Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tall tales, zombie predictions, Harvey deals, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

Press coverage dismissive of police reform efforts
Statesman coverage of the Austin police union contract portrayed opposition by "several Austin criminal justice activists," by which they mean 10 or so community organizations and hundreds of endorsing signators, not to mention a unanimous vote to reject the contract by Travis County Democratic Party precinct chairs. But sure, "several" people oppose it. smh

'Harvey deals'
When a little time has passed, Grits will be interested in seeing data on the actual extent of "Harvey deals," or plea bargains entered into by the Harris County DA to move along overburdened dockets while the courts are displaced from Hurricane Harvey. My gut tells me the effect has been overstated. Most of the misdemeanor cases described would be handled pretty quickly, anyway.

Tall tales from the annals of junk science
Junk science comes in all forms and fashions. In Bell County, the Innocence Project of Texas has a case where faulty math was submitted as evidence by the prosecution to claim a 6'3" man committed a crime which, an analysis commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission found, was really committed  by a man between 5'7" and 5'9." See Brandi Swicegood's story in the Dallas News.

Second look event
Promotion has been a bit sparse, but later this week at the capitol a new group called the Lone Star Justice Alliance will host an event focused on "second look" legislation seeking expanded parole opportunities for juveniles who commit serious violent offenses. (Check out a related discussion of a legislative interim charge related to youthful offenders aged 17-25 from our latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast, beginning at the 13:13 mark.)

Zombie Predictions and the Future of Bail Reform
Another one for the reading list.

Falsely confess or we'll kill you
That's what detectives are saying, in essence,  to innocent suspects when they threaten them with execution if they do not confess. Adherents of the Reid technique would tell you they're trained not to use such tactics unless they're certain the suspect is guilty. Problem is, that assumes cops never get it wrong, and they sometimes do.

Known Unknowns
Read a speech from Radley Balko on the unseen problems and costs associated with the criminal-justice system.


Anonymous said...

Forensic Video Analysis ?? There's time and money well spent by the FSC.
How many cases does this affect? Two, maybe 3?

As a reminder, faulty presumptive drug testing (and false confessions) were running rampant in Houston and other cities at this time while the FSC was putzing around with this simple math.

Is someone going to reign in the aimless wandering of the FSC towards something which covers greater territory? Where's the oversight?

Shiplap City said...

Fed investigation into Waco DA goes public


Anonymous said...

I wonder how much overlap there is among those "hundreds" of signatures supporting police reforms out of the dozen or so organizations championing reforms.

Steven Michael Seys said...

As for the abuse of the Reid technique, so long as police are trained to follow intuition in lieu of evidence, the police will torture and threaten an innocent person more often than not. When there's enough evidence collected that a prosecutor would be able to get an indictment from the Grand Jury, then intuition is vindicated and Reid technique psycho-torture is called for. But when all the police have to go on is their intuition, they don't just make mistakes, they destroy innocent lives.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You mean you wonder if the individuals are members of the groups, 12:30? Some of them. Regardless, it's more than "several."

Thanks for the heads up, Shiplap City!


Gritsforbreakfast said...

@2:40, the FSC has been tasked with studying the Houston crime lab drug tests during this interim under HB 34. I'm sure it won't satisfy you, but I mention it so others won't think they're avoiding the issue.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Eye witness testimony is unreliable? Shocking, groundbreaking study by FSC.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of junk science... How about the Static 99 Sex Offender Risk Assessment which is used to evaluate female offenders and persons convicted of possession of child pornography even though the text explicitly states that it cannot be used to evaluate these populations because none were contained in the sample study. And those offenders who are evaluated are not reevaluated after five years for the test mandated 50% reduction in score if they have not committed any new sexual offense.

So the state is making up risk levels for female and child pornography offenders and not properly scoring elligible offenders as per the test specifications.

Talk about public masturbation :/

George said...


The whole approach that Texas, and pretty much the entire nation as a whole, has taken in regards to how they regard anyone charged and convicted of a sex offense is really screwed up. Thankfully, there have been some major decisions in the courts that have unmasked the unconstitutionality of this whole scheme.

