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Archive for the ‘Criminal Law’ Category

Supreme Court Nominees and Science

Monday, May 18th, 2009

President Barack Obama is still weighing his nomination decision for a replacement of Justice David Souter.  Popular Science magazine has critiqued the scientific credentials of some of the prospective nominees to the Supreme Court on its web site.  I guess you’d call it, the nominee’s “lab cred.”  Its interesting to see the take of the scientific community on what usually boils down to debate on politics, and to a lesser degree jurisprudence.

Today’s Youth, Mobile Data Devices, and Criminal Law — Again

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The Washington Post has picked up on the notion that there is an odd convergence of technology, salacious conduct and today’s youth.  In a story out today, the Post writes about this evolving area of criminal law.   On one hand, there is nothing new under the sun.  Prosecutors, law enforcement officers, judges, and defense lawyers will have to sort out messes made by young people making poor decisions.  On the other hand, the speed at which a mistake can magnify in this Digital Age will have some corners very concerned and active in the prosecution of these acts. I’ve previously blogged about this phenomenon here.

Teachers and Criminal Background Checks

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The Legislature is considering something of a fix to the current expunction process as it applies to teachers.  In the past few years, teachers have had to submit to fingerprinting and background checks.  More than a few that I’ve represented called in a panic when they realized that the dismissals of charges that we were able to obtain didn’t shield them from background checks for arrest records.

As reported in the San Antonio Express-News, the teachers now have their lobbyists involved, claiming that teacher’s privacy rights and need for protection from identity theft should entitle teachers to what can only be called a Super-Duper Expunction, providing protections above those enjoyed by other citizens.  The news outlets don’t like the impingment on First Amendment Newspaper-type rights.

Sometime soon, the citizenry will catch wind of the sale of their criminal histories by the State of Texas to offshore entities beyond the reach of Texas expunction orders.  Then, we will watch another flurry of bills in the legislature.  But, the cow has left the barn on that problem, I’m afraid.

Criminal Law and Immigration Law Policies

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

The Harris County District Attorney’s office is looking at a new policy that would require individuals to swear under oath that they are in the country legally before being able to take advantage of a plea bargain for probation.  The Houston Chronicle reports that this policy, while not currently in effect, is being considered in an effort curb Houston’s problem with illegal immigrants.  The policy is at odds with some state laws which REQUIRES probation for certain first time drug offenders.

DWI Checkpoints Legislative Update

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Many states use D.W.I. checkpoints in efforts to curb intoxicated drivers.  The Texas State Senate took up the issue recently and approved the use of such checkpoints. The measure now heads to the House.  If approved it will go to the Governor’s desk.  Law enforcement is also increasing its use of forced blood draws on those suspected of D.W.I.

For an idea of what goes on at a D.W.I. checkpoint, check out this audio from the stop and detention of a criminal defense lawyer at a California D.W.I. Checkpoint.

Travis County Probation Office Onto Something?

Monday, March 30th, 2009

The number one rule of any community supervision, or “probation,” is: Don’t Break the Law.  If an individual breaks the law while on probation, they are subject to being sentenced on the original case AND the new offense.  The Austin American-Statesman writes that Travis County has instituted a program that some say has caused a drop in the crime rate for those on probation.  One of the approaches:

“For probationers considered at high risk of committing a new crime, for example, the department has beefed up the number of classes that seek to teach them how to adjust their thinking and moral judgment.

For low-risk offenders, the department has minimized the number of visits required with probation officers, citing research that shows that saddling small-time offenders with too many obligations could increase their chances of winding up in prison.”

DNA Testing and the Crime Lab

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Most observers of the DNA testing progams and crime labs in Texas will note that many of the wrongfully convicted in Texas that are ultimately released from custody  because of re-testing of DNA material come from Dallas County.  (Blog Grits for Breakfast notes that there have been 19 from Dallas and 35 overall.)  Some would argue that Dallas has been more aggressive in its prosecutions than other places, resulting in more wrongfully convicted individuals.  Lawyers in this particular field might tell you that they are lucky because Dallas kept the DNA material for long periods of time, so re-testing is an option in these cases. Observers will also tell you that the Harris County crime lab became infamous during the first part of the decade for its sloppy procedures and poor work.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston, which has seen five DNA exonerees in recent years, will change many of its policies relating to the handling of DNA evidence in an effort to prevent wrongful convictions.  First and foremost?  The prosecutors office will “require prosecutors to test DNA evidence in every case where it is available and relevant to prevent miscarriages of justice,” reports the Houston Chronicle.

Expunction Fix Considered by Legislature

Monday, March 9th, 2009

In the his blog, Grits for Breakfast, Scott Henson addresses one of the stickier issues in Texas Criminal Law, the expunction process.  A few years back the Texas Supreme Court, threw a curve to the entire expunction process by ruling that, among other things, that the statute of limitations must run before an individual is allowed to clear his record in most cases.  According to Henson, the legislature is considering how to tidy up the process in the current legislative session.  For more information on the subject click here, or here.  Both links are to Henson’s blog, Grits for Breakfast, which deals extensively with Texas Criminal Law issues.

No Refusal Weekends

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Bexar County will reportedly continue its forced blood draws of DWI suspects throughout the year.  Those who refuse both breath and blood tests could face additional charges for resisting arrest.  This program has been used around the state over the past eighteen months.  (Austin, San Antonio, Seguin, Colin County, Dallas-Fort Worth)  The “Anatomy of a No-Refusal Weekend” appears here on the Texas District and County Attorney Association website.

Interestingly, an Austin American Statesman article published in February, 2009, notes that about half of all those arreted refuse a breath test, while nearly all of elected officials asked to submit to a breath test refuse.

DWI Checkpoints Proposed…Again

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

The Legislature is again taking a look at authorizing D.W.I. checkpoints.  Again.  Senate Bill 298 can be found here.  An Austin American-Statesman story outlines the status of the proposed legislation.