Saturday, July 30, 2011

DPS offers new way to request ALR hearings in Texas

It looks like we have a new method of requesting ALR hearings to contest license suspensions in Texas. The Department of Public Safety has added this link to their page that allows you to request a hearing online.

The Notice of Suspension handed to anyone arrested on a DWI does not mention a hearing can be requested online so I wouldn't rely solely on the internet to make a request. I would also be leery of "bugs in the aether" that could intercept the request.

As I already send my requests by fax and certified mail, maybe I'll just save the postage and send my requests by fax and through the DPS website from now on.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The wreckage of the batmobile

I've written at length about the problems with the Houston Police Department's BATmobiles and I've written about the departure of every technical supervisor from HPD's "Crime Lab." It would appear that our stories have intersected.

Amanda Culbertson, the former technical supervisor for HPD's breath test machines, told a judge on Thursday that she and the others left the city's employ because of their concerns with the BATmobile program. Ms. Culbertson said that she left because she feared retaliation from HPD over her criticism of the program.

According to the Houston Chronicle's Brian Rogers:

[Amanda Culbertson] and others worked to train technicians to keep air conditioning units on to regulate the temperature of the breath machine that measures blood alcohol levels in suspected drunken drivers. She also said an electrical glitch that was never fixed meant the sophisticated measuring machines would reset every time the van's air conditioner was turned on. 
She said she supported the idea of a mobile testing site, but that HPD did not work to maintain the accuracy of the test results. 
"In theory it's a great idea, but it depends on who is in charge of the environmental conditions," Culbertson said.

If Ms. Culbertson's story is true, I would like to know whether the folks charged with DWI who blew into machines in the BATmobiles were informed of her concerns over the accuracy of the test results. The prosecutors, as to be expected, threw up their arms and told the judge they had no knowledge of any of this.

As an aside, the article notes that the attorneys subpoenaed Ms. Culbertson after she finished testifying in another court. Well, that's not exactly true. While the attorneys may have drafted the subpoena, Ms. Culbertson was served by none other than my brother, Dan, who is a private investigator and process server.

And this brings us back to the bigger issue - why are the labs running these tests and maintaining these machines operated by the same folks who are out there arresting motorists for driving while intoxicated? There can be no objectivity in such a setting. What does it say when the person in charge of the machines feels so threatened by her employer that she walks away from her job? If the folks in charge of the crime lab were interested in the quality of the science, why would they ignore the concerns of Ms. Culbertson?

The folks in charge should have been happy that she came to them with her concerns. They should have welcomed the opportunity to correct problems with the program. Instead, because she wouldn't stick to the script, they ran her off.

This is not to absolve Ms. Culbertson from blame, however. If she was aware of the problems back in 2009, why wasn't she testifying that she had grave concerns over the accuracy of breath tests conducted in the BATmobiles? Why wait until she's taken another job as a technical supervisor overlooking machines used in the county?

The mission of science is to discover the truth. Science is misused when it's made to fit the facts of the state's case.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attacking their own

The Republican primary for Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Affirms Appeals should be a most interesting affair as a sitting judge, Lawrence Meyers, challenges the incumbent, Sharon Killer Keller.

Judge Meyers was elected to the highest criminal court in the state in 1992, after serving on the Fort Worth Court of Appeals from 1989-1992. Prior to serving on the appellate bench, Judge Meyers practiced civil, criminal and appellate law in Fort Worth. Before moving to Fort Worth in 1975, Judge Meyers was a prosecutor in Kansas.

Judge Meyers authored the Court's opinion in Ex parte Elizondo, 947 SW2d 202 (Tex.Crim.App.2002) in which the court held that the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution "forbids, not just the execution, but the incarceration as well of an innocent person." Judge Killer Keller, on the other hand, joined in the dissent, on the grounds that reopening cases to determine whether the defendant was, in fact, innocent, threatened the "finality" of jury verdicts. Heaven forbid!

Judge Killer Keller is best known for ignoring protocol and closing the court to prevent Michael Richard's attorneys from filing a last minute appeal on the afternoon of his scheduled execution. Judge Killer Keller was found to have violated the rules of the court and was issued a public warning for her actions. The decision was later overturned as the Commission on Judicial Conduct was not authorized to issue a public warning. Judge Killer Keller is also known as Judge No as she is consistently dissenting from court opinions recognizing that the Bill of Rights contains protections for criminal defendants.

The mere fact that a fellow member of the CCA is challenging the presiding judge is telling. The fact that both judges are Republicans should make it clear that many in the GOP have grown weary of Judge Killer Keller's act. Through her actions in the Michael Richard affair, the Presiding Judge brought disdain and ridicule to the Court.

This one race might be enough to encourage Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican primary next spring to oust Judge Killer Keller from the bench.

Shooting mosquitoes with a shotgun

I had a very interesting conversation with a client the other night. We had just finished resolving a couple of traffic tickets out in Magnolia when my client asked me if I had time to talk.

It turns out that he's doing research into the effects of marijuana on athletes and wanted to know my opinion of the current drug laws. I realized over the course of our conversation that I had some general ideas but I had absolutely no idea what would be the best way to implement them.

Most folks who are charged with possession are battling addictions of some form. Using the court system to treat an addiction problem makes as much sense as using a shotgun to control mosquitoes. Our court system is designed to determine whether a person actually did what the government accused them of doing - and, if so, assessing punishment. That's it. End of story.

Our court system is not designed to diagnose a medical condition and design a treatment program around the diagnosis. Placing a person in a pretrial diversion program with the threat of prison looming over their heads if they relapse is just not going to get the desired effect. Everyone who has battled an addiction has fallen down on the road to recovery. Everyone relapses at some point.

When an addict suffers a relapse, entering a conviction and carting them off to prison does nothing to cure that addiction. When an addict suffers a relapse he or she needs more help. They need someone who can pick them up and get them back on the road. They don't need to be "treated" by lawyers and probation officers and judges; they need to be treated by medical and mental health professionals who aren't concerned with the number of cases on their docket. They need to be treated by someone who isn't concerned about the latest polls.

Having said that, I haven't the foggiest idea how we get there. I just know that what we've got right now isn't working. I'm open for suggestions.

There's an axiom in economics and business that an organization should concentrate on performing those tasks that it performs best. Economists call it comparative advantage and business people call it specialization. Either way, it's a better way to use your resources than trying to do a little of this and a little of that.

