Sunday, November 12, 2017

November Reasonably Suspicious Podcast: Let me be your lawyer dog, or I won't be your man at all ...

Check out the November edition of Just Liberty's Reasonably Suspicious podcast, covering Texas criminal justice policy and politics. We're coming out a little early this month to keep things on the right side of the Thanksgiving holiday. You can listen to the latest episode here, or access it on all the usual channels: iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, or SoundCloud.

If you haven't subscribed yet, take a moment to do so now to make sure you won't miss an episode. Topics this go-round include:

Top Stories
  • The Louisiana Supreme Court said a man who told police "Why don't you just give me a lawyer, dawg?" wasn't really asking for a lawyer. But this is common. A recent Texas case denied an attorney on the same basis.
  • Risk assessments have come under fire from liberals for generating racial disparities. What are the implications for using them as part of Harris County bail reform?
Game Segment: Tea Leaf Reading
Looking forward to criminal-justice-related interim charges at the Texas Legislature.
  • Appropriate treatment, services to offenders aged 17-25 to reduce recidivism, future crime. (See an earlier podcast segment on the topic.)
  • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Front-end and back-end solutions.
Death and Texas
  • US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Ayestas v. Davis, seeking funds for investigation into an ineffective assistance claim.
  • A state district court considers Ex Parte Flores in which the key eyewitness was subjected to hypnosis before changing her ID of the suspect. She at first told police the suspect was a white man with long hair. Mr. Flores is an Hispanic man with short hair.
The Last Hurrah
Rapid fire quick takes:
  • USDOJ deleted 70% of tables from the newest edition of the national Uniform Crime Reports.
  • A new study says police bodycams haven't changed police behavior. Why is that?
  • Rent to own furniture companies as modern debtors prisons.

Transcript: Reasonably Suspicious Podcast, November 2017, featuring Just Liberty policy director Scott Henson and Mandy Marzullo, executive director of the Texas Defender Service.

Mandy Marzullo: Hi, this is Amanda Marzullo. A South Texas man who worked for a juvenile detention facility stole $1.2 million in fajitas over the course of nine years, ordering them from vendors and then billing them to the county. Scott, how could such a thing go on for so long?

Scott Henson: For once I was completely uninvolved here. In retrospect, though, there were some warning signs.

Mandy Marzullo: Like what?

Scott Henson: Like when he gave everyone in the family large quantities of frozen meat for Christmas the last several years. I mean, we're only cousins. I send the guy a Christmas card that plays Feliz Navidad when you open it, and he sends 150 pound of skirt steak. In retrospect, it was a little disproportionate.

Mandy Marzullo: That should have been a clue?

Scott Henson: Possibly. There's still 40 pounds of fajita meat left in the freezer from last Christmas. I mean, I like fajitas as much as the next guy but there are limits; and plus, it's hard to get good tortillas in Austin.

Mandy Marzullo: That is definitely true.

Scott Henson: Hello boys and girls, and welcome to the November 2017 edition of the Reasonably Suspicious Podcast. I'm Scott Henson with Just Liberty, here today with our good friend Amanda Marzullo, whose day job is executive director at the Texas Defender Service. Mandy, what are you looking forward to talking about on the podcast today?

Mandy Marzullo: I'm looking forward to our capital segment. Obviously, all opinions are my own, but it's exciting to go over this stuff.

Scott Henson: That's right. We're in your wheelhouse aren't we?

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah.

Lawyer Dogs and the Right to Counsel

Scott Henson: First up, though, recently the Louisiana Supreme Court made national headlines by ruling eight to one that a defendant who said, "Why don't you just give me a lawyer, dawg?" wasn't really asking for a lawyer. That's hardly an unusual outcome.

The Texas 14th Court of Appeals ruled on October 31st that a defendant who said he wanted to call his sister to get him a lawyer also did not unambiguously say he wanted a lawyer. In part, that's because the defective kept interrupting him to keep him from being more explicit. At the end of the day the ploy worked.

