Sunday, January 06, 2013

Corruption, prison phone rates, rape-kit backlogs, un-speedy trials, and other 'legitimate public concerns'

Here are a few, disparate items which haven't made it into full Grits posts but merit Grits readers' attention:

Prison closures, adult and juvie, on 83rd Lege agenda
In its legislative preview, the Texas Tribune identifies criminal justice topics facing the 83rd Texas Legislature, including reforms related to prosecutorial misconduct and possibly closing several adult and juvenile prison facilities.

SAPD officer arrested in traffic stop extortion scheme
A 19-year veteran San Antonio PD officer was arrested for allegedly planting marijuana on a legal immigrant driver at a traffic stop and attempting to extort $500 from him. Ugly stuff. Said the driver who was targeted, "I do feel a sense of relief, but I'm kind of scared of what is going to be coming especially because he was on the force for 19 years. He has a family." The part that surprises me is how little money we're talking about, which implies to me that this was likely a common, ongoing practice, at least allegedly for this officer. Otherwise, who would risk a 19-year career for $500?

Corrupt S. Texas drug task force shutting down
The Hidalgo County Sheriff is shutting down the county-level drug task force (discussed here) that recently saw four officers, including the Sheriff's son, indicted on corruption charges. More detail here.

DA: Sexual harassment details 'not a legitimate public concern'
The Attorney General is expected to rule next week whether the Tarrant County District Attorney's office must release documents related to a $375,000 settlement of sexual harassment allegations vs. elected DA Joe Shannon. The DA's office told the AG they shouldn't have to release the documents because details of the settled allegation are "not a legitimate public concern," which seems like a stretch given how much taxpayers forked over as a result.

Will drug testing at Fort Bend Sheriff include steroids?
The newly elected Fort Bend Sheriff is requiring all department employees to take drug tests. No word if that includes steroid testing, which Grits believes is a much more widespread and immediate problem in law enforcement than use of marijuana, cocaine, etc..

Commissioner: Roll back jail costs to reduce taxpayer burden
McLennan County's newest commissioner, investor Will Jones, told the Waco Tribune Herald that "his top priority is controlling the cost of housing overflow inmates from the McLennan County Jail at the privately run Jack Harwell Detention Center," opining, “We’ve definitely got to take a long, hard look at how much we’re spending on outside feeding and care of our inmates and what we can do better to take care of that expense. ... That’s first and foremost. I think it’s the big gorilla in our budget right now.” Jones ran for office promising to roll back recent tax hikes implemented largely to pay for rising jail costs.

Debating gun control for domestic violence suspects
Should judges routinely order guns removed from the homes of domestic violence suspects? The San Antonio Express-News describes a debate on the subject, pointing out that, "Nationally, judges are trained to adopt firearms surrender, and order weapons removal for those named in protective orders, as best practices in decreasing family violence, but the tools aren't widespread" in Texas. Reported the paper, "This deadly mix of guns and domestic violence ... was behind at least 10 of the 88 city homicides last year."

The un-speediest trial ever
AP has a followup on the story of Jerry Hartfield, a mentally retarded inmate whose murder conviction was overturned nearly 30 years ago but remained in prison, most of that time unrepresented by counsel, without ever receiving a new trial. The Fifth Circuit has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to revisit their decades-old ruling in his case. Meanwhile in Dallas (behind DMN paywall), "A 57-year-old prison inmate and career criminal is expected to be freed after a Texas appeals court agreed that Dallas County officials violated his right to a speedy trial by taking eight years to try him on a child-molestation charge." Both cases appeared to have simply gotten lost in a high-volume system, which makes one wonder if there aren't more, similar examples out there.

The high cost of clearing rape kit backlogs
It would cost the state between $7-11 million to clear the backlog of more than 20,000 untested rape kits sitting around in police evidence across the state, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

RFID tracking of students: Voluntary vs. mandatory
Grits had earlier expressed dismay (and disdain) for a program in San Antonio piloting RFID tracking of students on campus, but I'm far less concerned with a voluntary program in Austin targeting students with a particular history of truancy. Invasive technological controls may be justified in particular circumstances, but the misbehaviors of a few don't justify imposing Big Brother on everyone.

