Thursday, December 13, 2018

Tax deadline for exonerees, Blakinger on 'Fresh Air,' judge rubber stamps flawed blood-spatter forensics, and other stories

Lots going on this week, even if your correspondent hasn't had much blogging time. Here's a quick roundup of items presently filling up Grits' browser tabs:

Texas Exonerees: Tax deadline looming
Any Texas exonerees receiving compensation from the state: You have until December 17 to file to have your state compensation declared tax exempt. Act now! This time next week it will be too late!

Journalistic scoop scored inmates dentures, national press for reporter
Congrats to Keri Blakinger! Terry Gross from NPR's "Fresh Air" interviewed her about her great journalistic victory securing dentures for toothless Texas prisoners. The Department of Criminal Justice has begun issuing 3D-printed dentures to toothless inmates. What an excellent result. Keri, you should be very proud. And I'm proud of TDCJ, too, for doing the right thing here.

Rubber stamping prosecutor findings upholding bad forensics
Visiting Judge Doug Shaver ignored evidence of flawed forensics in the Joe Bryan murder case to recommend against habeas corpus relief, despite blood-spatter evidence connecting Bryan to the crime being thoroughly debunked and discredited during the hearing. (The same judge once ruled that a lawyers sleeping through his client's death penalty case had not provided ineffective assistance!) Reporter Pam Colloff was shocked that Shaver simply adopted the prosecution's findings without alteration, but this is actually a more common practice than most people know. The Court of Criminal Appeals should reverse the judge's conclusions. It's disingenuous to pretend that the only forensic evidence connecting the defendant to the crime did not contribute to his conviction. This case is exactly the type of circumstance for which Texas' junk science writ was created.

Demagoguery backfires: Flag desecration case more complex than portrayed
In September, the Denton County Sheriff held a press conference to engage in demagoguery regarding a man alleged to have desecrated an American flag. Now, it turns out the guy is mentally ill, has a sad, complex backstory, and can't make bail because of a bad credit record. The county has spent thousands of dollars to incarcerate him - with no end in sight, until he's deemed competent to stand trial - all based on ~$300 worth or property damage. The ACLU has taken up his case, alleging he is being singled out and punished more harshly because of his political message. See coverage from the Denton Record Chronicle.

Asset forfeiture in TX tops $50 million
Texas cops seized more than $50 million in assets from Texans in 2017, alleging they were contraband. But in many instances, property owners were never convicted of a crime.

How cops turn mental health crises into deportations
I'd missed this when it came out in August, but the excellent reporting from the Texas Observer on the topic remains timely.

Prosecutor misconduct alleged, execution goes forward anyway
Alvin Braziel was executed on December 11 just hours after a member of the prosecution team admitted to alleged misconduct in the case. Judges Walker and Alcala dissented.

How bogus blood-spatter evidence 'spread like a virus'
Excellent historical background from ProPublica from Leora Smith, a young researcher who worked with Pam Colloff on the Joe Bryan story.

Wanted: Generalist forensic scientists
A new paper argues that traditional forensics will be a dead profession in a few decades if generalist scientists do not step up to engage the profession.

Fewer murders this year
Nationwide, murder rates appear to be declining in 2018.

The First Step Act will get a vote in the Senate
Thank heavens!

For podcast listeners
In addition to Just Liberty's Reasonably Suspicious podcast (I was particularly pleased with the December episode), the Marshall Project has a good roundup of recent #cjreform podcasts and multi-media projects that may interest Grits readers. In addition to the ones listed there, I've also been enjoying Villains - neat concept for a podcast.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

re: Rubber stamping prosecutor findings upholding bad forensics

Maybe there should be some punitive response for those trial judges who have their decisions reversed due to their error. Get it right, or pay a fine. No more stupid decisions that waste taxpayer money. Otherwise, what is the incentive to do the best possible job?

Anonymous said...

For those inclined to read:

https://houstonlawreview.org/article/3874

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