Monday, February 04, 2019

Texas bail-reform bill to be filed today, and other stories

Here are a few browser-clearing odds and ends to start your week:

Bail-reform news and notes
Bail reform legislation will be unveiled at the Texas capitol this afternoon. Right now, there is bail litigation only in three Texas counties, but change is needed everywhere. The New York Times analyzed a pretrial-release bail-alternative program in NYC that reduced the population of the jail on Rikers Island by 38 percent. Bail reform helps reduce incarceration not just in jails, but in prisons: A study last year found that pretrial release "significantly decreases the probability of conviction" and future incarceration. UPDATE: The bill is SB 628. Here's video from the press conference, at which Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Andrew Murr, Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, and Supreme Court of Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hect all spoke. See coverage from the SA Express News and the Texas Tribune.

Asking "Why?"
An Austin family says there are too many unanswered questions surrounding their son's death after he was shot by police.

Competency restoration and state-hospital budgets
Texas has under-invested in mental-health services for years, relying on the justice system instead. Now, state hospitals need large, new investments to handle the competency-restoration load coming to them from Texas criminal courts. The Legislature should also authorize and fund outpatient competency restoration, as this blog has advocated for years, but they can't get away with failing to invest in state hospitals.

Where are the Class C misdemeanor records?
Here's a curious little study by the TX Office of Court Administration regarding Class C misdemeanor record retention, availability, and access, ordered by the 85th Legislature.

Video killed the bodycam software
In McLennan County (Waco), the DA's office is becoming overwhelmed with the amount of video it must store, and a glitch caused them to temporarily lose access to it last month. Amazon Web Services stores their video; they're about to up their capacity from 80 to 178 terabytes. A legislator (not from Waco) recently complained to me about the burdens video places on prosecutors under the Michael Morton Act, so this is a developing meme.

Despair and the American prosecutor
Grits has often thought the jobs "cop" and "prosecutor" shouldn't be life-long careers but merely a life phase. The distorted myopia that comes from viewing the world through a crime lens, encountering members of the public mainly via tragedy, at their lives' lowest points, would leave anyone jaded and discouraged. That sounds like how Ellis County DA Patrick Wilson is feeling as he prepares to leave office in 2020.

Assessing rape victims' needs
Check out the recently published "Austin/Travis County Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team Community Needs Assessment," for another aspect of the growing conversation over how Austin responds to victims in sexual assault cases.

Report: Travis County, state prisons collecting voice-print data from phone calls
Prisons are building databases of incarcerated people's voice prints, reported The Intercept in conjunction with The Appeal. "Corrections officials representing the states of Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, along with Arizona’s Yavapai and Pinal counties; Alachua County, Florida; and Travis County, Texas, also confirmed that they are actively using voice recognition technology today" from Securus, a Carrollton, TX-based company.

Bexar DA creates process to avoid arrest for petty offenses
Under the new Bexar County DA, cite and summons will be revived for three offenses: marijuana possession, DWLI, and theft of service. The Texas Legislature this session will consider reducing penalties for two of those offenses: Both the Governor and the Texas GOP platform have endorsed reducing penalties for user-level marijuana possession and Rep. Alma Allen has suggested reducing all DWLI charges to a Class C misdemeanor.

Smart on Crime focused on state jails
Writing at Tribtalk, Smart on Crime Chief Strategist Bill Hammond called on legislators to reduce incarceration in state jails to reduce recidivism.

Whose assets are seized under forfeiture laws?
Here's an excellent profile of asset forfeiture practices in South Carolina, where black men make up 13% of the population but 65% of forfeiture cases. To my knowledge, one can't get to a comparable statistic from available Texas data on forfeitures.

Prosecutor: 'Immoral' to fund justice system through probation fees
An Oklahoma prosecutor says it's immoral to fund his office partially through probation fees, providing corrupting incentives. The same can be said for funding Texas probation departments through high fees. Judges who oversee probation departments have an economic incentive not to let successful probationers off supervision, because they're the ones paying fees to keep the probation departments' lights on.


Anonymous said...

"bail reform bill to be filed today," any idea who or where this bill is being filed? Couldn't find anything on

Gritsforbreakfast said...

John Whitmire in the Senate and Andrew Murr in the House, same as last time. It's SB 628. Here's video from the press conference, at which Whitmire, Murr, CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, and SCOTX Chief Justice Nathan Hect all spoke.

Anonymous said...

"...A legislator (not from Waco) recently complained to me about the burdens video places on prosecutors under the Michael Morton Act..."

Grits, could you expand upon this? IMO, if a prosecutor is uncertain of the Brady material in a video (assuming the Prosecutor watched the entire video), it seems that best practice would be to just give the entire video to the defense. Let the defense find the favorable footage. Ergo, no burden to the prosecution.

The article linked stated "One recent McLennan County misdemeanor case involved video evidence filling 69 DVDs", but a 4.7GB DVD can hold upwards (if done correctly) of 10 hours of video. Are we to believe that 690 hours (or almost 29 days of continuous recording) of footage was required for a misdemeanor?

It sounds like someone needs to take a lesson from pornhub (online streaming with no DVD burning required!)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The burden is the volume. If 20 officers from five agencies show up at a critical incident and stay there for three hours, and they all have both dashcams and bodycams on, that's be 120 hours of footage the prosecutor is responsible for gathering and turning over. Add to that video from surveillance cameras in the area, which are now ubiquitous. Most of it is redundant but somebody has to (or is supposed to) watch it all. That's the critique. I didn't say I found it convincing, just that it's now coming from multiple sources and I suspect we'll hear it again.

Anonymous said...

So if you accept a call from a Texas prison; your voice (the family member) who has never been charged with a crime is now in a data base? If that is the case? Do you the family member have any rights or say in this? What year did Texas start doing this? 2009, when they turned on the phones?

Anonymous said...

Competency beds for JUVENILES need to be a priority. Way too many times juveniles are thrown to the side and that young group is the ones that need it the most.

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Anonymous said...

All calls from jail are recorded. Imagine being a defense attorney with hundreds of hours of jail calls to go through on a single case. Now multiply that by 20 to 50 clients in jail. Many of these calls and visitation meetings are with "victims" mostly in assault family violence cases where they must be listened to.

Anonymous said...

"funding Texas probation departments through high fees. Judges who oversee probation departments have an economic incentive not to let successful probationers off supervision, because they're the ones paying fees to keep the probation departments' lights on"

$60.00 per month is affordable. In order for Texas to operate a probation system as it does now w/o the supervision fee would cost the Texas Legislature about $160 million dollars per year. As it is, supervision officers are ridiculously underpaid for the job they are required to do. Most Judges will tell you it is the probation officer that keeps the system glued together. Judges might approve the probation departments budgets, but I doubt seriously many of them put much thought into what it takes to operate a probation department. Instead, they trust the probation department to do their job. The fee paid by the probationer is necessary. I doubt seriously Judges decide to keep a successful probationer on probation simply so the probation department can keep the lights on.