Saturday, January 19, 2019

Bail litigation updates across Texas, and other stories

A bit of personal news: After Just Liberty's Executive Director, Shakira Pumphrey, left to join the new Texas House Speaker's staff to work on criminal-justice policy, your correspondent was elevated to her old post on an interim basis. Many thanks to Shakira for all her hard work for Just Liberty over the last two years, and good luck at the new gig! Meanwhile, as Grits struggles to fulfill his new admin duties, here are a few odds and ends that merit readers' attention.

New Harris judges propose bail-reform framework
Just-elected judges in Harris County proposed a new bail framework that will become the basis for a settlement offer in the county's ongoing bail litigation. Reported the Houston Chronicle:
Under the new administrative rule, 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors automatically qualify for release on no-cash bonds, according to the county’s pretrial services division. People arrested for bond violations, repeat drunken driving and family violence are the only exceptions. These defendants must appear before a magistrate or judge within 48 hours, at which time they may also qualify for personal recognizance bonds.
DA may be liable in Galveston bail litigation
Federal bail litigation in Galveston survived a motion for summary judgement and may now go forward, a District Judge George Hanks, Jr. ruled this week. Hanks said defendants must be provided counsel at their bail hearing, a provision which tracks rulings in Houston and Dallas. (Most Texas counties do not provide attorneys at the bail-hearing stage, so this litigation result could be replicated nearly everywhere in the state.) Interestingly, Hanks also found that Galveston District Attorney Jack Roady, "who controls the county's bail schedule, was liable for his role in perpetuating a wealth-based detention system. Magistrate Edison had ruled that magistrate judges 'always strictly adhere' to the bail amounts recommended by Roady."

Chaos surrounds Dallas County bail-reform proposal
Despite having months to put together a proposal, in federal court this week, Dallas County officials appeared confused and unprepared, reported the Dallas Morning News. County officials wanted to put lawyers from the Public Defender Office at bail hearings, but judges appoint attorneys and some have told the county, "We're not going to participate," the paper reported. That's foolish. Providing defendants counsel at bail hearings is the one, crystal clear requirement that we can already tell will apply to all Texas counties based on bail litigation thus far (including the 5th Circuit's reaction to the Harris Co. bail suit). The Legislature should simply require it in a statute, or else federal courts will require it one county/lawsuit at a time. MORE.

Tea-leaf reading on execution-stay vote
The Court of Criminal Appeals stayed an execution in a case involving bite-mark evidence and Texas evolving, SCOTUS-dictated developmental-disability standard in death cases. On Twitter, your correspondent engaged in some tea-leaf reading over the vote count. I'm worried the Government Always Wins faction may have gained a new member. In other, related, news, I already miss Judge Elsa Alcala's voice on the court.

'Dead Suspect Loophole' in Public Information Act decried
In Austin, several recent cases have brought to light what local media are calling the "Dead Suspect Loophole" in the Texas Public Information Act. The Legislature changed the law in 1997 to say only information about cases that result in a conviction must be made public, and when a suspect dies (say, because they're shot by a cop or die mysteriously in jail), they're never prosecuted. The problems with the law-enforcement exception to Texas Public Information Act go much deeper than that, and the Legislature should address them, but I'm glad this aspect is being highlighted. That said, the loophole is discretionary. Local officials don't have to use it. This is a transparency issue that should be re-raised when the various pols' primaries roll around.

Which crappy, failing bureaucracy should run the Harris County Jail?
Sen. John Whitmire suggested the state should take over the Harris County Jail after its fifth suicide in two years. If the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did a better job, Grits might agree. Suicide attempts at TDCJ are quite high. Weird that the Governor wants the state to take over Houston ISD, now Whitmire wants the state to take over the jail ... there's a theme being developed around the capitol that local officials' autonomy in Harris County should be restricted. The recent blue-wave election there could exacerbate that dynamic in the still-red-as-roses Texas Lege.

Convict leasing history, victims unearthed
The Houston Chronicle has been providing good coverage of the discovery of dozens of black prisoners bodies buried in unmarked graves near Sugar Land. They were inmates leased to the Imperial Sugar Company, for which the town is named. For more on Imperial Sugar and the convict leasing system, check out Texas Tough by Robert Perkinson.

Rangers pulled off LaSalle Corrections investigations for alleged conflict of interest
The Sandra Bland Act required counties to have a separate agency investigate all deaths in county jails, and may have used the Texas Rangers, including at 7 jails run by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison contractor with a problematic history. The Dallas News reported alleged conflicts of interest, with the company hiring a former Ranger who's son presently oversees the Rangers at DPS. While not alleging misconduct, the Commission on Jail Standards has decided to pick a different agency to investigate LaSalle-run facilities.


Gadfly said...

Speaking of bite marks being not real evidence, have you seen this Pro Publica piece on the FBI and photo evaluations?

Oprah, not her said...

re: Tea-leaf reading on execution-stay vote

"...Since those studies were published, there’s no indication that lab officials have checked past casework for errors or inaccurate testimony..."

Yep. Sounds about right.

"Forensic Science -- If you don't know what ipse dixit means, you're f*cked."

Anonymous said...

Isn't tea-leaf reading a validated forensic science principle?

Anonymous said...

Tea-leaf reading is only admissible when performed by a state certified blood splatter expert and when confirmed by analyzing a poligraphers bite marks.