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Archive for December, 2009

Texas, Our Texas – Fastest Growing State

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

A report in the Austin American-Statesman notes that Texas is the nation’s fastest growing state.  Such news will create interesting developments over the next decade for a state that struggles to deal with a growing prison population and budget constraints. For an interesting discussion of prisons and the state budget, see recent Grits for Breakfast blog entries here and here.

Federal Courts, Peer Review Process

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Interesting article in today’s San Antonio Express-News about the peer review process for Federal judges.  Apparently, a lifetime appointment does not excuse one from being reviewed by one’s peers in one of the most secretive of governmental reviews.

Mental Health Initiatives for Veterans, Bexar and Travis Counties

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The Bexar County Courts have recently implemented a program to aid those defendants who are competent to stand trial, but suffer from mental illness to the degree that it impairs their ability to function in day-to-day life.  The Mental Health Advocacy Initiative provides services to defendants in conjunction with the Bexar County Court system.  Judge Michael Mery of County Court 12 oversees the program.  The County’s website gives the following description of the program:

“In December 2008 the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court authorized the formation of the Mental Health Advocacy Initiative within the Department of Community Investment. The targeted population is non-violent, mentally ill inmates who have had more than one incarceration in the last 12 months and mentally ill inmates who cannot participate in their own defense. The division’s goals are to identify mental illness in inmates, ensure that these inmates are put in contact with services before leaving the Adult Detention Center, provide case management for one year in order to reduce recidivism and to support the development of Competency Restoration in Bexar County.

The initiative will focus on three areas.

Individual treatment plans
Access to support and treatment services
Reduce the likelihood that inmates will commit crime again, returning to incarceration

The end result will be targeted to decrease the criminalization of mentally ill individuals.”

Setting aside for a moment the problem of adjudicating individuals who “cannot participate in their own defense,” and the friction that would cause with Texas competency statues, the initiative is off to a strong start.  The staff is professional and caring, and the Court is functioning as designed.  The Initiative is taking particular pains to cater to the growing population of military veterans in need of mental health care.  The VA Hospitals in the area are doing what they can, and the Initiative looks to fill in the gaps.  As noted in the San Antonio Express-News story linked above, the serviced population of veterans in getting younger and younger.  It can be argued that the relative youth of the serviced population makes it a little more likely that the criminal courts would become involved in the lives of the patients.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Travis County is now looking to help the Veterans of Austin with a similar program, specifically tailored to the mental health needs of veterans.   The story notes that Harris County and Tarrant County are starting similar programs.  The blog Grits for Breakfast has a full treatment of the issue.

The Most Difficult Case

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

When I speak to law students or young lawyers, I am often asked, “Which cases are the hardest?”  The answer is an easy one.  THE most difficult cases to defend are those where you KNOW your client is innocent.  The cases will keep you up nights.  The cases will tie you stomach in knots.  Sometimes, no amount of lawyering will overcome a witness who is determined to lie, conceal the facts and undermine the fairness of a judicial proceeding.

Sometimes witnesses start out with a small lie and allow the lie to fester and grow because they are afraid to stop what they’ve put in motion.  Talkleft.com recently blogged about a recent case from New York where a man was released from prison after serving four years of a twenty year sentence.  The AP story appears here. Luckily for the defendant, DNA evidence was available and reviewed.  The lying complainant stated that she initially told her lie because she wanted people to feel sorry for her and thought the man would be acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

Murder Across the Border, Splashed Across Your Sunday Paper

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

The newspapers across Texas are filled with stories this weekend of the state of life across the border in Mexican Border towns.

Baltimore’s sky-high murder rate inspired documentaries, novels and television shows in the early part of this decade.  Now, consider that, year to date, there have been over 2,200 murders this year in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. The Houston Chronicle tells of the murder and mayhem here.

Los Zetas, the infamous quasi-military group responsible for much of the violence in cities like Nuevo Laredo, is expanding its reach into legitimate businesses, according to the Dallas Morning-News.  Grits for Breakfast, the preeminent blog at the intersection of law and policy in Texas, also devotes significant bytes to the story here.