Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Fake traffic stops, waiting on bail reform, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused elsewhere:

Harris County to provide counsel to indigent at bail hearings
Big news: Harris County will soon launch a pilot program to place public defenders at bail hearings to represent indigent defendants, reported the Houston Chronicle. According to Jim Bethke of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, currently only "Bexar County has a similar program - and that is tailored to offenders with mental-health conditions." Grits predicts the cost will be significantly offset by reduced incarceration costs at the jail. Besides, it's likely civil rights litigation would soon force the county to do this, anyway. Better to get in front of the curve on at least this one point.

Profiles in prosecutorial mercy
Sixteen Arlington cops gave up their police licenses to avoid criminal prosecution for faking traffic stops and falsifying paperwork to cover their loafing, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The allegedly falsified stops were "discovered when supervisors could not find accompanying dashcam video of the stops." For faking paperwork on traffic stops which never occurred, some were for a while accused by Tarrant County prosecutors of "tampering with a government record with intent to defraud." However, the officers were allowed to quit their jobs and permanently give up their peace officers' licenses in exchange for non-prosecution. That's a lenient but not inappropriate outcome. Grits' problem in such instances isn't so much that I believe punishment for lying, evidence-tampering cops should be harsher. It's that only police officers seem eligible for this sort of creative prosecution outcome aimed at protecting their reputations and avoiding a criminal record. Lots of other folks could use that sort of consideration from the system who never receive it.

Waiting for bail reform
Honestly, waiting for the bill to be filed implementing Texas Judicial Council bail recommendations has become excruciating. I hope this doesn't mean it's getting watered down behind the scenes. Nationally, the movement away from money bail is picking up steam.

Sheriff mum on jail suicides
A series of jail suicides in Orange County, including one over the weekend, has the county judge asking questions and the Sheriff refusing to answer. One hopes the Commission on Jail Standards will get to the bottom of it. If they don't watch it, the jail could become a poster child for reform legislation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick instructed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to examine ways to prevent jail suicides as part of their preparation for the 85th session.

Alternative Facts, Tarrant DA edition
In overturning a child sexual assault conviction, the Second Texas Court of Appeals said prosecutors form the Tarrant DA “misrepresented some facts to the degree that they 'are not facts at all,'” reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. According to the opinion, “Some of the State’s facts are not based upon a plain reading of the record. Some of the emotionally-charged language employed by the State in its recitation does not appear in the record. Other statements of fact are actually misstatements of the evidence.”
Read more here:

Read more here:

Otherwise, how will the kids know it's wrong?
There is a bill making bestiality a criminal offense up at the first substantive House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting of the year. Two problems with this: 1) Animal cruelty is already a crime, and 2) the suggested penalty for the offense (state jail felony) is greater than that for a domestic violence charge (Class A misdemeanor). So under this bill, defendants would be punished more harshly for f#@king their pets than beating their spouses. I know that people love their pets, but ... wow.

Closed Auditions
The stories coming out of the trial of two former San Antonio PD officers who put on an elaborate ruse to trick women into sex are really quite extraordinary. The officers posed as members of the vice unit (they were not) and got the women to sign bogus "bogus application form[s] to have sex in what she thought was an audition for an undercover sting operation," then made them drink and exercise before defrauding and coercing them into sex. An utterly bizarre tale.

Trumping federalism, driving crime victims underground
Grits' commentary on Monday wasn't the only voice this week wondering what became of Gov. Abbott's oft-touted federalist ideology in the Trumpian era. The Bexar County Sheriff authored a letter to the Governor questioning his  commitment to federalism. Declaring himself a proud Texan and firm supporter of the Tenth Amendment, the Sheriff declared he had "concerns about the Office of the Governor subjecting state and local officials to the dictates of the federal government." Meanwhile, this story out of the Rio Grande Valley validates the other concern raised in that Grits post: That crime and abuse victims may not report crime because they fear being handed over to immigration authorities. Grits predicts that law enforcement in areas with large Hispanic populations will grow to become important critics of Trumpian immigration policy. 


James S said...

Scott, if the Court of Criminal Appeals reverses that Tarrant County case on the State's PDR, I'll probably come closer to your side on the issue of whether the CCA is just a rubber stamp for what the State says.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

My contention, of course, has been that there are three members of the court who are an automatic rubber stamp for the state, with Kevin Yeary leaning toward making it a fourth on non-capital cases. So they have four standing votes and just have to pick off one for any given ruling. I don't think the entire court is a rubber stamp for the govrenment. And I don't have a read on the new members, yet.

Anonymous said...

Just a minor thing on the Orange County piece. Beaumont is in not in Orange County; it's in Jefferson County. They border one another, but Beaumont is about 30 miles west of Orange.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the county providing defendants counsel earlier is this: they will appoint people like Gary Polland, pay him the full rate, and get exactly the level of services his plea mill abilities have proven to be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doh! Good catch, 12:31. Just a brain fart, I should have known better! Fixed it