27 October 2004

Comments on Texas & Juvenile System

Yesterday I published "Texas Yet Again." It brought this comment:
I can understand why the guilty man headed for a life sentence wouldn't enjoy his going-away party especially since he had been a fugitive from justice for a year. But, there will be few Texans who are much concerned that the judge celebrated his return to her courtroom. On the contrary, the average citizen of the Lone Star State feels much greater grievance at what criminal lawyers like Lott Brooks do.

Brooks requested five extensions and ignored twelve past-due notices in filing a brief with the 14th Court of Appeals. He finally submitted an "Anders brief", an admission that his client had no basis for appeal. He freely admits that he filed the extensions and ignored the notices to keep his client, who had pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child, out of prison on appeal as long as possible.

The judge of the appeals court ordered Brooks arrested and sentenced him to two days in jail and a $500 fine, citing Brooks's abuse of the appeal process. (For his part, Brooks attributes his penalty not to his conduct but to racial prejudice.)

Half of all juvenile court cases in the USA are dismissed because the victims do not testify. One of the main reasons for this is that the public defenders who handle 90% of such cases exploit the legal system's burden on witness by stalling tactics like Brooks's. They file continuance after continuance, wasting days and days of the victim's time. When and if the case does come to trial, the PD requires the witness to testify that he really didn't give the defendant permission to break out a window in the victim's car, hack the dashboard open, bypass the ignition, steal the car and set it on fire.

The Texas criminal legal system might not be as good as that of Virginia, as you claim. But, most of the citizens of either state are more concerned about the safety of their lives and property than hurting the feelings of a man who nearly strangled his girlfriend to death.
First of all, I don't know whether the Texas legal system is better or worse than Virginia. Do I poke fun at Texas on occasion? Yep. I don't know why but Texas always seems to have something kind of unusual going on. It's probably just because it is a big State with a lot of people so there's a lot more chances for things to happen. It's just that whenever I get really, really depressed about what I see happening legally in Virginia I can always Google News Texas and find something which makes me feel better.

Beyond that, I have no idea who the attorney mentioned is but here's an article about it so you can all judge yourself. Personally, I believe blatant delaying actions by an attorney at the appellate level are rare. All attorneys are asked by some clients to engage in delaying tactics. Nevertheless, most of us won't do it simply because the client tells us he doesn't want to go to prison. On the other hand, I have been required by court appointed clients to file petitions for appeal which I think the client is pursuing to put off going to jail / prison. However, none of my clients has been dumb enough to tell me that and I have never, ever filed an Ander's Brief. Never had to because every one of my appeals has had some sort of legal argument.

As well, delays in trials in order to get rid of witnesses probably happen in a small number of cases but I suspect this is more myth than reality. Competent courts just aren't going to let this sort of thing occur. The Defense might get away with one continuance on shaky grounds but the judge isn't going to play that game for long - he will force you to trial. The perception that Defense attorneys take this route is probably based in the fact that in major, intricate cases the Defense often has to continue the case in order to prepare witnesses, investigate, get the proper experts, &cetera. Remember, the police and prosecutors can take a long time to prepare everything before they file a charge. The Defense is usually going to have to do everything after the client is charged. Because of speedy trial limitations a court will set court dates before the Defense can possibly be ready and it will be forced to ask for continuances (waiving speedy trial).

I do not know if the 50% dismissal of juvenile cases is true and I do not know what is exactly meant by "juvenile cases." If it means all cases involving a juvenile I suspect the percentage may be even higher because a just juvenile system should have a safety valve of some sort so that kids who get in fights with other kids or take a stick of gum when their mother wasn't looking don't get a criminal record (particularly in this era of non-sealed, non-erased juvenile records). If it means adult sex and/or violence on a child I wonder about the percentage. Of course, there will be a significant percentage of children who could not testify because they are simply too young. There is also the fear of brainwashing that we all realize happened in the recent past. Still, prosecutors show a zeal for prosecuting these types of cases which you seldom see elsewhere. I must say that I find it hard to believe that they let 50% just fade away.

And a PD who requires the complaining witness to testify that a crime actually took place really doesn't bother me all that much. Sorry that's just my perspective as an evil Defense attorney.

