Will TX Hold a Prosecutor Accountable? …..Can Local CA Gov’ts Legally Ban Med Pot Dispensaries? ….and a Look at Mental Illness & Lock-UpFebruary 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
TEXAS USES AN ARCANE LAW TO POSSIBLY—JUST POSSIBLY—HOLD ACCOUNTABLE A PROMINENT FORMER PROSECUTOR, NOW A JUDGE, FOR OBSCURING AND WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE THAT LIKELY WOULD HAVE KEPT AN INNOCENT MAN FROM GOING TO PRISON FOR 25 YEARS
The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiske drew our attention to this story with her write-up
that runs on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:
In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”
Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.
Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.
It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.
Now she is following the unusual court proceedings examining the actions of former prosecutor Ken Anderson.
Starting on Monday, Anderson will be the subject of a “court of inquiry,” an arcane legal procedure unique to Texas that can be used to investigate wrongdoing, most often on the part of state officials. It has never been used before to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The unprecedented legal proceeding will try to determine whether Anderson withheld critical evidence from Michael’s defense attorneys which would have helped Michael prove his innocence more than a quarter-century ago.
Anderson is now a state district judge. That a former prosecutor, much less a sitting judge, will face such intense scrutiny is remarkable. Prosecutorial misconduct rarely results in even disciplinary action from the Texas bar. But if the presiding judge in the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson broke the law, he will face criminal charges and a warrant will be issued for his arrest….
It is not just that prosecutors are rarely held accountable in Texas; they are rarely held accountable anywhere. If a surgeon is careless in an operation and thus paralyzes you, there are legal remedies. But if a prosecutor deliberately withholds crucial evidence that would almost certainly have cleared you, and instead your family is shattered, your young son is raised by someone else, and you go to prison for life, lose 25 years, then by wonderful luck you are released through work by the Innocence Project —there is no legal way to hold the prosecutor to answer.
However, this week in Texas, perhaps there is a way. If so, perhaps, as Molly Hennessy-Fiske suggested, it will have resonance beyond the lone star state’s boundaries.
IS IT LEGAL FOR CALIFORNIA’S LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES TO BAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES? THE CALIFORNIA SUPREMES WILL DECIDE
This article by the always excellent Howard Mintz, Legal Affairs guy for the San Jose Mercury News, lays out this interesting issue in lively and informative terms. Here’s a big clip from the story’s opening:
California’s experiment with medical marijuana has sparked a hazy version of the old Not-in-My-Backyard syndrome.
From Hollister to Antioch, from Scotts Valley to Petaluma, from Seaside to Moraga, city after city has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, sending a message that even the sickest of patients must go elsewhere for that state-permitted dose of prescribed medical weed.
But on Tuesday, this fear-and-loathing approach to outlawing medical pot providers will face an unprecedented test in the California Supreme Court. The seven justices are to hear arguments on whether local governments can ban the dispensaries in view of the state’s 1996 voter-approved law legalizing pot for medical use.
The case involves the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which more than two years ago sued to block Riverside’s dispensary ban, arguing that cities and counties cannot bar activities legal in California. A state appeals court sided with Riverside, and now the Supreme Court, faced with similar legal tangles across the state, has jumped into the fray.
The stakes are high in California’s ongoing struggle pitting medical marijuana advocates against cities worried about problems associated with some of the dispensaries, such as lax control over the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.
“The Riverside case is a fascinating example of our ‘laboratories of democracy’ in action,” said Julie Nice, a aw professor at the University of San Francisco, where the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. “It illustrates the difficulties created when each level of government … stakes out a different regulatory position on a controversial subject….”
Read more here. And naturally, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the Cal Supremes’ ruling on this question.
TOO MANY MENTALLY ILL IN STATE AND COUNTY LOCK-UPS
One topic on which justice reform advocates, custody experts and county sheriffs tend to agree, is that a large portion of those incarcerated in California’s jails and prisons are mentally ill, and that this is not a good thing. Put more plainly, in most cases, jails and prisons are the most costly and the least effective places for the mentally ill to be.
As we look at reforming our budget-draining and problem-plagued incarceration systems in ways that balance public safety and basic justice, one of the areas that requires a hard look is the intersection between jails and prisons and mental illness.
Monday’s Huffington Post’s Alana Horowitz has a good overview of the issue. Here are some clips from her story:
….A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.
“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”
Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.
State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.
Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.
“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.
Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.
Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.
His symptoms grew worse….