The appellate court said the defendant's desire for representation was insufficiently explicit to be binding, even though he told the detective he wanted an attorney because it was, "The only option I have."

Mandy, should these defendants have received a lawyer or a lawyer dog or were they just barking up the wrong tree?

Mandy Marzullo: In the interest of justice, these defendants should have received a lawyer. This outcome ...

Scott Henson: Do they have to sit up and beg?

Mandy Marzullo: All but, according to our case law.

Scott Henson: Oh my gosh.

Mandy Marzullo: That's the problem that these ...

Scott Henson: They should just fetch them a lawyer, Mandy. They really should.

Mandy Marzullo: Yes.

Scott Henson: Woof.

Mandy Marzullo: Do you have another pun you want to throw before I ...

Scott Henson: I'm saving it.

Mandy Marzullo: Okay. What these cases demonstrate is just how far out of step our case law is with the way people talk to each other. In the Louisiana case, the news reels have really focused on the lawyer dog piece of the defendant's statement. The prosecution's argument was that the defendant in vocation of his rights was conditional. He said, "If you think I'm guilty why don't you just give me a lawyer dog?" The argument there is that he was basing his invocation of his rights on some sort of subjective position that the investigators had about his guilt.

Scott Henson: They did think that he was guilty. They arrested him.

Mandy Marzullo: That doesn't matter, right? They didn't say they thought he was guilty.

Scott Henson: The conditional was fulfilled. He's sitting there being accused and so he understands what he's being accused of and is saying, "Give me a lawyer dog."

Mandy Marzullo: Sadly, that's not enough. What the courts are looking for in this context is something that people don't say in a normal encounter, which is a declarative command. "I want a lawyer. You need to get me one right now."

Scott Henson: It's like they want them to have a lawyer to intervene in a lawyerly way before a lawyer is actually in the picture.

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah. Essentially they want the defendant to start behaving like a lawyer would in a courtroom, which is not how you're going to behave if you're trying to curry favor with some investigators, which is a completely logical thing to do.

Scott Henson: Right. The 14th Court of Appeals case here in Texas there was a similar conditional that they hung their hat on to deny his right to a lawyer there. Basically he had said, "I still want to keep talking to you. I would just like my sister to get me an attorney."

Well, in the context of interrogation that's actually really a disingenuous thing to use as an excuse to take away his right to counsel because in an interrogation situation American police officers are trained and detectives are trained to use something called the Reid technique. Nearly every detective in America has been trained in it.

One of the tactics in this is to develop a rapport with the defendant and convince them that if they're not guilty then they have every incentive to keep talking and that shutting up and not talking would be indicative of guilt. When he said to that detective, "I want to keep talking to you. I just want my sister to get me a lawyer."

Well, what he's saying is, "I'm not trying to tell you I'm guilty. I just think I kind of need to be protected here" and he was right. That's the disingenuous part to me. We've gotten to the point where the judges and the cops are looking for little loopholes and if someone asked for a lawyer if they're anywhere around it is a conditional then they're going to latch onto that and say, "Nope. Not right now. Maybe if you ask later in the correct fashion." The person thinks they've already asked for one and basically it's just not happening. This is a pretty common recurring theme.

Mandy Marzullo: It's common and it's tragic really. It's a failure on the part of the courts to really take real life circumstances into account.

Scott Henson: The defendant in the end has really no other option but to roll over.

Mandy Marzullo: That's the one.

Vetting Risk Assessments for Racism

Mandy Marzullo: Next up, risk assessments have come under fire from liberals because these instruments produced by private companies were found to generate racial disparities even when race isn't one of the input factors. The Harris County bail reform litigation envisions using risk assessments in lieu of money bail. Scott, does this throw a wrench in the bail reform efforts?

