Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What the jury didn't hear, against SWAT raids for routine search warrants, bail explainers, courthouse architecture, and other stories

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

Margaret Moore, Rosa Jimenez, and what the jury didn't hear
Weird comments from Travis County DA Margaret Moore on the Rosa Jimenez case in The Appeal: “There is an ultimate fact question that was resolved by the 12 men and women who actually saw all the evidence and heard opinion testimony,” Moore told The Appeal. “Everything after that is opinion by people who were not in that courtroom.” But here's the thing: The reason four judges have now said Jimenez is likely innocent and should be released is that the jury heard false, un-rebutted expert testimony that biased their view. When judges looked at all the same evidence, and also evidence to which the jury wasn't privy rebutting junk science in the case, they said Rosa didn't do it. So jurors didn't consider all the evidence. That seems disingenuous. (See prior Grits coverage, and listen to a segment on the case on the latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast, plus coverage from a Travis DA Democratic candidates forum over the weekend.)

Use of SWAT raids for routine search warrants creates needless risk
The practice of using SWAT tactics to execute routine search warrants continues to result in unnecessary deaths. A Waller County man was killed in a SWAT raid by police who wanted to seize a computer (someone else's) over alleged possession of child pornography. Can it really require a no-knock raid to seize a computer? This was unnecessary; the man's death was much more a predictable policy failure than it was an accident.

Fewer inmates beaten up more often at TDCJ
Recent inmate deaths at the hands of guards in Texas prisons highlights that use of force by staff has increased dramatically in recent years, reported the Texas Tribune, even as the number of inmates supervised declined and eight prison units closed.

Whistleblower gaining momentum in Sheriff's race
Liz Donegan, the Austin PD whistleblower who was removed as head of that agency's Sex Crimes unit because she wouldn't improperly classify cases as "cleared," is now running for Travis County Sheriff and, remarkably, earned the Austin Statesman's endorsement. Although Donegan was removed from her Sex Crimes post during Chief Art Acevedo's tenure, current Chief Bryan Manley earned ownership of the topic by blaming data errors on victims when the story came out. Him having her as a Sheriff-to-Chief peer would be deliciously awkward.

Bail explainers
Egged on by police, the Dallas Morning News has been blaming Dallas County DA John Creuzot for failures in the legacy bail system. But when they tried to do that in front of the City Council, staff gave everyone a primer on who is in charge of setting bail in Texas: Judges, not prosecutors. In Harris County, a judge demanded an explanation from prosecutors on why they blamed her in the press for a violent criminal's release when they'd never informed her of the details. Meanwhile, at the Paris News (TX, not France), a local reporter offered better explanatory coverage of the bail system than the Dallas News has yet.

Travis County judges dip toes in bail-reform waters
Travis County judges are saying they want to implement bail reform, including requiring defense attorneys at magistration, despite opposition from Travis County DA Margaret Moore. But the Texas Fair Defense Project and their allies say there would still be too much delay before release under the new proposal, and called for changes to the draft. Still, judges taking leadership on this is heartening news. They'd mostly dug in their heels before now.

No extra prosecutors for you, Kim Ogg
For the Harris County Commissioners Court, turning down District Attorney Kim Ogg when she asks for more prosecutors has become habit forming.

Houston crime lab to use disputed DNA mixture software
The Houston Forensic Science Center has begun using STR-Mix software for analyzing DNA mixture evidence. But last fall, a federal district judge in Michigan excluded such software from evidence after a "Daubert" hearing. DNA mixture analyses have been fraught with error for many years. Under the Michigan judge's ruling, based on recommendations from President Obama's forensics commission, STR-Mix software may be used when a) there are no more than three contributors and b) when DNA from the target makes up at least 20 percent of the sample. No word if HFSC intends to abide by those limitations.

Cherry picking data for scary headlines
The Austin Statesman issued a story with the headline: "Violent crimes with homeless suspects, victims went up in 2019, data show." The big news was that reported violent-crime incidents in the city increased by one percent last year, with a small increase attributable to the city's homeless population. What they didn't say was that Austin's population has been growing by 2-3% annually, so the rate likely decreased! Austinites were less likely to be victimized by violent crime last year than the year before. Why wasn't that the headline?

Defending Austin's federal courthouse architecture
The Department of Justice wants all federal courthouses to look like Roman temples and specifically criticized Austin's federal courthouse as an example of what they don't want. But I really like the federal courthouse in Austin. I was there recently for a hearing in the Rosa Jimenez case, then later to retrieve audio from the clerk. It's incredibly well-designed, with much more natural light and customer-friendly arrangement than most of them. Here's more on the Austin courthouse's architectural approach.

Fines and fees
Two essays on fines and fees for you:
'Doing justice isn't left, it's right'
The Texas Public Policy Foundation's Marc Levin thinks progressive prosecutors are mis-labeled.


Gadfly said...

I'll pass bigly on the Austin courthouse as a courthouse. Great building inside and at least interesting outside. But it doesn't say "courhouse."

And, one can take the classical style and color creatively within the box on the exterior and have it totally modern on the interior.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't think you can "color creatively" w/in the classical style, Gadfly. All those old temple-like courthouses are like tombs on the interior.

Anonymous said...

Why do DA's like Moore, Anderson and Bradley resist the truth, or any other item which leads to exoneration or finding that the accused may be innocent.

Maybe it is a common human frailty that we sometimes are not able to see facts that are opposed to or contradict our beliefs, but it seems that the problem arises most often with individuals who are empowered to either incarcerate, or to free people accused of crimes.

As if the adage that "if they were not guilty, they would not be in court" holds true in the minds of such individuals.

doug c. wise said...

Courthouse architecture as part of the Trump DOJ's American Shampire Project. At NYRB Tamsin Shaw makes the case that AG Barr is "the Carl Schmitt of our time." Julia Hell writes, "The sole function of Hitler's and Speer's theory of ruin value and their ruin-gazer scenarios was to fortify the position of the imperial subject. In a faraway future the Third Reich would crumble into beautiful Roman-style ruins, and the ruin gazers contemplating its remnants would be Germans, not Jews or Soviets or Poles." "Katechon: Carl Schmitt's Imperial Theology and the Ruins of the Future" (2009).

doug c. wise said...

More on Drumpfbauten by Martin Filler at NYRB: