I had wondered what would happen with Rep. Lon Burnam's resolution to impeach Sharon Keller, given that we were coming down to the wire and there was a lot of pressing business that needed to be taken care of in a very short period of time. Now I know.
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, today offered a "personal privilege" speech noting that his resolution calling for the impeachment of Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Sharon Keller is going nowhere this session (which ends Monday).
Burnam's resolution has been pending since April 27 in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. In his speech today, Burnam said he chose not to try to use the procedure by which he could have tried to get the votes to bring the resolution to the floor despite the lack of committee action.
But he made it clear he still believes Keller should be removed from office for refusing to keep her court clerk's office open on Sept. 25, 2007 to accept a late filing on behalf of Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard, who was executed later that day.
Burnam said if neither state agency causes Keller's removal from office he'll try again in two years if he is re-elected to the House.
We're going to be having this conversation for awhile, I expect.
As he attempts to secure a new jail for Harris County, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has hired nearly 90 more guards but still faces skepticism from commissioners about whether a new facility is the only solution to chronic overcrowding and failed inspections.
Garcia argued earlier this month for the construction of a new jail, after the downtown lockups failed a fourth state inspection in six years because of broken toilets and intercoms. He said a new facility would alleviate persistent problems with maintenance and overcrowding at the facilities that house more than 10,000 people.
County and state officials have watched previous plans for a new jail fizzle because of a lack of voter support or the Sheriff's Office's guard shortage. They repeatedly have said other methods must be used to address overcrowding, including modification of bonding and pretrial diversion policies. Recent numbers show that half of the jail's population is made up of people awaiting trial.
"A new jail would have to be a last resort," Commissioner El Franco Lee said last week.
The discussion could culminate next month when Commissioner's Court expects to receive a report from Justice Management Institute, which is performing a "top-to-bottom" review of the local criminal justice system. The court also is scheduled to hold its annual meeting to discuss its capital improvements plan.
"Why would we make any decisions until we have all the information?" asked Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. "The last thing we want to do is to put (a new jail) back on the ballot and have it fail again."
Since January, [Sheriff Garcia] has hired 87 civilian jailers and cut openings in patrol, through new hires and transfers within the department, from about 70 to 22, according to Lt. John Legg, a spokesman for the department.
"Summer is a peak recruiting period," Legg said. "We expect June and July to be big months for hiring."
Grits points to this NYT article about the next phase of the battle between prosecutors and inmates over innocence claims and DNA testing. I agree with Grits - if some defendants are embarking on fishing expeditions, I say let them fish. It's not like the state never does that, and all it takes is one successful result to justify the practice. The cost can be on the claimant in a contested case if he doesn't have a court order, with the proviso that a result which proves innocence, or at least gets a conviction overturned, can be used to get reimbursement. We've seen way too many innocent men go free, often as the article notes too late to do anything about the real criminal, to continue to play these petty little games. Given that we're unlikely to see a widespread change in attitude among the prosecutorial class, and given the general level of indifference shown to innocence claims by various federal appeals courts and SCOTUS, perhaps federal legislation is needed to make this happen. Maybe Sen. Webb can put that on his to-do list.
Be sure to smile for the cameras if you visit the Westchase District.
A West Houston nonprofit group on Tuesday applied for city permission to install the first of a dozen security cameras it plans to purchase to reduce crime in the affluent neighborhood.
Images from the cameras will be fed to the Houston Police Department as part of an ongoing city initiative to assemble a network of hundreds of security cameras to monitor public streets, stadiums, freeways and the Port of Houston.
Calling it a prime example of a private-public partnership for public safety, HPD Assistant Chief Vickie King said the westside initiative is allowed by city ordinance.
"Communities who want to install cameras that capture movements on the public right of way may do so, so long as private property is shielded from view," she said.
The proposed camera system was introduced Tuesday by Houston businessman Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale and his wife, Linda, who live in an apartment at the Westside Tennis and Fitness Center, which they own. McIngvale said he became a fan of camera-surveillance technology because it quickly ended auto thefts and burglaries after he installed them at his furniture business.