Using the criminal (in)justice system to treat a public health problem is just such a waste of valuable resources.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New website to check driver license status

If you need to check the driver's license status of yourself or a client, here's a new website from the State of Texas that will allow you to make a quick check:

The site will give the license status, compliance requirements, other requirements and necessary fees to be paid.

The execution shall not be televised

So what was the big brouhaha over a Georgia inmate who wanted to have his execution videotaped? We see much worse every night on cable or on the big screen. Why didn't the state want his execution captured for all posterity?

It used to be that executions were all scheduled for a minute after midnight. Nothing like a good killing in the middle of the night when all law-abiding citizens were tucked away safely in bed. Probably best not to let the decent folk see just how violent a death one suffered in the electric chair or in the gas chamber.

At some point legislators decided that Ol' Sparky might have been a bit too barbaric for our tastes. Someone decided that killing people by lethal injection was a cleaner, more sanitized method of murder. The condemned man is strapped to a gurney - just as if it were an ordinary medical procedure.

The three drug "cocktail" consists of a sedative, a muscle relaxer and a drug to induce cardiac arrest. In theory the condemned man should drift into unconsciousness before he is paralyzed and his heart is stopped. Of course since the inmate is paralyzed we don't know whether or not he's suffering as the last of the drugs is pumped into his body. We can't even be certain that the first drug puts him in unconscious state.

Is that what the state's afraid of? Were Georgia officials worried that their killing device wasn't as sterile as advertised?

We have no problem watching make believe carnage in which people are gunned down, stabbed, slashed, decapitated, drowned and burned alive. We have no problem promoting violence and blood in the name of making money. Hell, the military releases video showing bombs destroying buildings - and the people inside - when it suits their political needs. The media has replayed the 9/11 attacks endlessly. But, for some reason, the state has a problem with the public seeing what it does in the people's name behind closed doors.

So what if someone wants an execution videotaped for use in a legal proceeding to argue that the death penalty constituted cruel or unusual punishment. Of course state sponsored murder is cruel. Death is cruel. There are no two ways about it. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it's still a damn pig.

Just as everyone accused of breaking the law in Texas has the right to have their case heard in an open courtroom, those sentenced to death should have the right to have their execution videotaped. As long as states resist demands to record executions, I continue to wonder what they have to hide.

See also:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Utah, no reasonable suspicion? No problem

In order to make a valid traffic stop in Texas, a law enforcement officer must either have probable cause to arrest or reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity is afoot. As nebulous and logically bankrupt as reasonable suspicion is, the bottom line is an officer must point to a traffic violation, other illegal act or objective reasons to believe the motorist is breaking the law in order for the stop to be legal.

It is not enough that an officer had a good faith belief (whatever that is) that a motorist committed a traffic offense - if it wasn't a traffic offense, the stop - and all evidence gathered as a result of the stop - is no good.

In Utah, on the other hand, the state Supreme Court has thrown a lifeline to police officers who can't figure out whether a motorist has committed a traffic violation or not. In State v. Morris, 2011 UT 40 (No. 20090835) (Utah 2011), the court held that if an officer makes a stop and finds out he was in error he can approach the driver to let him know about the mistake -- and, if he develops new reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot, he may "respond accordingly."

A state trooper observed Mr. Vance Morris driving on a two-lane highway one night. Mr. Morris appeared to be "bumping" the fog line. The trooper, Travis Williams, turned on his video camera and began to follow Mr. Morris. When it appeared there was no license plate on the car, Trooper Williams initiated a traffic stop. As he approached the car he saw a temporary tag on the car.

Trooper Williams informed Mr. Morris that he was mistaken in pulling him over -- but then he smelled the (evil) odor of an alcoholic beverage on Mr. Morris' breath. And, as you can probably guess, Mr. Morris found himself in the backseat of Trooper Williams' patrol car charged with DWI and, here's the kicker, possession of a controlled substance (a search of the car turned up drugs and drug paraphernalia).

The trial court (and this should not be a surprise to anyone) denied Mr. Morris' motion to suppress on the grounds that even though the basis of the stop was questionable, it was perfectly reasonable for the officer to approach Mr. Morris and inform him of the mistake. The appeals court disagreed and ruled in Mr. Morris' favor on the grounds that there was no legal basis for the stop and that Trooper Williams no longer had reasonable suspicion once he spotted the valid temporary tag.

In its opinion, the court said:

Although we appreciate the court of appeals’ effort to vigilantly protect the constitutional rights of our citizens, we also conclude that the court of appeals misapplied the Fourth Amendment’s command that searches and seizures be reasonable.  As we discuss in more detail below, we first conclude that Trooper Williams’s stop was justified at its inception.  Next, we conclude that, in light of the factual circumstances that followed,Trooper Williams’s further detention of Mr. Morris was also a reasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

That's right. The appeals court apparently was confused about the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizures.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The court then twisted logic even further with this:

Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer may stop a vehicle only if the officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the driver or a passenger is engaged in criminal activity. Although to be lawful, reasonable suspicion must be based on “‘specific and articulable facts and rational inferences,’” “[a] police officer need not actually observe a violation” to make a stop. “Instead, ‘as long as an officer suspects that the driver is violating any one of the multitude of applicable traffic . . . regulations, the police officer may legally stop the vehicle.’” The  fact  that  an  officer mistakenly relies on objective facts that upon closer review suggest that the stop would not be justified will not automatically render the subsequent search unconstitutional.  Indeed, “[a] factual belief that is mistaken, but held reasonably and in good faith, can provide reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.”

So, there you go. If you should find yourself driving along the highways and byways of Utah, be careful because the police don't even have to have a valid reason to stop you. And don't count on that pesky little Fourth Amendment to save your ass because, at least in the Beehive State, it doesn't mean what it says.


Doing as I say...

Prosecutors can be a sanctimonious bunch. Not all of them, keep in mind, but more than a few. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who feel the need to lecture your client before accepting a plea. The ones who tell you that your client needs to think about his priorities. The one who decides he's going to send a message to your client.

But then there are the prosecutors who will look you in the eye and tell you that your client needs to learn a lesson then go out and feel privileged to do as they wish regardless of the law.

That brings us to Bronx prosecutor Jennifer Troiano. Ms. Troiano has a problem. A severe problem. She's hasn't been forced to try to resolve it because there's always someone willing to cover for her. That is until August of last year when she was involved in a three-car accident in New York. That night Ms. Troiano was arrested and charged with DWI. You see, in the past, Ms. Troiano could always rely on a friendly police officer or fellow prosecutor to make it all go away.

Not that night, though. Officer Elliot Zinstein didn't cooperate. Ms. Troiano even suggested he contact Nestor Ferreiro in the DA's office. Officer Zinstein chose not to.

