Thursday, October 25, 2012

Harris Public Defender: Habeas writs possible over improperly seized commissary funds after court-cost ruling

Harris County Public Defender Alex Bunin commented in response to Grits' item yesterday on court cost litigation at Texas' 14th Court of Appeals, predicting that "counties (not just Harris) will be hard pressed to recreate a proper bill of costs for the prisoners who are having their commissary funds siphoned off for unproven fees. I expect some will file writs since the court of appeals said the issue is not waived for failure to object in the trial court."

Interesting. So as I understand that, TDCJ prisoners from Harris County (or other counties that don't produce a "bill of cost") may be able to file habeas corpus writs if they had commissary funds improperly confiscated over un-documented court costs. That would have to be litigated, but as Texas' largest county, we're talking about a LOT of folks. And of course, that commissary money has already been seized and spent.

This affects a lot of folks: 1) the counties (especially judges and district clerks) who may have improperly charged the money, and in many cases are likely still doing so 2) TDCJ who may have seized inmate funds based on insufficient documentation, and 3) TDCJ prisoners out of Harris County, and likely elsewhere, who Bunin believes may be able to file habeas writs to have their commissary funds reinstated, or at least the ones seized for court costs.

If those habeas writs started to roll in and were successful, would the county or the state have to foot the bill for replenishing TDCJ commissary funds? Would the state programs funded themselves be on the hook, e.g., would the Crime Victim Compensation Fund have to pay people back? ¿Quien sabe? The Court of Criminal Appeals conceivably could see hundreds or even thousands of writs on this topic out of Harris County alone on older cases. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this. After the first inmate files his lawsuit then word will spread quicker than fire. They're going to file millions of lawsuits! Should keep the DA's tied up with plenty to do.

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha! Not likely, in fact I'm willing to bet that this won't even be mentioned again. happens so frequently a class action lawsuit should have already been filed.
remember, if a person refuses to take a plea quietly they will get the big stick.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, but in order for it to reach the filing stage, one must seek and purchase certified copies of the entire case file that includes the Bill of Cost. Then there's the whole concept of being in jail / prison to deal with. Which is why there won't be a friggin flood of writs swamping anything.

I say, while one is in the process of buying copies consider splurging and obtain the Police Incident Report & color copy of the Booking Photo. Don't be surprised to read that in addition to being ripped off, you didn't & still don't fit the description(s) and the pre trial Discovery Motions' ORDERS are neither AGREED or DENIED. The State’s Exhibits’ documents are worth viewing very carefully for as it may yield mystery weapons. Thanks.