Grits is swamped with work this week and blogging will be light, but here are a few odds and ends that merit readers' attention:
Kerry Max Cook update
The Austin Statesman reports that Kerry Max Cook's "lawyers will soon file a petition for actual innocence in Smith County" seeking to finally, formally overturn his false conviction. Cook is one of a small fraternity of Texans who were falsely convicted, sent to death row, and lived to tell about it. Grits has no doubt at all regarding Cook's innocence and wishes him luck.
In-prison seminary promotes transition from criminal to clergy
The Baptist Standard has coverage of the new in-prison seminary operating at the Darrington Unit. The Austin Statesman's Mike Ward last month had a story regarding difficulties moving from training new ministers to actually having them perform ministers' duties at various TDCJ units. That part's easier said than done.
Houston Chron critiques overuse of pretrial detention
Following up on an earlier report Grits discussed here regarding the relation between jail overcrowding and the ability of defendants to make bail, the Houston Chronicle editorial board this week decried "an environment created by criminal court judges and prosecutors largely
inured to the hardships and injustices routinely placed on the poor; and
with no evident recognition of a cruel form of double jeopardy for the
guilty, and unlawful confinement foisted on the innocent.."
Of pipe dreams and presidential pardons
Read Texas Monthly's Michael Hall plea for a presidential pardon for Richard LaFuente. Wrong president for that, unfortunately.
Courts flailing on warrants for location data
Here's an excellent summation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Hanni Fakhoury of the current status of US court rulings regarding law enforcement's access to cell-phone location tracking data. Bottom line: It's a conflicted mess. Texas just missed passing a warrant requirement for cell-phone location data during the 83rd session. Though the warrant requirement was vigorously opposed by law enforcement, it passed the Texas House by a 126-4 margin and came within a hair of making it to the Governor's desk. By 2015, the debate surrounding these topics will have matured considerably and hopefully Rep. Bryan Hughes, Sen. Juan Hinojosa, Sen. Craig Estes and Co. will try again. Legislatures, not the courts, should be calling these shots.
Orin Kerr imagines the 'next generation' of electronic privacy legislation
George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr has a new paper (pdf) out on "The Next Generation Communications Privacy Act" offering suggested amendments to the outdated 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). In his earlier writing, Kerr staked out a position arguing that civil libertarians should trust the intent and application of the Patriot Act because it merely built on this flawed 1986 law, all the while offering no substantive critique of ECPA. This paper demonstrates why those arguments, to me, were particularly unconvincing: Kerr's earlier work pretended Fourth Amendment fans should be comforted by the Patriot Act doubling down on flaws in surveillance law in ways that most sensible people find alarming (e.g., the NSA's mass collection of phone call metadata).
That said I agree with much (but not all) of this latest essay, though I consider his suggestions incomplete. Some of it - like standardizing a warrant requirement for email contents and abolishing the outdated distinction between "electronic stored communications" and "remote computing services" - were addressed in the new Texas warrants-for-email statute your correspondent helped the Texas Electronic Privacy Coalition get passed this spring. (There's an ongoing push to update federal law in a similar fashion.) I also liked some of his suggestions for minimizing electronic data collection and imposing a particularity requirement, which I'll surely be revisiting for ideas before the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2015. However, notably absent from the paper is a fix to what Justice Sonia Sotomayor has identified as the pivotal flaw in electronic-era Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: The third-party doctrine, which holds that we have no privacy rights regarding data shared with a vendor or another person. That's a drive-a-truck-through-it-sized loophole in the era of cloud computing. Kerr has been perhaps the most vocal defender of the third-party doctrine outside of law enforcement so it's unsurprising this paper failed to address it. But any "next generation" version of ECPA would be woefully inadequate if it failed to confront the question.