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Beto bitter over El Paso police-union fight: Here's why that's okay

Grits must admit, I thought a bit more highly of Beto O'Rourke after reading this feature from The Intercept detailing his fraught relationship with the police union in El Paso when he was on the City Council.Police unions have increasingly found themselves in conflict with progressive Democrats in cities across the country, and are notorious for defending even the worst officers on the force against charges of assault or murder. Chris Evans, O’Rourke’s spokesperson, said that when he relayed Th...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, Boston, Austin, Wisconsin, Scott Walker, Council, AFL, Sierra Club, BETO, El Paso, Chris Perkins, Ron, Rourke, Moore


Fixing longstanding criminal-justice problems in a black-ink budget year

Comptroller Glenn Hegar gave the Texas Legislature some good news with a black-ink budget projection for the coming biennium, suggesting they may have more than $9 billion more to spend than in 2017. Some of that will go for Hurricane Harvey costs (thought the Rainy Day fund should also contribute to that), some will get gobbled up with increased costs for entitlement programs, and any school finance fix will almost certainly consume the lion's share of the rest. But it's not inconceivable th...
Tags: Texas, Law, House, Legislature, DPS, RTA, Texas Legislature, LAR, Glenn Hegar, Legislative Budget Board, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ, Elsa Alcala, 85th Texas Legislature, Texas Indigent Defense Commission, Office of Capital


In praise of pretrial-detention algorithms, the 'failure to appear fallacy,' Louisiana ↓ technical revocations, and other stories

Several national items merit Grits readers' attention here during the calm before the 86th Texas Legislature storm. Debtors-prison reform: Economic populism and the justice system The New York Times this week published a lengthy, excellent feature on how criminal fines and fees oppress the poor. Good analysis and background. Best evidence supports use of risk assessments in pretrial release decisions Some prominent heavyweight corrections researchers responded to criticisms in the press, not to ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Philippines, Aclu, New York Times, Louisiana, Harris County, FTA, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, 86th Texas Legislature, Jennifer Skeem, Skeem, Intermediate Sanctions Facilities, Louisiana The Bayou State


Appeal of Harris bail suit withdrawn, lazy judges cause jail overcrowding, and the paradox of progressive prosecutors

Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention: Appeal withdrawn in Harris Co bail suit The new Harris County misdemeanor court judges have withdrawn their appeal in ongoing federal bail litigation of the 5th Circuit's ruling that inmates must be released within 48 hours. The Houston Chronicle's Keri Blakinger and Gabi Banks reported that the county has spent $9 million fighting Judge Lee Rosenthal's order. Lazy judges contribute to jail overcrowding, colleague charges Eric Dex...
Tags: Texas, Law, Urban, Austin, San Antonio, Tarrant County, Barry Johnson, Houston Chronicle, HARRIS, Harvard Law Review, Harris County, Harris Co, 5th Circuit, Texas Legislature, Star Telegram, McLennan County


Innocence Project Math 101: Why it's certain eyewitnesses are still sending innocent people to prison in Texas

Our friends at the prosecutor association want to pretend Texas has solved its problem with eyewitnesses falsely identifying innocent suspects after Texas passed non-binding guidelines for police lineups in 2011. Shannon Edmonds last night was crowing on Twitter that the last exoneration based a false ID in Texas was in 2010, and the state had solved the problem in 2011.This is such a disingenuous claim I thought I'd dissect it without the 140 character limitations.Texas hasn't seen more eyewitn...
Tags: Texas, Law, New York Times, The Times, Dallas, Houston, Times, Legislature, Shannon, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCAA, 14th Court of Appeals, Shannon Edmonds


Prospects for reduced marijuana penalties in the 86th #txlege

The Texas Legislature this year is primed for its most serious effort yet at reducing penalties for user-level marijuana possession. Legalization is off the table. This is a debate about reducing punishments. (I'm setting aside here medical marijuana proposals, which Grits doesn't track closely and are outside my area of expertise.) There are essentially two proposals for reducing pot penalties that have a chance, and each have been endorsed by prominent Texas GOP officials. Gov. Greg Abbo...
Tags: Texas, Law, Gop, House, Speaker, Greg Abbott, Allen, Moody, Texas Legislature, Joe Moody, HB, Joe Straus, Gritsforbreakfast, House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Alma Allen