Scott Henson: I certainly hope not. This is a vexed and difficult argument because there are absolutely situations where, for a risk assessment [which] has a racial disparity, it would be critical to the justice system to not implement [it in] the decision-making process. If you're using predictive policing for example, you still need to be able to require individualized probable cause to arrest somebody. You can't just say that my algorithm says that you're a criminal and so I'm going to arrest you.

In the context of pre-trial detention, in the context of bail in particular where we're talking about people who are not convicted of anything yet, but in fact are presumed innocent and are sitting in jail awaiting trial. I actually think that some of those concerns shouldn't be quite as prominent. In Harris County in particular where this bail litigation is going on, and where they have begun to use these risk assessments now, the alternative to the risk assessment are the magistrate judges.

What do the magistrate judges do? They deny personal bonds to everyone. They simply say, "Okay. Across the board, we're going to apply money bail to everyone. No one gets evaluated. No one gets a personal bond based on being low risk or tiny, tiny percentages."

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah, I don't think that they could say no one. That would not pass legal scrutiny.

Scott Henson: You say it wouldn't pass legal scrutiny and it didn't. The federal judge said that it was all unconstitutional because the defendants would go one after the other in front of those magistrates and they were simply all denied. You're right. It doesn't pass legal scrutiny and in fact it did not, and that's how we got to where we are. Whenever you say, "Are we going to use risk assessments, thess disparities are going to create some problems,” I think you always have to ask the question, “Compared to what?” If the outcome you're comparing it to was so much worse, maybe we can use the risk assessment and then try to improve it, and validate it, and find any sources of unnecessary bias as we go. But I hate to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and have lots, and lots of people locked up simply because we're afraid that white folks might benefit a little more.

Mandy Marzullo: I think this makes a lot of sense. I do think that it's not limited, the comparison of whether we use the risk assessments or not shouldn't be just limited to the status quo. What are the other alternatives that are out there, or what can we do in our use of risk assessments that would make their implementation more fair? I mean one thing that's happening in Harris County that I think is important is that they're also providing counsel for the defendants. There is someone there who's able to advocate for the citizen accused and draw attention to factors that might not be borne out in the risk assessment: ties to the community, the presence of family and the audience. Those are all things that should be considered when you're trying to figure out, “is this defendant going to appear in court, and is this defendant likely to commit another crime?”

Scott Henson: Yeah. That's a really excellent point, that in fact having counsel available at those bail hearings in addition to the risk assessment, probably would have significant mitigating [effect] on some of the disparity problem, because where the disparity comes from is that the instrument is not sophisticated or nuanced enough to drill down into every possible individual circumstance that an individual might bring with him when they come before the court. But that's your attorney's job, in fact, is to be able to convey that individual circumstance to the judge, and to explain why that means you deserve extra consideration when it comes to your personal bond. Maybe that is the right approach, layering that additional right counsel, which you should have already had in the first place, on top of the risk assessments – [that] might help mitigate that over time. I think we can't know unless you implement it and test it.

Mandy Marzullo: I think you're right. I just that we need to remain skeptical of it. I don't think we're ever going to get to a point with our pre-trial release system where we can say, "Mission accomplished. We've figured out the perfect situation." There are reasons, and I do think that defense attorneys in particular have pointed this out that we should be worried about preventative detention. That we are in a way punishing people for crimes that they haven't committed. We should be skeptical and scared of that, and I think that provide the appropriate amount of respect for that.

Scott Henson: I can agree with that, and yet at the same time I also believe that preventative detention shouldn't be overused; but the status quo is detaining people far beyond those even for whom preventative detention might be a question. On behalf of all those people who simply would not be in jail at all pre-trial under the risk assessment, and there's a lot of them. I just worry that it allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good on this.

Mandy Marzullo: You're probably right.

Game segment: Tea Leaf Reading

Mandy Marzullo: Now, it's time for our game segment we're calling Tea Leaf Reading in which Scott and I attempt to predict the future, which means that we're probably going to be wrong. In this first rendition of the game, we're going to stack the deck by making predictions about future events we know will happen. In this case, the legislature's interim charges, which will be studied by standing committees in the Texas house and senate. For listeners who aren't aware, the Texas Legislature only meets for 4-1/2 months every other year.

