Thursday, May 08, 2014

'Absurd' debate, NDO cruising, grand juries and LEO shooting sims

-- Nothing to add to this account of the pie fight between David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick yesterday:

The Texas Lieutenant Governor's Race is Now an Absurdist Experiment in Bitterness.

Chris Hooks at the Observer described it as the nastiest debate yet, in a series of notable embarrassments for the state of Texas.  And yet Democrats will publicly declare that they are crossing over in the runoff to vote for the least worst choice.  That is the purest example of battered spouse syndrome that you will ever find.

-- Houston's non-discrimination ordinance is fait accompli next week.  I had a lengthy discussion  (15-20 minutes' worth) with Council Member Kubosh this week on the issue and also Uber and Lyft.  He seems to be enjoying his job and taking it seriously.  As Charles notes, he engages, listens, doesn't seek points of contention.  That's the best you can expect from your government's representatives, and I would say easily half of them don't meet that low standard.  As for Kubosh, I like the guy even when we disagree.  That makes one hell of a good impression.

-- Socratic Gadfly has an excellent post about Harris County's effort to influence grand jurors by running them through a police officer "shooting simulator".

(T)he degree to which the DA's office (in Harris County) is going to try to get police officers no-billed when they're facing charges related to shooting civilians is reaching national scrutiny level.

It's utter horseshit for this to be happening, especially in the wake of numerous incidents like this and this and this.

Houston police fired their guns at civilians more than 100 times in the last five years, resulting in numerous injuries and deaths, but never in charges against the officers.

From 2008 to 2012, officers shot 121 people, 52 of them fatally.

This Grits post, at the bottom also.

(E)ven a conservative Republican judge questioned Harris County grand juries' lack of action on questionable Houston PD shootings. “The big void on indictments of police officers is certainly alarming, and I just hope each grand jury had decided those cases based on the facts independently of what the district attorney wants them to do,' said 209th District Judge Mike McSpadden.” Remarkably, "The newspaper’s investigation showed that more than a quarter of the 121 civilians Houston Police Department officers have shot in the last five years were unarmed." 

It's not just in Houston, as everyone knows.  And those are just the people that are dead as a result of these trigger-happy cops.  Never mind the family pets.

There's a solution to this problem.

Grand jury nullification, at least in Harris County, Texas. If you're a good liberal, and you're picked to serve on a grand jury, vote to true bill any cop brought before the grand jury. Don't get sentimental.

And, let's do this not just for these cop cases. Given that the US is the only country in the world that still uses the grand jury system, and even here, half the states (probably not "red") have abandoned it, we probably need grand jury nullification until the rest of the states, including (Texas), drop it.

And, actually, it's not "nullification." It's a "runaway grand jury," and Tea Party wet dreams aside, it gets at the roots of what grand juries did 250 years ago; in New England, they connected to the traditional town meeting and its oversight ideas. That said, the idea of a modern runaway grand jury in a state like Texas would be scary, precisely because Tea Party wet dreams can't easily be set aside.

Yeah, runaway grand juries.  My family has some experience with those.

At least Texas requires a three-quarters vote. At the federal level, and in some other states, it's still a bare majority.

In states with elected DAs, my personal thought is that, especially in smaller counties, grand jury work lets incumbent DAs show they're "tough on crime," too. As a second angle, it's used to argue tough cases in court, as in the DA saying, "A Harris County grand jury indicted Mr. Abbott (no resemblance to Greg Abbott or any other living persona named Abbott) on these three charges." So, they must be guilty is the implication.

If you want to prosecute someone, then do it. And defend it. If you want to not prosecute someone, then do that. And defend it, too.

Until we reach that day, though, grand juries, in states that still use them, need to stop being rubber stamps for DAs. No bill a few more ham sandwiches. And, in the case of cops, true bill a few more Reubens.

I've only been asked once to serve on a grand jury, and I did not make the cut.  I wonder if I'll ever get asked again now after this post gets circulated among the local law community.


Bay Area Houston said...

I've served twice. I have lots of complaints like the number of "trace amounts" of drug cases heard. 3/4 of the cases were these. That is absurd.

Also when the accused wants to talk to the grand jury, the grand jury should be required to listen. It shouldn't be an option.

My second grand jury received a lot of praise from the Judge and the bailiffs. Diverse people with diverse opinions and yet we all were cordial. It was a very good experience.

Gadfly said...

Patrick vs. Dewhurst kind of reminds me of Rodney Daingerfield crashing the country club in "Caddyshack," only Patrick has a mean streak, not an oafish one. (Well, maybe a bit of both.)