Officer Zinstein's reward for making the arrest was a transfer from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

Mr. Zinstein didn't take kindly to the transfer and let Internal Affairs investigators know about it. As a result, last week, Officer Zinstein is back patrolling in the Bronx.

Ms. Troiano, on the other hand, is still in need of help. Whether it's for alcoholism or arrogance remains to be seen.

Our clients come to us with their own demons. They find themselves in court because of a bad choice, an ill-informed decision or an addiction. We're not social workers - we can't rid our clients of their demons - but we can attempt to get them some help along the way. That path is often blocked by a prosecutor who lectures us about our client's attitude and actions. A prosecutor who has his or her own demons with which to deal.

Maybe Ms. Troiano will come away from this with a new perspective. Maybe she'll go about her business as if nothing ever happened. Maybe she'll even find herself on the other side of the aisle proclaiming that she always wanted to be a defense attorney.

People make bad choices now and again. Not all of those choices should lead to them being branded as a criminal for life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

More than half of Texas students suspended or expelled

The results of a longitudinal study that followed one million Texas seventh-graders for six years reveals that 60% of those students were suspended or expelled at least once before finishing high school.

That is an astounding number - and an indictment of disciplinary policy in Texas schools.The purpose of public education is to ensure that every child in Texas receives a quality education through high school. Policies that result in more than half of our children being suspended or expelled and policies that introduce children to the criminal (in)justice system for misconduct at school are antithetical to the mission of our schools.

Mike Thompson of the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that this is a continuation of a 20-year trend that has seen suspension and expulsion rates double across the country. I guess it's a lot easier to educate the children who behave and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. But kids who drop out, are expelled or who fail to graduate for some other reason are more likely to find themselves caught up in the criminal (in)justice system as adults.

There are already too many folks under the thumb of the government. We don't need more.

Thompson said that's the problem: Expulsion and suspension policies focus too much on punishment, and not enough on addressing the misbehavior and having students learn from their mistakes. 
"We think the findings in this report should prompt policymakers in Texas and everywhere else to ask this question: Is our state school discipline system getting the desired results?" Thompson said.

According to the study, almost one-in-six children were punished eleven times or more. Of those, about half ended up in juvenile justice centers or alternative schools for 73 days or more. Those are the kids who tend to repeat grades or drop out of school without graduating.

The study also revealed that 70% of black girls were either suspended or expelled compared to 37% of white girls for the same or similar offenses. That's hardly a coincidence. Disciplinary decisions tend to be made solely by a teacher or administrator - hence there are no checks-and-balances to ensure that all students are treated equally.

The report also looked at the fascination that Texas schools have with issuing Class C citations for behavior that a generation ago would have been handled in class or within the school. Talking back to the teacher or disrupting class make it harder for teachers to do their jobs -- but charging a kid with a criminal offense and requiring them to miss school to appear in court with their parents is not the way to resolve it. We should be looking at ways to reduce the number of people introduced to the criminal (in)justice system, not the other way around.

State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) voiced his concern to the Houston Chronicle about schools farming out disciplinary problems to the courts:

Whitmire complained of "large inner-city school districts creating a large bureaucracy to deal with oftentimes just dumb teenage behavior that can be corrected short of making it a crime." 
Whitmire said the report confirms his concern over the continual growth in criminalizing classroom behavior. 
"We all want safe schools, an orderly environment and for teachers to be left alone," said Whitmire, the senior member of the Texas Senate. "The nonsense begins with overusing the issuance of Class C misdemeanor tickets and the tremendous growth of school district police departments."

Schools should be places of learning. Schools should be a refuge from the harsh realities of life. They shouldn't serve as a way station to the criminal (in)justice system.

See also:

"Majority of Texas middle and high school students suspended or expelled," Grits for Breakfast (July 19, 2011)
"Breaking Schools' Rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students' success and juvenile justice involvement," The Council of State Governments

Covering one's backside - forensics edition

You run a crime lab forensics institute that specializes in assisting the state in gathering and analyzing evidence. On a logbook you see that a reagent used for blood testing was used for years after its expiration date. The notes indicating the expiration date aren't initialed and look like they were added after the original entries in the book. You determine that notes were written by the analyst. You speak with the analyst and ask him (or her) to initial the notes regarding the expiration date.

Voila! Job well done.

No need to request corrective action. No need to alert anyone that your lab techs were using chemicals that had passed their expiration dates. No need to inform prosecutors that there might be a problem with the analysis your lab performed. No need to inform defense attorneys that the tests might not be valid.

You draft a memo and attach it to the back of the logbook.

No e-mails to track down and preserve. No Corrective Action Requests subject to Open Records requests. No memo in a file that some pesky auditor might find.

Good work, Dr. Stacy McDonald. You've shown that you are more concerned about an analyst initializing notes about expired reagents than the fact that your lab was using expired reagents while conducting forensic tests that would be used by the state at trial.

Hmm. Dr. Stacy McDonald. That name seems familiar for some reason.

03 06 2009 Reagent Log Notebook Memo on Back Cover

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mayor Parker to voters: "Screw you!"

In response to residents who voted to get rid of red light cameras, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced that the cameras will being generating citations at 12:01am on Sunday. In doing so, Mayor Parker is giving residents the middle finger because she's more concerned about a contract with an out-of-state vendor than she is with the will of the voters in Houston.

It gets even worse, however. Police Chief Charles McClelland told the Houston Chronicle that the city would put up more cameras in the future. This despite a study showing that intersections with cameras saw an increase in the number of accidents after the cameras were installed.

Here's hoping that voters will remember how the mayor disregarded their decision on red light cameras come November.

