Friday, April 29, 2005

Foolproof Death Penalty?

The governor of Massachusetts has introduced a bill that would reinstate the death penalty in that state. According to the governor, the bill would ensure a virtually foolproof death penalty. His assessment of his bill:
"To the extent that is humanly possible," Mr. Romney said at a news conference, "this would not ever result in a questionable execution."
Of course, the big problem is the "humanly possible" part. Human possibility is no small limitation. There is no way to create a death penalty scheme that could ensure that no innocent person was executed. Don't get me wrong. I would trade Texas's death penalty scheme for what Gov. Romney has proposed any day. But foolproof? That's simply not possible, and Gov. Romney knows it.

Defending Rush

I really hate Rush Limbaugh's radio show. I think Rush--or the character he plays on his show--is a lying, obnoxious, manipulative jerk. And I really wish he would use the experience he's been having in Florida to take a harder look at the war on drugs in this country, instead of blaming the whole thing on a political witch hunt. What is happening to Rush is no more a witch hunt than what is happening to every black and Hispanic who gets pulled over for no reason and asked to let police search his car. But I must admit that Rush is getting a raw deal when it comes to the battle over his medical records. And now, it looks like he's lost his last appeal.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Child Porn . . . The Final Frontier?

The Los Angeles Times had an interesting article yesterday about the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit's efforts to identify victims and perpetrators of child pornography. They wanted to enlist public help without actually showing the victims to the world, so they photoshopped the children out of the pictures and then posted them on the net, hoping alert individuals would be able to identify the locations or provide some other information which might lead them to the offenders. But one little bit of information in the article was completely bizarre and caught my attention. The writer claimed that, according to investigators, "All but one of the [child porn] offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie." Bizarre, right? Since I was reading an online version of the article, I actually wondered if the article had been hacked. It was just so off-the-wall. Well, as it turns out, it appears not to be true. But, it's not as untrue as you would think. So, for those of you doing the logic here, "Almost all child porn producers are Trekkies; but not all Trekkies are child porn predators." At any rate, it really got me wondering what it is about Star Trek that makes it so appealing to the same people who produce child pornography. For the life of me, I can't think of a single thing. Got any ideas?

I'm Just a General American

I thought this was interesting:

Your Linguistic Profile:

75% General American English

10% Upper Midwestern

10% Yankee

5% Dixie

0% Midwestern

I spent the early part of my life in California; my dad was from Brooklyn; my mom is from Washington; I've spent the last 17 years in Texas. So, all that explains the General American, Yankee, and Dixie. I'm not sure where my "Upper Midwestern" English came from, though.

Wild, Wild West?

New Update: Via a Public Defender, I discovered this excellent analysis of Florida's new self-defense law written by a Florida lawyer. It's pretty thorough. Interestingly, he notes at the end that Florida has a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison if you are convicted of an offense that involved the discharge of a firearm. So, if you go to trial in a case involving a gun thinking the new self-defense law will get you off, you risk a big chunk of time. In Texas, you can get probation for virtually every offense except capital murder if you have no prior felony convictions. And I have seen juries give probation to someone they just convicted of murder. The typical case where that happens is what we call "imperfect self defense." In essence, the jury concludes that the defendant did kill the person because he honestly believed he needed to use deadly force to protect himself or someone else, but the jury doesn't believe the defendant's belief was reasonable under the circumstances. I guess you don't get the chance at something like that in Florida.

Update: After reading the full statute, and considering Gideon's remarks here and in the comments to my post, I'm amending my opinion on this law. I'm in favor of the part that allows the use of deadly force without imposing a duty to retreat. But, the immunity provision is too confusing and burdensome. See, I can change my mind when presented with valid arguments. And people call me stubborn!
Original post:

I don't understand all the people who are up-in-arms about a recent proposed change to Florida's self-defense law. It seems to me that all it does is remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force. I've always thought the duty to retreat is stupid. If you reasonably believe that someone is about to inflict death or serious bodily injury on you, why should you have to try to run away first? If running away doesn't work, then you could have put yourself in even less of a position to defend yourself. I just don't get the outrage. This is already the law in Texas. There is no duty to retreat. Your belief just has to be reasonable. It's still hard to win on a self-defense theory here in a deadly force case, even though the burden is on the state to disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. When someone ends up dead, juries scrutinize the behavior of the killer who claims self-defense very carefully. They often think about whether the defendant could have retreated when they consider whether the defendant's actions were reasonable. They don't let people kill each other willy nilly around here. I think the critics of this bill are a bit hysterical.

Lies, Damn Lies

I have worked with a lot of prosecutors in my years as a public defender. This is an adversary system, and so, naturally, there have been a lot of arguments, butting heads, and sometimes, some heated exchanges. I get mad at them for sometimes being stubborn, unreasonable, vindictive, rude, and stupid. But the great majority of the time, we work well together. They are usually professional, honest, and courteous. That's why it really pissed me off today when the prosecutor on one of my cases today lied to me and stabbed me in the back. My client was on probation and had some violations. The probation officer was recommending that he be sent to "SAFP," which is a long-term, intensive inpatient drug treatment program that is part of the state prison system. There is a very long wait to get into this program, and my client would have to sit in jail while he waited. My client wanted to be ordered into a less intensive community inpatient program instead. So, we set it for a hearing in front of the judge. I had tried for about a week to get the prosecutor to agree to my client's request, but she wouldn't budge. Fine. That's her decision. But before we had the hearing today, I specificially asked her if she was going to ask the judge to send my client to SAFP or to revoke him. My client was looking at two to ten years in prison if he were revoked. Regardless of what the prosecutor asks for, the judge has the full discretion to modify or revoke my client's probation--so she could decide to revoke him and send him to prison even if the prosecutor didn't request it. But it still matters whether the prosecutor requests it or not, and I wanted to know what she was going to do. She told me that she was not requesting revocation, and would only ask for the judge to order the defendant into SAFP. So, we do the hearing. After my client and a family member testified, I argued that he should be permitted to enroll in the community inpatient program. The prosecutor, who gets the last word, then forcefully argues that the defendant should be revoked. I couldn't believe it. Nothing had come out in the hearing that was new to her, or that could have changed her mind. She just stabbed me in the back. Thankfully, the judge chose not to revoke my client (although she did order him to SAFP). Still, that was completely unprofessional and unnecessary, and I can't figure out what she thought she was accomplishing by hiding the ball from me in this situation. All she accomplished was making sure I understood that she was not to be trusted.

Get it in Writing!

