Thursday, March 29, 2018

Open records review should include criminal justice, and other stories

A few quick hits before I finish editing our podcast today:

CCA takes up cell-phone location data case
Grits was a bit surprised to see that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review on Ex Parte Christian Sims involving Fourth Amendment/cell-phone location data issues, given that the US Supreme Court's ruling in Carpenter is expected to come out this term. See the petition here and a case summary from the State Prosecuting Attorney.) OTOH, the CCA and SCOTUS are addressing slightly different questions: Whether cell-phone location data is subject to Fourth Amendment protections is the question at stake in Carpenter, while Sims asks whether Texas' statutory exclusionary rule applies to violations of the Fourth Amendment and Art. 1, Sec. 9 of the Texas Constitution.

Possible innocence case
DNA testing excluded a Tarrant County man who's been in prison 19 years for alleged child molestation and point to another, unknown party. Prosecutors insist he's guilty, anyway.  Good coverage from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Open records review should include criminal justice
The House Committee on Government Transparency meets next week in part to discuss updating open records laws (see coverage from the Caller Times). The push to do so doesn't involve criminal justice, but transparency laws in that area need serious attention. See this Grits commentary from 2016 regarding aspects of the Public Information Act related to the justice system which have been gutted in favor of opacity over the last three decades.

Skimping on mental health boosts crim-just costs
The SA Express News recently featured a good editorial on how the Texas Legislature's failure to fund mental health services impacts the criminal-justice system. Reported the paper:
[Texas] taxpayers are footing an estimated annual bill of $1.4 billion in emergency room costs and another $650 million through local justice systems to address mental illness and substance abuse disorders. 
In Bexar County alone, 10 percent of the 31,438 individuals booked in the county lockup were diagnosed and treated for mental illness.
The editorial touted the recently created Judicial Commission on Mental Health as a potential vehicle for suggesting reforms.


Steven Michael Seys said...

Kudos to the Tarent County Conviction Integrity Unit. What I don't understand is why the prosecutor always takes the blame when police fabricate evidence or hide evidence without informing them. The "convict at any cost" attitude of Texas prosecutors is enough to blame them for, we don't have to add the wrongs committed by LEOs.

Anonymous said...

"Prosecutors argued that the lack of Dunning's DNA does not prove his innocence...But the appeals court agreed with Dunning, who argued that the lack of any DNA from Dunning, and the presence of DNA from a third party, entitles Dunning to a favorable ruling..."

Absence of evidence does not equate guilt for the Defendant. But absence of intelligence does equate stupidity for the Prosecutors. I bet that the third-party DNA that was found came from the Prosecutor. Can we lock people up for being stupid?

Anonymous said...

I've said it for years and will continue to say it, until an exoneree further sacrifices his life and visits the homes and families of the crooked trial participants nothing will change. No reason for it to change as the system protects its own and never punishes those responsible. But let the crooked trial participants and their families face down an exoneree they stole a life from and many will have second thoughts before they steal yet another innocent's life, especially if the aforementioned meeting is taped and the video published for all to watch.

Anonymous said...

"The Tarrant County district attorney's office has said it will challenge the appeals court ruling, which was issued March 1.

"We agree with the trial judge who heard all the scientific testimony," said Sharen Wilson, Tarrant County district attorney..."


Anonymous said...

@Steven Seys,
Why kudos to TC Conviction Integrity Unit at this point? Based on the news article and the appellate opinion, I’m not sure if there’s enough information to applaud or condemn TCCIU.

If the intended trial defense was to blame the sex offender stepdad, Lorne Clark, comparing stepdad’s DNA to the unknown DNA is critical. If stepdad is excluded as a possible contributor, this DNA result blows that planned trial defense out of the water, and probably the DNA test results should be found not favorable.

One would think that a lab tried to run the unknown DNA profile through a DNA database to see if it hit on any DNA profile in the system. Depending on when Clark was convicted for his sex offense, his DNA profile should be in DNA database. Unless Clark’s DNA is not in DNA database or the unknown DNA profile was not run through DNA database, Clark would not be the source of the unknown DNA. There appears to be more work that needs to be done on this case before anyone should be patted on the back or kicked in the ass.

Also, SS, what are you talking about in reference to this case that prosecutors take the blame when cops should? As a general principle, I agree that prosecutors are blamed more than they should (an unpopular opinion on this blog). But that statement seems to not apply to this case.

If cops did not request DNA testing once they developed a suspect on this case in 1999, the prosecutors should have. I didn’t see anywhere that the cops hid the sex kit or victim’s clothes. If DAs were aware of sex kit and clothes, it’s their job to get testing done before trial. Not doing so appears lazy or negligent, and that is on the DA.