Interim Update: June 2016

The 85th Texas Legislature convenes in Austin in a mere 205 days. Time to start your project now, before it’s too late.

     Sincerely,       

          —Noah

 

DFPS representation

            At the suggestion of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, the TDCAA Board of Directors has decided to create an ad hoc committee to discuss issues surrounding local prosecutors’ representation of DFPS. We all know the problems that CPS has had and the scrutiny that agency is currently under. To this point, there have been few complaints about the representation that county and district attorneys provide to the agency, but in anticipation of that becoming a topic of discussion during the next legislative session, TDCAA will host a committee of district and county attorneys to review our work on CPS cases with an eye towards identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the current arrangement.

            Committee members will be appointed by TDCAA’s president no later than July 8th. If you would like to be considered for a seat on this committee, please email Rob ASAP at [email protected]. We plan to host one meeting during the summer and perhaps two additional meetings this fall before the session begins, and we will reimburse appointed committee members for their travel. Thanks in advance for your willingness to serve!  

 

Exoneration Commission

            The Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission met this week to discuss various issues members have been examining during the interim. The commission seems poised to recommend to the Legislature some form of a mandatory recorded interrogations bill, but the final form of that proposal is still being worked out. The commission then turned to other suggested changes put to it by the various innocence projects and advocates who seem to be driving this train. Among those ideas are restrictions on the use of jailhouse informants and confidential informants; increased training and discovery duties for prosecutors; tougher eyewitness identification requirements; and more. We live-tweeted some of the juicier bits from the hearing on June 28 (which is yet one more reason why you should be following us on Twitter!), but for more details on all of the proposals being generated for the commission’s consideration, check out the agenda and related materials for that day’s meeting at http://www.txcourts.gov/organizations/policy-funding/timothy-cole-exoneration-review-commission/meetings-agendas.aspx. And if you are really a glutton for punishment, click on that web page’s video link and watch archived footage of the meeting featuring Vernon DA Staley Heatly, TDCAA’s Chairman of the Board and the token voice of law enforcement on the commission. (One riot, one Ranger, right?)

 

Juvenile sex offender survey

            Last session, the Legislature created a Task Force on Improving Outcomes for Juveniles Adjudicated for Sexual Offenses. Part of that task force’s duties include gathering information on related procedures, programs, and policies in the state, along with practitioners’ opinions of the current law. To that end, the Task Force has asked us to share with prosecutors a survey soliciting information on those points. To participate in the survey, CLICK HERE. The survey will be closed on July 15th, so be sure to access it before then. The survey appears to be anonymous, but there is a page to leave your contact information if you wish.

 

Interim hearing recap

            We’ve entered the traditional slow period for interim committee hearings, which isn’t likely to end until after school starts up again in late August. Among the few hearings held this month were the following:

  • The House Select Committee on Mental Health took testimony on the problems caused by the mentally ill in county jails. Witnesses from various parts of the state discussed some of their local solutions, but almost all of them reiterated calls for the state to provide more funding for additional treatment beds at every level of the mental health care system.
  • A similar request was voiced before the House Committee on County Affairs, which met in Lubbock to hear about related problems in that neck of the woods. At both hearings, legislators cited with approval various local efforts to divert the mentally ill away from jails and the criminal justice system in general, but those in the trenches would frequently remind them that diversion only works if you have something to divert them to. Whether the state will provide more assistance on that front remains to be seen.
  • The Senate Committee on Health & Human Services met to discuss—what else?—mental health treatment in civil and criminal settings. This conversation focused more on the state mental hospitals and DSHS’s future budget requests for them. DSHS has seen an increasingly larger percentage of its beds be taken up by forensic (criminal competency and insanity) cases, which in 2013 surpassed their civil cases for the first time in agency history. This leaves less room for civil commitments, and yet the wait times for forensic beds continues to increase, in part because the state operates or funds 300 fewer psychiatric beds today than it did 20 years ago. As a result, the state now operates or funds half as many psychiatric beds per capita as it did back in 1995. (Yes, you read that correctly.) But as for solutions to these problems, don’t expect anything just yet. Local officials have been doing more with less for quite some time, but this is ultimately a problem that can only be properly and substantially addressed by more funding—and that’s a dirty word to many legislators. Still, we’re seeing more traction in Austin for these issues than we have in the past, so never say never.
  • The Sunset Commission initiated its review of the State Bar—always an interesting topic at the Legislature, seeing as how so many of them are members. The sunset review process starts with the agency’s staff making recommendations to the commission, which then adopts proposals that are put into legislation and must be passed into law in the usual manner. At this initial recommendation phase, the agency’s major proposed changes involve State Bar rulemaking and disciplinary actions. In regard to the latter issue, the agency is recommending that the State Bar disciplinary counsel be given subpoena power to help prosecute its grievance cases. Several of the lawyers on the commission expressed concerns that such power could be abused by the Bar’s lawyers, so it remains to be seen whether that recommendation will be adopted. For more on the State Bar’s sunset process, visit https://www.sunset.texas.gov/reviews-and-reports/agencies/state-bar-texas.

