Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prosecutor elections, the limits of reasonable suspicion, and other stories

If only to clear my browser tabs, here are a few odds and ends that may interest Grits readers:

TX prosecutor election outcomes
By TDCAA's calculations, there will be at least 20 new elected prosecutors across Texas by the time the 2016 election season ends. See details here.

Dallas cops still can't ticket for marijuana
Despite urging from the county, which must pay to jail pot smokers arrested by Dallas PD, the Dallas City Council declined to allow its officers to issue citations instead of making arrests for low-level marijuana possession. The vote was 10-5. That sounds like a dandy issue to campaign on in a local election, don't you think? What a waste of officers' time and county jail resources!

Austin extends "ban the box" to private sector
The Austin City Council made it easier for ex-offenders to get a job, requiring larger employers to ban-the-box. I've been grumpy at them lately on non-criminal justice topics, but must give credit where it's due: This was an important and encouraging step. Here's coverage from KUT. Reported the Statesman, "The Austin City Council voted 8-2 Thursday night to pass the “fair chance hiring” ordinance championed by Council Member Greg Casar, which prevents companies from asking applicants to check a box on a job application if they have a criminal history. ... The ordinance applies to employers with at least 15 workers." See Amanda Woog's writeup of the hearing.

Strike the black jurors?
Prosecutor Nathan Wood from Wharton this week accused his boss, the elected DA Ross Kurtz, of advising attorneys in the office to avoid black jurors as a matter of strategy.
The issue emerged during a black woman's trial that began in February with Wood and another prosecutor striking the only three blacks on a jury panel. Defense attorney Mark Racer objected, forcing the prosecutors to give race-neutral explanations for their actions.

"This is just a win-at-all costs mentality that shouldn't be there," Racer said this week. "And clearly one of the prosecutors was uncomfortable with it."
The limits of 'reasonable suspicion'
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a pro-defense opinion in a case which raised the question "whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to detain a suspect based on observing the suspect walking with another person at 2 a.m. in an area known for narcotics activity and based upon the officer's unsubstantiated belief that the suspect is a 'known criminal.'" In an opinion by Judge Larry Meyers, a unanimous court said that was not enough to justify a detention. Commentary at TDCAA advised that, "Reasonable suspicion is a low threshold, but not quite this low. The Court is typically deferential to the officer on the street, but this officer perhaps could have talked with the suspect awhile longer before detaining him. By doing so, he might have discovered other suspicious facts to support a detention."

License plate readers and roadside debt collection
The Southeast Texas Examiner took a deep dive into the issue of law enforcement's use of license plate readers now that the Lege has okayed roadside collections via credit card.

Pepper spray abuses
A couple of blatant misuses of pepper spray caught Grits' eye recently. In Fort Worth, a police officer sprayed motorcycle club members as a line of bikes passed him on the highway. In Austin, the Peaceful Streets Project caught an officer on video pepper spraying a handcuffed man in a police van; the officer opened the van door, sprayed the guy, then shut it again while the guy writhed around in pain inside. Both those cops should be fired.

Targeting union-dues paycheck deductions
GOP voters in the Republican primary voted by an 83-17 margin to eliminate public employee unions' ability to deduct dues from members' paychecks and Empower Texas is promoting a petition urging the Legislature to do away with the practice. Grits might be more interested in that idea except that the bill they pushed last time gave a pass to dues deductions for local police associations, who arguably are the most powerful labor interest in the state. If this is about principle, apply the principle across the board. Besides, they're mainly doing this to attack Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and it was police unions who came to his ardent defense when the Speaker was attacked during the primary. If they're going to do this, police associations must be included or the proposal comes off as two-faced.

Toward police accountability
Several additional items related to police reform merit readers' attention:
House Speaker Paul Ryan backs criminal-justice reform
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced this week he'll move federal sentencing reform legislation in the House and explained the reasons behind his own, personal transition from tuff-on-crime maven to reform advocate. For example, "I didn't necessarily know this before, but redemption is a beautiful thing. It's a great thing," he declared. "Redemption is what makes this place work. We need to honor redemption. We need to make redemption something that is valued in our culture and our society and in our laws."


Anonymous said...

The link on spraying motorcycle riders points to the license plate collection story

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fixed it, gracias.

Grandmom said...

Read the book "Police State" by Gerry Spence. Tell us what you think.