Googling our brains

A new study indicates that the internet has changed the way we remember things. It appears that if we know we can access the information on the computer (or internet) that we have less ability to recall the actual information -- though we certainly can remember where to find it.
Sparrow says her movie trivia failure reminded her of a concept called transactive memory, proposed 30 years ago by her Ph.D. adviser Daniel Wegner. According to the theory, people divide the labor of remembering certain types of shared information. For example, a husband might rely on his wife to remember significant dates, while she relies on him to remember the names of distant friends and family—and this frees both from duplicating the memories in their own brains. Sparrow wondered if the Internet is filling this role for everyone, representing an enormous collective act of transactive memory.
To test this idea, Sparrow devised a series of offline experiments to catch people in the act of relying on future access to information—say, a Google search—rather than memorizing the information themselves. “I didn't want them to actually have access to the information but just think that they would,” she says. For the first set of experiments, which involved 106 Harvard undergraduates working on desktop computers, Sparrow tested whether people thought of the Internet as soon as they were posed true-false questions such as, “An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.” She employed a psychological method called a Stroop task. After the trivia questions were posed, various colored words would appear on the screen. When those words matched topics that people were already thinking about, they tended to react more slowly when asked to name the words' colors. And indeed, when the colored words were Internet-related, such as Google or Yahoo, the students answered more slowly, indicating that they were already considering going online for answers.
Then Sparrow played a trick on her subjects. She presented 40 different trivia statements to the students and had them type the factoids on the computer. She told half of the group in advance that the computer would save what they had written so they could see it later; she told the other half that the computer would erase it. Then all of the students were challenged to write down the statements from memory. Those who had been told that the computer would erase their notes had by far the best memory of the statements, as if their brains had made an emergency backup. Those who were expecting to retrieve the information later performed more poorly.
"Transactive memory" is the phenomenon that Dr. Daniel Wegner says he seems with long-term couples. According to his research, couples who have been together a long time tend to rely on each other to remember things. You can think these long-term couples as parallel computers. One partner might be best at remembering the day-to-day activities of life while the other partner is the "encyclopedia."

So the concept isn't new, but what does it mean?

Does "transactive memory" affect jurors? Is it something that we need to be aware of during jury selection? Are jurors more or less likely to go home and do their own research? Or is this all much ado about nothing?

Is the internet just our instant library? When we went to school we certainly didn't memorize everything we were taught. We memorized our alphabet and our multiplication tables as well as some rules in geometry. But what we really learned was how to find the answer to a problem. Dr. Roddy Roediger at Washington University in St. Louis doesn't find the results to be all that alarming.
The study is “convincing,” and “there is no doubt that our strategies are shifting in learning,” says Roddy Roediger, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “Why remember something if I know I can look it up again? In some sense, with Google and other search engines, we can offload some of our memory demands onto machines.” But Roediger says this trend started long before the Internet. “When I was a student, many years ago, we consulted books and encyclopedias to write papers. Now students can do it at home on computers. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so.”
Said Dr. Sparrow:
"I don't think Google is making us stupid - we're just changing the way that we're remembering things... If you can find stuff online even while you're walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information. It's just like it would be with people - the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [particular topics]."
Might this be a reason to request that jurors be allowed to take notes during trial? If we are better able to process where to find the information rather than remember the information, would it be a benefit for jurors to write down their thoughts and observations during trial, rather than try to remember what they saw and heard afterward?

Or would it prove more of a distraction? Would jurors spend so much time taking notes that they miss the essence of the testimony or evidence presented? Would jurors then rely on other people's notes back in the jury room during deliberations?

Just a little something to think about.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Splitting hairs and denying relief

In 1999, Neal Hampton Robbins was convicted of capital murder in the death of his girlfriend's 17-month-old child. In 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his request for relief due as a result of "false or misleading testimony."

During the investigation into the death of the child, Dr. Patricia Moore of the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office was asked to conduct an autopsy. She concluded in her report that the child died due to "asphyxia of the chest and abdomen" and that the child was the victim of a homicide. At trial, the defense expert, Dr. Robert Bux of the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office testified that the cause and manner of death could not be determined.

In 2007, Dr. Dwayne Wolf of the HCMEO was asked to review Dr. Moore's findings in the case. In May of that year, Dr. Wolf amended the death certificate to indicate that the cause and manner of death could not be determined. Dr. Moore's supervisor at the time of the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, told Montgomery County prosecutors that she concurred with Dr. Wolf's findings.

Then Dr. Moore sent a letter to the Montgomery County DA's Office and stated:
I believe that there are unanswered questions as to why the child died, and I still feel that this is a suspicious death of a young child. Given my review of all the material from the case file and having had more experience in the field of forensic pathology, I now feel that an opinion for a cause and manner of death of undetermined, undetermined is best for this case.
Dr. Moore went on to state that since the date of the autopsy she had received additional training and believed that the bruises on the child's body could have been caused by aggressive CPR or other attempts to revive the child.

In June 2007, Mr. Robbins filed a writ of habeas corpus asking that his conviction be vacated as the result of newly discovered evidence. The State of Texas, in its initial response, concurred. The trial court, however, appointed another forensic pathologist to review the documents in the case. Dr. Thomas Wheeler of the Baylor College of Medicine also concluded that the cause and manner of death could not be determined.

A Montgomery County Justice of the Peace then appointed another forensic pathologist to review the case. This time the state got what it wanted - Linda Norton concluded that the child was suffocated. She said she believed the child was murdered but could not state beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Robbins killed the child.

In August 2008, both Mr. Robbins and the state prepared findings of fact and conclusions of law stating that Mr. Robbins was entitled to a new trial. However, after Ms. Norton reaffirmed her opinion that the child was murdered, the state changed its tune and urged the court not to grant any relief to Mr. Robbins.

In January 2010, the trial court denied relief for Mr. Robbins stating that the changed opinion of an expert witness was not sufficient to overturn a jury's decision to convict.

Last month the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that since Dr. Moore's trial testimony hadn't been proven false, that Mr. Robbin's claim of actual innocence failed. The majority found that Dr. Moore's changed opinion did not render her trial testimony false. The court relied on the fact that Dr. Moore testified "openly" about her findings and conclusions.

