Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Roundup: Justice economics, pot politics, Taser policies, and the real border security issue

Here are a few items that haven't made it into their own individual posts but deserve Grits readers' attention:

The real border security issue
Newspaper Tree has an excellent discussion of the real border security issues facing the state which are almost wholly ignored by xenophobic rhetoric on building walls, boosting the Border Patrol, DPS roadblocks in the Rio Grande Valley etc.: Texas-based prison gangs acting as soldiers for drug cartels on the Mexican side of the river. Grits has argued that the overwhelming majority of "spillover violence" is southbound, with Texas prison gangs committing crimes in Mexico, not the other way around.

Penny wise and judicially foolish
The Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog has a telling discussion of a local, Democratic judge with a remarkably myopic focus on collecting court costs. In one example, she refused to take a plea deal because a prostitute couldn't pay $267 in court costs. But if jail costs are, say $50 per day, she'd cost taxpayers more than that in just one week. The judge bills herself as thrifty in her campaign materials but in reality she's squandering county tax dollars based on arrogance, ignorance, or both - almost the definition of "penny wise and pound foolish." I wonder if her court is producing written bills of cost for those court courts, or if the fees are being illegally collected as in some other jurisdictions?

Keller and Bethke on indigent defense
See a recent column in the SA Express News by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller and Indigent Defense Commission chief Jim Bethke titled "Innovation in indigent defense makes for smart justice." A notable quote: "Protecting the rights of the accused is not the only reason prompt appointment of counsel is important. When appointment of counsel is not prompt, cases take longer to adjudicate and nonviolent defendants who might otherwise qualify for release remain in jail, which leads to rising costs that are shouldered entirely by county taxpayers." They also discuss a new "client choice" model for indigent defense being piloted in Comal County.

More scrutiny on Taser use by Austin PD
Austin police are instituting more thorough reviews when officers use Tasers, reported the Austin Statesman (March 2):
An American-Statesman analysis two years ago found the Austin Police Department’s use of the stun guns — also known as electronic control weapons — had more than doubled in three years. In 2011, officers used the weapons an average of 1.3 times a day. The dramatic increase came as other Central Texas police departments’ use of them remained flat.

Starting this month, an officer’s entire chain of supervisors will review every stun gun deployment, as will an independent, internal use-of-force review board that will look for any trends that should be corrected. The board also is tasked with suggesting any policy changes to [Chief Art] Acevedo.

In the past, a Taser deployment was reviewed only by an officer’s supervisors, who were immediately called to the scene where a Taser was used.
Debating Deportation: Most jails see reduced costs from immigration detainees
Immigration detainers for inmates held in Texas county jails under the federal "Secure Communities" program have decreased slightly, reported the Texas Tribune, while in Travis County participation in the program became a campaign issue at the Commissioners Court. Most deportations from Secure Communities in Travis County stem from misdemeanors, including low-level Class C offenses. Interestingly, Dallas County was the only large jurisdiction, according to the Trib, where deportations under Secure Communities has been increasing recently, and fairly dramatically.

Marijuana Policy Project hires former police union lobbyist
The Austin Chronicle has an item on the Marijuana Policy Project's new push in Texas to reform marijuana laws:
MPP rolls out its efforts March 1, with the hiring of lobbyist Randal Kuykendall (of Congress Avenue Consulting, and a veteran lobbyist for the Texas Municipal Police Association, among other law-enforcement and related entities) and a commitment to spend $200,000 a year to push for change. The group will work with criminal justice reformers and organizations from across the state, [MPP executive director Rob] Kampia said, and in 2015 intends to have introduced "three perfect bills" – one each addressing decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization – "and we'll see how far each of the three bills go," he said. "Maybe all three don't pass in the first session, but I know there is a lot of energy behind these bills."