Interim charges are topics that the state leadership designates for standing legislative committees to study when the legislature is not in session. Having your issue as an interim charge doesn't guarantee the legislature will pass your bill, but it is an opportunity to educate key committee members and staff, vet proposals and stakeholders, and run ideas up the flag pole that may take off unexpectedly when session rolls around. It's also an opportunity for the opposition to try and kill reform efforts before bill is ever filed, and thus serves as an important trial run on issues designated for study.

Corrections options for young adults

Let's start by discussing an interim charge from the House Corrections Committee that speaks to the topic of a game segment from our August podcast. Specifically, it's to evaluate current Texas criminal justice system policies and practices regarding 17 to 25-year olds, specific to probation, parole, state jail confinement, and discharge from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or county jail. They're supposed to review any gaps in services that may be causing this population to recidivate and make recommendations to improve the state's response to the needs of the population in order to lower revocation, rearrest, and re-incarceration rates. Scott, look into your crystal ball and tell our listeners what the committee might find, and what they might discuss as they delve into this topic.

Scott Henson: For starters, I'm just thrilled that they took this topic up. This is really a cutting edge issue nationally, and something that is being considered all over; and Texas has not really delved into this conversation before now. It's exciting that they're doing so. Texas has been mired in a debate over raising the age from 17 to 18 when you can be charged as an adult. Definitely, that's something that reformers have supported, but there are lot of ways in which that is a debate about bringing Texas into the 20th century, not the 21st.

In the 21st century, we're in an era where starting in the George Bush I presidency, we've had all this neuroscience research. It's going to be the decade of the brain, the '90s. It was, and they invested all this-

Mandy Marzullo: I don't remember that.

Scott Henson: They invested all this money in brain science research starting in the first Bush administration. This has started to raise a lot of very interesting questions in the criminal justice realm, in particular about very young defendants. We now know that young people's brains are actually not fully developed, especially the portions of their brains related to cognitive decision making until they're in their mid-20s. That in fact, people who are, say, 18 to 21, their brains are more like people who are 15 or 16, than they are folks in their mid or late 20s. All of this new evidence from brain science has raised a lot of new questions about, should we automatically just treat these very young people as adults? Do you just throw them directly in prison with all the hardened defenders who have been doing these for longer? What are the issues around that? What are the alternatives to that?

These issues are just being discussed for the first time and Texas has been absent from these discussions until now. But in other states, people are struggling with them. We talked about that case in Kentucky a couple of months ago on the podcast where a judge was wrestling with these issues related to the death penalty. Massachusetts just last month raised their age of adult criminal culpability to 19 instead of 18. There's a lot more debate around this now, and I'm glad they're taking it on.

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah, me too. I mean, it's an exciting opportunity too in part because I think this is an opportunity to examine whether some of the punishments for these defendants make sense. That if you're convicted of a crime as a young adult under the age of 25, the science is now showing that your capacity to sort of rehabilitate and resume a productive life is because your brain structure is similar to that of a juvenile.

Scott Henson: In other words, it's great. It's very high that the people who commit crimes during that age group have a very good chance of aging out of crime, and going on to lead productive lives without becoming life-long criminals.

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah. This is an opportunity, short of extending the age of adult criminal responsibility, like raising it further up, to create special exemptions within the laws such as like creating maybe mandatory parole, or getting rid of collateral consequences, or an offense for people in this age bracket; so that they're able to reenter society in a more effective and basically like a more prompt manner than they are now.

Scott Henson: Right. One of the Massachusetts reforms that they did was making it easier to get expunctions for crimes committed in these earlier periods. It does seem like there are quite a few little tweaks that could be made that could accommodate this new science, this new understanding of what is really motivating or driving the mindset of these youth.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Front and Back-End Solutions

Scott Henson: Up next the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has an interim charge to examine instances of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of defense counsel.