Per Grits for Breakfast, the Texas Senate has passed a bill requiring officers to get written consent before searching a car during a traffic stop. Chances for approval in the House are looking good as well. As I've posted here previously, this is a great bill. I hope it will put an end to the testilying cops who know that all they have to do to justify an illegal search is say that the defendant consented. If it comes down to a "he said, she said" battle at a suppression hearing, the judge is going to believe the officer over the defendant, and the cop knows it. I also like the fact that the bill requires that the consent form inform the individual that they have the right to refuse consent, as most people do not know they have that right. Of course, if an officer has a strong enough belief that he will find contraband if he searches and the individual refuses consent, the officer can arrest the person for the traffic violation and search the car incident to arrest. I don't like that law either, but it doesn't look like it's changing. And most officers are not going to want to have to go through the hassle of arresting someone on a traffic citation just so they can search the vehicle unless they have good reason to believe they will find something worthwhile in the car.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Congress Loves to Play Sports

What is it with Congress and the whole steroid issue? I just don't understand why this is such an urgent issue for the federal government. In the most recent hearings on the NFL steroid policy, one congressman proposed sweeping federal legislation that would regulate steroid testing in all U.S. sports. According to Rep. Tom Davis, while the NFL has a good program, "it is not perfect." I can't think of anything less likely to make something perfect than a federal law to regulate the whole damn thing. What happened to conservatives who believed that the less the federal government was involved in, the better the people were? And if Congress can impose testing regimes and player suspensions and bans in the NFL or NHL or USGA, why can't they also impose steroid and other drug testing regimes on any other industry in the country? I hear drug use is relatively high among doctors. High drug use by physicians endangers patient safety. So, Congress should be able to impose random drug testing and suspensions of medical licenses for all doctors, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My Court Orders Aren't Good Enough

Update: So, the DA talked to the lady, and told her that I was telling her the truth--that she was under court order to be here and to produce the records. So now, she's turning them over. I guess I figured this is how it would end up all along, which is fine. I think I just got seduced by the feeling of power--that with the stroke of a pen, I could have someone arrested. This must be what prosecutors deal with every day.
Original post:

My client is charged with shoplifting from a department store. I subpoenaed the custodian of records for the store's loss prevention office for any records they had related to the incident. The case was set Monday. The woman didn't bother to show up. I thought it might have been a mistake or oversight on her part, and my case was being held behind an older case, so I tried calling her. She informed me, in essence, that she is working with the District Attorney (who she at one point described as "the attorney we pay to handle these things for us"), and she does not have to obey my subpoena. We'll see how she feels about that when the sheriff's deputies show up with a writ of attachment.

If You're Not Pretty and White . . .

TalkLeft asks why Lisa Eatmon's case has gotten very little news coverage? (I would note, however, that there have been a few stories about the case in the Metropolitan and New York Region sections of the The New York Times.) Like Laci Peterson, she was 8 months pregnant when she was murdered, and dumped in the water. Like Laci Peterson, the expectant father has been charged with her murder. Even more salacious than the Peterson case, the alleged killer of Ms. Eatmon had a previous wife who died under mysterious circumstances. Unlike Laci Peterson, though, you haven't heard about Ms. Eatmon every morning on Today and Good Morning America, or every night on Larry King and On the Record. I'm not sure if TalkLeft's question is rhetorical, because the answer to me seems fairly obvious: Lisa Eatmon is not a pretty, white woman. Am I missing something?

School Snitches

I don't think I like the idea of paying students to snitch on their classmates. I think we should be teaching young people to report dangerous, criminal behavior to school officials because it is the right thing to do, not because you will get paid for doing it. I also worry about students deciding that setting up other kids to get in trouble is a great way to earn some extra cash. And, honestly, how many parents out there would want the school just handing their child $500? I really don't understand the justification that it could help prevent a school shooting. Are there really kids out there who could know that a friend or classmate was planning on murdering his fellow classmates, but would not turn that person in unless they were paid $500? I hope not.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bad Nancy

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Nancy Grace. As a legal commentator, she's unbelievably biased, even compared to other prosecutors and former prosecutors. But, apparently, she wasn't always the fairest prosecutor either. Weldon Wayne Carr was prosecuted by Nancy for the murder and arson in the death of his wife. I've heard that Nancy was undefeated as a prosecutor, so it's not surprising that he was convicted. But, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed Carr's conviction, and, while the reversal by the court was on evidentiary grounds, they also addressed Mr. Carr's allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by Nancy. They didn't have very nice things to say:

Our review of the record supports Carr's contention that the prosecuting attorney engaged in an extensive pattern of inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct in the course of the trial. Specifically, his allegations about illegal entries into his home are borne out by the record; the trial court, after a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence gathered through illegal use of subpoenas, specifically found that the prosecuting attorney abused the subpoena process by, among other things, inserting false information regarding hearing dates; the record shows that the witness list delivered on the eve of trial contained many names new to the defense; the transcript of the opening argument shows that the prosecuting attorney repeatedly made references to physical abuse although the trial court had ruled out all evidence of purported abuse ("There is no occasion and no excuse for attempting to influence the jury in advance by improper statements as to evidence which counsel knows he cannot prove or will not be permitted to introduce." (case cite)); and the closing argument was replete with references to the prosecuting attorney's beliefs ("It has long been the rule that a district attorney may not state to the jury his personal belief in the defendant's guilt." (case cite)); and patent misrepresentations of fact such as the prosecuting attorney's use of a chart falsely indicating that a defense expert had not disagreed with a specific opinion by a State's witness.

We conclude that the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable. Because we are reversing the convictions on other grounds, and because Carr has gotten the relief he sought in raising these issues on appeal, we need not conduct an analysis to determine whether the misconduct of the assistant district attorney who tried this case was so harmful as to require reversal. We trust, however, that if this case is to be retried, the prosecuting attorney and the trial court will bear in mind the special responsibility of a prosecuting attorney."

After four years, the DA tried to retry Carr again, but the case was dismissed on speedy trial grounds by the late Judge Rowland Barnes. I'm sure that infuriates ol' Nancy.

Forensic Science Hall of Shame - Joyce Gilchrist

This is the first entry in my Forensic Science Hall of Shame. To qualify, a person must have held themselves out as a forensic scientist. She must also have actually testified in criminal trials. Finally, her work must have been shown to be fraudulent, incompetent, or just plain ludicrous. This encompasses a whole range of shameful behavior, including, but not limited to: reporting results of tests never done, repeatedly reporting false "matches" through DNA or fingerprint analysis, testifying as to a forensice "science" that doesn't exist, and repeatedly overstating the statistical significance of test results.