"Police are stretched on their budgets, so it's something we wanted to do as merchants," said McIngvale, a member of the nonprofit Operation Westside Success, which is raising money for the system. "We've got a big economic stake in this, and it's up to us to make our neighborhoods better."
Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said the city has 25 surveillance cameras in the central business district and is using federal grants to tie into state highway-department cameras on Houston freeways, as well as cameras monitoring the Houston Ship Channel and port facilities.
James Murphy, general manager of the Westchase District, said cameras the improvement district installed on private property outside restaurants and shopping malls led to a dramatic reduction in crime.
"We have 11 cameras we're using, and it's fantastic," Murphy said. "We've reduced parking-lot crime in those locations 70 percent on average, and in some areas more. We're talking about auto theft, auto break-ins and robberies."
The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer.
The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.
Hair Balls tries to make sense of a Senate criminal justice bill that is currently in committee in the House.
[The bill,] authored by Republican State Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano seems remarkably straightforward: It prohibits registered sex offenders from "using the Internet to access pornographic material."
It would also establish a means for "a commercial social networking site or Internet service provider" to be provided with a list of said perverts, so such businesses can alert authorities if they're using those sites to prey on kids.
But what got Hair Balls was that first part -- about not allowing these pervs to look at any pornography, or as stated later in the bill, anything deemed "obscene." (The bill refers to the obscenity section of the penal code, which offers different definitions of obscenity, which include simulated sex.) Even though, as everyone knows, there is hardly any sex stuff on the Interweb, how would something like that even be enforced?
On Friday, the House concurred with Senate amendments to HB1736, the Timothy Cole Act that increases compensation to those that have been wrongly convicted. I had said on Monday that it had passed both chambers at that time, but I didn't realize the Senate had added two amendments that needed House approval. That's now been done, so unless I'm missing something else, it should now be on its way to Governor Perry's desk.
Also on Friday, HB498, which creates an Innocence Commission to investigate false convictions and identify reforms to prevent their recurrence, passed the House on third reading. It's now in the Senate's hands for final approval. Grits testified in support of this bill on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas back in March. The commission would be known as the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission, according to a press release I received from Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, the bill's author. I've reproduced the release beneath the fold. All told, I'd say this has been a pretty decent session for criminal justice reform. There's never enough that gets done, but I get the impression more has been done so far this time than in recent memory. Grits mentions a couple of other worthwhile bills that have made it this far as well.
When I posted about that recent Click2Houston story regarding the sexual assault victim who was billed by the hospital for the rape kit, I wondered if this was a screwup or standard procedure. Well, here's a response to the story from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) that clears things up.
Recently a Houston television station ran a story about a rape victim who was billed for her own rape exam. The news piece implied this was a common practice in Texas despite being told by several sources, including the Deputy Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), that this was not the case. This news story, riddled with inaccuracies and half truths, was picked up by other news outlets and blogs and it took on a life of its own. Activists, advocates, survivors and other concerned individuals from around the country were justifiably angry and began to demand answers and action. The problem is there isn't really a problem, just the perception of injustice that is spiraling out of control.
TAASA is concerned that this misinformation will have a chilling effect on a rape victim's willingness to report the crime and get a forensic/medical exam (rape kit). We want to assure everyone that the cost of a forensic exam is not billed to the victim. This is always the responsibility of law enforcement and they in turn can be reimbursed for up to $700 though the Crime Victim's Compensation (CVC) fund. If the cost exceeds this amount it is absorbed by the law enforcement agency or hospital, not the victim.
Additional medical treatment is not part of the forensic exam and billed separately. All crime victims, i.e. rape, gunshot, mugging, etc. are billed for medical treatment. They are eligible to apply for reimbursement of these costs through the CVC fund. The CVC fund is statutorily the "payer of last resort," so if a victim has medical insurance it will be billed first. This is to assure the fiscal integrity of the CVC fund and make certain that funds remain available to crime victims who are uninsured or underinsured. Rape victims are not singled out in this process for reimbursement, it is consistently applied to all crime victims and this process is replicated with few variations across the country.