When this came out, the media focus mostly on the notion of the legislature confronting prosecutorial misconduct. But for defendants, the ineffective assistance piece is just as important. There are some structural barriers for defendants to receive relief in those cases. Mandy, why won't you deal out a few tarot cards for us and see if you can predict what structural problems the committee might confront when it comes to ineffective assistance.

Mandy Marzullo: Oh, God. I think on the front end, the committee unfortunately is going to have to confront just the underfunding of indigent defense in taxes. By and large, attorneys that represent indigent defendants in Texas are handling extraordinary caseloads; like several times the number of cases that they should be taking according to caseload studies that have been performed for decades, at this point. That does have real repercussions. If you aren't able to properly investigate your case, your client is more likely to plead to an offense when there isn't factual predicate for it, and you're less likely to present a case that adequately represents your client if and when you do go to trial. This deficit in spending is extraordinary. It's upwards of $240 million a year.

There's that piece, which I think will be difficult for the committee to come up with a solution that's cost neutral that would be able to be remedied in a year where I think everyone is anticipating that funds are going to be tight.

Scott Henson: There is no cost neutral solution to this. That's not what's going on. Whatever you do on ineffective assistance, because we have underfunded indigent defense for so long, it's simply going to cost money. That's one of the reasons I was interested in them having put that in with prosecutorial misconduct. Are you really willing to address that? Because we know what will be involved to really address it. It's mostly more general revenue money. There's also a situation where, once ineffective assistance of counsel has occurred in your case, it's very difficult for defendants to actually ever get any relief on that. That's in part because almost impossible to bring this up on direct appeal. Typically, the lawyer doing your direct appeal is the same lawyer who did your trial. If there's ineffective assistance there, they're very unlikely to bring up their own shortcomings.

Similarly in direct appeal, they really can't get into extraneous factors outside the record; and so they're sort of hamstrung. Yet, direct appeal is the only time when you have an attorney. Just like Mr. Ayestas in the capital case that we're going to talk about here coming up, his trial attorneys were ineffective and didn't investigate, at the sentencing phase, the mitigating evidence in this capital case that might have kept him off death row. There was no lawyer available to investigate that until the habeas corpus post-conviction aspect of his case, and even then he was struggling to get his investigation paid for. Talk to me a little about the structural situation where you don't get an attorney during the period when you might be able to challenge ineffective assistance.

Mandy Marzullo: It's not just ineffective assistance, o,r I want to say that by and large prosecutorial misconduct is not an issue that you're going to be able to raise on direct appeal either. Defendants in Texas and throughout the country, by and large, only have access to counsel on what they called the direct proceedings. That's trial and then a first appeal that is limited to review of the trial record. It's just creating errors of law that you can look at or identify from looking at the pleadings in the case, and then the transcripts of the pre-trial hearings and the trial itself. That is the scope of the inquiry. It's very limited.

When it comes to prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, in both cases that really requires examination of facts outside the record. In order to figure out what an attorney should have put on, you're going to have to consider the scope of the investigation, the greater investigation. In determining whether a prosecutor should have disclosed certain evidence, that's going to require an examination of what that evidence was in the context of all of the information that was disclosed in the case. In both cases, you're going to need a habeas lawyer because that habeas is the review where you got to have external fact-finding. As you pointed out, you don't have a right to counsel in habeas cases unless you're on death row. That excludes most inmates in Texas.

Scott Henson: It's worth here giving a shout-out to Judge Elsa Alcala on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who raised all these issues in a dissent last year. And actually, her suggestions since the legislature is going to be looking for suggestions, she thought that the legislature should extend the right to counsel to habeas only to take care of this ineffective assistance category of cases because, frankly, this is such a broad category that it's really the area where they most frequently give habeas relief is ineffective assistance.

Mandy Marzullo: Yes.

