Saturday, December 22, 2018

Junk science writ takes out bite-mark evidence, Understaffing let prisoner's flesh-eating bacteria linger without medical care, Christmas while mommy's in jail, and other stories

A few odds and ends headed into the holiday:

Junk science writ takes out bite-mark evidence
In the Steven Chaney case, Texas' junk science writ worked exactly as it was intended. Texas courts have refused to exclude bite-mark evidence on the front end through Daubert hearings. But the junk science writ gave wrongfully convicted defendants an avenue to challenge false convictions on the back end. And it provided the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals a vehicle to declare junk science invalid in a way that applies to the rest of the system going forward. That's what happened here. Now, bite mark evidence cannot be portrayed as "matching" evidence to a defendant, and past cases where such evidence was a) overstated and b) pivotal to the case could result in more convictions being overturned. This case also lays out the model, and the reasoning, for how other "comparative" forensic science may be challenged in the future. See the majority opinion, and all opinions and briefs from the case here. This will definitely be a topic featured on January's Reasonably Suspicious podcast.

Blood-spatter false conviction redux
Speaking of junk science, Pam Colloff has another feature story on a likely false conviction based on junk-science blood-spatter evidence. Readers will recall Grits interviewed Colloff on the topic on the podcast earlier this year.

HRO predicts justice issues
The House Research Organization issued a brief predicting possible issues the Texas Legislature could tackle, including a bevy of criminal justice reforms.

Understaffing let prisoner's flesh-eating bacteria linger without medical care, says lawsuit
TDCJ has been sued because the Gist state jail was too understaffed to take a prisoner suffering from flesh-eating bacteria to receive medical care, Keri Blakinger reported.

Lege should close 'dead suspects loophole,' and more
Reacting to a news story from Reason criticizing Texas for withholding public records surrounding criminal cases where the suspect is dead, recently I argued for greater transparency for law enforcement in a Twitter string.

Litigation, legislation, pushing TDCJ toward climate-controlled prisons
At the Dallas News, Lauren McGaughy offered an update on litigation related to TDCJ's failure to cool prisons in the summer or heat them in the winter. (Kudos to the headline writer - nicely done!) The agency stopped recording indoor temperatures a few years ago at one unit she investigated. They say it's because it's unnecessary, but you'd have to be a fool to believe it wasn't because prisoners began suing over conditions. "Inmate’s lawyers and their families believe the state is deliberately stifling the information. If officials don’t know the truth, advocates say, they can’t be held accountable for it," wrote McGaughy. E.g., at the Hutchins state jail this summer, the heat index at one point reached 136 degrees, on a 108 degree day. How hot it was inside is anybody's guess. Legislators, she declared, are considering filing bills to require climate regulation the way the state does for county jails. But it's hard to imagine budget writers paying for system-wide A/C unless a court forces them to do it. What they could do much more easily is require TDCJ to record indoor temperatures. You can't manage what you cannot measure.

Who is a "juvenile," who is a "child," who is a "minor," and where do and don't those terms intersect?
There's a new report on the topic, as well as the subject of juveniles charged with Class C misdemeanors, from the Office of Court Administration. This goes on Grits' holiday reading list.

Thinking about prison food while preparing holiday dinner
After TDCJ slashed prison-food budgets a few years back, my buddy Tom Philpott - who writes on the politics of food and agriculture for Mother Jones - and I bandied about the idea of doing a joint deep dive on Texas prison food, but neither had time when the other could do it. I've always thought, though, there's the making of a good story there, with lots of data to analyze and paper trails to follow, including daily, nutritionist-approved menus available for analysis. At Reason, we find a story titled, "Prison Food is a National Tragedy," so I'm glad someone is delving into the topic, if not the deep dive Tom and I imagined. (Note to Reason editors: The story needed a Christmas-dinner hook!) As a bonus, some other journalistic offerings I hadn't seen from recent years are linked in the story. In Texas, the issues at prisons and jails are quite different. In prisons, it's government doing things on the cheap, with the Legislature slashing food budgets to levels beyond reason or simple decency. In jails, problems often arise thanks to un-wise privatization gambits.

Christmas in jail
Read Keri Blakinger on Christmas in jail.

Christmas while mommy's in jail
Speaking of Christmas in jail, this time of year it worth taking a moment to remember children of incarcerated parents, particularly those whose parents are arrested and jailed this weekend just before the holiday. The Dallas News last year created a short video about what happens to kids when their caregiver is arrested. Grits hopes we'll see legislation requiring the state to keep track of kids affected by incarceration and connect them to services and opportunities. Watch it and give a thought to how we could do things differently:


Gadfly said...

First newspaper I was at, years ago, I did a Christmas in jail piece, at a state jail. Featured one inmate.

Guy had been arrested originally eons ago, when it was still TDC. Robbery, I think? Wound up, at a young age, become a cell block captain. Yeah, way back when.

Had a guy "pushing" him. Asked other block captains. They said something to the effect of "you need to take care of him," probably meaning get some of your lieutenants to rough him up.

No, he did different. Fatally stabbed the guy himself with an ice pick. More time!

Later, decides he wants to end white gang affiliations. While in prison, takes off tattoo with bleach and sandpaper. Yes, really; showed me his shoulder, years later.

Eventually gets paroled.

Goes to work for Miss Ann, when she's governor! Yes, really.

Then ....

He's driving without insurance, for whatever reason. Arrested. Parole violation. Back in prison, to state jail. And, that's where I met him.

P. Ghosh said...

The state of Texas has absolutely no concern for anybody's children because the schematics of the State of Texas that is building criminals at an alarming rate.
The state of Texas depends on ignorance and if you look at the statistics on their educational history in,education they ranked 48th ;30 years ago. Now they rank 43rd now where has all the money gone from the lottery that was supposed to help veterans and the education I don't know where and the taxpayers of the State of Texas are the most uninformed and ignorant people that there is, so should they be subject to this type of thing like the lawsuit that's going on right now with the class action against the driver responsibility program where they put a 75 year old grandmother to where she's riding the bus 6 hours a day and still doesn't know how much she owes to get her driver's license back with reoccurring surcharges for the next three years.

In 2015 they repealed the law that was saddling over a hundred thousand children a year with criminal records that's children for truancy laws that they had broken that way when they become of age they can come to prison their job history has been affected their military records can be affected and our criminal record is already set in stone for them ,thanks to the legislature and people like the wheelchair Wonder Governor Abbott and the rest of his cronies and I do repeat cronies these are people that could care less about anyone since they line the pockets of Texas.
if you have any doubt about what I'm saying to you here today anj

Just do your due diligence instead of just sitting there making your own opinions get some kind of base and you will find that what I'm telling you is exactly true the legislature enacted that law they knew damn well what were doing.

rodsmith said...

Actually they can be held accountable. What us it DA's to a defendant. It was deliberate ignorance. You did't want to know...they get criminal conviction's with that hook all the time

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