There also seems to be a considerable base of support, among both Republicans and Democrats, according to a poll MPP commissioned of Texas voters in late Sep­tem­ber 2013. That poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, reveals broad support among men and women of both parties for legalization of medical marijuana and for pot decriminalization – 67% of Democrats support legal medi-pot as do 50% of Repub­licans, while 66% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans support decriminalization of possession of up to one ounce of pot. As for legalization, 70% of Democrats "strongly" or "somewhat" support a measure like that which passed in Colorado, while 48% of Republicans said the same. Those are numbers MPP can work with, Kampia said.
As Grits noted recently, to me the measure with the most oomph at the Texas Lege right now would be "keeping marijuana illegal but reducing criminal penalties for low-level possession from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C. Such bills passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in 2005 and 2013 but never received a floor vote." Under such a proposal, "not only would counties not incur costs for jail and lawyers for the indigent, both cities and counties would get a new revenue stream from Class C tickets paid."

Lamest excuse ever for concealing cell-phone surveillance from judiciary
Reported Wired magazine, "Police in Florida have offered a startling excuse for having used a controversial 'stingray' cellphone tracking gadget 200 times without ever telling a judge: the device’s manufacturer made them sign a non-disclosure agreement that they say prevented them from telling the courts." See earlier Grits coverage of stingray devices. MORE: A Wired followup has details on the non-disclosure agreement language, in which police departments promise to help the company evade compliance with open records requests.


Anonymous said...

If you think recreational cannabis legalization is ever going to happen in Texas, then I have some beachfront property in Nebraska to sell you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One day perhaps, 4:07, but as I said in the post, in the near future the more likely change would be "keeping marijuana illegal but reducing criminal penalties for low-level possession from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C."

Anonymous said...

The Texas Municipal Police Association helped kill the measures last time, its a smart move to hire their former lobbyist who has inside knowledge on that organization. TMPA is known for being a bully in the Capitol Building and has a flawed way of thinking. Keeping pot criminalized only means law enforcement has more organized criminals to deal with. Law enforcement officers should drop their membership in TMPA for helping support organized crime.

Polls show the majority of Texans support decriminalization of marijuana and over 78% support legalizing it for medical usage. 58% of Texas voters support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol. Opponents were a distinct minority, with only 38% opposed.

Now where is that Ocean Front Property in Nebraska???

Anonymous said...

Decriminalizing MJ would likely decrease LE's budget. We can't have that. It might even affect the budget of the courts and probation.....bondsmen and the county jail. There's your real obstacle.

When a hammer is the only tool you have...all your problems look like nails. Maslow

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Grits, would you consider this worthy enough to be included in this GFB Roundup?

From the Chronicle aka: Chron, Comical... Pigs have been spotted hoovering over Texas. Read all about! Thanks for considering it or a Posting of its very own due to the fact that they (SBoT) are on track to redeeming themselves and justifying their existence.

The State Bar of Texas is investigating former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta in the capital murder conviction of Anthony Graves in 1994, a state senator announced Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

"Now where is that Ocean Front Property in Nebraska???"

This is 4:07. Don't misunderstand me, I would love for cannabis to be legalized in TX. But I live in the real world, not the world as I would like it to be. It doesn't matter what % of the citizenry supports it, because the cop and prison-industrial complex lobbyists are going to continue their pressure on the Lege for reasons already stated.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:36. The prison industrial complex as far as lobbying in Texas is being headed by a level headed guy who has endorsed many reforms supported from the right and left in this state in an attempt to reduce the Texas prison population.. This is not California where CCPOA is calling the shots, the guys in AFSCME are supporting many reforms and have been for several years, allowing reform bills to pass through the legislature. This allows more funds for pay raises and benefits. Now maybe the law enforcement when squeezed with funding issues will also jump on board.... Either they will pay with it with declining pay or benefits, or decriminalization will occur. Money does not grow on trees and taxpayers are sick of funding the bill for a failed drug war. LE unions will be at a loss in the future if they rock the machine.