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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Drug Demand in U.S., Drug Violence in U.S. and Mexico

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

The University of Texas is pulling back all students studying abroad in Monterrey, Mexico, and ending its study abroad program there until at least 2011, the Austin American-Statesman reports here.  The story goes on to note: “The move came four days after two Monterrey Tech students were killed in a gunbattle near the school. The March 19 shootings, between Mexican authorities and hitmen, rattled the campus and were followed by a memorial funeral service attended by more than 2,500, according to school officials.”

Anyone who practices criminal law along the border, and even parts further north, can attest to the harrowing state of things on our country’s border.  Border fences, Los Zetas, murders in Juarez, bribed public officials, along with the usual traffic of drugs and immigrants are all part of the daily fare of newspaper readers in these parts. Just this week, it appears a Mexican Military Helicopter may have flown over Zapata County, Texas.  The San Antonio Express-News addresses the systemic failures of Mexico here.

Supreme Court addresses duty of Defense Counsel to warn of Immigration Consequences

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

In Padilla v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 opinion that counsel for the defense must warn of the consequences of a plea of guilty for those who may face later deportation proceedings.  The court did not make a ruling as to the prejudice suffered by Mr. Padilla in this specific case, but remanded the case for further proceedings.

Developing – Drug Cases Reopened in Bexar County

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/239_drug-case_lawyers_given_potential_basis_for_appeals.html

The Bexar County District Attorney’s office has sent letters to over 230 criminal defense lawyers explaining that drug cases investigated between 2006 and 2009 by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office may be tainted by perjury and falsified evidence.

Case Backlog at the Appellate and Trial Levels

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

I’m not sure what makes a court, appellate court or trial court for that matter, “chronically late,” but the Austin American-Statesman has labeled the Third Court of Appeals just that in an article published today.

The Court, which covers Caldwell, Hays, Burnet, Comal and Travis counties, among others, is chided by the publication for the delay in opinions while noting that “[a]ppellate law is nuanced, subtle, arcane and complex; the workload is heavy.

The article also notes, “Holding individual appellate judges accountable for delays is difficult.  Annual court reports show how many opinions each judge has written, but no tally is kept on how many opinions came from very old cases, and no appellate court discloses whether any justices are running a backlog.”

In this election year, many Bexar County and District Court judges will be brought to task by opponents for docket congestion.  It remains to be seen whether the perceived problem will affect voters who head to the voting booths to decide many of the down-ballot races.  It is my considered opinion that the judges care more about the perceived backlog than the average voter.

“Will my case go to trial?”

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

In most every new client meeting, I am asked “Do you think my case will actually go to trial?”  I always tell people the same thing:  I have no way of knowing whether or not your case will go to trial, but there are factors which will increase the likelihood.”  I go on to explain my experiences with the particular judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials involved in the client’s case.

I recently came across a report by the Texas Judiciary Committee that sheds more statistical light on criminal trials in Texas in general.  The report is published by the Office of Court Administration.

The blog Grits for Breakfast goes inside the numbers and uncovers some interesting facts about criminal trials in Texas.  The blog notes,

“In district courts, ‘Less than 2 percent of all cases (excluding transfers and motions to revoke probation) went to trial in 2009. Trial rates were significantly higher, however, in capital murder and murder cases, which went to trial in 24.3 percent and 20.2 percent of cases, respectively.’ In county courts, which handle misdemeanors, only one percent of cases went to trial.”

Legal Frictions: Homeland Security and Child Pornography Laws?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Interesting bit on Wired.com about the potential conflict between body scanners used in airports and legal bans against images of naked children.  Seems like there would be a defense in American law due to the lack of intent on the part of those officially permitted to view the body scans, but interesting friction in two bodies of law, nonetheless.

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.

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.