FCC seeks comment on prison phone rates
The FCC recently issued a notice for proposed rulemaking on the issue of excessive rates for phone calls to and from prison. See coverage from NBC News.

Will second Obama term re-make federal 5th Circuit?
Depending on whether Republican senators will let his nominations go through, it's possible President Barack Obama will get the opportunity to remake the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals during his next four years in office. There are already two open seats on the court, and while "Ten of the 15 active judges serving on the New Orleans-based court were nominated by Republican presidents," it turns out "six of those GOP-nominated judges are eligible for senior status or will be in the next four years, a change that would allow the Democratic president to nominate their replacements.

Restorative justice applications dependent on prosecutorial largesse
Can restorative justice principles be applied to sentencing in a murder case? The New York Times magazine has a story out of Florida stemming from a domestic violence case where the victim's family engaged in mediation with the defendant and ended up recommending a lower sentence (10-15 years) than the prosecutor was willing to accept. The story reinforces Grits observation that restorative justice principles don't mesh well with the basic tenets of the adversarial system, and that prosecutors' deference to victims generally tends to last only so long as victims support prosecutors' maximally punitive stance.

'Are traffic tickets countercyclical?'
Grits recently ran across an interesting academic paper from 2006 with the same title as this post demonstrating that municipalities in North Carolina wrote more tickets when revenue from other sources declined. The abstract summarized their findings thusly: "There is anecdotal evidence that local governments use traffic tickets to generate revenue. Using panel data for North Carolina counties, we examine whether changes in local government revenue influence the number of traffic tickets issued. We find strong evidence of an asymmetric response by local governments. Specifically, positive changes in revenue have no effect on traffic tickets, but negative revenue changes increase the number of traffic tickets issued. A one percentage point decrease in revenue yields a 0.38 percentage point increase in traffic tickets. We calculate that traffic ticket revenue supplements a low percentage of local revenue losses."


Anonymous said...

'Are traffic tickets countercyclical?'

I promise you they are. When the economy is good and govt has money to spend, most cops wouldn't even look at you until you were doing a solid 10mph over the speed limit. But in the past month, I've had two two different radar cops try to mistakenly give me tickets for doing 70mph in a 60 zone, when the speed limit was really 70. I wonder how many times they got away with doing that to people who didn't challenge them?

rodsmith said...

LOL your nicer than i am. I would consider that a criminal act and get very annoyed with possible violence to follow if they didnt immediately get away from me when i pointed it out.

Anonymous said...

Tell me why planting weed and then demanding money Is called "theft of honest services" I hope he does the max all in 23 hour lockdown

Anonymous said...

We have to assume that the San Antonio cop was guilty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Assume nothing, 11:55, except that charges were alleged. Don't get ahead of yourself.

That said, "theft of honest services" is indeed an odd charge for the alleged conduct.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, while we can't tell if tick tock 11:55 PM is just goofing around or simply a passionate (VOTS) victim of the system, thanks for spanking him / her / robot just the same.

On top of it making us (GFB readers) all seem to agree (had you not intervened), the entire vague statement is exactly what the good ol Christian folk’s think when they get to participate on a jury and / or learn about an arrest. "He / she / you must be ‘Guilty’; the cops just don't arrest people for nothing." One would think they would practice / remember what they preach about the judging thy neighbor / bearing false witness crapola.

How in the hell do I know this? Because it's exactly what my aunt said to me during my one & only jail phone call (made 5 days after the false arrest on a non-existent OTW that morphed into a friggin felony). (Which in its self would give me plenty reasons to be a hater and fellow assumer.) Despite her being a preacher's wife & a Sunday school teacher that lived an entire life 'Assuming' this, she’s eaten Christian Crow stew from the very moment she reviewed the HPD Police Incident Report and certified case files. It sickens me to hear anyone assume anyone's guilty (even if it's a cop). Thanks.

*If he / she ‘is’ guilty, the crime(s) is both State & Federal – conspiracy, extortion, bribery and so on. "Theft of honest services" damn sure doesn’t apply and the Mofo that assumed it fit is guilty of something and that's a fact. There won't be any jury trial either, simply aint happening. Yea, I said ‘aint’. Thanks.