The court's rationale was that no one testified that Mr. Robbins didn't commit the murder.
Here, similar to the criminalist's testimony that she could not positively identify the sample, cross-examination by the Applicant established that Moore's testimony was her professional opinion and that she was not ruling out other reasonable hypothesis by which Tristen died. In addition, like the criminalist's testimony, that asphyxia was the cause and homicide the manner of Tristen's death has not been entirely refuted. As the convicting court determined, "[n]o expert rules out asphyxia as the cause of death," "[n]o expert can exclude Applicant as the perpetrator if it is a homicide, and no expert has excluded homicide as the manner of death." During the habeas proceedings, various experts have opined that the autopsy findings do not adequately support Moore's conclusion that the death was a homicide by asphyxiation (and Moore herself has adopted that position, but none of the experts have stated that Tristen could not have been intentionally asphyxiated. And although they critique Moore's interpretation of the petechiae evidence upon which she relied at trial, the "non-specific" indicator cannot be ruled out as being the result of asphyxiation. On the other hand, at least one well-qualified pathologist, Dr. Norton, has concluded that the child was a victim of homicide by asphyxiation.
In dissent, Judge Alcala (the newest member of the panel) argued that the majority was splitting hairs and denying Mr. Robbins the relief to which he was entitled. She wrote:
The record shows that, as the sole witness establishing cause and manner of death for the State at Robbins's trial, Dr. Moore testified that, based on her scientific opinion beyond a reasonable doubt, the cause of Tristen Rivet's death was asphyxia due to compression of the chest and abdomen, and the manner of death was homicide. In her evidence concerning this application for a writ of habeas corpus, she now concludes that the cause of death was, beyond a reasonable doubt, not compression asphyxia, and undeterminable as to homicide, asphyxial or otherwise. Dr. Moore's subsequent testimony is a complete refutation of her trial testimony because, although her trial testimony stated that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the cause of death was compression asphyxia and the manner of death was homicide, she now says that the cause and manner of death are, beyond a reasonable doubt, "undeterminable." Both positions cannot be true. This wholesale refutation of her previously professed scientific certainty nullifies the veracity of the conclusion itself... 
Perhaps Dr. Moore's testimony could not be called "false" if, for example, she consistently determined, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the manner and cause of death could be established with scientific certainty and that the manner of death was homicide, but was uncertain whether the cause of death was asphyxia by some means other than compression. See Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 82 (1935) ("The true inquiry, therefore, is not whether there has been a variance in proof, but whether there has been such a variance as to 'affect the substantial rights' of the accused."). But Dr. Moore's changed testimony is not merely a variance in proof. Her present position acknowledges that the cause and manner of death could possibly be natural causes or homicide and that both are equally likely. An acknowledgment that trial testimony could possibly be correct because no one can determine the cause and manner of death with scientific certainty is vastly different from evidence that the cause and manner of death are proven beyond a reasonable doubt with scientific certainty. I, therefore, agree with the trial court's assessment that the record shows that Dr. Moore's testimony was false.
Mr. Robbins should receive a new trial. While Dr. Moore didn't lie on the stand during Mr. Robbins' trial, she has re-evaluated her findings and she has come to a new conclusion. That new conclusion contradicts the testimony she gave at trial. Had the jury heard this new testimony, the question becomes was there a murder?

I think we owe it to Mr. Robbins to find out.

Because it's Friday

By now y'all should know that I don't need a reason to crank up the Man in Black.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Judicial activism mucking up the works

As a general rule, judges in Texas stay out of plea negotiations and allow the attorneys for the state and the defense to work out cases as they see fit. In Galveston County, for instance, it was not uncommon for a person charged with a first DWI offense to receive an offer to plead guilty to obstruction of a highway on a typical "no test/no accident" case.

The plea deal allowed the prosecutor to clear a case off his docket and the defense attorney to look good to his client. There were, of course, variations of the deal. I once had a client who blew a .24 but could walk a straight line on video and hold an intelligent conversation with the arresting officers. The prosecutor offered my client probation on obstruction of a highway with the same conditions that would attach to a DWI probation. My client was quite happy with the deal and everyone walked away happy.

Harris County, on the other hand, believes that DWI cases should either be tried or dismissed. There are no plea offers for obstruction or reckless driving. As a result, more marginal DWI cases are tried in Harris County than on the island. There are also far more dismissed on the eve of trial.

Back in November the Republicans swept the county court benches in Galveston County. One of the judges, John Grady is a former probation officer, defense attorney and Brazoria County prosecutor. The other two judges, Barbara Roberts and Chris DuPuy both had little or no criminal experience at the time they took the bench. Of course, unlike Harris County, the county courts in Galveston handle both criminal and civil matters.

But now comes word that Judge Roberts has taken it upon herself to play sheriff when it comes to the prosecution of DWI cases in her court. It is now the policy of County Court No. 2 that no pleas to obstruction of a highway will be accepted on cases filed as DWIs.

Now I must digress a little bit. In Texas the offense of driving while intoxicated contains no lesser included offenses. In other words, there is nothing that  DWI charge can be "reduced" to - with the exception of prior DWI convictions being abandoned as part of the plea negotiations.

The proper role of a judge is to serve as a neutral arbiter to a legal dispute. The judge should allow the parties every opportunity to work the case out amongst themselves - be it a civil or criminal dispute. The only time the judge should be involved is if the parties come to an impasse and need someone to make a decision on which way to proceed.

There are any number of reasons a prosecutor might elect to offer a defendant in a DWI case the ability to plead to a different charge. A conviction for reckless driving or obstruction of a highway doesn't carry a $3,000 surcharge with it. A conviction for obstruction of a highway doesn't carry a license suspension, nor does it carry the same insurance consequences that a DWI conviction would. Maybe the case is marginal. Maybe the prosecutor is worried about the legality of the stop - or the roadside coordination exercises. Maybe the defendant's job is on the line if he's convicted of driving while intoxicated. Maybe no one wants to take a chance with six strangers in a box.

Whatever the case, the prosecutor and the defense attorney are in the best position to determine what the most optimal resolution of the case might be. The judge isn't privy to all the facts. The judge isn't privy to the circumstances surround the stop, the tests or the defendant.

A judge is under no obligation to accept a plea bargain -- and will tell the defendant so while admonishing him. But a judge who issues a blanket directive that certain pleas will not be accepted is not acting as a neutral arbiter. A judge who announces that no offer for less than 30 days in jail for a first DWI is not acting as a neutral arbiter.

Judges who act in such a manner are guilty of being doctrinaire. They are willfully blind to the reality that every case is different and a "one size only" policy doesn't work. But most of all, these judges are failing to uphold their duty to consider the entire range of punishment available for a given case.

Some of our jurists think they're the sheriff and some think they work for the judicial division of the local DA's office. Mostly they have forgotten that the courtroom over which they preside (temporarily) belongs to the people. And the people are the folks in the pews answering docket call every morning. The people are the ones entitled to trial by a jury of their peers.

Court holds that reasonable suspicion cannot be developed retroactively

Can the police develop reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop after the fact? When put that way, the obvious answer is no. If reasonable suspicion is required to make a traffic stop, one either has it at the time of the stop or doesn't.

But, to the courts, it wasn't such an obvious answer. At least before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its ruling in Martinez v. State, Nos. PD-1238-10 and PD-1239-10 (2011).

Police in Del Rio, Texas were notified by an anonymous caller that someone was acting suspicious and  had put two bikes in the back of a blue pickup. Officer Hurley spotted a pickup that looked blue and began following it. After following the truck for four blocks, and not seeing any traffic violation, Officer Hurley stopped the truck.

