Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When tuff on crime becomes tuff on taxpayers: McLennan County jail, DA edition

Loved this tidbit from a September 9 article in the Waco-Tribune Herald (which is once again publicly available after being subscription only for a time):
pursuing pending charges against a man unlikely to see the outside of a prison again and transporting him back into county custody to be paid for by residents could be seen as inefficient, given the county’s budget overruns, a bloated jail population, spiraling criminal justice expenses and a shrinking reserve fund, all of which contributed to a 5-cent county tax increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
It could be seen that way, couldn't it? County costs are rising and the jaiil's backed up, reported the Trib's Tommy Witherspoon, mainly because DA Abel Reyna's office is taking more cases to trial:
[Local attorney] Stan Schwieger said the DA’s office’s practice of “trying to force a plea” on pending cases after a defendant is sentenced to a substantial prison term or “threatening to retry them has become almost commonplace.”

“This is not at all atypical under the current regime,” Schwieger said. “But these are the district attorney’s charging decisions. I have no input on that. All I can do is defend my clients. If they continue with these cases, then we are going to continue to defend them.”

With 2,063 pending felony cases and the county jail housing more than 1,200 inmates, the county’s chief felony court judges, Strother and 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson, have hundreds of trials ahead of them in the next year.

As of this week, there were 475 jail inmates with felony trial dates set through the end of next year in 19th Court and 151 jail inmates with trials set in 54th Court.

County records show that dozens of county jail inmates have been locked up for more than a year at a cost of $51 a day per inmate.
By contrast, the McLennan DA's Office took 46 cases to trial in 2010 and 70 in 2012, the Trib reported las month. Jumping from that to hundreds would indeed boost your costs!

Reyna's office just took on the chin its second budget cut in two years, which won't help process cases any faster. The tax hikes are instead going to pay for McLennan County's jail, which commissioners foolishly expanded hoping to house contract prisoners, then couldn't find inmates to fill the beds. The weird, intractable finances underlying the jail contract coupled with Reyna's expanded use of pretrial detention creates a near perfect storm that the commissioners court could only manage through a tax increase. One imagines we will see this dynamic repeated again next year in the lead up to the 2014-15 budget, but with even more urgency by all parties concerned.


Anonymous said...

The previous McLennan DA, John Segrest, was the only DA I ever considered as honest. In the run-up to the election, Reyna accused Segrest of not accepting every case police officers presented him with. Segrest responded by stating that many cases shouldn't be prosecuted and that he didn't believe in the old adage "You may beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride". Segrest made a lot of enemies within area law enforcement. He was the last of a dead breed...

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - very well said.

TriggerMortis said...

GFB, you already knew this, didn't you? I found an old blog you had posted which is where I probably read about Segrest:

TriggerMortis said...

The link posted on your previous blog regarding Segrest was bad. I did however find a good link. Still a good article that all DA's should read:

Anonymous said...

Taxpayers, Rats & Professional Pleaders’ have a very similar but yet recorded history of being blind followers. The humans in McLennan are no different than those in Harris, it's the D.As'. 'INTAKE' & the ADAs' training & mindsets' that make or break cases'. Throw in the chicken shit fake Defense Attorneys / Lawyers being allowed to infiltraite the courts and you rack up Assist 95% of the time. Sometimes they forget about the crimes that they themselves are documented as to have committed along with others in order to rack up a conviction on the taxpayers dime (via: the plea bargain or TapOut). Sometimes after they retire, they troll the net and insert self serving fodder. Sometimes they are confronted publically by their victims and allowed to: explain, deny or ignore. The following is worthy of engraving.

"In my experience as a career prosecutor, there are three kinds of cases that go to trial: the very serious, the very solid, and the very close. The other 95% are plead. I have often wondered what would happen if the defense community balked and refused to bargain. The obvious answer is that everything would come to a screaming halt."

{He’s absolutely correct in that the Defense bar is in need of a large sack of balls if they wish to continue to ride under the label of Defense. But, “Screaming Halt” as a side effect to the Defense defending all the way to verdict is utter nonsense.}

By Mr. Casey J. O'Brien former Harris County, TX. To: Open Comment in Simple Justice blawg entitled - "Plea Bargaining 201", dated 10/5/09. AKA: “The King of Nolo Contendere” & “jigmeister”

Anonymous said...

[Local attorney] Stan Schwieger said the DA’s office’s practice of “trying to force a plea” on pending cases after a defendant is sentenced to a substantial prison term or “threatening to retry them has become almost commonplace.”

Mr. S., if you visit GFB, please consider letting us know if McLennan County practices the art of stopping jury trials at lunch recess in order to change Not Guilty pleas to nolo contendere simply due to the defendant being on probation at time of arrest on a new unrelated charge?

If Yes, then that in it's self is a waste of taxpayers funds (temporary juries). Also, do they perform the actual signing of the papers in the Judge's chambers but record it as being done in Open Court like Harris County? Despite any answers, please ask your counter parts to consider signing a public agreement to Defend all the way to verdict and let the defendant have his / her full day in Court. Dont' sign Ready for Trial notices unless you have completed pre trial investigations.

Anonymous said...

Grits, since it looks like McLennan County is about to embark on a historic turnaround regarding the percentage of criminal cases that actually go to trial & cases that plea bargain, do you think it's possible for a number cruncher to tackle the task of learning each county's annual rates' (plea bargain & trial to verdict vs. the state as a whole)?

Asking, because I think the taxpayers would benefit from learning what their respective county is responsible for in terms of annual false arrests’ and the direct consequences of needless incarceration when D.As’. Offices’ plea vs. do the right thing.

One would hope it leads to a wakeup call that resulted in a bill aimed at making the tuff on non-violent crimes' countys' citizens’ pay substantial higher tax rates.

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