Friday, August 16, 2013

Roundup: Top stories cropping up during Grits' recent absence

Grits is still poking around at news stories that cropped up while this blog was on a brief hiatus and thought I'd share a few that may not make it into independent posts.

Houston police union balks at mandatory DWI blood draws
The Harris County DA now requires blood tests in every DWI case where drivers refuse a breath test. The police union, reported the Houston Chronicle (July 28) objects because it takes police off the street and makes them unavailable for other routine tasks. "'They're not going to be as savvy on how to do these warrants, so it's going to take them six to eight hours, and that means the officer is off the street for that entire time,' [HPOU President Ray] Hunt said. 'It's a major issue.'" Grits' take: The new DA is willing to sacrifice police coverage to make securing DWI convictions easier, an option available to him because police and prosecutors' funding come from different pots (city vs. county). Whether that's a wise public policy choice depends on whether you think maximizing police coverage or misdemeanor convictions improves safety more. IMO the strongest evidence argues for the former, but reasonable folks may disagree.

Bribery investigation targets Denton Sheriff
Reported the Dallas Morning News (Aug. 9), "The Denton County sheriff (William Travis) is under investigation over allegations that he tried to bribe a political opponent to quit an election and also tried to bribe a former deputy into abandoning a lawsuit against the department." All involved deny the allegations. Here's a link to the affidavit written by Texas Ranger James Holland to seize the cell phone of Constable Jesse Flores as part of the investigation into Sheriff Travis. As an aside, readers in the comments pointed out that a Denton County Sheriff was convicted of bribery 25 years ago, also based on offering a political opponent a job to drop out of the race.

Light sentence for cop who stole from crime scene
A Houston police officer pled guilty for stealing cash from a crime scene. He received deferred adjudication with two years of probation and could ultimately have the conviction wiped from his record. After all, one supposes, he was only stealing from criminals.

GOP critic blasts Montgomery County private prison maneuvers
A blogger at GOP Vote complains that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court has launched into a seemingly never-ending jail building spree without consulting voters.

Opposition mounting to McAllen's private jail scheme
Fifty groups have signed onto a letter opposing a speculative jail privatization scheme in McAllen, the McAllen Monitor reported. Here's a copy of the letter. Notably, the Monitor knew about the proposed deal and intentionally failed to report it for more than a year. If they hadn't, the opposition might have a better chance of influencing the process.

News flash: Parole board must follow laws
This story from ABC's Good Morning America about Texas parole laws is possibly the most ignorant thing I've seen written by a professional reporter in 2013, which is saying something. The writer complains of a "loophole" requiring murderers (or anyone else) convicted between 1977 and 1987 to be released via a since-eliminated "mandatory supervision" law, under which they're let go when time served plus good time equals their sentence. What a crock! Since when is it a "loophole" to apply the law as written? Anyway, that hasn't been the case for years but it would be unconstitutional (in spades) to apply ex post facto rules to sentences issued under the old regime. This story was a) 26 years old, so not "news," b) utterly ignorant of the law and reality, and c) blatant demagoguery. Pathetic that this garbage passes for journalism at a major national news outlet.

Pot busts lowered to Class Cs in Hudspeth County to save jail space
Hudspeth County has no room at the inn jail for drivers caught with marijuana at the Border Patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca so the Sheriff gives folks Class C paraphernalia tickets and sends them on their way. Said Sheriff Arvin West, "The last thing in this world I want to be is a pothead hero, but the laws we’ve got now don’t work. Something’s gotta change."

Did Texas DPS unwittingly conspire in using NSA spy intel for drug cases?
Despite my intense interest, Grits hasn't written much about the NSA metadata collection scandal because it's being intensively covered at the national level and isn't a Texas-specific issue. But the revelation that the DEA uses that intel then lies about its sources in court, pretending probable cause was generated at traffic stops, almost certainly has implications for cases in Texas, and our Department of Public Safety may have been an unwitting accomplice to this fraud. Reported Reuters:
two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to "recreate" an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily. (Emphasis added.)

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. "You'd be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.' And so we'd alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it," the agent said.
DPS wouldn't have known about the NSA angle. From their perspective, the state police just received and acted on tips from the DEA. But if they then conspired to pretend the stop was based solely on a traffic violation and failed to disclose the DEA intel to defense counsel, that would be a significant breach of trust. Though not Texas-specific, Gideon at A Public  Defender lays out the implications of this revelation as well as anyone I've seen.

