Monday, April 30, 2012

Odds and ends: From DNA exonerations to the drug war

Here are a few odds and ends that may interest Grits readers.

Pair of Dallas false convictions to be overturned after 28 years
Two more Dallas men this week will begin the formal exoneration process after 28 years incarcerated based on a false conviction. Thanks to DNA, the real suspects have now been identified.

Constables performed private work on county time
Until recently, some Harris County constables were supplementing their income with contract work delivering eviction  notices for landlords while on duty. Three precincts stopped the practice after it was first publicized. Five others still  perform the function, and "None of the constables contacted agreed to release documents relating to their notice delivery business."

Dallas DA rectifying prosecutor misconduct
On page four of the Dallas DA's quarterly newsletter (pdf) is an item titled "District Attorney agrees to vacate conviction of Ricky Dale Wyatt based on prosecutorial misconduct in 1981 aggravated sexual assault." In Dallas over the weekend, a criminal defense attorney told me that in 25 years of practicing in Dallas, he'd never had a prosecutor hand over exculpatory evidence (i.e., "Brady  material") until Craig Watkins took office and threatened to fire those who didn't comply with the rule. See their past newsletters.

'Rocket docket' for trials
In San Antonio, Bexar County judges are planning a series of back-to-back trials to catch up on their backlogged docket, but the District Attorney says it creates too much work for them. They're calling it a "rocket docket," which is a term usually reserved for plea-mill scenarios as opposed to taking cases to trial.

Reduced jail pop credited with passed inspection
The Harris County Sheriff credited the decline in inmate numbers for helping the Harris County Jail pass inspection this year 

Prison chapel isn't open court
A trial held in a prison chapel does not satisfy the requirement for an open court, ruled the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. More from Liberty and Justice for Y'all.

Praising prison ministry work
A couple involved in a prison ministry program received the Governor's 2012 Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award. Also, see this profile of a Pennsylvia ex-offender moving to Texas to work in a Dallas-based prison ministry after being sentenced to life without parole as a 17-year old in 1977, released as a result of a 2010 US Supreme Court decision declaring LWOP for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment.

'Life without parole is a terrible idea'
So argues Houston attorney David Dow in The Daily Beast.

Immigration law as family law: Unescorted minors captured at border rises
Illegal immigration overall is way down, but for some unexplained reason authorities have seen a sharp rise in the number of unescorted minors captured making the illegal crossing. "From October 2011 through March, 5,252 kids landed in U.S. custody without a parent or guardian — a 93 percent increase from the same period the previous year." This raises the biggest pragmatic concern about git-tuff immigration policies like those pursued by the Obama Administration: As a practical matter, immigration law is mostly a subset of family law. If these kids are coming to be with family members on this side who can't resurface without deportation, it raises a particularly poignant dilemma.

Even cartel guns not smuggled from US mostly come from here
Two thirds of guns where Mexican authorities seek to match serial numbers to US records turn out to have come from the United States, reports the Texas Tribune, news punctuated by a recent arrest of a US trucker smuggling 268,000 rounds of ammunition southward. My friend Alice Tripp from the Texas State Rifle Association correctly points out that that doesn't mean that 2/3 of guns used by Mexican cartels were illegally smuggled from the US. But I don't discount the 2/3 number as much as she because the two other major sources of cartel weaponry also involve guns originally made in the United States: Most prominently, the United States spent decades funneling weapons to fight proxy wars against Marxists and nationalists throughout Central America right up until the Cold War ended. Less well publicized, defectors from the Mexican military and police often take weaponry with them when they go which was often purchased from US manufacturers, secured through US aid programs, etc.. So even the weapons that weren't illegally smuggled into Mexico often ultimately, originally came from the United States, often by perfectly legal, even US-government sponsored means. Gun smuggling southward is a real thing and a serious concern, but even if the flow of smuggled US guns stopped tomorrow, there are plenty of other sources to ensure that won't be the pivotal element that stops the killing.


Anonymous said...

So Grits, what did you say the "over/under" was on how long it would take the anti-death penalty types to start bitching about Life Without Parole being "cruel and unusual" once they achieved their goal of making that sentence an option to the death penalty?

@David Dow...Do you, sir, have no shame?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't recall that I ever speculated on an over/under, but I personally opposed the capital LWOP bill and have long thought that death-penalty abolitionists, at the time including Dow and the Texas Defender Service, were throwing their clients under the bus by backing that legislation.

I don't mind so much LWOP being "an option," as you suggest, but under the bill they passed it's now "the option," which gives prosecutors WAY too much power (at the expense of jurors) in their charging decisions.

Lee said...

I am suprised to hear David Dow say that. I am content with LWOP. The innocent can get exonerated and the guilty can die in there.

Dwight Brown said...

"Two thirds of guns where Mexican authorities seek to match serial numbers to US records turn out to have come from the United States..."

Hey, last year they were saying it was 90% of guns. Now we're down to 66 or 67%! Progress is being made!

(On a more serious note, thanks for pointing out the guns diverted from Mexican law enforcement/smuggled in from Central America issues.)

Anonymous said...

How do you believe it gives prosecutors "way too much power in their charging decisions?" The legislature established the punishment for capital murder. Now, it's either death or life without parole. Before, it was death and some possibility of parole after 45 years, if memory serves. Either way, the offense either fits the elements of the offense of capital murder or it doesn't.

Under LWOP, the prosecutor really just has 3 choices:
1) Seek the death penalty;
2) Forego the death penalty and try the defendant for LWOP; or,
3) Charge the case as a lesser included offense of 1st degree murder and proceed accordingly.

Under the old law of Life with Parole, the choices were EXACTLY the same. There was never any real advantage to NOT charging capital murder if the offense qualified. The only issue left to decide was whether the facts warranted seeking the death penalty. It's the same consideration now. Only the consequences of not seeking the death penalty have changed somewhat.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:47, if the prosecutor charges capital murder, jurors today have just two options: Death penalty or LWOP. I think LWOP should have been added to the jury's list of options instead of replacing one of them.

Anonymous said...

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Anne Roberts said...

"Pair of Dallas false convictions to be overturned after 28 years
Two more Dallas men this week will begin the formal exoneration process after 28 years incarcerated based on a false conviction. Thanks to DNA, the real suspects have now been identified."

What will the justice system give them for stealing 28 years of their lives?