The first member to be inducted is Joyce Gilchrist. Ms. Gilchrist was the head of the crime lab for the Oklahoma City Police Department. An African-American, she was dubbed "Black Magic" by others in law enforcement for her ability to get test results others couldn't, and for her ability to persuade jurors to believe whatever she said. Defense attorneys repeatedly complained to judges, the police department, and the DAs about Ms. Gilchrist's lack of scientific rigor. But as long as she helped them rack up convictions, they didn't give a damn. As it turned out, Ms. Gilchrist's "science" was about as scientific as black magic. Much of her testimony was completely unsupported by science, bordering on outright perjury. Untold innocents were convicted, imprisoned, and even sent to death row thanks to Gilchrist. For his part, notorious Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy gets special recognition as her accomplice. "Hang 'em high" Bob couldn't get enough of Gilchrist. Somehow, she always came up with the evidence they needed to convict.

For her contributions to junk forensic science and her tireless efforts to imprison the innocent, Joyce Gilchrist is hereby inducted into the Forensic Science Hall of Shame.

This Job Aint Easy

A big shout-out to Blonde Justice for her recent post on PD frustration. Today, I am set for trial on two cases exactly like the ones she described. One of my clients believes there is no evidence against him. When I point out that the police report indicates they have an eyewitness who caught him trying to leave the store, then followed him to the section of the store, whereupon he pulled the store's item out from underneath his shirt and put it back on the shelf, he is still convinced they have no evidence. Why? Because they didn't seize the allegedly stolen item! They just left it in the store! No evidence! Case closed!

Saturday, April 23, 2005


I wanted to add this picture of Marla Ruzicka (seen with an Iraqi orphan). You can read more about Marla here. Posted by Hello

911 Nightmare

Imagine that you are robbed at gunpoint, stuffed in the trunk of a car, and are being driven to who knows where. Then, imagine that you realize that you have your cell phone and can call 911. Then, imagine you do call 911 and give the operator as much information as you can. Then, imagine the police determining that your call was a prank. This is the nightmare faced by David Steeves. He was found shot to death in the trunk of his mother's car eight days later. Whether his death could have prevented if his 911 call had been handled properly is unclear. But, I think his family is entitled to an investigation, and for those who screwed up to be held accountable.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Finger Frenzy

I'm not surprised to hear that the woman who claimed to have found a finger in her Wendy's chili has now been arrested for attempted grand larceny. The first time I saw the story on the news, I was suspicious. And I didn't understand why journalists were covering the story as if the woman's claims were completely truthful. It reminded me of the guy who claimed to have found a syringe in his Pepsi. The media ran all over the place reporting the story and scaring people about product tampering. It turned out the guy had done it himself so he could file a lawsuit. I'm not saying the woman should have been called a liar right from the start. I'm just asking for a little skepticism here. The police obviously had some. It would be nice if the media was a little more concerned about truth than they were about a shocking story. Personally, I never understood why it was a national story in the first place.


The Los Angeles Times has discovered that James Dobson is a scary man. The small percentage of Americans that he represents is so empowered by their ability to swing presidential and congressional elections that they believe every Republican in Congress has to do their bidding. And their bidding is very scary. Dobson was particularly outraged at the Supreme Court decision to ban the execution of juveniles. I must have missed that part of my New Testament where Jesus emphasized the need to give the death penalty to teenagers. Be sure to check out the final quote from Mr. Dobson. Perhaps he does have the power of prohecy.

It's Not the Crime, It's the Coverup

Special recognition goes out to Jon E. Shields today for going above and beyond in defense of his client. He is the defense attorney who, by chance, saw one of the jurors in his murder case buying two newspapers on the morning of the verdict. Since the judge had apparently admonished the jurors not to read the papers or watch the news, Shields reported the incident to the judge, but the juror denied it under oath, and the jury went on to convict Mr. Shields's client. So, Mr. Shields got the surveillance tape and the receipt from the conveniece store. In addition to the defendant getting a new trial, the lying juror is now in a whole heap of legal trouble of her own. She's facing contempt, perjury charges, and having to pay restitution for all the costs of the week-long trial, including defense costs. Some people may think is a little steep. But, this is a murder trial we're talking about. And if a juror is willing to willfully disobey one of the judge's instructions--not to mention lie to his face about it--then what is to say that juror will follow the rest of the judge's instructions, like the presumption of innocene and the burden of proof?

Thank God It's Friday

Why do Fridays most often seem to be the worst days for me? One reason, perhaps, is because it is when all non-agreed matters are set for hearing by the judge. Then, there's the fact that I am finishing up witness subpoenas, research, investigation matters, and exhibits for trials set the next week. Then, the guy who I set today, but was sure would post bond so I wouldn't have to handle, is still in jail. Then, my court partner is out sick, so I get four new clients. I guess this is why I get paid the big bucks!

I Feel Your Pain

I feel sorry for the defense attorney in a murder case where the jury took just 15 minutes to find his client guilty. And that was with an alibi defense. Ouch. We've all been there, though. We used to joke sometimes that if the jury was out longer than our closing argument lasted, it was a victory.

No Sodomite Foster Parents!

Update: The Dallas Morning News has a great article about the real people who would be adversely affected by the ridiculously stupid and hateful proposed ban on gay foster parents. And they follow it up with a nice editorial.
Original post:

That's the rallying cry of Rep. Robert Talton of Pasadena. He added an amendment to a CPS reform bill that would ban homsexuals and bisexuals from being foster parents. According to Talton, "It is our responsibility to make sure that we protect our most vulnerable children and I don't think we are doing that if we allow a foster parent that is homosexual or bisexual." I assume Rep. Talton will be stepping up to take in the hundreds, if not thousands, of foster children currently being cared for by loving homosexual foster parents. Maybe he'll at least build them all a big group home.

Pop Culture Friday

Taking a break from all things legal and criminal (ha!) . . .

*Paris Hilton says Nicole Ritchie "knows what she did." I'm not sure, but I think it must have happened in 6th grade.

*Ryan Seacrest got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And apparently he thought it was as much of a joke as the rest of us.

*Alias is back. The last two weeks' episodes have been awesome.

*Desperate Housewives is overrated. Veronica Mars is the best new show of the season. Why aren't you watching it?

*If you made a taut, political thriller starring Oscar-winners Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman, why would you title it The Interpreter? That is, quite possibly, the most boringest boring movie title I've ever heard.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I'm Just Saying . . .

I think it's funny when a politician tells other politicians to "put politics aside," and approve his political appointee.

If you cannot afford a lawyer . . .

Via Indiana Public Defender, a good article about just how poor you have to be to get a court-appointed lawyer in Concecticut. Although it focuses on the law and procedures in Connecticut, it has some discussion about similar problems around the country. Where I practice, I definitely see this problem. Some misdemeanor judges won't appoint a public defender to anyone who posted bond. For many misdemeanor cases, the person only had to come up with $50 to post bond. That doesn't mean they have the funds to hire a decent attorney for a jury trial. Of course, that often works to the judge's advantage, because the person takes a plea and doesn't "crowd up" the trial docket.