More than a clerical error: DPS audit proves Austin PD forced out sex-crimes chief for refusing to fake clearance rates

Auditors from the Texas Department of Public Safety  confirmed allegations that the Austin Police Department pressured the head of its sex-crimes unit to improperly classify rapes as "exceptionally cleared" when that was not the case. She was removed from her position when she didn't comply.Chief Bryan Manley announced the results from the DPS audit late afternoon on New Years Eve, hoping it would get lost in the holiday media cycle. That's a disgraceful, punk move. This is too serious an issue ...
Tags: Law, Fbi, Austin, Apd, Texas Department of Public Safety, DPS, Manley, Austin Police Department, Acevedo, KXAN, Gritsforbreakfast, Austin PD, Grits, Bryan Manley


Top Texas #CJreform Stories of 2018

Passage of the First Step Act was clearly the biggest criminal justice policy story of 2018, and congrats to all the Texans who were a part of that. But Grits wanted to take a moment to identify the biggest state-level Texas criminal-justice stories of the year. Here's the list I came up with. Let me know what else you think should have been included.1. Elections: Creuzot, Gonzalez, in, Abel Reyna, Nico Lahood out; Harris Co. and appellate courts sweep Democrat: Texas statewide races failed to "...
Tags: Texas, Law, Washington, Austin, Gop, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Abbott, Greg Abbott, Ward, Houston Chronicle, HARRIS, Legislature, Lone Star State, Huntsville


Active death penalty explains efficacy of Texas' junk-science writ

There are three reasons that Grits expects the Lone Star State to emerge as the epicenter of forensic reform over the coming couple of decades. First, our Forensic Science Commission has altered the terms of debate among legislators and stakeholders about how to react when errors and bad science are discovered. I may not agree with everything they put out, but they've educated stakeholders here to a much greater extent than in most other states.Second is Texas' junk-science writ, as discussed on...
Tags: Texas, Law, Obama, Congress, California, Nas, Alcala, Legislature, Lone Star State, National Academy of Sciences, Court of Criminal Appeals, Gritsforbreakfast, Elsa Alcala, Forensic Science Commission, Texas Defender Service, Office of Capital


Sharon Keller, bite-mark evidence, and the end of innocence forestalled

The judges' conferences over the Steven-Chaney bite-mark case, according to reliable sources, was the most contentious at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals since the fight over Ex Parte Robbins. Both those cases involved Texas' first-in-the-nation junk-science writ, for which Chaney's victory was a landmark event. See coverage from Texas Monthly's Michael Hall.It's significant that Judge Barbara Hervey wrote the majority opinion, which amounts to a straight-forward, by-the-book application of ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Obama, Nas, Bill, Alcala, Abbott, Keller, Don, Richardson, National Academy of Sciences, CCA, Chaney, Elizondo, Texas Monthly, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals


Sharon Keller, bite mark evidence, and the end of innocence forestalled

The judges' conferences over the Steven-Chaney bite-mark case, according to reliable sources, was the most contentious at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals since the fight over Ex Parte Robbins. Both those cases involved Texas' first-in-the-nation junk-science writ, for which Chaney's victory was a landmark event. See coverage from Texas Monthly's Michael Hall.It's significant that Judge Barbara Hervey wrote the majority opinion, which amounts to a straight-forward, by-the-book application of ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Obama, Nas, Bill, Alcala, Abbott, Keller, Don, Richardson, National Academy of Sciences, CCA, Chaney, Elizondo, Texas Monthly, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals


Junk science writ takes out bite-mark evidence, Understaffing let prisoner's flesh-eating bacteria linger without medical care, Christmas while mommy's in jail, and other stories

A few odds and ends headed into the holiday: Junk science writ takes out bite-mark evidence In the Steven Chaney case, Texas' junk science writ worked exactly as it was intended. Texas courts have refused to exclude bite-mark evidence on the front end through Daubert hearings. But the junk science writ gave wrongfully convicted defendants an avenue to challenge false convictions on the back end. And it provided the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals a vehicle to declare junk science invalid in a wa...
Tags: Texas, Law, Inmate, Tom, Legislature, Mother Jones, HRO, Texas Legislature, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Daubert, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ, Dallas News, Office of Court Administration, Keri Blakinger, House Research Organization