 

Upcoming hearings

            The only relevant interim committee hearings posted to date are the following:

 

House Committee on County Affairs
Thursday, July 7, at 10:00 a.m., Harris County Commissioners Courtroom, Houston
Topic: Jail standards; use of mug shots; county cybersecurity; and more

 

House Committee on Human Services
Tuesday, July 12, at 9:00 a.m., State Capitol Extension, Room E2.030
Topic: Child abuse prevention and DFPS foster care

 

House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence (tentative)
Wednesday, August 24, at 1:00 p.m., Corpus Christi (TBD)
Topic: Family violence

 

House Committees on Criminal Jurisprudence and County Affairs (tentative)
Wednesday, September 21, State Capitol (TBD)
Topic: Bail and pre-trial release

 

If you have questions about any of these or any other hearings, call or email Shannon for more information.

 

It’s time for Baby School again!

            Registration remains open for TDCAA’s next Prosecutor Trial Skills Course held in Austin July 10–15, 2016. Attendees will receive up to 26 hours of MCLE (including 3 hours of ethics) while learning from some of the top prosecutors in the state, so make sure your newest prosecutors get the training they need by attending this summer’s Baby Prosecutor School.

 

Quotes of the month 

“They asked me if I missed being governor, and I tell them I will be really honest with you: I miss the circus, but I don’t miss the clowns.”
            —Former Governor Rick Perry, during a speech at the Georgia GOP state convention (where he was stumping for Donald Trump).

 

“We all get our feelings hurt. This was a tough ol’ race. Having been involved with it and having run for the presidency two times—it’s not bean bag, and you better have a thick skin.”
            —Perry, on why he thinks Sen. Ted Cruz is having a hard time endorsing Donald Trump for president.

 

“Instead of ‘Tear down this wall,’ the party promotes a new and bigger wall. ‘A thousand points of light’ has been replaced by a thousand points of anger.”
            —Lionel Sosa, GOP political advisor from San Antonio, on why he won’t support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

 

“If I could rewind time, I would have done it better and got away with it instead of joking around. If you are going to rob a bank, do it with a mask and don’t show your face. Do it right.”
            —Dominyk Alfonseca, who robbed a Virginia bank and then posted video of the crime on Instagram.

 

“Pessimists rely on the late Eric Monkkonen’s cyclical theory of crime, which suggests that the successive weakening and strengthening of social controls on violence lead to a crime roller coaster. The current zeitgeist favors a weakening of social controls, including reductions in incarcerative sentences and restrictions on police, on the grounds that the criminal-justice system is too racist, unfair, and expensive. If Monkkonen was correct, we will get a crime rise before long.”
            —Barry Latzer, author of The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America, in a recent interview on the cultural roots of crime.

 

“We’ve got … teachers who use their classroom like a singles bar where they can pick up anybody they want to.”
            —Terry Abbott, former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, on Texas leading the nation in cases involving improper sexual contact between teachers and students.

 

“I hate to say it, but I hope he goes to jail. I mean, that would be the best place for him.”
            —Paul Manziel, speaking of his family’s frustrations with his son Johnny’s various addictions.

 

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