Bad Monkeys. Good DA.

The Kern County District Attorney decided not to file charges against the owners of a facility where a man was attacked by chimps. The DA seems to have carefully considered the evidence before deciding to go against the recommendations of the Sheriff's Department and not file charges. It's nice to see that a DA recognizes that sometimes an accident is just an accident, even when someone is seriously hurt or killed, and the case has gotten massive media attention. Speaking of massive media attention, I am especially heartened that the DA came to this conclusion even with co-Devil's Minion (with Nancy Grace) Gloria Allred representing the victims.

FYI, I've read some really nasty stuff about the Kern County DA's Office in the past, but I wanted to give credit where credit is due, in this case.

Suicide by Lethal Injection

Update: The State of Texas ended Douglas Roberts's loneliness last night. So much for our "culture of life."

Original post:

Texas will execute a man tonight who has ordered that all his appeals be dropped. Douglas Roberts says he doesn't have a death wish, but that he is lonely, and this way he will get to go to the Lord. I'm very troubled by cases like this. Roberts admits guilt, so innocence is not an issue. But innocence is not the only issue in death penalty cases. Even in cases where the person is clearly guilty, the question is whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. I don't know enough about the facts of Mr. Roberts's case or what punishment evidence the state produced at trial. But, I have to wonder what the heck his defense attorneys were doing during his trial. The article says:

"Over the objections of his lawyer, Roberts at his trial demanded jurors who favored the death penalty and asked that no witnesses be called in his defense. A psychiatrist determined Roberts was competent to make those decisions."

I don't care what a psychiatrist says Mr. Roberts was competent to decide. The last time I looked, those aren't the defendant's decisions to make. Those are the lawyer's decisions. The only decisions the defendant has the right to make are whether he will plead guilty or not guilty and whether or not he will testify. That's it. Every other decision--including what jurors to challenge and what witnesses to call--is supposed to be made by the lawyer, using his sound legal judgment. There's nothing wrong with taking your client's wishes into consideration. But, the client's wishes aren't supposed to override your professional ethics. Here we have an individual who decided he wanted to die, and he enlisted his lawyer to help the state make it happen.

Things I Would Change if I Could

Texas criminal law and procedure is quite a mish-mash of the good, the bad, and the crazy. Some things about Texas law are much more pro-defendant than almost any other state. For example, Texas defendants always have the right to choose whether they want to be sentenced by a jury or a judge. In addition, except for capital murder and aggravated perjury, probation is available for every offense--from first degree felonies right on down to class C misdemeanors--if you have never been convicted of a felony before. However, mixed in with some of these freedom-loving provisions are some nonsensical freedom-hating ones. And I'd like to highlight some of them in the hopes that someone, somewhere will be able to fix them.

Things I Would Change #1 - Backtime credit
To start us off, let's talk about backtime credit. When someone is charged with an offense, and cannot afford to post a bond, they sit in the county jail until that offense is disposed of either by a plea, trial, or dismissal. For a newly charged offense (as opposed to a probation or parole violation), Texas requires that a bond be set. So, if you have a lot of money, you will never have to sit in jail pending disposition of your case. If, like most of my clients, you are indigent, you may sit in jail for weeks or months waiting for an outcome. If someone is sentenced to jail or prison time, he is legally entitled to have the time he has already served prior to disposition of his case credited towards his sentence--mandatory backtime credit. This is the law from capital felonies all the way down to class B misdemeanors. There is one exception to this rule. For state jail felonies--the lowest level of felony in the state--backtime credit is discretionary with the judge who sentences the defendant. There aren't even any rules or guidelines for when a judge should or should not credit this backtime. In my practice, however, the only time I see prosecutors asking the judge not to credit backtime is when the defendant has gone to trial. I think this is outrageous and unconstitutional. First, in the case of denying backtime because someone went to trial, I believe that is an unconstitutional punishment of the defendant for exercising his constitutional rights. But my main objection is that this one class of defendants is singled out for an additional punishment for no apparent reason. These aren't the most serious felonies. In fact, they are the least serious felonies. There is no justification for the disparate treatment. And the worst part is that the great majority of people who suffer this disparate treatment are the poor. In my county, the typical bond set on a state jail felony is $1500. That means that a person would only need $150-250 to post bond. People who sit in jail for weeks or months because they can't post that bond are, by any definition imaginable, indigent. And so these are the people who suffer if they do not receive credit for their backtime. A rich or middle class person would never be hurt by this rule because he will always be able to post a bond on this type of charge. Only the poor get hurt. There are many areas in the criminal justice system that affect the poor disproportionately. But this is one area where there is no logic or reason to support the rule in the first place. Its disproportionate impact on the poor just makes it worse. It's time to change it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Oklahoma City Remembered

I'm very sorry to be one day late with this post. Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. On April 19, 1995, 168 people were senselessly murdered in the worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who were affected by this tragedy--the wounded survivors, the loved ones of those killed and wounded, and the rescue workers who worked so hard in the face of overwhelming danger and despair.

Tom DeLay Completely Loses It

In a recent interview on Fox News, Tom DeLay railed against Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for doing his own research on the Internet. According to DeLay, such conduct is "totally outrageous." I hope all the Supreme Court justices take that to heart the next time they're thinking about punching up a case on Lexis or WestLaw. Don't they know that's what their law clerks are for?

To Be Poor and in Jail in Louisiana

Louisiana's indigent defense system is in absolute shambles. And, thanks in large part to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Louisana's Supreme Court is stepping up. How did it ever get this bad?

How the Rudolph Deal Was Done

Here's a fascinating, in-depth article on how the plea to spare Eric Rudolph's life was done. I'd suggest that Nancy Grace should read it before she shoots off her mouth again, but I doubt she reads my blog.

The CSI Effect?

There's an interesting article in U.S. News & World Report this week about the so-called CSI effect, where juries are demanding forensic evidence that makes the defendant's guilt an absolute certainty. For what it's worth, I haven't seen any evidence of it here in Texas. Our local police won't even fingerprint a gun or a baggie containing drugs to verify their assertion that the defendant was the one holding them. Juries still convict over and over again on the officer's word alone. Personally, I think the theory of the article is pretty shoddy. It's not supported by any evidence--just anecdotal stories with prosecutors whining about how they didn't win. Nor is there a single comment from a defense attorney about any great wins they've gotten due to the CSI effect. But the latter half of the article about all the shoddy forensic science out there is definitely worth a read. On that issue, look for a future post from me soon about my forensic "scientist" hall of shame. There are a ton of charlatans out there and the prisons and death rows around the country are full of people they put there on shoddy evidence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Is Nancy Grace the Devil's Minion?

