Thursday, July 07, 2016

Plea bargains sans trials, arsenic and hot prisons, and other stories

On another hot, busy day, here are a few items that merit Grits readers' attention:

Denying jobs for minor offenses
DPS is denying job licenses to applicants for quite-minor offenses, reported Eric Dexheimer (July 3) at the Austin Statesman. He provides several anecdotes suggesting that that "state regulators can zealously apply a law in apparent defiance of common sense."

Prosecutor misconduct alleged in capital case
This headline to a July 4 Houston Chronicle story effectively summed up some remarkable allegations which surfaced this week in Houston: "Prosecutors accused of hiding evidence, inventing testimony in death penalty case: Witnesses say prosecutors coerced them."

Late police officer's chase negligence partly to blame for her death
In an intoxication manslaughter case out of Montgomery County - in which a Patton Village police officer died while chasing a DWI suspect, in an accident that also killed an 11-year old child - DPS investigators determined that the late officer was partly at fault because he "disregarded the red light" and "failed to slow" as he entered an intersection. It's worth mentioning that, last year, we learned high-speed chases are much deadlier than was previously thought. Grits wishes these deaths were tracked as meticulously as the government tracks deaths in custody, and now police shootings.

Arsenic and hot prisons
The combination of heat litigation and the need for arsenic remediation make the Wallace Pack unit 2016's poster child for the ongoing fight over excessive heat in un-airconditioned prisons. See also recent story by Brandi Grissom. As Mother Jones pointed out recently, it's incredibly hard to sue prisons. So the fact the Pack unit litigation has gotten this far means they've overcome some major procedural and evidentiary hurdles. That implies the problems have reached fairly extreme proportions.

Plea bargains sans trials?   
On my short-term to-read list: A new law review article by Penn law prof Stephanos Bibas titled, "Designing Plea Bargaining from the Ground Up: Accuracy and Fairness Without Trials as Backstops."  The premise: American law has largely abandoned "the assumption that grand juries and petit jury trials were the ultimate safeguards of fair procedures and accurate outcomes." So, the plea bargaining system must be designed to stand on its own and re-institute some of the protections lost by eliminating trials for most defendants. From the abstract:
Part I explores the causes of factual, moral, and legal inaccuracies in guilty pleas. To prevent and remedy these inaccuracies, it proposes a combination of quasi-inquisitorial safeguards, more vigorous criminal defense, and better normative evaluation of charges, pleas, and sentences. Part II then diagnoses unfair repercussions caused by defendants’ lack of information and understanding, laymen’s lack of voice, and the public’s lack of information and participation. To prevent and fix these sources of unfairness, it proposes ways to better inform pleas and to make plea procedures more procedurally just."


Anonymous said...

The biggest problem Texas justice system has is prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

8:23, you are correct. Prosecutors have directly caused the Dallas attacks, police are not charged with murder for killing innocent civilians. All Lives Matter

Anonymous said...

Grits: if the judge determines that there is cause for a new trial, what do you predict will happen re: the two original prosecutors who, according to the report, are now supervisors?

Anonymous said...

Plea bargains are the veil drawn over a thousand different injustices. I had a client declared too mentally ill to ever be restored to competency a few years ago, and ultimately civilly committed - he was suffering from schizophrenia and was the most mentally ill individual I have encountered in 20+ years of practice. I wanted to check something to do with his case and looked him up on the local court's online docket. He had actually acquired a further conviction -- for what looked like an assault on emergency medical personnel - entered into a couple of days after arrest. In other words, some attorney probably let him plead guilty without any exploration of whether he was incompetent, or whether his previous and copious mental health issues should reduce the sentence. OK, He will probably spend the rest of his life in institutions one way or another, but this just ain't right.

Anonymous said...

Probably why there are 5 new job openings in Dallas....

B C Dean said...

Dallas; just checking in to see if you had anything on the 'bomb robot.' I'll stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

The plea bargain has given the District Attorney's Office too much power for too long, not to mention the minimal reimbursement a public defender receives for defending a defendant. That is, if you want to call the nominal fee a reimbursement for a defense attorney who has their name on a court-appointed list.

Defendants with court-appointed attorneys often don't get defended. They just sign plea papers at the advice of an attorney. It is often smoke and mirrors. The law protects the attorneys so long as words are put paper and on the record; and the defendant (the public) suffers a police state mentality repeatedly.

Prosecutors threaten jury trials in order to get a plea of guilty. Public Defenders threaten jury trials in order to get a better "deal". Many cases being put on a docket are weak and wouldn't be able to proved to a jury. But, it is too much work to have a jury trial. It is too costly. There aren't enough resources. It is the defendant who suffers.

A judge can ask over and over again to the defendant if they are pleading guilty or no contest because they are guilty and for no other reason and if they are doing so freely, voluntarily, and intelligently; and the defendant can say "yes" to those questions over and over again, but it is often a sham.

People are indicted unnecessarily because of repeated ramrods by prosecutors assigned to a Grand Jury. If there was ever a true investigation by a dedicated investigative journalist in any town/city in Texas, and the public read the investigative report, they would be outraged.

The plea bargain is a necessary evil, but it continues to water down the system with no one really benefitting from its processes.

Judges simply don't know the facts of the cases and are rubber-stamping agreements. It is a bunch of theatre.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7/10/2016 12:23:00 PM, you give the people far too much credit suggesting they would be outraged when the vast majority of folks have adopted the narrative that defendants must have done something wrong to be arrested, indicted, and brought to court. Further, given the quality of justice handed out by those who tend to become jurors, even those who are innocent worry about such trials, knowing that the above holds true (the "where there's smoke, there's fire" concept). Unlike experts in the field, I don't believe there is any way to formulate credible statistics regarding plea bargains or false convictions, the mere possibility of innocence enough for some on the far left to label a case as an unjust conviction while the far right adopts the mere possibility of guilt as reason enough to convict one of the unwashed masses, but hopefully reforms will be adopted that protect us all from each other to a greater degree.