Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Humpty Dumpty, the Castle Doctrine, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

Humpty Dumpty and the Castle Doctrine
The judge in former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger's murder trial for the shooting of Botham Jean gave the jury instructions on the Castle Doctrine defense, despite the fact that Guyger entered Jean's home and shot him, and wasn't defending her "castle." Her lawyers employed this argument as their primary defense (that it wasn't her home was a "mistake of fact," they said) so the judge had no choice but to address it, but Humpty Dumpty would be proud! The claim didn't help Guyger, however. She was convicted, anyway. UPDATE: Guyger was sentenced to ten years.

Death of trailblazing deputy raises difficult, familiar questions
The tragic shooting death of a Harris County Sheriff's deputy - a trail blazing figure who was the first Sikh to work in Harris County law enforcement - raises familiar questions with no satisfying answers. The alleged killer is a severely schizophrenic parolee who had gone off his meds and heard voices telling him to kill people. Is the criminal-justice system the best way to deal with people whose offenses are rooted in severe mental illness? How did this convicted felon and parolee get a firearm? He already was the subject of a warrant for violating his parole, should more resources be allocated to search for high-risk parole violators? His family had told officials he was dangerous and off his meds: Are there "red flag" laws that could have allowed them to act sooner? The circumstances surrounding this awful episode will provide fodder for these and many other debates in coming years. The public dialogue would have been easier, in a sense, if this had turned out to be a hate crime. The issues surrounding mental illness and the politics of gun proliferation are much more complex and difficult to deal with.

Private jail operator keeps screwing up
At the Liberty County Jail, which is operated by the Geo Group, "In the last 60 days, there have been two felony escapes, one of their correctional officers was arrested for stealing from inmates while on duty, and most recently, there are questions surrounding the death of a prisoner who hanged himself while in their custody. Apart from those instances, they have also flunked two jail inspections this year, one on April 22 and the second on June 28," the Houston Chronicle reported. Local officials are considering whether to terminate ties with the private prison contractor.

The economics of high probation fees
Check out a new article from our friend Todd Jermstad, probation director in Bell County, on the history and future of court-imposed fees at Texas probation departments. Especially interesting was his thesis that policymakers should take into account reduced means of Gen X and Millenial defendants, whose economic prospects remain less robust than earlier generations. Grits may delve more deeply into this soon, but for now, here's the link.

Bail litigation roundup
See a write-up from The Appeal of recent bail-litigation news, including from Houston and Galveston. See also related Grits coverage and our discussion of the topic in Just Liberty's most recent Reasonably Suspicious podcast.

Over friggin' pot?
In Hutto, a police officer responding to a call that someone was smoking marijuana beat up a man in his driveway and made false accusations in official documents to justify it. The victim had no marijuana in his possession, and bodycam video proved the cop was lying about the victim pushing the officer before he was attacked. The officer was fired, was indicted in May, and the victim has filed a civil rights suit, reported KXAN-TV.

Homelessness problems and solutions
In the wake of Austin's tendentious debate over homeless policy, I was interested to see this excellent New Republic article on "housing insecurity in the nation's richest cities." When, in the 1990s, my wife and I could rent a dilapidated three-bedroom house in East Austin for $190, homelessness wasn't such a big problem. Now that rents in my neighborhood for similar homes approach $3k per month, it's little wonder more people are on the streets. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News had an informative piece a couple of months back on how Finland all but eliminated people sleeping on the streets by investing in preventive strategies like rent subsidies.

How police misconduct gets covered up by plea bargaining
Here's an excellent analysis from Brooklyn public defender Scott Hechinger of how mandatory minimums and the threat of long sentences help cover up police misconduct that would otherwise come out in court. That's because "victims of police abuse — illegal stops and frisks, car stops and searches, home raids, manufactured charges and excessive force — routinely forgo their constitutional right to challenge police abuse in a pretrial hearing in exchange for plea deals." This is undeniably true. It's only in cases like the episode in Hutto, described above, where victims face no charges that officers can be held accountable through regular court processes.

