Monday, March 30, 2015

DA called 'unstable,' prison guard raises, clearance rates, and other stories

No time this morning to adumbrate the issues in individual posts, but Grits readers may be interested in these items:
  • Just three months into her tenure, Dallas DA Susan Hawk fired two top lieutenants, one of whom called her "unstable," and tearfully admitted she sought treatment a year and a half ago for addiction to prescription pain meds. The Dallas News speculated she may not survive the recent scrutiny, but it's hard to imagine what or who could oust her before 2018.
  • Check out a column in the Houston Chronicle making the case for the ten percent prison guard pay hike in the House budget.
  • Read NPR's John Burnett on Willacy County's budget shortfall in the wake of a private prison riot that forced the closing of a county-owned immigration detention center. Debt on the facility has been lowered to junk status.
  • Here's an update on the status of an FCC investigation into overcharging for phone calls to prison and jail inmates. See related coverage from the Houston Chronicle of legislation by state Sen. John Whitmire to mandate in-person visits instead of only video visitation.
  • The New York Times' Room for Debate feature today honed in on how to make forensic science "more dependable and professional."
  • What percentage of crimes does your local PD clear? NPR has created a tool to find out. The feature opened, "Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That's the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished."


Anonymous said...

The vast majority of forensic science disciplines and methodologies are scientifically invalid. Invalid.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I would not say "invalid," I'd say not scientifically proven. Sort of in the realm of alternative medicines. Some are much more craft than science, particularly the comparitive disciplines like toolmarks, etc..

Anonymous said...

Always seems to me that one of the major problems with eradicating forensic "science" is that defense attorneys still fail 99% of the time, to challenge the snake oil. And this is 20+ years after the seminal Daubert v. Merrell Dow decision, and the Texas rules and caselaw which supports the defense's right to demand a hearing, to make the prosecutor prove admissibility and to make the prosecutor establish the reliability of what the State wants to introduce .... Most defense lawyers are too cowed by the judge and State to demand the $$$ to hire their own experts to assist in preparing the defense's challenge to the "science," and don't take the time to come to grips with the "science" themselves so that they can ask searching cross-examination questions I say this in the basis of having done criminal appellate work for 20+ years.

Anonymous said...

I go to visit my uncle at TDCJ about once a year, the guards are always eating and drinking soda's and just sitting under fans, will not get up for nothing, seems to me they are way overpaid.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Dallas DA Susan Hawk seeking treatment a year and a half ago for addiction to prescription pain meds.

As one who has undergone a pain management program (didn't work)it is very easy to become addicted and require treatment to over come the problems.

There might be a cause for concern IF she were still dependent on the drugs. I would offer the her experience with this would make her a better DA.

Anonymous said...

@ 06:54-

The onus shouldn't be on the Defense to prove invalid science. I would argue that the Prosecution has some responsibility (much greater that 1%)to demonstrate that the science presented by the forensic scientist is valid. Far too often I've seen Prosecutor's trumpet "lab accreditation" in a court room, as if they know what that means or entails. I've never heard a forensic analyst testify to "error rates" as is required by Rule 702. Nor have I ever seen an testifying expert pull out lab paperwork describing the empirical data used to validate their procedures.

The quickest way for the Defense to shut down a Prosecutor's testifying forensic analyst is to ask the question...

"Of the last 100 items of evidence you analyzed, how many times did you get an incorrect answer?"

Either the analyst won't know their own error rate (because they won't know if they got their previous analyses wrong) or they won't admit that they presented incorrect lab reports to Prosecutors for criminal prosecution (thereby contributing to a wrongful conviction or a coerced plea).

And for those forensic analysts who answer by declaring a zero percent error rate, they should impeached (or be ridiculed relentlessly in front of a jury) for being ignorant of their profession.

Anonymous said...

Overpaid???? 35% of Texas State criminal justice employees qualify for government assistance. The State of Texas is setting a bad model for other employers to follow. They can't pay their employees enough to survive on without government assistance.

Anonymous said...

02:57:00 - legally, the burden is on the prosecution to prove admissibility, but that burden is not triggered unless the defense challenge the evidence. The trial judge is supposed to act as a gate-keeper who will keep out questionable scientific evidence but I've only once seen a judge do that. And that was a federal judge in Oklahoma. So the defense in reality have their work cut out to raise appropriate and detailed challenges, and the only way to do that is to hit the books and read the underlying research and materials. Including obtaining those materials in advance, rather than just going through the charade of having the witness bring the materials to court with them.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Grits, Regarding Dallas DA Susan Hawk.

After reading through the DMN links to all three articles, a concurring and problematic theme became very obvious to me.

That being - that they are written by anonymous Staff Writers and quoted anonymous, yet, so called friends and colleagues. Speaking as neither: an R., a D. or an Inbetweener, I find it (DMN Staff Writers anonymous opinions and anonymous quotes) to be 100% pure horseshit. Prior to Reporters becoming Staff Writers they put their names on their articles and named their sources. Thus, allowing the media sources to become Rags.

With that, in lieu of defending Mrs Hawk (whom needs no representation against claims from former disgruntled employees talking out the side of their necks and folks too scared to put their name on it) I will call Bullshit!

Yes, it's your blog (so please don't go all Greenfield on me, you are better than that) but in the future, would it be possible to avoid fanning the flames and / or condoning the spreading of media sources with absolutely no way in hell of actually knowing - who wrote it, who said what, where they said it and when. We don't spread anonymous comments via complimentary links for a reason.

As usual thanks.

Anonymous said...


Admissibility of evidence does not make it scientific. The prosecution should perform due diligence to make sure that forensic accreditation standards were maintained.

The defense should have the materials before the prosecution's expert testifies. Furthermore, the defense should have a non-testifying expert look at the material, scrutinize it, and prepare scientific questions for cross examination by the defense.

Its not a charade if its revealed that the forensic analyst can not answer the scientific questions. And its not a charade to the defendant.