Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Blind amputee robbed bank to get healthcare, Austin DNA lab may have caused false convictions, reconsidering extreme sentences, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused elsewhere:

DNA-mixture errors may have resulted in false convictions
Travis County has identified eleven possible false convictions in which people were convicted based on DNA evidence that later was corrected to make an earlier match "inconclusive." The cases will move forward as habeas corpus writs challenging old convictions. Twelve more cases where at least one evidence-match was changed to "inconclusive" are also under review.

Oddly disconnected tropes promoting prosecutor hiring push
Harris County DA Kim Ogg issued an oddly tone-deaf op ed related to her proposal to add 102 prosecutors to her staff. E.g., she declared, "Every single case represents an offender, a crime victim and a community that wants to be safe." But that's not remotely true. Her office prosecutes lots of cases without victims. Who's the victim in a misdemeanor pot case? Or for driving with an invalid license? She also claimed prosecutor caseloads are "two to four times the American Bar Association’s recommended case load for criminal attorneys." But Keri Blakinger pointed out that that ignores the fact that ABA has explicitly said those caseload standards would be inappropriate to apply to prosecutors. UPDATE: The commissioners court turned down Ogg's prosecutor staffing proposal.

Challenging Kim Ogg
Perhaps not unrelatedly, potential candidates are already licking their chops to run against Ogg in 2020, Murray Newman reported.

H-Town success story helping homeless vets
Combining funding streams to maximize services has helped Houston nearly eradicate homelessness among veterans. How could they replicate the approach for everyone?

Second-look coverage
Legislation dubbed the Second Look Act would allow courts to re-examine long sentences given to juveniles, reported the ubiquitous Keri Blakinger in the Houston Chronicle. "Texas is a harsh outlier" compared to other states regarding when juvenile "lifers" are eligible for parole.

Desperate times call for desperate measures
A blind amputee committed a bank robbery in Austin last year in an attempt to receive much-needed healthcare through the justice system. It worked.

Sober approach
See a recent writeup of Austin's new "sobering center," which is being used as an alternative in low-level arrests. The center treated about 700 clients in its first four months of operation.

Lubbock ME travails
The Lubbock County DA asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the local medical examiner, which is presently staffed with California-based consultants. Details are still secret, but Lubbock has had lots of trouble at its ME's office over the years. Autopsies remain a forensics backwater, in many ways; the quality of that work varies widely.

The case for capping prison sentences at 20 years
At Vox, German Lopez made the case for capping all sentences at 20 years. But from a statistician's perspective, that's going to make less of a difference than one intuitively might suppose. Where it would help a LOT is in limiting rising healthcare costs, which stem disproportionately from older prisoners with long sentences. In response, TDCAA pointed out on Twitter that, at the height of the crime wave in 1991, Texas' Punishment Standards Commission suggested a similar cap for all offenses except murder; the proposal, obviously, was never implemented. Putting a point on this conversation, check out this WSJ op ed from a Colorado judge calling for rethinking of extreme prison sentences, even for violent offenders.

Dashcams better for accountability than bodycams
A study found people are more likely to hold officers accountable if they view an incident on dashcam video instead of images from a bodycam, because seeing the cop in the frame affected their judgment about intentions and guilt.


Gadfly said...

Per a previous comment of mine, I'm still surprised Texas hasn't followed the Federal Bureau of Prisons in dumping old prisoners out the door and onto Medicare.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that Natarajan lasted as long in Lubbock as he did. There was a case where he testified on the basis of the report of an autopsy conducted years before by worst pathologist ever Ralph Erdmann. Natarajan failed to note obvious flaws in Erdmann's work and opined that there was nothing unusual about it, even though he could not identify the anatomic structures shown in the few photographs available of the corpse. The body was not exhumed, so he worked from Erdmann's report which did not even demonstrate that a full autopsy had taken place, contained numerous discrepancies and suspiciously rounded-off weights for the organs. Not to mention referring to non-existent anatomical features. Seems that Lubbock County just can't ever get competent MEs. But kudos to the DA for starting an inquiry into the latest crew.

Anonymous said...

re:Lubbock ME travails

It could be that Lubbock County Commissioners failed to do adequate vetting of the new MEs and now the corruption has begun...

Or maybe the huge backlog of bodies left behind after Natarajan’s retirement...

Or the allegations of mismanagement and autopsy report backdating against Dr. Natarajan...

This onion has many stinky layers.

I Do My Job. You Do Yours. said...

Austin's DNA Clusterf*ck
"...Meanwhile, the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania continues to work on a “root cause analysis,” or a review of the DNA lab’s processes and protocols to find the cause of the deficiencies that prompted the 2016 lab closure. It also will do a “look forward” review that will give advice on what needs to change to improve those processes and protocols."

The news article didn't once mention that the problems "discovered" by the Forensic Science Commission (FSC) in 2016 was already known about and reported to the FSC waaaaaayyyyy back in 2010. The Texas Ranges also knew. They created a false report to forward to the FSC.

And because the FSC didn't do it's legally required mandate of investigating negligence or misconduct reported from the crime lab in 2010, the problems went uncorrected. Thanks, Lynn!

To the QCFAJ, this webpage has numerous documents pertaining to the botched oversight. This is your root cause analysis.

Hey Lynn! Take this quote into consideration, "With limited exceptions, attorneys have only one opportunity to file a writ of habeas corpus, meaning they must investigate all potential grounds, even those that are non-DNA related."

Need and example? https://anonfile.com/N6g6O7t7b5/2017_APD_Poor_Forensic_Science_Escobar-Writ_2017_pdf

One shot. Get it? So, Lynn, do your job.

Anonymous I Do My Job. You Do Yours. said...

Hey Lynn! The 2018 FSC Annual Report, legally required per 38.01, is two over months LATE.