Takeaways for TX legislators and national #cjreform activists on the #FirstStepAct and bipartisan reform

Grits has been involved in passing bipartisan criminal-justice reforms at the Texas Legislature since 2001, so is excited to see the First Step Act passed in Congress.There are many lessons to be learned here, but let's quickly highlight a few takeaways for two audiences in particular: national criminal-justice reformers and conservative Texas legislators. What national #cjreform supporters should take away from the First Step Act: Bipartisan reform isn't just some weird thing that happens in re...
Tags: Texas, Law, Congress, Washington, First, Texas Legislature, Gritsforbreakfast, Congress too Conservatives, Washington With Donald Trump


#FirstStep Act an early Xmas present for reformers; prison, jail guards' on-the-job lies; reformer DA politics, and other stories

A browser-tab clearing roundup of items Grits has been following this week that merit readers' attention: First Step Act an early Christmas present for #cjreformers Here's a couple of good analyses of how it passed and a summary of what's in the bill. Critics say the reforms are modest and we're at the "ten yard line." True enough. But as with a football team, winning drives in politics require stringing together small, sequential victories. Gain four yards per play and you move the ball down th...
Tags: Texas, Law, Congress, Dallas, Philadelphia, Johnson, Greg Abbott, Philly, Rockwall, Krasner, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ, Dallas News, Texas Observer, Larry Krasner, Craig Watkins


TX forensic commission punts on drug-field test evaluation

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has completed its legislatively mandated report on the validity of field tests for controlled substances, and it was released today. Here's a first-cut look at what they found.Let's be frank. Lynn Garcia has led the commission to perform some of the most able and erudite investigations of flawed forensic practices of anyone, anywhere in the United States. She is my friend and I am a fan of hers. This is not their best work.In the past, when the Commission ha...
Tags: Texas, Law, United States, Commission, FSC, Legislature, Texas Department of Public Safety, DPS, Harris County, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Forensic Science Commission, TDCAA, Lynn Garcia, Texas Department of Safety DPS, Lamentably DPS


Police union reps sit down with reform advocate for post mortem on Austin-police-contract fight

On December 13, 2017, a contract negotiated between the Austion police union and city management was voted down by the city council in response to a large community uprising led by the Austin Justice Coalition. After nearly a year-long standoff, the sides came to an agreement in November, with the union agreeing to significant new reforms and $10 million per year less than in the previously negotiated contract.On December 4th, police union representatives Ron DeLord and Chris Perkins sat down wi...
Tags: Law, Austin, Union, Chris Perkins, Gritsforbreakfast, Saul Alinsky, Chas Moore, Ron DeLord, Austin Justice Coalition, Sam SinyangweA


Podcast excerpt: TX Court of Criminal Appeals hears arguments about when it's okay to electrocute pro se defendants

James Calvert is a mentally ill capital murder defendant who allegedly murdered his ex-wife on Halloween night in 2012. He represented himself at trial in Smith County, Texas and was sentenced to the death penalty. Among other remarkable elements of the case, Mr. Calvert was shocked with a 50,000 volt stun belt during the trial for refusing to obey the court's demands. In addition, Judge Jack Skeen, who presided over the trial, repeatedly made negative comments about Mr. Calvert and the evidenc...
Tags: Texas, Law, Washington Post, Calvert, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, James Calvert, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Defender Service, Mandy Marzullo, Jack Skeen, TX Court of Criminal Appeals, Smith County Texas


Podcast excerpt: Listen to TX Court of Criminal Appeals consider when it's okay to electrocute defendants at oral arguments

James Calvert is a mentally ill capital murder defendant who allegedly murdered his ex-wife on Halloween night in 2012. He represented himself at trial in Smith County, Texas and was sentenced to the death penalty. Among other remarkable elements of the case, Mr. Calvert was shocked with a 50,000 volt stun belt during the trial for refusing to obey the court's demands. In addition, Judge Jack Skeen, who presided over the trial, repeatedly made negative comments about Mr. Calvert and the evidenc...
Tags: Texas, Law, Washington Post, Calvert, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, James Calvert, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Defender Service, Mandy Marzullo, Jack Skeen, TX Court of Criminal Appeals, Smith County Texas


