Thursday, September 17, 2015

Roundup: Jails, crime stats and disputed statutes

Here are a number of stories this week which merit Grits readers' attention, even if I don't have time at the moment to elaborate on them:

Jail suicides
See coverage here and here of legislative initiatives on jail suicide in the wake of Sandra Bland's death. And here's coverage of another, earlier jail suicide which received far less attention. MORE: Here's another.

Sheriff values profit over pot busts
In Hudspeth County, the Sheriff will stop arresting people for low-level pot possession at the Sierra Blanc Border Patrol checkpoint because he "he rents that jail-space for profit to other paying counties" and so doesn't want a bunch of marijuana arrestees to take up space and drive down profits. The checkpoint has famously busted celebrities from Snoop Dogg to Willie Nelson.

Sometimes crime pays
At least it does when you're a corporation accused of medical fraud. Johnson and Johnson marketed the drug Risperdal for ailments beyond what it could cure and, in the process, "also turned to corporate welfare: It paid doctors and others consulting fees and successfully lobbied for Texas to adopt Risperdal in place of generics. This meant that the state paid $3,000 a year for each Medicaid patient taking it, rather than $250 a year for each."

Fudging camera data
In Dallas, police are overstating the effectiveness of surveillance cameras by conflating data reported about them with license plate readers. The latter are used to hunt for drivers with warrants in a day and age when more than 10 percent of Texas drivers have outstanding warrants. So of course those generate arrests (if not necessarily any real public safety benefit). But that doesn't speak to the usefulness of stationary cameras, which numerous studies have shown generate few arrests and have little demonstrable effect on crime.

Judge laments demise of key-man system for grand juries
A judge in Waller County issued strident criticisms of Texas' new statute eliminating the key man system and moving toward random selection of grand jurors. Ironically, he thinks the new system leaves judges with too much discretion. See Texas Tribune coverage and the judge's exchange of letters with Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire. These critiques offhand seemed strained and odd to me; they may have applied to an earlier version of the bill, but not so much to the version that finally passed.

Civil commitment program unraveling
A judge refused to order five sex offenders into the state's revamped civil commitment program, reported the Houston Chronilce. It's possible the state will "have to operate two separate treatment programs for offenders in the civil commitment program," and it's unclear "what authority does the state have to continue to confine the five men?" The five were "were among 97 who were sent to court for hearings because they refused to sign waivers agreeing to voluntarily enter the new program. Another 85 civil-commitment offenders signed the waivers."

A (soon to be dead) fool for a client
A capital murder case in Smith County where the defendant has been representing himself sounds like a complete zoo. Unlike Scott Panetti, James Calvert has not been diagnosed as mentally ill. But it all sounds pretty out there. Judge Jack Skeen ultimately terminated his self-representation after zapping the guy with a shock belt.

Cleaning up crime reporting
In an underreported change, "House Bill 11 will require all local law enforcement agencies to switch from the old system of Uniform Crime Reporting, which categorizes eight index crimes and 21 other offenses, to the new National Incident-Based Reporting System, which includes eight index crimes and 49 other offenses." Some jurisdictions made the switch more than 15 years ago. Once everyone does, crime stats will be reported in more of an apples-to-apples fashion around the state, which is a good thing.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post mistakenly reported that a judge declared Texas' new online solicitation of a minor statute unconstitutional. My bad, he was ruling on the old version of the law. Grits regrets the error.


Anonymous said...

RE Risperdal: The MHMRs were pushing Risperdal injections for everyone a few years ago. I knew someone in the state hospital who had a very bad reaction. She looked like someone with severe Parkinson's Disease. Yet, until I threw a fit, the doctor was going to keep her on it because that was what the MHMR liason wanted.

RE Smith County: Calvert is obviously out there and probably deserves what he gets. However, I can't help but smile at anyone who gives Jack Skeen fits like he has been doing. Skeen being on the bench makes a mockery of the judicial system so it is very fitting that Calvert ended up in his court.

Anonymous said...

Pity that Calvert doesn't have the wit to object to the way the Judge is speaking to him. Controlling a courtroom is one thing. telling a defendant "he can't handle the truth" implies a personal bias, and if that sort of comment is coming out in front of the jury, is highly prejudicial. Not that this defendant is likely to be finding much sympathy from the jury ....

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt that Calvert is guilty. But, I suspect Skeen has committed several errors that will result in reversal. That is what you get when you put an incompetent, lying scumbag on the bench.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the online solicitation of a minor statute: The district judge declared Subsection (c) of the previous version of the statute unconstitutional, which was not at issue in Ex parte Lo. The amended version of the statute did not go into effect until September 1 and applies only to an offense committed on or after that date, so we are probably at least a few months away from any challenges to the amended version of the statute.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how the elimination of the key-man system put too much control over grand juries with judges. If anything it put all the control in the hands of the district attorney. But it's still a better way to choose jurors than allowing judges to hand-pick them. District attorneys always held the most power because they hold all the cards and select which cards grand jurors are shown.

Joorie Doodie said...

RE: The James Calvert Show, Co-Starring D.A. Matt Bingham and First Assistant April Sikes.

Skeen is letting Calvert put on his show for the benefit of Matt Bingham, who needs media exposure so the governor will think of him once Skeen explodes, falls over dead, or retires and needs to be replaced by an appointee. (We HATE democratic elections for judicial seats in Smith County!) Likewise, Bingham's, er. uh, colleague, April Sikes is already running for office for D.A. in 2018! So she also needs her face and name in the news as often as possible for the next couple of years.

Thanks, James, for playing right into their little game. Thanks Skeen for helping uphold a tradition in Smith County of getting rotten scoundrels on the bench and in the D.A.'s office!