When he walked up to the truck, the officer noticed two bikes in the bed. Upon contacting the Mr. Martinez, Officer Hurley noted a strong odor of alcohol and glassy eyes. To no one's surprise, Mr. Martinez was arrested for driving while intoxicated. To make matters worse, Officer Hurley also found a usable amount of marijuana after the DWI arrest.

Mr. Martinez filed a motion to suppress the stop, arguing that there was insufficient basis to stop his truck since the caller was never identified. He also argued that Officer Hurley lacked reasonable suspicion to make the stop. The trial court denied his motion and Mr. Martinez pled guilty to both charges. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals then ruled that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to make the stop. While the caller was never identified, she did appear at the scene following the traffic stop. However, the basis of the stop must be determined by the facts at the time of the stop, not by what the officer learns after making the stop. In this case, the officer had a tip from an anonymous caller. He never observed a traffic violation. He didn't find the bikes in the truck until after he made the stop. But for the illegal stop, he never would have noted any signs of intoxication; and, he never would have discovered marijuana in the truck but for the DWI arrest. In other words, in order to effect a traffic stop, the police must have specific articulable facts indicating that criminal activity is afoot before making the traffic stop. Any reasonable suspicion developed after the stop cannot be used to justify the stop in the first place.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Without a leg to stand on

The State of Texas finally got around to killing Mark Stroman at 8:53pm last night. But it was not without a fight.

Rais Bhuiyan filed suit to halt the execution claiming that he had a right under the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights to demand a mediation with Mr. Stroman - and that the state had denied him that right. First a federal judge denied Mr. Bhuyian's request on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to stay an execution under Section 1983. That decision was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, minutes before the scheduled execution, Mr. Bhuyian filed suit in Travis County District Court. That court also denied Mr. Bhuyian's request for a stay.

Mr. Bhuyian argued that the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights (Article 56.02 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure) gave him the right, as a crime victim, to demand a mediation with Mr. Stroman. He claimed that by executing Mr. Stroman before he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Stroman violated his civil rights.

While the courts never ruled on it, my question is did Mr. Bhuyian have standing to bring suit in this matter. Mr. Stroman was convicted of murdering Vasudev Patel. He was never tried for the attempted murder of Mr. Bhuyian. Since he was never tried, the state never proved he shot Mr. Bhuyian in the face. In other words, there is no legal basis upon which Mr. Bhuyian can claim to be a victim since there was no crime.

As such, Mr. Bhuyian has no rights under the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights. Hence, he has no standing to bring suit.

But this brings us to another question. Art. 56.02(a)(12) states that a crime victim, or close relative of a crime victim has:
the right to request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the victim services division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
According to Art. 56.01(1), a "close relative" is
a person who was the spouse of a deceased victim at the time of the victim's death or who is a parent or adult brother, sister, or child of the deceased victim.
Does this mean that each of those persons has the right to request victim-offender mediation? Does this mean that any of those persons could file suit to halt an execution because they wanted to mediate but were not provided the opportunity to do so?

The Crime Victims' Bill of Rights was passed as a reaction to public criticism of the court's actually enforcing the rights of the accused. As with much legislation enacted in an attempt to curry favor with the public, it's just plain bad law.

As distasteful as it might seem to some, it's the accused who is entitled to protection against the power of the state. A defendant's constitutional rights stem from the presumption of innocence and the desire to limit the powers of the state. It should be difficult for the state to obtain a conviction. The defendant should be entitled to every benefit of the doubt. The so-called crime victims movement is nothing but an attempt to undo the constitutional protections afforded to a criminal defendant.

Defendants are not always the nicest of people. They are often accused of heinous acts. But that doesn't change the fact that they are innocent unless proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. If you take away those protections from the people who are alleged to have committed the most heinous acts, it's only a matter of time before you start taking away those protections from everybody else.

When a person is accused of a crime, the plaintiff is not the alleged victim - the plaintiff is the State of Texas. In a criminal prosecution, the State of Texas is seeking to exact punishment on a person who violated the laws of the State of Texas. The alleged victim is but the complaining witness - not a party.

And that, I think, is the ultimate problem in this case -- Mr. Bhuyian is not a victim and lacked standing to halt the execution of Mr. Stroman.

As ill-conceived a piece of legislation as the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights is, if it can be used to frustrate the state's attempts to murder an individual, then I'm all for it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Update: Federal judge refuses to halt execution

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied Rais Bhuiyan's request to halt the execution state-sponsored murder of Mark Stroman tonight in Huntsville. In his order, Judge Yeakel said that he did not have the authority to intervene in the execution. (H/T Texas Tribune)

According to this Austin Legal post on the Austin American-Statesman website:
[Judge Yeakel] also noted that “the irreparable injury asserted by Bhuiyan — his claim of violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights statute being rendered moot — is outweighed by the damage to the operation of the criminal justice system as a whole that would result from this court’s granting the requested stay.”
Mr. Bhuiyan's attorneys announced that they were prepared to file an immediate appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals if Judge Yeakel denied his request.

I'm intrigued by this notion that granting the stay would cause damage to the "operation of the criminal justice system as a whole." Is that what we call clogging the wheels of the death machine?

Now I'm not a religious man by any means, but the words of Marty Troyer, the pastor of the Houston Mennonite Church, speak volumes...
Today, in our Texas’ death chamber, we will put Mark Stroman to death for crimes he commited. I, for one, am tired of killing. I am tired of my complicity in executions, violence, vengeance and hate.
UPDATE: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to issue a stay of execution based upon Mr. Bhuiyan's claims.

Letting go doesn't mean forgetting

The constant clamor for a guilty verdict before the evidence has even been presented. The call for someone to pay for what happened. A verdict that stuns the folks expecting to celebrate a conviction. The inevitable cries that the jury didn't know what it was doing.

The Casey Anthony trial in Florida?


The Sandor Kepiro trial in Budapest.

But who is Sandor Kepiro, you might ask.

Mr. Kepiro was accused of being a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of 36 Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad in 1942. He was acquitted this week.

In 1944, Mr. Kepiro was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but that conviction was overturned  after a coup d'etat put the fascists in power in Hungary. Mr. Kepiro fled the country and eventually found himself in Argentina. In 1946 the newly installed Communist government tried Mr. Kepiro in absentia and, surprise, convicted him.

Mr. Kepiro returned to Hungary in 1996 and was charged for his alleged role in the massacre in 2009. Those charges were later dropped. He was charged once again earlier this year. 

Mr. Kepiro's chief accuser, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wasn't particularly happy with the verdict.