The facts are absolutely clear, and there is literally a small mountain of corroborative empirical evidence to back this up, the vast majority of our citizens who are convicted of a sex offense -- regardless of whether what type of victim it was, child or adult, will never commit another sex offense, period. The DOJ study that listed the re-offense rate of around 5% was over a 3 year period and was cumulative so the closer actual recidivism rate was closer to 1.67% per year and there are other studies that show it under .6%.

So you have those in positions of authority who don't follow their own rules and guidelines concerning this issue. How they can go to sleep at night knowing full well the harm that they are needlessly and carelessly imparting upon one targeted group of felons is beyond me. It is not just the felon that they are damaging, it's also their families which include innocent children. This intense hatred and revile directed towards those labeled "sex offenders" is being constantly roiled up by the media, especially the local TV stations, and politicians running for office. It's unjust and finally the courts are beginning to see it for what it is, federal and state mandated banishment and perpetual punishment. By the way, the SCOTUS ruled previously that the laws could be added retroactively only because it was NOT a form of punishment. The applicability of the Ex Post Facto clause has been challenged and relief has been granted in several major court decisions within this past year.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of new sex offenses, 98% or more in an individual year, is committed by someone not known to LEO or on the sex offender registry so where is this huge risk of danger coming from --- well to put it bluntly, it's coming from family members, family friends, the clergy, school teachers, the police and pretty much any other so-called law abiding citizen that is not on the registry --- people exactly like you,!

Anonymous said...

GFB (5:54am)-

The FSC procrastinated for over 2 years, and then only took on an investigation into the fraudulent drug tests because House Reps. Smithee/Moody/Canales REQUIRED them to do an investigation by introducing law. There's no indication that the leadership of the FSC was moving in that direction prior to introduction of the law.

As a forensic scientist myself, I will never be satisfied with the FSC until an unbiased, ethical, and responsible leadership for that organization is in place. The FSC cost the city of Austin upwards of $14 million for the APD DNA Unit shutdown because they did not investigate the lab earlier as per the requirements of CCP 38.01. No one at the Commission was penalized for their acquiescence, but the uninformed and mis-trained lab analysts lost their jobs/careers. The forensics community already had a large backlog of untested evidence, and shutting down a lab, losing analysts, only compounds the problem.

The FSC was created to prevent this from happening, and here they are contributing to the catastrophes. They need to be called testify in front of the Legislature and explain their ignorance.

Anonymous said...

The leadership of FSC appears to be the Innocence Project that could care less about making things better.

JR Buffalo said...

From my experience with the Dallas DA’s office, this behavior is hardly an anomaly. I filed endless complaints with the Dallas FBI and they acted like my complaints were fantastic fabrications.


Anonymous said...

The press is dismissive of reformist rhetoric because reformists try to make everything sound like an immediate demand, the end of the world if the change doesn't take place, or take such a biased view without willingness to compromise that it's easy to dismiss concerns, even really good concerns.

Anonymous said...

The FSC hired a "Senior Scientific Adviser" in October 2017.


The Commission already has 7 scientists. Hiring another full-time scientist only stretches thinner the budget for performing thorough investigations. (If I recall, Grits, you stated as much in 2009 when a full-time legal Counselor was hired. The 2 lawyers who serve as Commission Members should know enough about the law to guide the rest of the non-lawyers on the Commission's legal responsibilities.)

Moreover, the newly hired scientist comes from DPS with ASCLD-LAB auditing experience. The Commission already has DPS-representation (Pat Johnson) who has botched his accreditation oversight responsibilities of Texas crime labs, as has ASCLD-LAB. The FSC questioned the abilities of accreditation auditors to provide adequate oversight in their 2016 report on the Austin Police Dept DNA Lab which has since been shut down because of poor scientific practices and incompetence (but shockingly, the APD lab always passed audits up until it was shuttered.)

If the Commission needs to hire a specialist, they should contract with them for the specific investigation. This new full-time redundant hire only puts more foxes in the hen house.