Financial motive not only reason prosecutors oppose actual-innocence claims
The New York Times published a feature on falsely convicted people who've been exonerated by the evidence but cannot secure an "actual innocence" ruling because prosecutors fear the financial consequences of civil rights lawsuits against local jurisdictions. All of the examples are from other states, but Texas' situation casts additional light on this topic. I was policy director at the Innocence Project of Texas when the Legislature passed the best-in-the-nation compensation package for exonerees in 2009. We hoped to avoid this dynamic by having the state compensate innocent convicts instead of the locals. Indeed, the bill was sold as a form of "tort reform," eliminating local liability for what were seen as systemic flaws causing false convictions. But it turned out, the real, underlying complaints weren't financial. Many prosecutors and some judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals simply don't want to see falsely convicted people compensated, ever, and go to great lengths to oppose actual-innocence claims, despite the fact that locals weren't on the hook. So Grits is skeptical of the article's thesis that the motive behind opposing actual-innocence claims is financial. I think it's more pernicious than that.

Sheriffs and #cjreform
Our pal Jessica Pishko published a New York Times op ed on Sheriff's offices, declaring "The problem of sheriffs is particularly acute in the South and Southwest, where the office has more power and was historically used to prop up white supremacy." She calls for Sheriffs to undertake what amounts to a truth-and-reconciliation process for past wrongs. That sanguine suggestion to me seems unlikely. Texas alone has 254 counties, after all - a few might do that, under the right political circumstances, but most will not. And abolishing the office, as some have called for, doesn't change the fact that someone has to perform those functions. Grits has often thought that sheriffs' jail-management duties should be separated from their responsibilities to patrol unincorporated areas. These are distinct functions involving very different skill sets, and typically those elected to the office only have knowledge of one or the other. Whether Sheriffs should be an elected position is a question for another day.

Deep thinking on sex-offender policies
A recent NY Times piece examined emerging research on people who are sexually attracted to minors, finding that its roots are not genetic, but are "prenatal," and "can be traced to specific periods of development in the womb." And this Marshall Project story looks at evidence-based anti-recidivism programs aimed at people convicted of violent, sexual crimes once their sentence is complete. I found both articles to be thoughtful contributions to the discussion.

Most crime dropping nationally, but look at those rape numbers!
New Uniform Crime Report data is out, and most categories of crime have continued to fall, except rape, which has risen precipitously since 2014. See first-cut analyses from the Brennan Center and the Marshall Project. No one knows for sure what's behind the rise in rape numbers. The feds began using a more expansive definition of sexual assault in 2014, but the numbers increased even using the "legacy" definition. The question arises: Have there actually been more rapes committed over this period, or are we simply now getting a more complete picture of the scope of the problem in the wake of increased reporting thanks to the #MeToo movement? ¿Quien sabe? Regardless, the year-over-year decline in property crimes, murders, robberies, etc., is cause for celebration, while the sex-assault data should contribute to deeper conversations on the question.


Anonymous said...

In the vein of high probation fees:

In 2008 I was required to wear a GPS monitor for a period of probation. Sentinel, the service provider charged $14 day as the minimum fee on a sliding scale.

Minimum wage at the time was $6.55, so one week of GPS monitoring cost $98 dollars and as a recently released felon I was working 5 days a week at minimum wage. Almost three hours of every work day went to pay for the GPS monitor.

At $392 a month ($422 if you include the $30 for a land-line) I paid more for GPS than I did for the sort of efficiency apartment that would rent to a recently released felon without a cosigner, the roaches came free :D

Minimum wage went up, and I got better jobs and didn't violate, but that was in spite of this condition. Paying an attorney to petition the judge was out of the question.

My PO's position was "this is what the judge wants." The Sentinel staff ironically were the most empathetic but I'm sure it helped that I paid on time.

37% of my income for just one part (we're not even counting probation and classes fees) of probation was a price I was willing to pay to go home and stay home but it was obvious that I was the only person who quantified the expense that way.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Bark and his less than intelligent buddy Bob are crying in their beers over the Amber Guyger verdict. Like I said in a previous post..the times are changing and the crooked cop era is coming to an end.

Anonymous said...

Fees that an offender is ordered to pay reflected in the probation order is a visible and tracked cost. Then there are those expensive costs that are not reflected in a probation order. IE-Sex offender therapy fees, GPS fee, Computer monitoring fees, Ignition Interlock Fees, Drug/Alcohol monitoring device fees, third party program/class fees (DWI,DRUG Class) the list is really lengthy. AND these services are not collected or paid to the probation department or contracted or regulated providing control or containment on the cost a provider can charge an offender. It would be interesting to see a study that estimated how much offenders on probation pay outside of court ordered fees to third party services from private vendors. Anonymous at 1:42pm hit the nail on the head "it was a price I was willing to pay to go home and stay home."
And that may cause one to wonder what happens if or when you cannot afford o pay the high price tag for devices or services from private vendors????