As with any system there is the possibility of human error. A victim could be misinformed or struggle to make sense of the process. This is the principle reason TAASA believes rape crisis advocates are so valuable to rape victims. Rape crisis advocates are not formally part of the systems or institutions that rape survivors must navigate, but are a valuable ally to victims when they encounter barriers or inconsistencies. I wish the rape victim in the Houston story had an advocate to help her through this very difficult time. Our only interest in this situation is that rape victims are supported and assisted. I encourage rape victims to access the services they so desperately need and not be deterred by the perception that they will be charged for their rape exam.
After a brief debate, the GOP-controlled Senate by a 27-4 vote sent the nominee of fellow Republican Perry back to the Nominations Committee, where it is expected to die.
While Perkins' lack of qualifications were cited as a reason for the surprise move, several senators said Perkins' involvement in a 2004 controversy over the sale of sex toys in her hometown of Burleson was a factor.
Just last week Perkins had been approved by the Nominations Committee, with a single dissenting vote.
Wednesday's public vote against a gubernatorial nominee is a rarity, something several senators said had not occurred in years. In most cases when senators want to derail a nomination, they block it so it never gets out of the committee.
At her Senate confirmation hearing last week, Perkins denied she had anything much to do with it.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, argued that Perkins was simply unqualified for the $95,000-a-year, full-time post.
"This is not a partisan issue. This is not a personal issue ... This is a life-and-death position. It demands qualifications.," Whitmire said.
Three other nominees to the parole board that were confirmed by the Senate are highly qualified, Whitmire said. Two are longtime board members who are being reappointed, and the other is a Huntsville attorney.
"They have multiple degrees ... (Perkins) has no college degree," he said, noting that Perkins has no criminal justice experience, other than working for a time as a prison ministry volunteer.
Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, agreed. "The basis question is: Are there more qualified people out there?" he said.
As for the lingering issues, Whitmire said he was opposed to the nomination based solely on Perkins' lack of qualifications. "There are others that could be raised. I wish not to go there," he said.
After 10 minutes of debate, senators returned to their chairs and quietly voted down Perkins, in a chamber that is usually noisy with conversations.
I really don't know why it is that the Houston Police Officers Union has decided it wants HPD to be different from every other urban police force in the state and start questioning residents about their immigration status. The reasons why this is a bad idea are spelled out in the story, but let me briefly summarize: If people believe that by talking to the cops something bad might happen to them or their families, then they won't talk to the cops. That means that victims of crime, witnesses to crimes, people with information about specific crimes or criminals, they'll just clam up and not get involved. It shouldn't take any great insight to realize that this is not conducive to public safety, yet it's what HPOU wants. I don't understand it any more than you do.
Perhaps the problem here is that they start off with a faulty premise.
[Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union] said 1,433 of the 7,700 inmates processed through the Houston city jail in February identified themselves as noncitizens, although he does not know how many were illegal immigrants.
"I can't help but believe a large number were in this country illegally," he said. "If we had to put our hands on 1,433 fewer people a month, that would free up police for other tasks."
I missed this last week, and reading it now I'm one part outraged and one part puzzled.
Victims of sexual assault are getting bills, rejection letters and pushy calls from bill collectors while a state crime victims' fund sits full of cash, Local 2 Investigates reported Thursday.
"I'm the victim, and yet here I am. I'm asked to pay this bill and my credit's going to get hurt," said a single mom from Houston.
She received bills marked, "delinquent," after she visited a hospital where police told her to have evidence gathered. Officers assured her she would not pay a dime for that rape kit to be handled.
"That was unreal," she said. "I never thought I'd be out anything for what I went through."
"It is set up legislatively so that the criminal justice system pays for whatever evidence collection occurs," said Kelly Young, with the Houston Area Women's Center, a rape crisis facility.
Police departments are reimbursed for up to $700 by the Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, but many departments cover the bills if they exceed that.
After that happens, victims can apply for other costs associated with the rape kit hospital visits to be covered by the fund.
The Houston Police Department made one payment toward the single mother's hospital bill, but when she submitted the $1,847 worth of remaining bills to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, she received a denial letter, telling her that law enforcement should have paid.
"She's getting the run-around," said Young at the rape crisis center, which was not involved in her case.
"There may be lots of survivors who have this happen and we don't know because they don't know that they shouldn't be getting the bills," she said.
