Monday, June 26, 2017

When Mom is arrested, assault by Tazer, and other stories

Having just returned from a brief if much-needed vacation, let's round up a few items that popped up in the last week while Grits was gone:

What happens to kids when Mom is arrested?
The Dallas Morning News published an excellent feature on what happens to kids when Mom gets arrested. Nobody tracks them in the system and neither police or jails ask arrestees about dependent children upon intake. The article included this short video:

Litigation over weather-related deaths at TDCJ heats up
After years of anticipation, TDCJ finds itself in trial this week to determine whether their un-air conditioned prisons which have caused numerous heat-related deaths constitute unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Straight ticket voting ends for Texas judges in 2020
The Legislature this year eliminated straight ticket voting for judicial elections beginning in 2020. This should help, but the SA Express News is right it would be better if they were entirely non-partisan. There aren't Democratic or Republican positions on most questions judges must answer and forcing them to pander to their parties primary voters leads to some strange outcomes, like the guy in 2016 who made it into a runoff for the Court of Criminal Appeals running on an anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment platform unrelated to the duties of the court.

Good legislation still didn't 'end' debtors prison practices
Grits remains exceedingly pleased that Texas' debtors-prison reform legislation (HB 351/SB 1913) passed this year, but to my friends in the MSM: Let's please stop claiming that this will "end" debtors prison practices. It will at best ameliorate them. Texas has improved the situation. It has not solved the problem. People will still be jailed because they can't afford to pay traffic tickets, we just don't know yet what the reduction in jail sentences will be. For that matter, barring intervention by the federal courts, Texas will continue its pay-or-stay bail practices, which in Grits' view also constitute "debtors prison" policies.

Are bodycams effective even with terrible public policies?
A big debate over bodycams is coming and it's going to be a mess. The rollout in Texas came with terrible legislation by Democratic state Sen. Royce West making it secret in many instances and difficult to get in all others, even though dashcam video from police cars has been effectively governed by the Public Information Act with no negative consequences. In practice, bodycams are used far more often to accuse defendants than to hold officers accountable. Indeed, Texas law says officers can view the video with their lawyers before talking to their supervisors about what happened when they're accused of misconduct so that they can craft their story to fit the facts. Criminal defendants, of course, would never be afforded such a privilege. And yet, police officers knowing their actions are being recorded still appears to be having an effect. A new study from the Urban Institute found that people expressed greater satisfaction in encounters with officers who wore body cameras, even when they were unaware of the cameras! So is it worth it despite the one-sided secrecy? Maybe, with caveats. But the secrecy still sucks.

When does Tazing become assault?
An Austin police officer was given a 20-day suspension for Tazing a suspect after the man was handcuffed and not resisting. The officer will undergo a psychological assessment and be placed on probation for a year. A question for the peanut gallery: Is there any good reason why the officer should not have been charged with assault in addition to the department's administrative punishment?

Will more training get Houston lawyers to take indigent criminal cases?
The South Texas College of Law in Houston received a fat $1.27 million grant to train local criminal defense lawyers. From Texas Lawyer:
The school said that in 2016, 451 attorneys accepted about 70,000 indigent appointments of counsel in the district and county courts in Harris County. The top 10 percent of these attorneys accepted indigent court appointments for more than 375 cases each over the course of the year. A report issued by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission in January 2015, "Guidelines for Indigent Defense Caseloads," suggests an indigent defender's annual caseload should be closer to between 77 and 236 cases, depending on the level of offenses handled. 
To join Harris County's list for indigent appointments in criminal court, an attorney must have at least four years of practice experience in criminal law, with at least four felony jury trials acting as lead attorney, that are tried all the way to verdict, the school said. The experience requirements have led to the creation of an exclusive list of older attorneys, with younger one disillusioned with the process, the school said. "Clearly, the system is broken," said [Catherine Greene Burnett, vice president, associate dean and professor of law at the school], noting that the Harris County Public Defender's Office can only reasonably handle about 9 percent of indigent cases.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the tazing incident, I would have expected the Travis DA's office to pick up on this and run with it. Travis County is one of the more liberal counties in Texas. Perhaps the just weren't liberal enough. At face value without knowing the facts I tend to agree with the article. Again, that's without knowing all the facts.

Lee said...


SunTzu's saying of win the battle before you fight it and each battle you don't have to fight is a battle you have won could apply here to the incarcerated parents.

The parents should have a backup plan for this just as they would for a natural disaster, kidnapping, hospitalization or other emergency.

Even better is to not have children born into impoverished circumstances? Whom could be co cruel as to bring innocent children into a broken and impoverished household? Why don't people think about these things (basic sustenance for the child) BEFORE they have the child? How is this any different than going into Target and taking something off of the shelf that you cant pay for?

My point is that irresponsibility on the front end will have unpleasant consequences on the back end. If we can eliminate the irresponsibility on the front end, the consequences won't happen.

While I do admit that the causes of poverty could be wide-ranging (including unforeseen medical problems or other disaster) I do suggest that poverty might be close to eliminated if the impoverished quit having children (thereby stopping the cycle).

M.D. Cohen said...

Lee, that sounds an awful lot like a eugenics argument. It is indeed 2017, not 1937.
Let me guess, you are pro-life, anti-planned parenthood, and want to take away as many of these impoverished people's chances to decide NOT to have another child? This, of course, after you tell them they should be making such an informed decision, (to not have a child), when the very poverty they are stricken with is almost always intertwined with a poor education, thereby making such forethought quite improbable, if not impossible.