Lee said...

I am doing some math here and it does not seem to add up here.

If a civilian kills a cop the judge is happy to declare that the death penalty should result from the conviction of capital murder. Robert Solis

If a civilian is killed by a cop, the best we can do is murder with a punishment of 5 to 99 years. Amber Guyger

Does anyone else see the MASSIVE imbalance here?
Why is Amber Guyger not facing the same justice system that Robert Solis is in that their actions were the same? Since they each shot and killed a man, why is she not facing the death penalty too? What is good for the goose, is not for the gander?

The only conclusion that I can draw from this some human lives (cops) are worth more than other human lives (civilians). We must have an official caste system just like the high schools in America, caste system in India or feudal system in Europe. In the European feudal system killing a mere peasant minuscule consequences compared to killing a noble.

My stomach turns in how far back in time we have stepped. How are people ok with this?

Anonymous said...

Let's put this into perspective. If the roles had been reversed and a black male civilian with a concealed carry permit would have done the same thing...walked into the wrong apartment and killed an off duty police officer in the exact manner as what happened in this case..how do you think that would have played out? Do you think the police would have been satisfied with anything less than a murder charge? I'm sure they would have pushed for a capital murder charge. However, that isn't what happened. Instead, one of their own was the guilty culprit, yet you have some of the old boys in blue saying it should have just been a manslaughter charge. Really..manslaughter.

Anonymous said...

This wasn't about race, or at least it shouldn't have been. And it also shouldn't have been about another police shooting, which it was. It should have strictly been about one person taking another persons life and that it was not justified. The facts are she used a firearm and purposefully shot the man who was in his own home. She made a conscious decision to inflict deadly force. Folks, that is what we call murder. You don't have to like or dislike the police to see that the decision rendered by the jury was a just one.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lee: I'm not denying for one minute that race/class/social standing etc. play a role in the criminal justice system, but the fact is, in Texas the death penalty is only applicable to those offenses that qualify as capital murder under the relevant statutes. Capital murder is murder + some other fact that make the crime particularly bad. For example, Death of a child, death of a cop, murder in the course of a rape etc. Google up Texas Penal Code 19.01, 19.02 and 19.03 to see the statutes. If the State did not seek a capital murder conviction and also seek the death penalty then - no death penalty. And if the State seeks death, it's the jury that decides the penalty anyway, not the judge. Does that help explain what was going on here? I hope so. Glad to explain further if that is of interest.

Lee said...

Dear 1:15pm,

Please explain to me why the murder of a cop is a capital offence but the murder of an accountant is less serious.

Here is the chart for the law that you explain-

Upper Caste of Important Lives - Judges, Cops & Prosecutors - Punishment for Murder is Death Penalty

Lower Caste of Unimportant lives - Accountants, Cooks, Truckers, Barbers, Plumbers, Electricians, Priests, Physicians, Students, Nurses, Pilots, Paralegals, Bakers, Cab Drivers, Bloggers, Psychiatrists, Cashiers, Teachers, Construction Workers and everyone else - Punishment for Murder is 5-99 years

How is this fair justice?

George said...

@01:15:00 Would love to hear your response to Lee's last input.

Law enforcement do have jobs that place them in jeopardy, no doubt. However, they take these excellent paying jobs voluntarily (great pay with benefits, garnered in most cases by holding the various city counsels hostage in the negotiation proceedings). This, in know way, shape, form or fashion makes their lives any more important than anyone else. They should be held accountable for their actions just like any other citizen and should NOT receive preferential treatment.

The same should be true of the prosecutors -- they should have their immunity shield removed and face the consequences of fabricated/withheld evidence and any act that goes against what the American Bar Association holds the average attorney accountable for.

Our current form of how justice is administered is broken and in need of triage.

Anonymous said...

1:15 presumably isn't a state legislator. You all need to call your state representative if you want an answer.


Or you can all shout into the internet void I guess... I'd recommend telli g your legislator what you think though. But Also understand the police unions already have your Rep on speed dial, so you might want to tell them what you think of that too.

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