Federal legislation boosts Raise-the-Age prospects in Texas

Texas is one of only four states which still charges 17 year olds as adults. But new federal legislation awaiting President Trump's signature will soon prevent the Lone Star State from housing 17-year olds in adult county jails, providing a big incentive to change their status to match 92% of other states and the federal government. The president is expected to sign the measure. Dubbed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the the bill would force Texas to stop housing 17-year old...
Tags: Texas, Law, Ucla, Trump, Lone Star State, Texas House, Gritsforbreakfast, John Whitmire, Dan Patrick Senate Criminal Justice Committee


Tax deadline for exonerees, Blakinger on 'Fresh Air,' judge rubber stamps flawed blood-spatter forensics, and other stories

Lots going on this week, even if your correspondent hasn't had much blogging time. Here's a quick roundup of items presently filling up Grits' browser tabs: Texas Exonerees: Tax deadline looming Any Texas exonerees receiving compensation from the state: You have until December 17 to file to have your state compensation declared tax exempt. Act now! This time next week it will be too late! Journalistic scoop scored inmates dentures, national press for reporter Congrats to Keri Blakinger! Terry Gr...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, Aclu, Npr, Alcala, Bryan, TX, Walker, Keri, Court of Criminal Appeals, Joe Bryan, Department of Criminal Justice, Shaver, Gritsforbreakfast, TDCJ


Podcast: Adversaries over Austin police-union contract sit down; when is it okay for courts to electrocute mentally ill defendants?; pythons as stocking stuffers?; and other stories

When is it okay for a judge to electrocute a mentally ill defendant?What leverage did a Texas civil rights activist say enabled Austin advocates to force reforms into the city's police-union contract?How many pet pythons are too many, and are they appropriate to give at Christmas as stocking stuffers?These and other questions are answered on this month's episode of the Reasonably Suspicious podcast. As always, you can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or SoundCloud, or listen to it here:Here's ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Austin, Chris Perkins, James Calvert, Gritsforbreakfast, Chas Moore, Ron DeLord, Austin Justice Coalition, Interview Police


Conflation of punishment with price system distorts justice in sex-assault cases

We live in an era when "justice" has been defined largely in terms of the price system, as though it were subject to laws of supply and demand. The root theory behind our modern justice system, in large part, holds that punishments are a "price" paid for misconduct and, if they do not deter, it's because the "price" wasn't high enough.Defining punishment abstractly as the "price" of crime generates perverse cultural meanings for victims, prosecutors, jurors, and others engaged with the system. U...
Tags: Texas, Law, Fbi, Austin, Ada, Baylor, San Antonio, Anderson, Waco, Jacob, Tribune Herald, McLennan County, Bell County, Center for Investigative Reporting, Gritsforbreakfast, Strother


Federal suit challenges TX driver surcharges, debtors-prison practices account for 1/5 of jail admissions, and other stories

Here are a few browser-clearing odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention: Federal suit challenges driver surcharge New federal civil rights litigation  from the group Equal Justice Under the Law has been filed challenging Texas' Driver Responsibility surcharge, reported the Houston Chronicle. See also: the original complaint in the case. DPS to audit Austin PD rape-clearance definitions Austin PD has asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to audit how its categorizing cleared rape ...
Tags: Texas, Law, Fbi, Austin, New Jersey, Muslim, Mitch McConnell, San Antonio, Tarrant County, Harvard Law School, Houston Chronicle, TX, Paxton, Texas Department of Public Safety, Levin, Urban Institute


Squeaky wheels get grease: CCA posting oral arguments again

Grits had been complaining to court staff about the failure to post videos of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals oral arguments for a couple of months. But they only, finally began posting the video after I publicly wrote about it on the blog last week. Since your correspondent is both a public-policy advocate and also media, in a sense, I'm frequently afforded a unique perspective when these sorts of situations arise. There is a telling pattern regarding how government agency leaders and polit...
Tags: Law, Houston Chronicle, CCA, Calvert, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, James Calvert, Gritsforbreakfast, Office of Court Administration, Keri Blakinger, Texas Inmate Family Association, Jennifer Erschabek


Texas courts already know how to handle debt without incarceration; now the #txlege should apply those lessons to Class C misdemeanor fines

