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Welcome to Texas justice: You might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride.
In section 3a, [the Texas Constitution] provides that "Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed" or - importantly - because of "national origin."That's a strong argument. The inclusion of "national origin" in Texas' equal protection guarantee seems to this non-attorney pretty much decisive. It's hard to see the Legislature seriously considering this bill now that these grave constitutional flaws have been exposed, especially given the sky-high fiscal note the idea would surely receive if the proposal ever got far enough along in the process for the LBB to determine its cost.
Furthermore, section 3 of the state's constitution provides for equal treatment under the law, considering that "All free men, when they form a social compact, have equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments. …"
The Texas Legislature should carefully consider what a misguided rule like the one proposed in SB 174 would mean. Texas judges are not immigration judges. But even if they were, the determination whether or not someone should be branded an "illegal alien" is determined after a lengthy process by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The decision is made considering the availability of relief, after a full review of a person's personal and immigration history, among many other factors. A rule which brands people without due process, and in violation of equal protection, cannot stand.
uncovered a pattern at Bexar County's Adult Probation Department: officers becoming romantically involved with the defendants they're supposed to be monitoring.See more on the story.
Disciplinary records tell of one probation officer passing information to a defendant she friended on Facebook. A supervisor using his county cell phone to call and text a probationer day and night. And one officer trying to intervene to keep police from arresting her fiancé who was on probation. That last instance was caught on SAPD dash-cam video. It was after 1:00 a.m. on a March morning.
Before Raspberry Pi can be installed inside an ATM and connected to Ethernet, USB, or RS-232 ports, an attacker needs to open up an ATM enclosure. At the machine’s upper part, there is a service area where the host that manages the ATM’s devices and network hardware, including poorly protected GSM/GPRS modems, are located. Unlike the safe located at the bottom, the upper part is quite easy to access — there is hardly any supervision over it if any. Attackers may open the service area using easy-to-make keys and simple materials at hands.That's a lot easier than driving a truck through the front door and trying to haul away the entire ATM machine! ATMs are so ubiquitous, it will take quite a while to retrofit them all with target hardening security measures. Likely, companies will wait until they've taken losses before justifying that big a security investment.
this rare moment of bipartisanship was born out of tragedy. In 1996, a 17 year-old prisoner named Rodney Hulin Jr. had torn up his bed sheet, tied it above the door of his cell in the Clemens Unit in Brazoria County, Texas, and jumped down from the top bunk of his bed. When correctional officers cut him down, Hulin was comatose, and he died four months later.MORE: A reader turned me on to this 6.5 minute video, "No Escape: Prison Rape in America - The Rodney Hulin Story."
Hulin had been raped, beaten, and forced to perform oral sex within three days of his arrival at the unit. He asked to be placed in protective custody and was turned down. After his suicide, a picture of his small shoulders and thin face circulated on major news networks and Hulin became a symbol of two related phenomena. One was the prevalence of new laws that allowed youth to be sent to adult prisons, rather than juvenile facilities, for non-violent crimes (Hulin had committed second-degree arson, resulting in less than $500 of property damage). The other was prison rape.
Even the Legislative Budget Board, which is charged with making recommendations to lawmakers on spending, has acknowledged there's no way for it to measure progress toward the border security goal
A "law enforcement sensitive" report issued to lawmakers and obtained by the Chronicle on Tuesday offers little clarity, just page after page of anecdotes and unsubstantiated or ill-defined numbers. In it, DPS gives Operation Strong Safety II, as it is called, full credit for the dramatic reduction in last summer's border apprehensions, even though federal efforts to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors were well underway.
The one thing the report is clear about: The operation "does not secure the border." I think we knew that.
In response students gathered in front of the courthouse and sang. A crowd of white people gathered, and in a few hours grew restless. In an effort to clear the group, the city fire department unleashed hoses of high pressure water at the demonstrators and several bystanders. Police arrested 37 more students in the process.Eventually, school administrators called for an end to the demonstrations and that summer, the "Wiley College president fired the entire teaching staff except for those who supported the administration during the sit-ins."
On 31 March, a crowd of 350 students met at the bell tower of Wiley College for prayer and songs in support of those still in jail. Later that day, the student leaders announced a boycott of white merchants.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Price Daniel ordered an investigation of [one of the organizers] Dr. Wilkerson after discovering his former ties to the Communist Party. Within a week the Bishop College president fired Wilkerson.
