June 13, 2007
Innocence matters

Via Grits, here's a Q&A with Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey that touches on some hot button issues.

Q. If you could improve on one area of law education, what would it be?

A. We are working on innocence. Each session, the Court of Criminal Appeals gets $20 million in legal education funding from the Legislature. This year we got the Legislature to set aside a different pot of money ... to provide education in the use of DNA, how to deal with recantations, eyewitnesses and prosecutorial misconduct. Texas is getting onboard with the new science and is way ahead of some states, but there is still a long way to go.

Q. Have innocence-related projects met with resistance?

A. It is not so much resistance as apprehension and fear. Some police departments might feel (if convicts are exonerated) the public will think they are doing crappy work. All segments of the system are afraid they will be blamed, but they are coming onboard.

I agree with Grits' assessment of "resistance" versus "apprehension and fear", and of the nature of "crappy work". I also want to emphasize that if we had a better system to provide attorneys for indigent defendants, a lot of that "crappy work" would have been exposed before it ever got to the appeals level. Think Ron Mock. Think Joe Frank Cannon. Think whoever represented Leonard Rojas, which is one of the cases on which the CCA has built its infamous record. Point being, there's a lot of crap to go around, and some of it is the responsibility of Judge Hervey and her colleagues.

On that score, at least, there's some good news:

Q. How do you see the legal profession changing in the next 20 years?

A. About 65 percent of the trial dockets are criminal, and I don't see that going down. I think we will see more public defender officers.

Having more public defender offices, and relying less on attorneys who make their living taking indigent cases on referral from judges, will go a long way. Not nearly long enough, of course, but it's a start.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2007 to Crime and Punishment