Friday, November 09, 2018

New top Harris Co executive a justice reformer, junk science writ a legislative unicorn, 'life and death in the carceral state,' and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends which merit readers' attention during the calm before the election-day storm on Tuesday:

New Harris County Judge campaigned on aggressive justice reform
Harris County's new 27-year old County Judge, Lina Hidalgo, campaigned on a platform of vigorous criminal-justice reform. She spent time at Harvard researching "the effects of incarceration on children," according to her campaign website, which promised that, upon election, she would emphasize "the importance of strong indigent representation." The section of her issue-page on criminal justice concludes, "Lina believes every person who has died or suffered due to a broken criminal justice system over the last ten years is one too many and that every dollar that has been spent perpetuating an inefficient system has been a disservice to taxpayers. She will fight for smart reforms as soon as she gets into office." For more background: Charles Kuffner interviewed Hidalgo before the election, and here's a profile and slideshow the Chronicle ran this week. Also related, from the Texas Observer: "The midterms triggered a seismic shift in Harris County courts."

Paxton bids to seize reins of capital case headed to SCOTUS
As Grits understands these matters, the Attorney General cannot step in to undertake local prosecutions in Texas unless the local elected DA asks for help. But that hasn't stopped AG Ken Paxton from seeking to intervene in the Bobby Moore death-penalty case as it heads to the US Supreme Court, Keri Blakinger reported in the Houston Chronicle. Indeed, AG Paxton thinks he gets to second-guess the role of both prosecutor and judge in the case: "the attorney general asked to replace the district attorney on the case and accused the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals of taking on the role of the legislature when it adopted updated, clinical standards for determining mental capacity earlier this year." The standard Paxton seeks to defend has made the state a laughingstock in legal circles for years, basing a key portion of its analysis on a fictional character from a John Steinbeck novel and straying far from findings of modern medical science. Even the Court of Criminal appeals has moved on from it, in light of the US Supreme Court's ruling in the case, which is why he's criticizing them, too. The Moore case promises to be a test for the new Trump appointees on capital punishment. Neither Gorsuch nor Kavanaugh were part of the decision decided 5-3 in 2017.

Was Texas junk-science writ the first-ever legislative expansion of judicial habeas power?
Historian Paul Halliday studied habeas corpus from the time of the Magna Carta through 1789. He found that legislative interventions into judicial habeas always trended in one direction: limiting judges' authority. That continued throughout American history, restricting the writ by statute, with limited exceptions, to post-conviction settings, culminating in the Clinton-era attack on habeas-corpus death-penalty appeals. Based on that observation, I made the case in a recent Tweetstorm that Texas' junk science writ, which has been reproduced in California criminal procedure, may be the first significant legislative expansion of the Great Writ since its inception in the Magna Carta. I'm not a legal historian and haven't studied habeas history in every US state. But Halliday demonstrated the case through 1789, and I can't identify any counter-examples after that until the Texas junk-science writ. Instead, legislators appear to have mainly restricted judges' authority with each alteration of habeas. If readers are aware of any contrary examples, please let me know.

'Life and Death in the Carceral State'
Check out video produced by the Texas After Violence Project and the Texas Justice Initiative. See also data related to the video and background on the interviewees.

Ending arrest for petty offenses
Here's an item from StayWokeTV about efforts in Austin to eliminate most arrests for Class C misdemeanors for which the maximum punishment is only a fine, not jail time.

Jails as mental health providers
The McLennan County Jail hired its first jail psychiatrist. “I would be willing to say 75 percent or more inmates that are in jail have some sort of substance abuse or mental health issue because that all runs together,” estimated a local jail official. But probably a much lower number will require psychotropic drugs, which is why the psychiatrist is needed. (Inmates aren't receiving talk therapy.) Harris County is ground zero for this problem, but even mid-sized counties like McLennan struggle to manage mentally ill inmates caught up in the justice system.

Dogs are better than people: Reentry edition
Read Keri Blakinger's story about what happened to her dog while she was in prison and her relationship with the folks who ended up with the pup after she got out.

Do police unions represent the views of their members?
In a recent column, former NY police commissioner and Right-on-Crime signatory Bernard Kerik used the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas as an example of how unions' leadership doesn't necessarily represent the views of its members. Note to our Right on Crime friends: We need to see Bernie Kerik v. Charley Wilkinson in a tete-a-tete debate!

Risk assessments and bail reform
I'm still working my way through the subject, but your correspondent has a blog post or two bubbling up on the topic of risk assessments and bail reform. In the meantime, I'm not the only one thinking about the question. Here are several recent items on the topic that deserve consideration:
Pardon me, South Carolina, but you're showing up Texas on clemency
In Texas, gubernatorial pardons are more rare than competitive statewide elections. In South Carolina, by contrast, nearly everyone is pardoned who requests it.

Western on Reentry
Reentry is not my specialty, but Bruce Western both performs primary research and thinks about reentry questions deeply. So when he speaks on the topic, Grits pays attention. Go read an interview with Bruce Western thinking deeply about reentry.

Self-serving plug: If you're not sick of voting ...
An outfit called The Expert Institute emailed to say Grits had been nominated for Best Criminal Law Blog. For those of you not sick of voting, go here to +1 and make sure the winning blog has a Texas twang.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding Risk Assessments and Bail Reform, apparently the American Bail Coalition believes that bail reform is just a dying fad. See some of the points they are peddling to counties in the article referenced below:

"ACLU of Texas Attempts to Coerce Texas Counties into Dying Bail Reform Movement - Buyer Beware - The ACLU of Texas - Careful Who You Partner With." The link to the article that is being distributed is