I'm using a little hyperbole there. But seriously, this woman needs to take a pill. I don't think I've ever seen a "legal analyst" or "legal commentator" who is so biased for the state that she can't even admit, in the face of exculpatory evidence, that someone charged by the state with a crime might--gasp!--actually be innocent. Recently, she has really been having fun chastising past jurors and judges who set free defendants who later committed a heinous crime. Never mind the fact that she wasn't present to hear the testimony or personally see the evidence in those cases. In her mind, every last one of those jurors and judges should be hanging their head in shame. Toward the end of this "commentary", she asks how jurors in a child molestation trial who acquitted the defendant could look themselves in the mirror now that the defendant has been charged with abducting and murdering a young girl. (In the same article, she chastises federal prosecutors for making a plea deal with Eric Rudolph and settling for four life sentences, instead of seeking the death penalty, even with the very real risk of an acquittal, but that's another story.) I hope those jurors look themselves in the mirror and remind themselves that they took an oath to follow the law and not convict someone unless the offense was proven beyond a reasonable doubt--and that they followed that oath. It is this type of argument that makes it so hard to win acquittals in child sex cases. Jurors, even in the face of having a true reasonable doubt, are worried about setting free someone who might be a child molester and might hurt another child. I've also never seen Nancy ask how jurors who wrongfully convicted an innocent person can look themselves in the mirror. Not that she would admit that's ever happened.

Corporal Punishment

Update: The reporter who wrote this article on the corporal punishment bill either doesn't understand the law as it exists today or is reading something into the new bill that I don't see. As the law currently stands, parental discipline is a defense to prosecution. It is not an affirmative defense where the burden of proof is on the defendant. Rather, it is one of several justification defenses, where the burden is on the state to negate its existence, as long as the defendant raises the issue; it takes only a scintilla of evidence to raise the issue. Once raised, the state must negate the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. So, I don't understand where the reporter gets this idea:

"Under current law, Texas parents can already pull out the paddle as a means of disciplining their children. If they're charged with child abuse, they can beat the rap if they prove it was simple discipline. Mr. Dutton's legislation shifts the burden to prosecutors to prove that the spanking was more than that."

I also don't see anything in the new bill that explains how the section of the Family Code that it amends would interact with the Penal Code's existing defense. Nor do I see anything in the new bill that says anything about burdens or standards of proof.

Original post:

This bill "clarifying" that a parent or guardian has the right to use corporal punishment against their child confuses me. Right now, the Penal Code has a defense to assault for parent discipline that allows "the use of force . . . against a child younger than 18 years . . . if the actor is the child's parent or stepparent or is acting in loco parentis to the child; and when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare." I'm not sure how this bill, which modifies the Family Code, would do anything that this section of the Penal Code doesn't already do. That said, prosecutors still prosecute ridiculous cases, and juries still convict under ridiculous circumstances. A colleague of mine defended a woman whose teenage son skipped school, took her car without permission, and was arrested for shoplifting. After she had to leave work to go to the police station, she told her son to take off his ballcap to show respect to the police officer. The son refused. The mom slapped the ballcap off his head. He wasn't injured or even hurt. The police officer, however, promptly arrested the mother for assault. The fresh-out-of-law-school ADAs refused to dismiss the case, and the brilliant jury convicted the woman of Class C ("offensive contact") assault.

Protecting the Innocent

State Sen. Rodney Ellis is trying to establish an Innocence Commission in Texas with real powers. I'm not exactly sure how it would work, but anything is better than nothing, in my opinion. Texas has a shameful history of dealing with claims of actual innocence, even executing some despite knowing that faulty scientific evidence was used to secure their conviction and sentence.

A few years ago, Texas passed a bill that provides for post-conviction DNA testing. Unfortunately, a lot of judges are doing everything they can to deny testing under the law, and the legislature has already amended it to make it more difficult to get the testing. As it stands today, a defendant must, among other things, establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he would not have been convicted if the proposed DNA testing had produced exculpatory evidence that could have been presented at trial. When you live in a state where the highest criminal court has actually ruled that exculpatory DNA tests on the semen found inside a murdered rape victim's body didn't establish the defendant's innocence because the victim could have been a slut (sometimes referred to as the "unindicted co-ejaculator theory"), you can bet that a lot of courts are going to decide that almost no one has the right to testing. This is a disgrace.

Humorous sidenote to a serious issue: I once represented a defendant charged with assaulting a man during a brawl at a party. Our defense was that our client hadn't participated in the brawl and that the complainant had no way of reliably identifying our client as one of his attackers--he had been using drugs all day, he suffered a head injury, and he had told numerous conflicting accounts of the incident to the police and the hospital staff who treated him. In closing arguments the prosecutor actually said, "He doesn't have a defense. He's not saying it was self-defense or defending others. His 'defense' is 'It wasn't me.' That's not a defense." So, according to this DA, innocence is not even a defense in the State of Texas. Thankfully, the jury disagreed, and found our client not guilty.

The Pros and Cons of Going Pro Se

Alaskablawg has a great post about criminal defendants who represent themselves at trial. I couldn't agree more. One of the worst jobs in the world is when you are standby counsel for a pro se defendant. You just have to sit there and pretty much not say anything unless the person asks for your legal advice or, on rare occasions, actually asks you to take over the case. It is excruciating--especially when you know that it is a winnable case, if defended properly. I once acted as standby counself for a man charged with assaulting his wife. He wasn't indigent and so wasn't entitled to a court-appointed attorney, and his opinion was that he wasn't guilty, so he shouldn't have to pay to hire a lawyer. The judge warned him against representing himself, but ultimately allowed him to go pro se. The judge then appointed me as standby counsel. The state's case was not that strong. His wife had recanted and the officer at the scene hadn't observed any physical injuries. But this guy did virtually no voir dire, thus getting a less than favorable jury. He didn't object to all sorts of inadmissible hearsay when the DA was questioning the officer. He didn't ask essential questions of the officer on cross-examination. And then, he made the brilliant decision to call his wife to the stand. He proceeded to ask her a series of leading questions which she repeatedly answered the way he wanted. Sounds great, right? Only it was a disaster because right in front of the jury, he appeared to be completely controlling his wife. As a defense attorney, you love it when you control the witness on cross. But when you're charged, in essence, with being a controlling wife abuser, it's not good for the jury to see that dynamic right before their eyes. And then he made the classic mistake of asking his wife, "Isn't it true that I have never hit you or abused you in any way?" The wife dutifully answered that he had never abused her. Unfortunately, this opened the door to the state's introduction of the wife's affidavit for a protective order where she listed numerous incidents of physical abuse. It also opened the door to every other time the police had been called to their home. Without him asking that fateful question, all of those incidents would have been inadmissible character evidence. Now, they were fair game. Needless to say, the jury convicted him in a very short time.