Scott Henson: In the area where you're most likely to receive relief, you're the least likely to have a lawyer and be able to pursue relief. She suggested that the legislature actually pay for lawyers just like you do on direct appeal for that; and that seems like a pretty reasonable suggestion given that structural barrier.

Death and Texas

Now, it's time for Death in Texas, our recurring segment on capital punishment and the death penalty. This month we discussed two capital cases. One, before a Texas state court right now, and another the US Supreme Court recently heard at oral argument. Let's start with that one.

Ayestas v. Davis

Last month, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a Texas case called Ayestas v. Davis related to whether or not the defendant was entitled to funding to investigate an ineffective assistance claim as part of a habeas corpus writ in a death penalty case. Mandy, tell us what are the implications of this case?

Mandy Marzullo: This case is fundamentally about whether we're serious in guaranteeing access to justice for everyone regardless of their income level. The implications here have to do with access to funding within the Fifth Circuit so that death row inmates in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. With Mr. Ayestas' case, there is a federal statute entitles indigent persons facing the death penalty to investigative expert or other services that are reasonably necessary to the representation.

However, the Fifth Circuit sort of deviates from the statutory task in determining whether to allocate resources; and it requires a demonstration of substantial need. That's really where his case went awry because you have to ... As Lee Kovarsky said in his oral argument, this task essentially requires that you establish at the front end that the outcome of the case would have been different if you had these resources.

Scott Henson: In order to get the resources.

Mandy Marzullo: In order to get the resources. It's a circular task if you really think about it.

Scott Henson: This goes back to what we're talking about earlier on this ineffective assistance claims, where these aren't really something you can raise on direct appeal for all intents and purposes. The first time you really have access to relief in these cases will be on habeas. Yet, you don't necessarily in non-capital cases even have an attorney on habeas, in this case you do. The habeas lawyers were unable to get resources to investigate the claims. It goes back to the same situation where what do you do when you aren't even able to get to that issue until habeas, and then you're not allowed to get to it then.

Mandy Marzullo: Here, we're talking about ineffectiveness layered on top of ineffectiveness. In Mr. Ayestas' trial, he was sentenced to death after a penalty phase that lasted less than half a day. His defense attorney has put on no witnesses, and essentially made no case for mercy. However, there's evidence that one, Mr. Ayestas suffered from a severe mental illness, that he had multiple head injuries, and also suffered from substance abuse. These are all things that probably mitigate his culpability but have not been investigated by his trial attorney and then it wasn't investigated by his state habeas lawyers either. Really, the first opportunity to have this looked at was on federal post-conviction, and the courts have denied him access to an investigator to talk to witnesses, but also an expert to evaluate his mental health.

Scott Henson: When will Supreme Court rule on this?

Mandy Marzullo: I don't know. Probably sometime in the spring.

Ex Parte Flores: ID by Hypnosis?

Scott Henson: All right. Let me briefly ask you about Charles Flores capital case. A witness identified Mr. Flores after being subjected to hypnosis, which the trial court at the time thought was a fine idea. Now the trial court has it back again on a habeas corpus writ. Mandy, tell our listeners what should they know about this case.

Mandy Marzullo: This is a Dallas case, which as you said in your lead-up, the main premise of the prosecution's case hung on an eyewitness identification and this witness underwent hypnosis before she connected Mr. Flores to the crime. There's no DNA evidence. There's no fingerprint evidence connecting him. It's really her account. It's sort of evolved.

Scott Henson: Evolved is a very generous way to frame that, right? She first said that a white man with long hair had committed the crime and the evolved version is a Hispanic man with short hair, which is Mr. Flores, right?

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah. The issue right now given that discrepancy and ...

Scott Henson: Post-hypnosis.

Mandy Marzullo: Post-hypnosis and everything we know is whether he received a fair trial ultimately in light of this testimony and given everything that we know about hypnosis and memory right now that it's very likely that the integrity of her identification disintegrated over time rather than being reinforced over time.

