Saturday, July 01, 2017

When prosecutors have too much time on their hands, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends of which Grits readers should be aware, even if your correspondent hasn't had time to focus as much as one might like on the blog in recent weeks:

Too many prosecutors with time on their hands
Travis County keeps old misdemeanor arrest warrants on the books that are 30 years old or more. For what possible purpose, one wonders? The story arises because, with the number of hot-check cases rapidly declining, prosecutors in the hot-check division don't have anything better to do and have begun to try to collect on these old cases. Maybe the County Attorney should just reduce staffing in that division commensurate with the decline in caseload instead of sending them on fishing expeditions for old unpaid tickets. Just a thought.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
A police officer in Dallas has been indicted for an on-duty shooting for the first time in 43 years. But an indictment is one thing, conviction another. In Fort Worth, charges were dismissed against a cop who shot a man holding a barbecue fork after the original charges resulted in a mistrial. The state trooper indicted for perjury after Sandra Bland's arrest and death in the Waller County Jail, but charges were dropped this week. Not only is it difficult to prosecute bad cops, it can be damn hard to fire them: In San Antonio, a once-before-fired officer who'd been returned to the force by an arbitrator, was once again given his job back through arbitration after he'd fled the scene of a crime where his gun was used to shoot someone and a bag of cocaine was found in his truck. He failed to report his involvement to his supervisors and misled investigators at the scene, but was let back on the force. About the only way Texas cops are ever successfully prosecuted is if the feds do it, like with this guy.

Bill death doesn't halt bail reform
Texas legislation to require courts to use risk assessments when setting  bail amounts died this year as an industry which has in essence captured its regulators demonstrably exercised control over the legislative process. But arguments against the practice aren't going away and neither is the bail litigation in Harris County, which looks like it could end up at the US Supreme Court before all is done. As evidenced in the next item, Texas' hasn't fared well there, recently, fwiw.

Texas cases defined SCOTUS capital punishment debate this year
Commentators from the left and right all agree that Texas cases - especially ones where the Court of Criminal Appeals has embarrassed the state over reactionary, reflexively pro-government rulings that fly in the face of reason and common sense - are more or less defining the terms of debate over the death penalty these days at the US Supreme Court.

Forensic (not-quite) Science Update
How much science is in forensic science? Less than you think. But the tuff-on-crime crowd clings to unscientific (or more accurately, pre-scientific) reliance on longstanding forensic practices with higher-than-zero false positive rates, many of which have been portrayed as all but foolproof in courtrooms across America. This podcast gives a good overview of recent federal developments and their implications.

Holiday Reading
Here are a couple of academic articles  Grits has downloaded and intends to read over the July 4th holiday:


Anonymous said...

I place the blame partially on the families of the victims when police officers go unpunished after they murder someone. The families accept million-dollar settlements in lieu of justice for their loved ones killing and go on with their lives instead of retaliating. I cannot comprehend how they could do such, I certainly could not. Every time I spent a nickle I'd be overwhelmed with grief and anger. Their cowardly inaction all but guarantees that these murders will continue.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's completely wrongheaded, 8:08. Not "cowardly" at all, it takes courage and gumption to pursue such suits to the end - there is a LOT of pressure from the powers that be not to go that route. The reason to do it is that extracting money damages is about the ONLY thing families of victims can do with any chance of bringing change. Police managers don't respond to argumentation and are immune to any political pressure those families could bring. So it comes down to litigation. Because money talks, BS walks.

Anonymous said...

Travis County requires hot check writers to attend classes through the matter how long it's been. I used to teach them. I've had folks take them who had only lived here as a student so the citation was 20 yrs old. They got stopped for speeding then an outstanding warrant pops up...boom they are in jail.

Lee said...


I am willing to bet that those large payouts will eventually change police conduct as their insurance industry grows tired of these payouts and either increases their rates or drops them completely.

Lee said...

Come to think of it, what would a police department do if they are unable to obtain insurance? They cant still function uninsured, could they?

Anonymous said...

@Lee - Wouldn't the insurance agency simply raise the rates for police, thereby requiring the taxpayer to pay the newly inflated tab?

The families should get their large payouts, but that shouldn't excuse the District Attorneys Office from doing their job. The police should be prosecuted just like every other citizen.

Hear that, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis? You cost the taxpayer $1.9 million. Do your job or get out.