Double Standard for Terrorists

Where are the President and the Attorney General and the FBI when there is a big-time terrorist floating around freely in Miami? How beholden to the radical Cuban exile community is the Bush Administration if they will let a terrorist responsible for the murders of innocent civilians live the high life on South Beach? And why isn't the mainstream media all over this story? A search of the New York Times, CNN, and FoxNews websites shows no stories, and MSNBC has only wire service stories. What is going on?

Rest in Peace, Marla

Update: I just wanted to add this lovely eulogy of Ms. Ruzicka in Salon.

Original post:

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Marla Ruzicka, who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq over the weekend. She sacrificed her life trying to help the innocent victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope her family takes comfort in knowing how many lives she touched. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune all have very touching stories. You can read more about Ms. Ruzicka's organization and send e-mails, which I assume will be forwarded to her family, here.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Paradox of Putting Faith in Jurors

Via Grits for Breakfast, I found this opinion at Rhetoric and Rhythm on the new LWOP bill that passed the senate last week. He makes a good point. We are trusting these jurors to evaluate all the evidence of guilt, innocence, punishment, and mitigation, and come up with the proper to decision as to whether someone should live or die. How can you, at the same time, say that to give them three options--life with parole, life without parole, and death--would just be too confusing? That's ridiculous. Across this state, juries are asked every day to decide the punishment for criminal defendants. In first degree cases where the defendant has no prior felony conviction, jurors have a range of choice from probation all the way up to life in prison. If you trust them with that decision, how can you not trust them with three choices?

Oh, and by the way, these are the same jurors who prosecutors hold up as paragons of wisdom every time a defendant appeals a conviction or sentence. You always hear them say things like, "Twelve citizens of this county heard all the law and the evidence, and made their decision, and for an appeals court to overturn the decision of those twelve jurors would be an act of arrogance and a slap in the face of the jury system." Would those be the same jurors who can't be trusted with three choices because it's just too confusing? Come on.

Oh, and one more thing. These are also the same jurors that our President, state legislators, and others don't think can handle making decisions when it comes to how much money a tortfeasor should have to pay to compensate for an injured party's pain and suffering. That's also just way beyond their capacity. The same twelve people that decide whether someone lives or is put to death by the state just don't have what it takes to decide whether Johnny deserves $500 or $5,000,000 for being paralyzed by medical malpractice.

I certainly don't believe juries always make the right decisions. I've seen plenty of cases where I felt like jurors ignored the law or the evidence and convicted because the crime itself was so heinous. These cases haunt me. But, you can't give juries the power to decide that someone should be put to death, and then stand up and say they can't be trusted to pick between three clear punishment alternatives.

That's my take. What's yours?

Johnnie Cochran said that?

I've received some e-mails and comments about my introduction at the top of my blog. A number of people have pointed out that Johnnie Cochran was not the first to say, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." They have told me it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who originated the quote. I admit that I didn't thoroughly research this. I just got inspired to start this blog after reading an obituary for Johnnie Cochran (from a very reputable newspaper), and it was from that obituary that I got the quote. So, now I've done some investigating. It turns out that Dr. King was the originator of the quote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He wrote it in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." However, it appears that even Dr. King was borrowing from Samuel Johnson, who, back in the 1700s wrote that, "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere." So, what do I do? This blog was still inspired by Johnnie Cochran's call to rectify injustice wherever we may be. And yet, I don't want to disrespect either King or Johnson. I've decided to change the intro to the blog. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Best Damn Law Show, Period

Friends often ask me what my favorite TV law show is. I have a lot of lawyer friends who don't watch law shows at all. The last thing they want from their entertainment is to be reminded of their jobs. But I watch a lot of them, at least sporadically. I used to love Law & Order, until their episode last season where they convicted a public defender of murder because he wouldn't reveal confidential client communications, and couldn't squeeze in enough comments about how sleazy defense lawyers are, and how public defenders are even sleazier. I also used to be a big fan of The Practice. I loved Bobby Donnell's old line, "People ask me how hard it is to defend guilty clients. Try defending the innocent. It's terrifying." Amen, brother! But now, I am a huge fan of Boston Legal, which unfortunately won't be back until the fall. Like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal is really a fantasty law show. For the most part, it is the furthest thing in the world from a realistic depiction of the practice of law. But here's the thing. Unlike Law & Order or The Practice, where I would often find myself screaming that the television, "You could never do that!," "That would never happen!, and "Objection!," on Boston Legal, almost all of the unrealistic stuff the lawyers do is what I would love to do if I could get away with it. You defense lawyers know what I mean. Who hasn't wanted to tell the judge, "I believe the Assistant District Attorney is fully capable of prosecuting this case without you?" Or to have their first cross-exam question of a police officer be, "Did they teach you to lie under oath that well in the academy or did you just get that way with all your years of experience?" It's awesome. And also . . . James Spader and William Shatner. Enough said.

Captive or Cohort?

I can't decide whether Bobbi Parker, the wife of a prison warden who disappeared along with escaped convict Randolph Dial 10 years ago and was recently found, was really being held against her will or was a voluntary participant in the whole affair. A lot of people are comparing it to Patty Hearst, but it also reminds me of Colleen Stan, the so-called "Girl in the Box." She stayed with her kidnapper for years, even bringing him home to meet her parents. The big difference between these older cases and Parker is that both Hearst and Stan said they were brutally raped and tortured for days or months before they were given any freedom of movement. Stan was actually kept locked in a box and made to sign a sex slave contract. I haven't heard any allegations like that in this most recent case--just that he threatened the lives of her family. As a defense attorney, I would have a field day defending either Mrs. Parker, if she were charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive, or Mr. Dial if he were charged with kidnapping. If I were a prosecutor, I wouldn't know who to believe.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Bad Dreams

I'm a PD has a recurring dream whenever she's in trial. I have virtually the exact same recurring dream when I'm in trial. Any dream interpreters out there? Just in case there are, take a stab at this other recurring one I have (whether in trial or not): I'm trying to accomplish some urgent task--it's essential to my life, safety, or that of others--but I can't do it because a blinding light (usually from the sun, but sometimes it's artificial) keeps blocking my view.

Shut up, Bill Frist

Just shut up. You and the rest of your "Christian" political radicals. I don't know what to say anymore. I don't think I can even put into words how much I despise the actions of these people. If these nutjobs spent even 1/10 of the time feeding the poor, tending to the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked (I think I read that in the Bible somewhere) that they spend ranting and raving about "activist" judges and the "attacks on people of faith," maybe they would do some actual good.

