texas to return the favor. That is a barn door that swings both ways! I saw on Austin TV good old Senator Whitmire said they had more important things to worry about. Sounds like Senator Whitmire was trying to minimize his Yellowness and inability to stand-up to the Feds. The entire Texas Senate should be deeply ashamed of their behavior in this matter as well as the Lt. Governor.

Bubba Ratliff
Texas Farmer

Audrey said...

Methinks if there is withheld evidence, coercion of what is said in the testimonies of state witnesses, use of jail house snitches, lies of any sort causing a conviction of a person, then there is CLEAR REASONABLE DOUBT. If some one is truly guilty, it shouldn't take lies to convict that person, their guilt will stand on its own. It shouldn't take a miracle to see that the jury/judge has been used to advance the personal agendas of those falsely accusing and a prosecutor looking for another notch on his or her belt. And sure shouldn't take 5 to 20+ years to move appeals/habeas through the system. Methinks!

Anonymous said...

" The TSA and US Attorney came to the Texas Senate and threatened to stop all air travel in and out of Texas if the bill passed."

HA! Good luck! But, I don't doubt that the idiots in the lege bought this threat.

As a private pilot, I've been flying in and out of controlled airspace and walking through terminals for years packing guns of all types. They never touch me, and I never get screened. THEY CAN'T. Airport grounds are not federal property. And, they can't stop me from flying through their airspace as long as I obey the rules like every other pilot in command. All the commercial carriers have to do is stand their ground. They are privately-owned companies operating out of locally-owned airports. The fed can just go take a hike.

Anonymous said...

Bobby Garmon is scared of the actions of the inmates in the jail if they take their cigarettes away, but he wants to be sherrif. Yeah, ok.
Every prison in the State of Texas figured out how to do it, but he can't manage the Smith County jail.

As for Major Humphrey..... Her husband set up so many TYC staff for termination and criminal charges with his spray first, ask questions later. They when it got sticky, he ran for the hills. Karma.....

titfortat said...

In response to the Murray Newman essay concerning the practice of requiring bail for penny ante misdemeanors.

He qualified his statement by saying that he isn’t big on statistics; If he were then he would know that his hypothetical set of circumstances and the lively discussion that took place on his television program concerning whatever it is his imagination dreamed up on this subject holds no relevance whatsoever to reducing jail overcrowding and in fact what he advocates promotes jail overcrowding.

In reviewing one 24 hour period of bookings and releases at the Harris County Jail of the slightly over 300 misdemeanor filings the only ones that remained incarcerated after 24 hours (within his criteria) were less than a handful of defendants charged with prostitution and a couple of defendants that were out of town residents. The rest of these misdemeanants were released in that same 24 hour period, (all of them), on either private bond or on a pre-trial release bond.

(91) of them were class c misdemeanors that were given time served; the rest would have gotten out many hours earlier if it weren’t for the bureaucracy that exists for the purpose of getting defendants out of jail that had always been released anyway without taxpayers paying for the bureaucracy.

If he is in support of just giving them all a citation then another interesting statistic would show that (917) defendants also failed to appear in court (that same day) in only one of the courts out of the 40 courts that oversee class c misdemeanors in Harris County; they were all given a citation.

The practice of arresting class c misdemeanors in Harris County has become nothing but a huge black hole to throw tax dollars into thanks to the bureaucratic bail practices Mr. Newman advocates as being a way to solve jail overcrowding.

These same defendants that were released on bail within 8 hours of arrest for many many years and then appeared in court and then paid fines that generated millions of dollars each year for the County now have no choice but to stay incarcerated for 24 hours due to these practices, and now produce nothing (zero) except the expense of arrest, 24 hour incarceration, and 24 hour court personnel that hold no real purpose but to then release them.

titfortat said...

The way class c misdemeanors who fail to appear are being processed now it would save the county millions of dollars each year if they simply wiped the scofflaws from the books every month or simply stopped writing traffic tickets, health ordinance tickets, sign tickets, construction tickets, etc.

The bail schedule for all other defendants is what should be looked into if anyone ever wants to seriously address jail overcrowding and these defendants typically do not qualify for government pre-trial release for a host of very valid reasons, mainly because they have such a poor track record of getting low level defendants to court.

Private bail has always had a proven track record of performance because there really is a financial risk involved; there really is incentive to perform, and this really is (basic) enough information for a second grader to grasp the reasoning of how and why it works.

The incentive for Government bail is no different than any other government job, a paycheck and health benefits are present regardless of performance, (it entails a government employee doing a government job) and this too has a (basic) understanding that has always been the subject of jokes by the (non-government employed) taxpayers for very valid reasons and there is a huge difference in this particular job requirement. Pushing paper and actually being (personally) (financially) responsible for your performance is a huge unrealistic jump in job description.

If the bail requirements for the defendants that are overcrowding the jail were lowered there still remains a risk and private bail will still perform as it always has and in the end justice will still be served which is (the only) purpose of private bail, besides that little fact that the 8th Amendment to the Constitution provides us this (protection) from (government) oppression.

Anonymous said...

What a pitiful career if Bronco Billy's claim to fame is his two bit stint violating federal law and abusing youth in TYC...Hopefully he was also implicated in the contraband problem with his wife.