New Tarrant County DA Sharen Wilson had a case she presided over as a judge reversed on Thursday for the most basic of reasons: She refused to allow an attorney defending his client to speak during a hearing before she sentenced his client to prison. Excerpt: "Defense counsel: Can I make a closing statement when the time comes? The Court: I don't need one." Think about that. After I got over what an amazing basic legal error that was, I became more amazed that she didn't want to listen. Heck, I wouldn't say that to a waiter who asked, "May I make a suggestion?"Given her choice to run for Tarrant County District Attorney, perhaps Ms. Wilson understood her predilections were more suited to pro-government advocacy than judging, though plenty of Texas judges view those roles as indistinguishable, starting at the top.
Texas’ prison reforms beginning in 2007 revolutionized the state's long-standing “lock-em-up” philosophy. Over the years, the reforms have been lauded for abating the pressures of overcrowded prisons and efficiently using taxpayer dollars. But how these reforms translate from county to county can vary.
One facet of these reforms was an outgrowth of research and studies that showed how strong probation programs can reduce the number of offenders who are sent to prison, released and then are sent back to prison.
Strong probation, or in Texas’ parlance, “community supervision” programs, can have a large impact on the rising cost of the correctional system in the state budget.And here's a more specific discussion of what strong probation means on the ground:
"If you can take low-risk offenders and send them to an outpatient program, if you can get them through there … it’s much better than them being (sent) to a prison," said Jed Davenport, director of Midland County's Community Supervision and Corrections Department, which administers court-ordered probation.
"If you take someone who's low-risk and you put them in a program with high-risk offenders, you just increased the likelihood (by 63 percent) of them reoffending," Davenport said.
The two major changes made in the CSCD boil down to the methods by which probation officers supervise offenders, according to Davenport.
"Traditional probation for years was just, what I call, straight-lined enforcement of probation," Davenport said. "What we know doesn't work -- or doesn't help the probabilities of people not reoffending -- is just coming in and just roll-calling probation. There's got to be more to it."
In previous years, Texas' criminal justice system relied on simplistic assessments for predicting future violence in offenders. These predictions were made with little or no scientific basis and too often were wrong, according to a study out of Sam Houston State University -- "Risk Assessments in the Texas Criminal Justice System" -- by Mary Conroy.
"It seems clear," the study reads, "that the potential for violence was overestimated in many cases."
The retooling of community supervision programs by the Texas Legislature in 2013 produced the Texas Risk Assessment System, which was made mandatory for all correctional departments to use as of Jan. 1, 2015.
Under the guidelines of the TRAS, probation officers are given the training and tools to take a more psychoanalytical approach to assessing risk-factors in offenders, Davenport said. These risk factors include anti-social attitudes, substance abuse habits, lack of empathy for others and impulsive behavior, he said. The assessment will classify offenders as low-risk, medium-risk or high-risk.
Rather than just rubber-stamping probationers as having violated or not violated their terms of probation, "officers are having 10- to 15-minute discussions or guidance and instruction with them saying, 'This kind of thinking leads to this kind of behavior; you gotta stop thinking this way,'" Davenport said. "Criminal thinking leads to criminal behavior."
gained support for a new appeal from two unlikely sources: the DEA agent for whom she was once a confidential informant and a star prosecution witness who has now recanted.See Mathis' affidavit. Further, reported the Chron's Lise Olsen:
In affidavits separately supplied to Carty's current defense team in 2014, the agent and two of Carty's co-defendants allege that Harris County prosecutors crossed ethical boundaries and threatened them to ensure Carty's conviction.
Retired DEA Special Agent Charles Mathis, in his affidavit, specifically accused Connie Spence, the lead prosecutor on the case, with threatening to cross-examine him in open court about "an invented affair that I was supposed to have had with Linda." Mathis insists that allegation was false, but worried that it could have clouded his law enforcement career if Spence had carried out her threat in a capital murder trial that generated considerable publicity.
The affidavits from two of Carty's co-defendants accuse Spence and another prosecutor of threatening them with a death sentence and of feeding them stories designed to "nail" Carty.Pretty explosive stuff, if it can be proven. And harder to discredit Carty's DEA handler than some jailhouse snitch. Definitely one to watch.
The allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have been presented as "new evidence" in support of Carty's effort to win a hearing, a request now pending in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that was filed by Michael Goldberg, a Baker Botts civil attorney who has stuck with the case for more than a decade pro bono.
The TV investigators found that the evidence points blame toward Stites’ fiancée at the time, Jimmy Fennell Jr., who provided a timeline of his whereabouts that at the time ruled him out as a suspect.See parts one and two of the A&E feature on Rodney Reed's case.
“For me, it’s obvious,” [retired NYPD detective sergeant Kevin] Gannon said. “As far as I’m concerned, the murderer is Jimmy Fennell… I can’t see it being anybody else.”
The investigators also sourced evidence that shows Fennell has a violent past, and that he is currently serving time in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman while on duty and in uniform as a police officer.
For the purpose of this section, the gender of an individual is the gender established at the individual's birth or the gender established by the individual's chromosomes. A male is an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female is an individual with at least one X chromosome and no Y chromosomes. If an individual's gender established at the individual's birth is not the same as the individual's gender established by the individual's chromosomes, the individual's gender established by the individual's chromosomes controls under this section.
In 2013, a proposed bill in Arizona (why is it always Florida and Arizona?) would have allowed police to stop anyone suspected of using the "wrong" bathroom and demand identification. Had the bill not been defeated, violators would have faced a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail. Earlier this month, a Colorado bill that died in committee would have banned transgender students from accessing changing rooms.So this is a coordinated effort across multiple states, not just one oddbird bill in Texas.
A sworn affidavit filed by Kerr County deputy Jeff McCoy in support of the search warrant alleges that Cammack, 53, and Kroupa, 59, committed the misdemeanor of simulating legal process. ...
If charges are brought in the case, they could be filed in Kerr County or Brazos County, said Assistant Kerr County Attorney Ilse Bailey.Detaining, photographing, fingerprinting and swabbing members of a political group because they attended a meeting is a lot different from investigating wrongdoing by individuals. I've no problems with investigating these misdemeanor document fraud cases (though I'm surprised it would require the FBI to do it), but as described that seems like an awfully sweeping warrant.
The search warrant issued Feb. 12 by state District Judge Keith Williams authorized collection of fingerprints, photos and DNA swabs from those at the VFW hall to prevent anyone from providing a false identity to authorities.
It also authorized officers to seize computers, cell phones and paper documents “relevant to, or which describe criminal conduct or suspected criminal activity.”
Raising the threshold for the value of property stolen is expected to result in decreased demands upon the correctional resources of counties or of the state due to shorter terms of probation, or shorter terms of confinement in county jails or prison. Since the bill is raising the threshold for the value of property stolen for theft (misdemeanor and state jail felony) the impact on the state as a result of raising the threshold is likely to result in a decreased demand on the correctional resources of the state since offenders previously punished as state jail felons would now be punished as Class A misdemeanants.Similar to the proposal on drug crimes, it'd be nice to see a portion of savings from this move go to local probation departments to help manage the extra probationers they'll receive as a result.
Speaking to both houses of the Legislature on Wednesday, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht pressed lawmakers to decriminalize school truancy and spend more on legal aid to military veterans.His comments on truancy were particularly notable: “When almost 100,000 criminal truancy charges are brought each year against Texas schoolchildren, one has to think that maybe it’s not working. Playing hooky is bad, but is it criminal?” he asked. Reported Chuck Lindell, "A better solution, Hecht said, would be for schools and courts to provide prevention and intervention services designed to get students back in the classroom."
Hecht also reminded legislators of their duty to ensure that indigent and middle-class Texans are not priced out of access to the courts — whether it be for civil-court remedies, such as restraining orders for victims of domestic abuse, or for legal help for poor defendants facing criminal charges.
The state of Texas routinely sent sex offenders back to prison as new arrivals entered its civil commitment program, lacking funds to accommodate all of those being confined for what is supposed to be ongoing treatment.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned civil commitment in Texas and 19 other states as long as it is therapeutic and not punitive, some legal scholars say Texas' program has been run to keep sex offenders in custody indefinitely.
Their constitutional concerns now have been bolstered by state records and interviews that suggest the agency charged with overseeing the civil commitment program, the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, created a revolving door to avoid a shortage of bedspace, often using minor rule infractions as grounds to send its charges back to prison, sometimes for life.
Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, now is calling for a review of all cases in which program participants, who already had completed their criminal sentences, were sent back to prison for breaking program rules.
"There's no question to me that they revoked more people when they ran out of beds, so they could continue committing people to the program," said Whitmire, who has spearheaded calls to reform the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management. "That's absolutely not the way this program was supposed to work."
Marsha McLane, executive director of the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management since last May, warned lawmakers: "We have no space for anyone else. Unfortunately, the only option may be that we have to go to the street with any new offenders."
McLane said two sex offenders finishing their criminal sentences are due to arrive in the program in the next week, and more than a dozen more are to enter the program by the end of August. All beds are now full, she said, and the state must find another 140 beds by August because two halfway houses have notified the agency they no longer will house the offenders.
"We've got a crisis on our hands," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, a member of the Finance committee. "This is as big a screw-up as I've seen in all my years up here." ...
McLane said a bidding process for housing twice yielded nothing last year. And a statewide search of closed state youth lockups and adult prisons, even other empty state facilities, so far has come up empty.AND MORE: From the Texas Tribune.
"I've looked at 130 sites. Nothing is available," McLane told the House committee, noting that most communities do not want the convicted sex offenders moving in.
Of all the statistics that point to an urgent need to reform the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons, there’s one that is most striking: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released more than 1,200 people directly from solitary confinement back into Texas communities in 2013.The article concluded:
Imagine for a moment languishing alone in a 60-square-foot cell for 22 hours a day, for months or even years. Then one day, suddenly you’re left to successfully re-enter society.
This practice needs to stop.
For too long solitary confinement has been deployed as a routine disciplinary measure, rather than as an extreme practice reserved for rare circumstances. This needs to change.
Among other reforms, we should better train our correctional officers to work with people with mental health issues. We should have an incentive program that allows prisoners in solitary to earn their way, with good behavior, back into the general population. And we should ban releasing people directly from solitary confinement back into the community.
In recent years, the Texas criminal justice system has begun to tilt the balance back toward rehabilitation for all but the most violent offenders. In the same spirit, we are overdue for a far-reaching, but entirely common sense, rethinking of the way that solitary confinement is used in our prisons.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers across Texas have such checkered histories that prosecutors have vowed to refuse cases brought by them — or, at the least, feel legally compelled to inform defense attorneys that the officers’ histories of dishonesty may help their clients.Here's their description of the project:
But, for the most part, you can’t know who those cops are or what they did, even though an American-Statesman investigation found that they have resulted in the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.
Beginning last summer, the newspaper asked each of the state’s criminal district attorneys for copies of their so-called Brady lists, as well as letters they had sent to law enforcement agencies alerting them of local officers whose credibility was so shaky that they could not be used in court as a witness. Many smaller, rural prosecutor offices, especially, said they kept no list of suspect police officers — at least not formally.The Attorney General sided with law enforcement opacity on this question, but IMO that's a tremendously broad reading of Sec. 552.108 of the Public Information Act and the Statesman's attorneys would do well to sue to acquire these records. First, I think the recalcitrant prosecutors and the AG are legally in the wrong. Second, these records would provide fodder for potentially dozens of stories going forward that would make litigation worth the bang for the buck.
A number of elected prosecutors simply didn’t respond, ignoring state open records laws.
Several released their letters and lists without restriction. Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson produced seven letters in which he said he would no longer accept cases from named officers.
Then-Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins compiled a spreadsheet of local police officers whose histories of falsifying documents or questionable behavior might compromise the credibility of their testimony. There are 192 officers on it, listed alphabetically. ...
A handful of prosecutors agreed to disclose only the total number of suspect police officers in their jurisdictions. Bexar County’s list has 65; Denton County has 39.
Many larger offices — including Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s — fought the newspaper’s requests to release any information, arguing to then-Attorney General Greg Abbott that their records of officers with dubious credibility should not have to be released because they are internal law enforcement communications and thus exempt from Texas open records laws. Those included Harris, Lubbock, Galveston, El Paso, Tarrant and Webb counties.
We did indeed settle so the saga is (mostly) over. Basically, after the Fifth Circuit's ruling [see Grits coverage], TDCJ called for a settlement conference. We agreed upon an amount and they wrote the check.Ouch! Still, given what happened to her, one can understand a touch of bitterness in Lyons' attitude toward her former employer. Congratulations to Michelle on her victory.