Pop Culture Friday!

It's Pop Culture Friday here at Injustice Anywhere, where I take a break from criminal law to talk about what really matters--celebrities, entertainment, and other pop culture phenomena. To start off the day, check out this fantastic vintage music video from Olympic track star Carl Lewis, and ask yourself, "How did this guy's music career not totally catch fire?"

No More Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Cases?

Update: I am heartened by the statements by Rep. Keel and Sen. Whitmire, the chairmen of the House and Senate Criminal Justice Committees, respectively, about this bad bill. As for Rep. Riddle and Sen. Ellis, the sponsors of the bill, I still must ask them--how is it harmful to ask that an alleged victim report the abuse within ten years of their 18th birthday? I'm sure there will be some victims who won't report in that time period (many never will report), but you have to balance that against the rights of the accused. Crime bills aren't just about victims. They are also about who will face the deprivation of their freedom potentially for the rest of their lives.

Original post:

The state legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations in child sex cases. If this bill passes, anyone could be charged with one of the most heinous crimes in the world, and threatened with life in prison, 30 years or more after it allegedly happened. How are you supposed to defend yourself against an accusation like that? Currently, the Texas statute doesn't run until ten years after the alleged victim's 18th birthday. Extending it beyond that, in my opinion, is a complete violation of due process. The chance of being able to find favorable witnesses, establish an alibi, or discover exculpatory physical evidence would be virtually, if not completely, impossible. It also opens the door to cases involving the completely discredited "repressed memories." I understand that the state has a strong interest in protecting society against child molesters, but at some point, these alleged victims have to take some responsibility for reporting the alleged crime. I think giving them ten years after they turn 18 is enough.

And one more thing on this subject . . . The article I linked to above has the same old quote from a prosecutor about how hard these cases are to prosecute, blah blah blah. Not where I live, they aren't. Juries routinely convict people charged with child molestation on the word of the alleged victim alone--even in cases with no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses, and glaringly inconsistent statements from the alleged victim. Many jurors still believe that no child would ever lie about such a thing, and when such heinous accusations are made, the presumption of innocence often goes out the window.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Life Without Parole Gets the Death Penalty

Update: Was someone at the legislature reading my blog? Nah, I doubt I'm that influential. But in a nice surprise, a compromise bill passed out of the state senate today which creates life without parole for capital cases. The original bill would have given jurors three options in capital cases--death, life without parole, and life with parole. The compromise bill gets rid of life with parole, and leaves jurors with the option of death or life without parole. Kudos to Sens. Lucio and Ogden for working out the compromise.

Original post:

Many people are surprised to learn that Texas does not have a sentence of life without parole. Capital murderers who are not sentenced to death are eligible for parole in 40 years. For a state with a reputation for being so tough on crime, this seems out of character. But, in fact, the biggest opponents of a proposed life without parole option in Texas are not us bleeding-heart, liberal defense attorneys. Nope. It's the big-city DAs and victims' rights groups. Why? Because they worry (probably rightly) that fewer people would get the death penalty if the jury had the option of giving life without parole. It's much easier to convince a jury to take someone's life if you can scare them into believing the defendant might one day be free to kill again. A recent bill to istitute life wtihout parole was shot down by a procedural hurdle in the state senate last week. This, despite the fact that 78% of Texans support having life without parole. I challenge lawmakers to finally stand up to DAs and victims' rights groups and enact some common-sense legislation supported by a super-majority of its citizens. And if it means fewer death sentences handed down, it won't surprise you that I'm all for that, too.


I have a client in jail on a probation violation. She is accused of continuing to use and test positive for illegal drugs. I am trying to get her into an inpatient treatment program. My client does not have the funds or insurance coverage to pay for the treatment, however the program I was trying to get her into gets funding from a publicly funded quasi-HMO to treat people who can't pay themselves. My client is clearly indigent, so I figure this is a perfect fit. Right? Wrong. The quasi-HMO won't pay for my client to receive inpatient services because she hasn't used drugs in the last 30 days. It apparently doesn't matter that the reason she hasn't used drugs in the past 30 days is that she's been in jail for violating her probation by continuously using drugs. How's that for common sense drug treatment policy?

I'm just asking . . .

If it is inappropriate for someone to ask a Supreme Court justice if he engages in a certain sexual practice, is it appropriate for the state to criminally prosecute others for doing it?

A little bit crazy . . .

Today, I have pre-trial hearings for two cases where my clients suffer from mental illness. Neither one of them was insane at the time of the offense, and both are currently competent to stand trial. But, both of them are in the criminal justice system in large part due to their respective mental illnesses. Cases like these are the most difficult for me to handle. Dealing with the problems of mental illness in the criminal justice system is often like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The real solutions to the problems these people are experiencing are not found in the penal system. Psychiatric treatment in county jails and state prison facilities is far from ideal, and often constitutes plain old malpractice. In addition, clients who are mentally ill, but competent, don't often have the best judgment when it comes to how to handle their legal cases. And despite the view of many people that serious mental illness lessens a criminal defendant's culpability, many jurors are afraid of the mentally ill, and have an inaccurate view of the danger they pose. As a result of these two things, the mentally ill often receive harsher punishment for committing the same crime than someone who is not mentally ill.

I don't really know what the solution to these problems are. Of course, more funding for mental health services is needed just about everywhere. I also support more divert programs for the mentally ill, where individuals can have their criminal cases dismiss if they "graduate" from a strictly supervised program of mental health treatment and don't commit any new crimes. But there will never be enough money for services or enough resources for diversion programs.

If anyone has any better ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Conspiracy of Dunces

This whole alleged conspiracy in the Michael Jackson case is the weirdest conspiracy I've ever heard of. After today, I think there have now been four or five witnesses who testified that they spoke with the alleged victim's mother by phone during the time she was at Neverland, and she either directly stated she was being held against her will or sounded afraid. Yet, none of these people ever called the police. She also never called the police herself. Oh, and she went to the movies, and on shopping sprees, and all over town, and never told anyone she was being held against her will. Does anyone, other than the lame-brained DAs who brought the case, actually believe this wacky story? Meanwhile, the judge seems determined to get Jackson convicted, only to have it reversed on appeal. Today, when the mom took the 5th about some welfare fraud accusations during cross-examination, the judge decided the questions were irrelevant, that the rest of her testimony would still stand, and that the jury was not to draw any negative inference from her taking the 5th. In the words of one of my favorite veteran judges here, "Counselor, where'd you go to law school?"