New Holder policy either 'conservative,' 'lawless,' or (most likely) just pro-prosecutor
Conservatives are split over US Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the USDOJ will no longer pursue charges with mandatory minimums in drug possession cases. Marc Levin and Vikrant Reddy from the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote in The National Review that Holder had adopted "conservative sentencing reforms" while columnist Charles Krauthammer bloviated that the decision amounted to "lawlessness." Our old pal Vanita Gupta had a column in the New York Times framing the issue of drug-war based overincarceration in terms of Texas' Tulia episode and suggesting more effective ways to reduce it. Ken at Popehat provided a good explanation of what Holder's new policy will mean in practice and the drawbacks of relying on prosecutorial discretion to limit mass incarceration. At Forbes, Jacob Sullum reminds us that the Obama Administration's record on the drug war has been generally atrocious. He points out that if Holder's "criteria identify people who do not deserve mandatory minimums, they also identify people who deserve the president’s mercy" via the pardon process. Don't hold your breath.


Jim D said...

A lot of interesting stories, thanks for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

That first story is a little off according to the referenced Chronicle article. The article claims the DA is calling for blood tests in every breath test refusal case, not every DWI case.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're 100% correct, 1:53. I clarified it in the synopsis.

Anonymous said...

The district attorney there in Houston was elected by the police officers. So the fact that the thieving pig was charged at all is a miracle...

Anonymous said...

Any experienced Assistant U.S. attorney will tell you to never trust a DEA agent to be telling the truth.

As for the concept of parallel construction, common practice historically to avoid giving up a source (or a wiretap) was to contact a local law enforcement officer and arrange a traffic stop when the suspect's vehicle committed a traffic violation. Stop would lead to a search and then the discovery of the contraband if the stop wasn't simply done to arrest the suspect. It didn't just apply to DEA (or BNDD) but to FBI, Customs (now HSI), etc.

Anonymous said...

@11:08 the practice you describe is also used within police departments and for the same purpose...and they usually don't wait for an actual traffic violation. Detective with no video will call ahead to a patrol unit, report seeing a traffic violation such as a rolling stop (no way to prove it did not happen unless the suspect has his own video). Patrol stops and claims to smell burnt marijuana for pc to search then finds the contraband they knew about from their unmentioned source. Quite the scheme to skirt the 6th Amendment confrontation clause and the 4th Amendment Terry articulable reasonable suspicicion requirement. A little perjury is excusable in these LEOs minds and the blind eyed ADAs and most judges hearing a motion to suppress as long they convict this person who is committing this victimless crime. Fine to violate due process as long as the defendant is guilty. Problem is you rarely hear about the not guilty ones where the informant was unreliable because the cops usually release the guy when the illegal search is fruitless. No big deal in a time when the TSA shamelessly conducts warrantless searches with no reasonable suspicion for Terry pat downs and New York violates Terry in mass illegal stop and frisks for years before a judge says no. In my best German accent, "Show me your papers".
Brad Walters

rodsmith said...

if this is happening

"Detective with no video will call ahead to a patrol unit, report seeing a traffic violation such as a rolling stop (no way to prove it did not happen unless the suspect has his own video)."

it's illegal and a violation of the law. If the detective does not make the stop. It's illegal since the one making the stop did not see the illegal action.

This has went all the way to the USSC and lost! Of course back then it was pigs in planes calling down to squad cars about speeders.

USSC tossed it because the one writing the ticket did NOT see the crime. Same thing here.

Anonymous said...

Grits, why is the Dallas County CSCD news article from last week in the Dallas Morning News about not filing revocations on repeated violation not a top story! That's the department that has been held in such high regard for consistently lowering it's revocation rate. Want to guess now why that revocation was low?

Anonymous said...

Police still use aircraft to catch speeders - just google Florida Highway Patrol and aircraft.

Matt said...

FYI, deferred adjudication can't be "wiped." A case in which adjudication has been deferred pending pre-trial community supervision probation after a guilty plea (i.e., deferred adjudication), can only be sealed, not expunged. Cases dismissed outright w/o a guilty plea are expunged, that is, "wiped."

DPS keeps sealed cases in a separate room with red cover sheets, and gives them to any law enforcement agency, professional licensing organization (BOEducation, the State Bar) that asks. Expunged cases are supposed to end up in the shredder.

Nice roundup.

Anonymous said...

Liberals argue that those who sell poison to our young do not know that hard drugs are addicting or that they cause the death to the ones they sell to. They argue that the pushers should not be blamed for these deaths by OD--after all, they argue, they were just "doing their thing." Empathy is no longer required or expected these days. We should be tolerant regardless of the behavior or the deadly consequences. We can't blame the pushers, they attest.