The only thing still being disputed is a neutral employment letter. As part of the settlement, I asked that they write a letter stating my years of service should I ever again to decide to pursue a job with the State of Texas. In the initial draft, they made no mention of my more than five years as director of the Public Information Office and so I asked them to update it. I'm told that Bryan Collier doesn't want to do that - he only wants to include the salary and pay grade I was in after my demotion. I am not sure why, other than it being a control issue and attempt to get in one last jab.Beyond that, I am extremely happy to be able to put this behind me, but still am troubled that the two individuals who perpetrated the discriminatory actions against me - namely Brad Livingston and Bryan Collier - remain at the helm of the agency. If they wanted to get rid of me, they could have done so without drumming up false allegations and then applying the rules only to me.
I hope our state leadership takes a hard look at this and other similar cases and determines that these individuals are not acting in the best interest of TDCJ or the State of Texas as a whole. It's time for them to step down and allow new leaders to repair the damage they have caused, restoring agency morale. Giving them another significant pay raise this session is not the answer, particularly when the men and women who actually serve on the frontlines get little to nothing.
Likewise my replacement, Jason Clark, should be investigated for perjury. He lied under oath about his own time-keeping practices and then was rewarded with a promotion. I'm sure it will never happen, but I think any journalist should be wary of the information he dispenses to them.
speaking of keeping people out of jail, I really think the law needs some help with pre-trial bail, letting people out before the case is sentenced. We’ve had a lot of cases recently where we’ve granted relief because here’s somebody arrested for possession of cocaine or meth or whatever and they plead guilty because they’ve got a job or a family or they just can’t stay in jail for the next six months before trial; they don’t have enough money to make bail, but they plead guilty. Then sure enough six months later the analysis on the drugs comes back and guess what? It’s not a drug.There aren't a lot of good answers here. Our friends at the prosecutors' association have suggested boosting crime lab funding, but throwing money at the problem won't change the structural dysfunction created fundamentally by high case volumes and unreasonable bail policies.
A random system isn't magic fairy dust that will fix everything. Choosing our grand juries the way we choose trial juries will likely produce fairer panels with fewer biases. But, naturally, they will also be less informed about the system, and about their rights and duties.
More education is needed. Harris County provides an informative orientation, from what I've gleaned from agendas and interviews. But it's lacking in the perspectives from the defense, from groups like the Innocence Project, or from exonerees themselves.
"I get about 10 minutes. There's only so much I can cover," said Alex Bunin, Harris County's chief public defender.
Grand juries could also benefit from a staff attorney, or some kind of independent legal adviser who doesn't have a dog in the hunt.
The impenetrable shroud of secrecy is another issue lawmakers should keep in mind.
While I think grand jurors' oath of secrecy is still appropriate in most cases, judges need more explicit discretion to allow for exceptions, such as releasing witness names or transcript excerpts when appropriate. District attorneys need the same guidance.
Lastly, critics argue that a random system still won't result in diverse grand juries because many folks can't get off work to serve. I agree that grand juries will always skew older. Retirees simply have more time. But the system need not be so onerous on younger working folks. The law should make it clear that jurisdictions can get creative with the number of days and hours that grand juries can meet.
Why not a Saturday grand jury, or one that meets in the evening?
Law enforcement officials who advocate for reform deserve applause. And Texans deserve that their lawmakers finally get it right.
So, should we all assume that we're safe to blaze one and go for a joyride whenever the whimsy strikes us? Absolutely not. There's plenty of evidence showing that marijuana use impairs key driving skills. If you get really stoned and then get behind the wheel, you're asking for trouble.Bottom line, impaired drivers should be arrested and taken off the road whether they're drunk, stoned, or high on prescription drugs. But the argument that cops must arrest every pot smoker because they might drive impaired doesn't jibe with reality or the data reviewed by the feds. As a general rule, there's no greater public safety benefit from arresting and jailing a pot smoker than from giving them a Class C ticket or a civil citation.
What we do need, however, are better roadside mechanisms for detecting marijuana-related impairment. Several companies are developing pot breathalyzers for this purpose.
We also need a lot more research into the effects of marijuana use on driving ability, particularly to get a better sense of how pot's effect on driving diminishes in the hours after using. But this kind of research remains incredibly difficult to do, primarily because the federal government still classifies weed as a Schedule 1 substance, as dangerous as heroin.
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