Back to what began this all - The man for whom the judge in Texas threw a party. He was going to prison with that massive sentence one way or another. It is simply unprofessional to do something like this. It's funny but unprofessional. I've stood in front of any number of judges who have been angry at my client for one reason or another. I've seen clients lectured, yelled at, spoken to sarcastically, and oversentenced because they did something dumb which caused the judge to unload on them. I've never seen anyone go through something that elaborate in order to humiliate a Defendant.1 I expect I'll never see anything like this in Virginia; our judges have too much of a sense of propriety for that kind of behavior.

1 And personally, I have no problem with humiliation being part of punishment as long as it serves a purpose. If you force men at a jail to wear pink coveralls and work road detail in plain sight of everyone it discourages people wanting to act in a manner which will land them in jail. If you make someone stand mute in front of a store with a large sign saying "I stole from this store" it discourages that sort of activity. This party accomplished little outside of simply poking fun at the man. He's going to prison for life so his behavior won't change and those whom he tells of this are likely to be long termers as well. What good was accomplished?


Anonymous said...

That girl who wrote you sounds like a total nut. When I blogged, I used to respond to such nuts, but it really is not worth it because they don’t provide citations. When asked for specifics (e.g. why such continuances were granted), they can’t provide them, because their entire knowledge of the criminal justice system is based on some crap they hear at bars. Of course, it is stuff that people hear in bars that will determine who will be the next president.

This girl further demonstrates her nuttiness (which, to me, is downright unAmerican, but I am not the judge who is a real American, it seems) but having the utter nerve and contempt for my country to question whether a defense attorney should ask whether or not all the elements of a crime actually were committed.

Mark said...

As a native Texan law student hoping to practice in the Texas legal system one day; I must respond.
Was the behavior by the party-throwing judge:
Unprofessional? - probably; not her best decision.
Creative? - most defintely.

We have prided ourselves in the creativity of our judge's 'out of the ordinary' sentences. Judge Ted Poe is a great example.

Do I care that Billy Wayne Williams was humiliated for an hour or so, before sentencing? NO.This honored guest has a long history of violating our laws. He was a fugitive at the time. He was finally apprehended and sentenced. A victory for our legal system.

So, cut another slice of cake and pour one for me, Judge.

An interesting side note: We have 14 appeals circuit courts in Texas. Both the 1st circuit and the 14th circuit, mentioned here, are located in Houston. They both share the same building as my law school, South Texas College of Law.

Ken Lammers said...

Cruelty just for cruelty's sake demeans us all. Show me a substantial other purpose and I don't find humiliation to be always a bad thing. I just see no purpose here.

Martin Lawford said...

My source for the 50% statistic on dismissal of juvenile cases comes from the Little Hoover Commission Report of 1994. Even in cases not dismissed, delay thwarts justice according to the report: "The message that individuals are responsible for the decisions they make and that illegal actions are accompanied by consequences is often lost in today's juvenile justice system. A child may face little more than a lecture for the first half-dozen offenses, tactics that are the hallmark of the adult system are employed to get the youth 'off the hook' and long delays separate deed from outcome. The stark reality of the impact of the juveniles' actions on their victims and other members of society is also lost in a system that has little room for victim input."

Does the public blame the judges for this? Apparently not. On the ABA's website, the results of a survey report that 32% of the respondents reported being extremely or very confident in judges, while 22% reported little or no trust in them. Of the same respondents, 14% reported being extremely or very confident in lawyers and 42% said they had little or no trust in them. If the Texans put more trust in a judge who sends a captured felon to prison with a send-off party than in a lawyer who ignores twelve past-due notices to keep a man who confessed to kidnapping and raping a child free on bond for two years, then Texas is not as different from the rest of the country as some people claim.

According to an anonymous poster, not only am I a total nut but I am a girl whose knowledge of the legal system is based entirely on rumors I hear in bars. The citations of the Little Hoover Commission and the ABA website would seem to refute the latter claim. I won't try to refute the charge of insanity, total or subtotal. But, since that charge comes from somebody who thinks a 53-year-old man is a girl, I wonder if the anonymous poster has applied the charge of insanity to the correct party.