In a private conversation, a frequent #cjreform opponent recently criticized a proposal endorsed by both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms in Texas to eliminate arrests for non-payment of Class C misdemeanor debt."So you're just saying they shouldn't be punished?," our critic wondered, in an exasperated voice. "How is that justice? Should they face no consequence at all?"We're going to be hearing this argument a lot in the coming months, so let's address it.First, of course, no one i...
Tags: Texas, Law, US, Dallas, Houston, Federal Reserve, Forbes, El Paso, Democratic Party, Plano, Gritsforbreakfast, Texas Justices


Roundup: Lawsuit alleges cronyism and corruption at DPS; murder indictment of Dallas cop no aberration under outgoing DA; informant testimony makes for messy innocence claims; Pam Colloff's favorite #cjreform podcasts, and other stories

Here are a few browser-clearing odds and ends of which Grits readers should be aware: Dallas cop indicted for Botham Jean murder In Dallas, former DPD Officer Amber Guyger has been indicted for murder in the shooting death of her unarmed neighbor, Botham Jean. You've got to hand it to outgoing Republican DA Faith Johnson: She's been more willing to charge officers in wrongful shooting episodes than any Democratic elected prosecutor in Texas, or for that matter, as she boasted in this 13-second c...
Tags: Hbo, Texas, Mississippi, Law, New Orleans, Dallas, DEA, Republican, Sandra Bland, Houston Chronicle, HARRIS, DPS, James White, Pam, WNYC, Burks


Union contract fight gave Austin advocates leverage to improve police oversight

Austin Justice Coalition's victory over police union brings to mind history's greatest upsets Although the local media has reported that the Austin police contract was finally approved and activists were happy with the result, only one local TV station report that I saw attempted to parse changes in the contract from a police accountability standpoint.Advocates' year-long battle resulted in savings of $10 million per year compared to the contract rejected last December, as well as achievi...
Tags: Law, Austin, United States, Ali, Moore, AJC, Sonny Liston, Gritsforbreakfast, Chas Moore, Ron DeLord, Austin Justice Coalition, DeLord, Austin Justice Coalition AJC


Checking in at the CCA: TX high criminal court hasn't posted oral-argument videos in nearly six months, and other stories

Since your correspondent left the Innocence Project of Texas, I haven't tracked the Court of Criminal Appeals hand-down lists nearly as closely as at times in the past. But here are a few recent items that merit Grits readers attention. Hiccup in publishing CCA arguments video Last year, the Legislature mandated that oral argument videos from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals should be recorded and posted online. But the last ones available as of this writing are from June, and court staff don...
Tags: Texas, Law, Alcala, Keller, Legislature, TX, Paxton, Ken Paxton, CCA, Texas Tribune, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Newton County, James Calvert, Court of Criminal Appeals, Sheriff 's Department, Gritsforbreakfast


Prison-reform pioneer passes, bail-algorithm debate heads to Dallas, political parties want consent for auto searches documented, and other stories

With a few work items out of the way, today, it's time for a roundup post to clear Grits' browser tabs to start the week: Ray Hill is dead; long live Ray Hill! One of Texas' best known prison reform and LGBTQ activists, Ray Hill, founder of The Prison Show radio broadcast on KPFT, a public radio station in Houston, passed away over the holiday. Go read his obituary from the Houston Chronicle. He was an unforgettable character and a Texas justice reform pioneer. Bail algorithm debate heads to Dal...
Tags: Texas, Law, Senate, Germany, Indiana, Austin, Mitch McConnell, Dallas, Espn, Houston, Baylor, US supreme court, Depaul, Roberts Court, TSC, KPFT


Two Dirty Little Secrets About the 'Distracted Driving' Debate

The Houston Chronicle has published a series on traffic deaths which, from Grits' observation, mostly has repeated tropes from self-interested secondary sources rather than investigate causes and solutions.  Only one article in the series - on traffic engineering - advocated for solutions Grits believes would significantly contribute to traffic-death reductions. The rest gave platforms for elites to promote their own, self-interested agendas.Readers will recall the Chron's extended advocacy piec...
Tags: Texas, Law, House, Houston, Houston Chronicle, Legislature, Department of Public Safety, Chronicle, Permian Basin, Chron, Eagle Ford, Gritsforbreakfast, Tom Craddick



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