Attorney General's spokesman Jerry Strickland said the crime victim fund is enforcing strict guidelines imposed by the legislature as to which bills are paid and which victims are sent a denial notice.
Otherwise, he said that fund could become "insolvent."
He said state law is clear that crime victims must exhaust all other potential funding sources, such as local police or their own health insurance.
"The legislature set it up that way," said Strickland.
When asked for a number of how many denial letters had been sent out to Texas rape victims in the past, Strickland did not have an answer after checking with his crime victims' compensation office workers.
He said the attorney general's office constantly trains hospitals and health care providers on how to help victims in getting reimbursed for their expenses.
Where the outrage really comes is that if this is the way it's been all along, intended or not, it's too late for the Lege to take action to fix it. The least we can do, therefore, is to find out for sure whether or not this is something that needs a legislative fix or a procedural one. Whatever the case, the cost of solving and prosecuting the crime should not fall in any way on the person victimized by the crime. Thanks to Ginger for calling this to my attention.
Updates on some criminal justice bills
Garcia's plan to fix the jails
Can't wait to see the transcript of this one
Burnam makes his case in the papers
Followup on the Keller impeachment resolution
Crimes against goats
The Keller impeachment resolution
Sanctions sought for deadline-missing attorney
Tweet it! The cops!
House hearing set on Keller impeachment resolution
You sure you can afford that attorney?
Either way, they still get paid
Matt Baker indicted
Sexting and the law
Won't somebody please think of the mollusks?
Keller's day in court set for August
There's always an excuse to not do it
TPJ files complaints against Keller
Innocence, exoneration, and compensation
What else have you not told us, Sharon?
Regional crime lab
You have the right to an attorney, but it doesn't have to be of your choosing
Your eyes may deceive you
Keller blames others for her actions
Missing deadlines in capital cases
On DNA testing and innocence
NYT on Keller
Let's see those files
Blow before you drive
The Riddler goes on a rampage
Keller gets an extension
The case against Keller
Why does Governor Perry hate sex toys?
CSI: Needs Improvement
Judicial conduct commission moves against Keller
All DNA, all the time
Burnam files resolution to impeach Justice Keller
Exonerating the deceased
Heights crime prevention townhall report
Report: Most elected officials refuse to contribute to their own prosecution
Crime prevention townhall meeting
Swearingen gets a stay
Harris County tackles jail overcrowding
More on Larry Swearingen
How many wrongly convicted people are there in prison?
National ban on phoning while driving urged
The state of Texas is about to execute an innocent man
RIP, Sharon Levine
Texas Voices gets an ally
The Madoff scandal and the Innocence Project
The unthreatening sex offender next door
Cheney indictments tossed
Pounding the table
Where's the DA?
More on the Cheney indictment
Cheney, Gonzalez indicted in South Texas
Virginia anti-spam law struck down
The DA that did the judge
Candidates speak on mental health and criminal justice issues
Forensic Science commission recommends examination of capital arson case
The great sex toy disappearance
The legacy of Henry Wade
Still not safe for sex toys
New jail bond to miss the November election
The costs and effects of mass imprisonment
The jails and the mentally ill
Commissioners Court to try, try again
Policing the jailers
Pee in a cup, go to jail
The Feds inspect the jails
Jackson Lee wants hearings on Harris County criminal justice
Them that has the gold gets the patrols
New DNA tests for Darlie Routier
Commissioners Court presses forward with scaled-down jail plan
The definition of insanity, Harris County style
No Galveston jail for Harris County
No excuses for CPS
Supreme Court upholds FLDS ruling
Sheriff still hasn't learned his lesson about deleting emails
Court thwacks CPS over FLDS raid
Is the death penalty declining in Texas?