As he left the courtroom, Mr Zuroff said he found the verdict "outrageous, absurd" and that the Simon Wiesenthal Center would do "everything possible to see that it's overturned".
He said Mr Kepiro had "devoted all his energy to the murder of innocent men, women and children" and that the Wiesenthal Center found it "absolutely outrageous that a person like this was never punished for his crimes".
"We'll continue to do whatever we can so that Sandor Kepiro doesn't end his life sitting in peace and tranquillity... but ends his life where he belongs, in a Hungarian jail. This is a joke."

For true believers, the thought that a rational thinking person could come to a contrary conclusion is heresy. The only possible explanation is that the judge or jury hadn't the foggiest clue as to what they were doing.

We are talking about an incident that took place almost 70 years ago. There can't be many witnesses left - Mr. Kepiro is 97. The case must be built on documents - documents that may not even exist anymore. Maybe Mr. Kepiro escaped justice -- and just as likely he did not.

The larger issue, however, is at what point does it end? I have no doubt that there are Nazi war criminals that have escaped justice. I'm equally certain that, at some point, we just have to call it a day. Whose interest is served in putting a 97 year-old man on trial for a crime that occurred in 1942?

The genocide that took place at the hands of the Nazis cannot be excused and must never be forgotten. But we must also acknowledge that, there is no purpose served in hunting down men in their 80's and 90's and trying them for crimes committed during the 1930's and 40's. These men are old - and, more importantly, they aren't the same men who presided over the killings of millions of people.

At this point in time our children and their children are better served by documenting the atrocities that took place and examining how and why they were allowed to occur.

Always remember that history is written by the victors. No one prosecuted President Truman or any of the soldiers involved in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing thousands who had no role in the war. No one prosecuted Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon, or their military commanders, for the slaughter of innocents in Southeast Asia. No one will prosecute Presidents Bush or Obama or their minions for the torture inflicted upon detainees in the witch hunt after 9/11.

Closure is an illusion. Sometimes you just have to move on.

Victim sues to halt execution

Today is the day the State of Texas is scheduled to murder Mark Stroman.

Rais Bhuyian is fighting to save Mr. Stroman's life. Mr. Bhuyian filed suit in Travis County seeking a stay of Mr. Stroman's execution. Gov. Rick Perry, who once said Texas should consider seceding, filed a petition asking that the case be removed to federal court. Mr. Bhuyian's attorney found that action to be quite ironic considering the amount of vitriol Mr. Perry has spewed about keeping los federales out of Texas' business.

Mr. Bhuyian was shot and left for dead by Mr. Stroman in a murderous rampage that left two other men dead. Mr. Stroman claimed he was seeking revenge for the attacks on 9/11.

Mr. Bhuyian was left blind in his right eye and still has shotgun pellets in his face. But he seeks reconciliation and understanding rather than blood. 

"This campaign is all about passion, forgiveness, tolerance and healing. We should not stay in the past, we must move forward."
"If I can forgive my offender who tried to take my life, we can all work together to forgive each other and move forward and take a new narrative on the 10th anniversary of 11 September." -- Rais Bhuyian

He sees Mr. Stroman as a man who can be a spokesman about ignorance and hate. He thinks Mr. Stroman can be redeemed. He sees value in a life that not many others see.

Meanwhile, the only value Gov. Goodhair sees in Mr. Stroman's life is the potential for more votes from the "hang 'em high" crowd.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Execution Watch 7/21/11

Texas plans to execute Mark Stroman Wednesday in the death of an Indian-American man during a shooting spree following 9/11. Rais Bhuiyan, who survived being shot in the face by Stroman, is suing state officials in an attempt to spare his life. Bhuiyan says officials trampled on his rights as a victim, including the right to reconcile with Stroman. If the execution is carried out, Execution Watch will provide live coverage and commentary. Details are below. Spread the word.


MARK STROMAN, 41, convicted of killing an Indian-American man during a shooting spree in Dallas that claimed one other life following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The sole survivor of the shootings, Rais Bhuiyan, has used his deep Muslim faith to forgive Stroman for the hate crime and mount an international campaign to spare his life. More background at


Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast on ...
July 20, 2011, 6-7 PM CT

Houston: KPFT 90.1 FM
Worldwide: > Listen

It's all about victims' rights, except when it's not

One of the justifications supporters of state-sponsored murder lean on is the victims' need for "finality" and "closure." These notions are, of course, only applicable to TV, the movie theater and that book on your nightstand.

In reality, there is no such thing as closure when talking about the loss of a loved one. No matter how many times the state sticks a needle in a vein and pumps a person full of drugs, no one's rising from the grave.

The threat of being strapped down and killed isn't going to stop folks from killing, either. Mix alcohol, drugs, money and women together and there's going to be an argument. And some of those arguments are going to turn into murders.

But I digress...

As Jeff Gamso so eloquently documents, not every victim of violent crime is after blood. Rais Bhuiyan was shot in the face during an attempted robbery by Mark Stroman. Mr. Stroman had killed two other men in his "mission" to avenge 9/11. Mr. Bhuiyan, however, survived the attack.

As we get closer to Mr. Stroman's appointment with Texas' murder apparatus, Mr. Bhuiyan has undertaken the task of trying to save Mr. Stroman's life.

Not because he thinks Mr. Stroman is innocent. But because he wants to understand why Mr. Stroman did what he did. He wants to sit down with Mr. Stroman. He and the spouses of the other victims of Mr. Stroman's acts want the state to spare Mr. Stroman's life.

They have come to grips with their losses. They understand that their loved ones aren't coming back. Mr. Bhuiyan understands that he can't go back to 2001 and pretend that night never happened. They don't see what is to be gained by murdering another man.

Gov. Perry likes to pontificate about "victims' rights" when he touts his ability to pump lethal doses of drugs into the veins of prisoners. Prosecutors use it as a crutch in plea negotiations. But who listens when the victims of crime ask that a life be spared?

Mr. Perry is trying to emulate his old boss and ride the Lethal Injection Express all the way to the White House. He doesn't give a damn about what the victims want. He knows that killing people is the way to the hearts and minds of his evangelical Christian followers and their fellow travelers, the Tea-baggers.

Life can be a circus at times

Life in and around the courthouse can be a real circus at times. So why not go to the real thing?

That's just what my wife, daughters and I did on Saturday.

I love both the opening and closing ceremonies. The close was spectacular.

It ain't a circus unless someone's crazy enough to get inside a cage full of tigers.

Oh look. The GOP convention's in town. No Palin sightings.

