Thursday, October 04, 2012

Roundup: Innocents accused, cell-phone location data, the problem with confidential informants, and other stories

Here are a number of items Grits founding interesting but hasn't had the time to write up:

Dueling events create quandary for Grits coverage
The Texas Forensic Science Commission has a full agenda (pdf) tomorrow, including discussions of issues from crime labs at Austin PD, El Paso PD, the Tarrant County medical examiner, and the DPS lab in Houston. Concurrently, the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit will meet to hear "presentations from Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy on addressing the recommendations of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, TEEX on property room management, and Gary Udashen on Brady issues." Grits is having a difficult time deciding which to attend: Let me know in the comments which you'd rather see covered.

Near miss: Accused, but innocent
Dallas has become uncomfortably familiar with stories of men falsely accused of rape or murder who were exonerated decades later by DNA evidence. The Dallas News has the story of a successful architect who barely escaped the same fate, with allegations hanging over his head for years before DNA solved a cold case in which he'd been the primary suspect.

Secrecy about police misconduct and the Public Information Act
Reporters in Odessa are having trouble figuring out why one narcotics investigator was fired and two others were reassigned.

On the racial implications of prosecuting trace drug cases
At the Houston Chronicle, Lisa Falkenberg had a column discussing the implications of Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow. She wrote that "the Harris County district attorney candidate who returned my call, Republican Mike Anderson, promised it's on his reading list. I have to wonder if it will change his mind about wanting to dismantle DA Pat Lykos' policy against prosecuting trace drug cases."

Houston mental health court targets felony offenses
A new felony mental health court has opened in Houston; see coverage from Brian Rogers at the Houston Chronicle. Many similar courts in other jurisdictions focus mainly on misdemeanor offenses.

State says 'no' to privatizing mental hospital
Despite being the only bidder, the GEO Group won't be operating the state's mental hospital in Kerrville, reported the Austin Statesman.

Gambling and county budgets
Cameron County will press the Legislature to legalize and regulate eight-liner gaming machines, which "would go a long way toward meeting the county’s budgetary needs." Meanwhile, Duval County shut down a baker's dozen local business operating eight-liners after media criticism that they were profiteering from illegal gambling. See related, recent Grits coverage.

The Fourth Amendment and cell phone location data
At the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr has a writeup of oral arguments at the 5th Circuit over whether law enforcement can access cell-phone location data without a warrant. The Obama Administration argued that the public has no privacy rights regarding historic location data held by their cell-phone service provider. Here's a link to the audio. Relatedly, here's a recent essay by an academic at Texas Southern University "on the proper role of U.S. magistrate judges in applying the constitution to electronic surveillance requests by law enforcement, particularly during an era of legislative inertia and appellate court reticence."

The problem with confidential informants
Several recent items on informants (found via the excellent Snitching Blog), merit readers' attention. From Foreign Policy magazine, see "Does the FBI have an informant problem." NPR's Talk of the Nation did a special segment on the topic here: Use of Confidential Informants Mostly Unregulated. And the New Yorker published an article last month titled "The Throwaways," focusing on the Rachel Hoffman case out of Florida. The blog Talk Left has a good roundup of recent articles and reports related to the use of confidential informants. Meanwhile, the Austin Statesman has coverage this week of an informant who was paid $340,000 by the FBI to spy on his relatives who operated several Austin night clubs, however, "According to testimony and audio recordings played in court Wednesday, many of [the defendants'] actions seemed to have been prompted by [the informant], who said he was doing and saying what the FBI told him."

'The Other Death Sentence'
In an article on 'life' sentences with the same title as this subhed, writer James Ridgeway poses the question, "More than 100,000 Americans are destined to spend their final years in prison. Can we afford it?"

'Million dollar blocks'
Via NPR, "By mapping the residential addresses of every inmate in various prison systems, the center has made vividly clear a concept it calls 'million-dollar blocks' — areas where more than $1 million is being spent annually to incarcerate the residents of a single census block." One benefit of this work, "One of the things we noticed right away when legislators and others started to see this, is they talked about this issue differently. Instead of getting stuck in the 'being soft, get tough [on crime]' paradox, they started to talk about neighborhoods."

'Arthur Anderson and the Myth of the Corporate Death Penalty'
Having recently mentioned the subject of criminal prosecution of corporate crime, or the lack thereof, I was interested to see a new paper by a law clerk out of Texas' Southern District titled, "Arthur Andersen and the Myth of the Corporate Death Penalty: Corporate Criminal Convictions in the Twenty-First Century," which will go on Grits' reading list.

UK lab mixup resulted in false rape accusation
In Britain, a man was falsely accused of rape after a crime lab mixed up his DNA with a sample from a sexual assault case. "Despite warnings of DNA contamination at the laboratory less than two week earlier, Adam Scott was arrested and held in custody – even though he had been hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime."

Religious conservative backs pot legalization
How did I miss that televangelist Pat Robertson earlier this year came out in favor of legalizing marijuana? I wonder if that counter-intuitive endorsement has been played up in the tax-and-regulate campaigns going on in Colorado and Washington state?


Anonymous said...

I have to wonder if it will change his mind about wanting to dismantle DA Pat Lykos' policy against prosecuting trace drug cases.

Of course it won't, because he will claim that race isn't a factor in his prosecutions. The only thing that will keep him from filling that jail up and sending prisoners to Louisiana again will be the threat of budget cuts from the commissioners. He is a Holmes/Rosenthal type prosecutor and judge who thinks he's on a mission from God. We do not need him here, and he will only be elected for the same reason Lykos was last term--a complete lack of options.

Anonymous said...

Be curious what Udashen says to the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. Near as I can tell they advise the Lege, but don't take any action in the trenches.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in Udashen's opinion on Brady Material withheld by crime labs (which, by proxy, leads to prosecutorial misconduct).

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, I'd second the 4:45 PM. interest.

If they allow questions or he happens across this comment. I'd like to know his opinion of what can be done when ‘it's’ clearly documented (with black letters on white paper) via: the Certified Case file, Police Incident Report & Police Booking Photo that ‘it’ was blatantly withheld from the Defendant by everyone? (i.e., the Prosecution, four HPD Detectives (plus their supervisors) & the hired Defense.) Showing the Judge ignoring pre-trial discovery motions seeking ‘it’ & as ‘it’ clearly shows the Crime Victim being allowed to personally assist Detectives’ in the framing of the innocent?

Come to think about it, you might just be wasting your valuable time, as I wonder if his opinion would matter about anything or have any real impact on ‘it’ being withheld?

*WEYD - void APD. Thanks.