Quintero's lawyer speaks
DA probes Sheriff's surveillance of Ibarra brothers
Not so minor after all
Mrs. Medina pleads not guilty
The cost of the FLDS case
The Rosenthal investigation
Let's get serious about innocence
Kelly Siegler resigns
The Chron on jail overcrowding
The Galveston option
The real fix for the jail overcrowding blues
Abbott makes hash of needle-exchange program
The jail overcrowding blues, part whatever
The next frontier for innocence
Mrs. Medina released on bail
The Texas Justice Newsladder
Medina grand jury reconvenes, indicts wife
A cozy little family in juvenile court
The state prison guard shortage
For a public defender's office
Interview with Craig Watkins
Public defender's office gets OK to be studied
The high cost of getting tuff on crime
Commissioners Court to study public defenders office
Whitmire: Abolish the TYC
The jail chronicles
Rusty Yates has a new son
The new DA's new direction?
More on a public defender's office for Harris County
Harris County juvenile facilities criticized
Magidson makes his mark
You have the right to an attorney, just not right now
Sen. Ellis calls for a public defender's office
More jail deaths
Feds investigating Harris County jails
Who should investigate Chuck?
Defense attorneys want new DA named
Support resolutions to reform youth and adult corrections
Now the world really is safe for sex toys
Back to court, Chuck
Coleman's conviction upheld
Grits talks criminal justice with Texas Monthly
Medina grand jurors want to keep the ball rolling
Medina grand jury disbanded, judge criticizes DA
Tough times in the DA's office
The lawyer versus the jurors
Two more views of Rosenthal
Complaining about the grand jury
More on Medina and Rosenthal
David Medina indicted by grand jury for arson
What happened to all those cases?
"Let's not make a deal", Rosenthal style
SCOTUS to review "Jessica's Law"
The top ten criminal justice stories from 2007
Keller violated court policies
Vick gets 23 months
Why we didn't need that jail bond
Stop Sharon Keller rally this Friday
Chron slaps Keller again
CCA to accept email filings
The economics of plea bargaining
Crime lab cases being reviewed
Harris County DA holds off on death penalty cases
Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Exonerating the Innocent
E-filing execution appeals
Crime lab review panel begins its work
"A shame, and a surprise"
Still more complaints filed against Keller
"Views divided" (sort of) on Keller
Chron: Keller must go
DPS owed $620 million in unpaid surcharges
Panel to review HPD crime lab cases
Another complaint to be filed against Keller
Complaint filed against Keller over death penalty appeal
AG opinion sought in Bexar needle exchange pilot
Freed after 14 years
If only there were some way to track where it went
More charges for Vick
How many innocent "guilty" people are there?
OJ busted for stealing his own memorabilia
For want of an attorney
Is it a surcharge if no one pays it?
Where are the anti-death penalty candidates?
TYC still outsourcing custody of 10-13 year olds
Vick suspended indefinitely
The warped lock-em-up mentality
Vick takes a plea
Special master for HPD crime lab urged again
Oyster-related crime is on the rise in Texas
Two more Vick codefendants to plead out
On supporting Michael Vick
Backroom gambling in Houston
Bexar DA rains on needle exchange pilot
By the way, the TYC is still broken
What "innocent till proven guilty" really means
Pilot needle exchange program gets underway in San Antonio
Are you wanted by the police?
TYC outsourcing custody of 10-13 year olds
More on inmate outsourcing
Don't mess with Borris
Houston Crime: On the Uptick ... Still
Teen's death brings about attention for hate crime bill
A tale of two cities (and their police departments)
Time flies like an arrow
We still need a special master for the crime lab
Dyslexia and crime
A way forward for the HPD Crime Lab
Right message, wrong messenger
The final HPD lab report
What was finally done about the TYC?
Causation, correlation, and car burglaries
False alarm clampdown contemplated
Fox versus Crosby conclusion
Fox versus Crosby update
Fox versus Crosby
And speaking of cameras
On second chances
More on the DMN's death penalty change of heart
Chron covers the prison guard shortage
DMN: No more death penalty in Texas
Diane Zamora revisited
Harris County jails: Deadlier than ever
Justice for Laura Candlelight Vigil reminder
Justice For Laura Candlelight Vigil
RIP, Charles Harrison
What hath the warrant roundup wrought?
Warrant roundup draws to a close
Tulia: The Movie
Saving DNA evidence
Matthews gets three years
Estimating the cost of "Jessica's Law"
Our deadly jails
Pay your fines or go to jail
The inmates are running the prisons
More treatment, fewer prisons