Rudolph Pleads Guilty, Gets Life

By now, most of you probably know that Eric Robert Rudolph pled guilty today to four bombings, including the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996. In exchange for his plea, he is receiving four life sentences. As I am opposed to the death penalty, I think this is the right result. Congratulations once again to the great Judy Clarke, public defender extraordinaire, for helping to save her client's life. She's one of my heroes. And not forgetting the once wrongly accused, I hope Richard Jewell is smiling somewhere, knowing that the man who committed the horrible act he was once accused of is finally being held to account for it.

More thanks . . .

Thanks to Alaskablawg and Abolish the Death Penalty for welcoming me and linking to me on their blogs. I still can't believe people are actually reading my site. Now, I really feel the pressure to come up with something interesting and meaningful . . .

The End of "Consent" Searches?

There's currently a bill pending in the state senate to ban consent searches at traffic stops unless there is probable cause for the search. I'm all for it. (I would also support a compromise that would continue to allow consent searches, but only when the individual gives written consent.) I have two major problems with these "consent searches." First, most people don't realize they have the right to refuse consent, and if they do, they still can be arrested for traffic violations if they do refuse consent to search. Second, and even more important in my mind, the consent search, in my opinion, is the biggest area of "testilying" by police officers. Technically, the law requires that the state establish by clear and convincing evidence that consent was given. In practice, this usually is just one officer's testimony that the defendant gave consent. The officer's word is almost always believed over the defendant. As long as an officer is willing to lie about a defendant giving consent, you may as well throw the 4th Amendment out the window.

Dallas's New Computer System Still Keeping Innocents Locked Up

So, a couple months ago, Dallas County went live with a new computer system that was supposed to link the Sheriffs Department, court system, and DA's office. Oops. The system has been on the fritz since day one. Scores of people have been in jail for days--sometimes weeks--longer than they were supposed to be. Even more are being held in the jail without the court being notified, so they are never given court dates or appointed an attorney. One of my co-workers had a client no-billed by the grand jury only to sit in jail for another month with no pending charges! The quote in the article from the County Commissioner administrator is such a crock. We're not idiots, Mr. Clemson. We know about other holds! There are still people being held in the jail with no holds! Now, get off your a-- and do something about it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Movie Recommendation

For anyone who wants to know why anyone becomes a public defender, check out the Oscar-winning documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning. Every time my job gets me down, I watch this movie to remind myself why I do what I do.

Weirdos Everywhere

It wouldn't be uncommon to note that Michael Jackson is, um, a little weird. But reading the stories of the trial so far, I can't believe how weird seemingly everyone involved is. Yesterday, in one of the most bizarre accounts so far, the mother of the "original" victim, testified that she wasn't going to let her son sleep in Jackson's bedroom, until he persuaded her by begging and crying. If a man sobbed as he begged and pleaded for you to let your son sleep in his bedroom with him, would that persuade you? Weird.

Feds Try for Death Penalty Again

Federal prosecutors will retry Tyrone Williams on a conspiracy charge related to the deaths of 19 immigrants in Williams's truck. It looks like they will seek the death penalty again. How much do we have to spend to kill this man? After failing to convince a jury in the first trial that Williams is eligible for the death penalty, I would hope that they can work out a plea bargain agreement that takes the death penalty off the table.

Drug Treatment Reform

While I'm talking about what is going on down in Austin, let me just add my voice to those like Grits, mentioned below, calling for more drug treatment instead of prison time. As a public defender in felony courts, I represent 300-400 new men and women each year charged with felony offenses. I haven't done a scientific study, but I would estimate that at least 75% of the cases I handle are drug-related in some way. Either it's a possession case, the person was stealing or robbing to get money for drugs, or they were actually high when they committed the offense. Many of these people have been to county jail, state jail, and the penitentiary before. Meanwhile, those who get the opportunity to go to long-term inpatient treatment wait for months in the county jail for a bed to open up at the treatment facility. We can build all the prisons we want, but until we institute a comprehensive drug treatment program, we will never make a seirous dent in the crime problem.

Watch out, adulterers!

There is actually a bill in the Texas legislature this session that would criminalize adultery. You have to read the bill carefully, because it never uses the word adultery. Instead, it just keeps referring back to the bigamy statute. But basically, it adds a section to the "prohibited sexual conduct" statute. In case you're not familiar, the "prohibited sexual conduct" statute lists people you can't have sex with--your mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc. But, Rep. Hilderbran's bill would add to that list anyone who you would be prohibited from marrying under the bigamy laws. In other words, if you can't legally marry Bob because either you're already married or he is, you can't have sex with him. Sorry, Bob.

Enhanced Penalties Hit a Roadblock

Is Sen. John Whitmire for real? I can't believe there is a state senator in charge of a powerful committee that actually has this much common sense. He's opposing all the unnecessary penalty enhancements this year, including what seems to be the ridiculous one to make burglary of a vehicle a felony. Keep up the good work, Senator!

Shout out!

Thanks to Grits for Breakfast for welcoming me on his blog! I think that's why people have found my blog. I read his site everyday to keep up on all the criminal justice activity in Austin.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Dirty Dallas Cop Gets 5 Years in Pen

Mark Delapaz, a former Dallas Police Department narcotics detective and one of the key figures in the Dallas fake drug scandal, was sentenced to five years in prison by a jury last week. Many of the innocent victims of the scandal, who were wrongly incarcerated by Delapaz and others, were very upset with the sentence. I would have thrown the book at the guy, too, but I think it's a huge victory just to get a Dallas County jury to send a police officer to the penitentiary. He's out on bond, pending his appeal. Most of his victims couldn't afford bond and so rotted away in jail for months or years before the scandal unravelled.

Religious Right Goes After "Activist" Judges

Some people are very, very scary. It's not just activist judges that the religious right wants to go after now. It's any judge who doesn't believe that Biblical law should be elevated above the law of the state. When one of the speakers was asked what to do about activist judges, he said, "Here again I draw on the wisdom of Stalin. We're talking about the greatest political figure of the 20th century … He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty. 'No man, no problem.'" That sounds pretty much like a call for the assassination of judges. Another person at the conference actually prayed for Judge Greer (the Florida judge in the Schiavo case) to be "delivered to Satan." Tom Delay's and John Cornyn's comments were downright peacenikky compared to these folks.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Andrea Yates Reversal Stands

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston has refused a rehearing in the case of Andrea Yates. This means that the reversal of her conviction stands . . . for now. The DA is saying he will appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Not surprisingly, I think the DA needs to just cut his losses and let her stay in a mental hospital.


This is my first post on my new blog. As you can see from the description, it's title is inspired by the late, great Johnnie Cochran, who said, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As a public defender, I try my best to fight injustice every day. I also have a lot of opinions, and this will be a new forum for me to share them.

Here goes!