Saturday, November 16, 2019

A 10,000 year sentence? Austin PD racism in 'Plain View', the case for reducing drug penalties and eliminating cash bail, and other stories

Grits has been busier than a one-legged man at an ass kicking contest. So while I play catch up, here are several items which merit readers' attention, some of which I may expand upon going forward:

Racism at highest levels of Austin PD in Plain View
Austin PD assistant chief Justin Newsom was revealed to have sent racist text messages at work, but was allowed to retire with full benefits before disciplinary proceedings could be commenced. In response, local advocates called for the city to implement an institutional inquiry similar to, but more expansive than, the Plain View Project. That academic initiative examined police officers social-media posts for racist content. Advocates have requested that the Austin inquiry also include searches of departmental emails, text messages over department-issued phones, and any instant-messaging systems used internally by officers at APD. Let's find out how deep this rabbit hole goes.

How do you get a 10,000 year sentence in Texas?
Eugene Spencer, Jr. has the longest recorded sentence of any TDCJ inmate: at least 1,000 years, and press reports at the time of his sentencing said the real number is 10,000 years. I did a brief Twitter thread on his case. A black man convicted of killing a San Antonio cop during a gas-station robbery, the decisive testimony came from an accomplice and it was later proven a jailhouse informant lied on him at trial (courts agreed the guy lied but called it "harmless error"). Today, Mr. Spencer is 76, listed as 5'5" tall, 119 lbs, having spent 47 years of his life behind bars. As attorney Scott Medlock pointed out, he will first become eligible for parole in the 25th century, after the events in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  (UPDATE: See this comment for Spencer's current parole status.) Two questions arise: 1) as mentioned in the final tweet in the string, can anyone explain how it's possible under Texas' sentencing structure to give someone a 10,000 year sentence? And 2) does anyone think Texans would be less safe at this point if the septuagenarian was released?

Amarillo defendants pressured to forego counsel
The Sixth Amendment Center has issued a massive 200+ page study of indigent defense practices in Potter and Armstrong Counties. According to the group, "More than 74% of all misdemeanor defendants in Potter County, Texas (Amarillo) face the possibility of jail time without the aid of a lawyer, due to sheriff’s deputies, county prosecutors, and trial court judges exerting direct, overt pressure on indigent defendants to forego exercising their constitutional right to counsel." The Texas Fair Defense Project has a twitter-thread pulling more details from this extensive document.

Liar, liar, pants on fire: But who?
Harris County DA Kim Ogg and a fired ADA are accusing each other of lying to the court in a flurry of he-said-she-said allegations.

Moore responds to sex-assault oppo hits
Travis County DA Margaret Moore published a full-page ad in the Austin Chronicle responding to allegations about how her office handles sexual assault cases. Compare her characterizations to those in a lawsuit against her office, allegations by Austin firefighters, as well as coverage in the Statesman, the New York Times, and KERA-TV, for example, and make your own judgment.

'Reduce drug sentences to lower the prison population'
I've been saying this for years, but it's amazing to see the sentiment expressed by the Houston Chronicle editorial board. The editorial writers were inspired by Oklahoma's so-far-successful move to change low-level drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor:
Many of the same Oklahomans whose votes ushered President Trump to a landslide in the Sooner State three years ago also approved the sentencing changes through a referendum in that same election. 
The state’s legislators voted earlier this year to make the reforms retroactive, which led to the Oklahoma Pardons and Parole Board’s unanimous vote this month to commute the sentences and release more than 450 nonviolent offenders serving time for crimes no longer considered felonies. 
If Oklahoma can do that, so can Texas.
What happens when states eliminate cash bail?
New Jersey's experiment eliminating cash bail statewide appears to be going well.


Gadfly said...

I'll take "Who's more likely to be lying" for $1,000, Alex.

Answer? "Who is Kim Ogg?"

Wolf said...

Eugene Spencer, with his 1,000 year sentence, was parole eligible in 1988. His last parole review was 2016 at which he was given a 5 year set-off. That means his next parole review is in 2021. Keeping this 76 year old locked up might well have no public safety value. But that's exactly like thousands of other prisoners incarcerated with extreme sentences and/or mandatory minimums that prevents release when appropriate........all on the taxpayers dime and maintained by retribution-focused politicians. Sentencing and parole policy are just a two of the many justice related issues that merit serious examination.

Veryoldlawyer said...

When I was an assistant DA in El Paso in the 60"s. Possession of any amount of marijuana carried any term of years not less than two in the pen. In Dallas county the ADA's had a contest going to see who could get the most time. As I recall, the record was 6000 years. In El Paso, if we could get a conviction, the punishment was usually probation or suspended sentence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Wolf, you are right! Though I can't explain how a 10k yr sentence becomes parole eligible 16 years later, any more than I can explain a 10k year sentence.

@veryoldlawyer, HOW do you get 6,000 years under Texas' sentencing structure?