Screw Carmeggedon. I'll take a bunch of maniacs on motorcycles in the Steel Ball of Death any day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Today on candid camera...

I guess sometimes the ol' eyes in the sky work to the benefit of the folks getting arrested.

Angela Horton, who was relieved of her duties as a police officer for the City of Houston, said she regrets hitting a suspect in the face while he was handcuffed. Ms. Horton's attorney said she let her emotions get to her when she slugged the suspect in full view of the camera in a news helicopter. Of course, she also wants us to know that  police officers must make split-second decisions out on the street.

I'm not sure that hitting a defenseless man in the face is one of those decisions.

Now for anyone who doesn't think police officers succumb to high levels of adrenaline following a chase, think again. For anyone who doesn't think that suspects are beaten by police, think again.

Judges, juries and prosecutors don't want to believe that the boys (and girls) in blue ever cross the line in doing their jobs. Judges, juries and prosecutors are wrong. It's just that most of the time it happens off camera. And if there's no video -- no one believes the defendant.

We are trained from a young age to trust the police. And, no matter what anyone on the panel says, jurors are going to give more credibility to the word of a police officer than to your client. We all know it. But we play the charade that something's that been burned into someone's brain can be erased by the judge saying a few words.

No one should be shocked by what Officer Horton did that night. We should only be shocked that someone got it on camera.

Chasing down rabbit holes

Here's the latest piece of SEO drivel I received in my inbox...

My name is Courtney Lloyd and I was wondering if you are interested in exchange links, I'll place your link on my sites exactly here: 
adverjeux(dot)com PR1aaliteraryreview(dot)com  PR1whiplash-claims.law2day(dot)net 
If you agree please send me your site details:
I'll place your link in less than 24 hours, then I'll send you an email with my info.
Of course my first thought was "what the hell is an adverjeux and what does it have to do with criminal defense?" Curiosity got the better of me so I typed in the URL and went surfing (while taking a break from trial prep).

In the event you find yourself in need of a criminal defense attorney, the site has some advice for you (here's some advice -- study your grammar)... 

Finding a criminal lawyer is the most important initial step to greatly improve your chances of dealing with litigations. No one understands the importance of an experienced criminal defense attorney more than a person on the brink of being punished for a crime he or she never committed. However, finding a criminal lawyer is equally as challenging as the court trial. It is imperative to know the best ways to find an experienced criminal defense attorney with a winning record for every case he or she takes.
There are several ways of finding a criminal defense attorney and one of these is advertisements in the newspaper, especially in the classified section where contact details are given. Be sure the attorneys you are considering specialize in criminal defense. There are also directories that can provide you with a generic list of lawyers and legal firms though shortlisting the best ones in such a scenario can be difficult. If you have a legal advisor, you may opt to ask for a reference or you can ask any lawyer you know about finding an experienced criminal lawyer.

There is, as you can probably surmise, more tortured advice on what to do after you've been arrested. Lucky for the unsuspecting reader, if you've been charged with DWI the site offers some specific advice to you... 

It can be quite essential for you to realize that distinct kinds of legal circumstances that need distinct form of treatment. For that reason, be sure that the legal representative you might be hiring has all of the qualifications required to deal with the particular legal case you might be caught in. As an example, it can be constantly prudent to hire a legal representative specializing in such circumstances instead of hiring just a legal professional who’s Jack-of-all-trades. The attorney you pick should have a thorough understanding of all of the aspects connected having a DWI case, which could incorporate sobriety tests, blood alcohol limits, toxicology, psychology, and a lot more...
A criminal defense attorney typically charges a whole lot much more in comparison to a public defender, however it is constantly worth spending that a lot. The basic reason is that they’re professional legal professionals who’ve specialization in handling DWI circumstances. If you hire them to deal with your case, you just maximize your chances of winning the judgment within your favor.

And who knew a public defender could bill you for his or her services? Mr. Bunin might want to look into this should the Harris County Commissioners' Court want to whack his budget after the grant money runs out. (And no, that's not a shot at the office.)

Just who is behind this sage advice for our friends in need of legal representation? That would be Mr. Henry Stremadoiro of New York. Mr. Stremadoiro is, if you haven't guessed, a peddler of SEO services to folks who don't know any better.

Having gone this far, I couldn't just leave it hanging. I had to know more about Mr. Stremadoiro and his operation. His email address domain was so into Google that went. And out came one of the weirdest names for a company I've seen recently -- Capybara. Why is that weird, you ask.

The Capybara is the world's largest rodent. Coincidence? Hmmmm...

Needless to say, Capybara is not based in the US. It's a Peruvian company (hence the ".pe" appended to the domain).

I will leave you with the funniest quote from the Capybara site:

My website isn't written in English. Can you optimize it?
Probably. We'll show you a full list of the languages we can optimize in when you request quotes.

(You see, that's okay because we don't write in English.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

File it under "man bites dog"

We've read countless stories and seen videos of TSA agents groping young people trying to hop on planes. We've seen the Texas Legislature back down to threats from los federales.

The courts seem to be okay with this massive invasion of our bodies despite the fact, as Scott Greenfield points out, "scope and grope" hasn't turned up one terrorist.

Authorities say a Colorado woman who allegedly groped a female Transportation Security Administration agent at Phoenix's international airport is facing a felony count of sexual abuse. 
Phoenix police said Yukari Mihamae, 61, is accused of grabbing the left breast of the unidentified TSA agent Thursday afternoon at an airport checkpoint. 
TSA staff said Mihamae refused to go through passenger screening and became argumentative before she squeezed and twisted the agent's breast with both hands.
Police were called and said Mihamae admitted grabbing the TSA agent and continued to argue with officers before she was arrested.
Maricopa County jail officials said Mihamae was released from custody on Friday. They couldn't immediately provide additional information about her case.
So, while it's okay for an agent of the government to fondle your child, heaven help it if someone gropes the groper. Ms. Mihamae probably didn't do the smartest thing - but maybe, just maybe, her actions will make some people wake up and realize what we're allowing the state to subject us to. Maybe her actions will spur us to question the need for "scope and grope."

At some point I hope that we, as a nation, come to our senses and tell our government that we are sick and tired of being treated like criminals just because we have the audacity to board a plane. I hope that one day the draconian and intrusive security measures at courthouses and airports and tossed into the ash heap of history.

I fear, however, that meek sheep that we are when it comes to speaking up and doing something, that the future will bring not less, but even more intrusive measures all in the name of doing whatever it takes to protect us from whatever the threat of the month is.