Scott Henson: Yeah, well, essentially the other thing that you didn't mention is that her identification of Mr. Flores in court happened a year after the hypnosis. She had been shown his picture in these lineups identifying him in the first place. She did not identify him after the hypnosis. Then a year later after his picture has been in the TV news, it's been in the newspaper, she's seen it everywhere, and then she goes back into court and says, "No, that's the guy." That's a very squirrely identification anyway. You throw in the hypnosis and it really is a lot to hang a capital murder conviction on.

Mandy Marzullo: It's extremely questionable. It's disappointing that this is such a recent case and it's out of a large county with a sophisticated law enforcement system.

Scott Henson: Were there any psychics used in the case? Is it possible we can get Tarot card readers to assist the Dallas PD in their investigations?

Mandy Marzullo: Not as far as I know but who knows? Anything is possible apparently.

Scott Henson: I bet palm readers would be really helpful.

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah. Well, they give you definitive answers, right?

Scott Henson: Well, for y'alls clients in particular [ed. note: TDS represents convicts on death row] you could check the lifeline. I think for your capital clients that'd be useful information to have.

Mandy Marzullo: Yeah. It's good. That's really good. This case is still pending in front of the trial court. Closing arguments are December 4th. We'll see what the district court recommends in terms of findings of fact and conclusions of law. More to come.

Scott Henson: All right. What a crazy case.

The Last Hurrah

Now, it's time for our rapid fire segment we call the Last Hurrah. Mandy, are you ready?

Mandy Marzullo: I'm ready. Are you ready to hold on your end?

Scott Henson: I'll try to keep up. The Trump/Jeff Sessions' DOJ eliminated 70% of tables from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. Is this a big deal?

Mandy Marzullo: Yes, it's a big deal. The Uniform Crime Report is relied on by policy makers throughout the nation. Eliminating 70% of this report eliminates the vast majority of the information we use.

A new study found police body cams were doing little to change police behavior. What's the problem?

Scott Henson: Mainly it’s that the laws implementing them aren't designed to use body cams for accountabilities. They're designed to use them to gather evidence against defendants. In most states including Texas, it's very hard to get access to the body cam footage. Advocates aren't able to use it for holding police accountable. The only way they're getting used is as evidence in criminal trials. Everyone who thought, "Hey, this will be a great police accountability tool. It's all in the implementation."

Mandy Marzullo: The devil is in the details.

Scott Henson: It is. All right, last one. A report from NerdWallet and the Texas Tribune found that Texas law allows rent to own furniture companies to use the threat of arrest to enforce payment. How is this different from an old school debtor's imprisonment?

Mandy Marzullo: It's not. In fact, it's just a throwback to the 18th century. This should be part of the civil system. If someone can't afford to pay, you should be able to recover it that way.

Scott Henson: All right. We're out of time, but we'll try to do better the next time. Until then, I'm Scott Henson with Just Liberty.

Mandy Marzullo: I'm Amanda Marzullo from the Texas Defender Service. Subscribe to the Reasonably Suspicious Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, or YouTube. We'll be back with more better news next month. Until then, good bye and thanks for listening.

Scott Henson: Good bye folks. Keep fighting for criminal justice reform. It's the only way it's going to happen.

Transcript by Edited for grammar and clarity by Scott Henson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bodycams: They were sold to the public as enhancing police evidence capabilities as well as conduct enhancers for police. In departments where supervisors are required to watch a minimum amount of time for each officer under their span of control on top of when an officer is accused of misconduct, complaints have gone down a little. In complaint driven models alone where the supervisors only watch footage tied to complaints, any changes have been minimal at best. Better access to the footage by any interested parties would likely improve conduct as well, so would improved policies on when cameras are to be activated, better storage, and better physical equipment.

Risk Assessments: As long as any economic factors are included, there will be racial disparities. That might include a defendant having a job, owning a home or car, or similar things but it is still better than just listing a price for bonds. Certain groups are more likely to have money, homes, jobs, or what have you than others.