From the Houston Criminal Law News

 Posted on July 09, 2008 in Uncategorized

A team of federal inspectors is checking out the Harris County Jail. Harbingers of adult supervision for the Harris County Criminal Justice System?

Widow charged 23 years after her husband's murder. She claimed at the time that an intruder had entered the house, tortured her, and shot him with her pistol. The dead guy's daughter contacted cold case investigators every year until they reopened the case. ("No ma'am, not quite cold enough for us yet"?) The widow's son is a cop; she worked for HPD. I'm betting there's much more of a story here.

Speaking of intruders, when we heard this story of an intruder stabbing a couple, killing her and wounding him, Jen's response was "yeah, right. I'll bet he killed her and cut himself." Cynical? Sure, but also apparently correct - he confessed.

Speaking of confessions, I've been told that there's more to this story of Chronicle reporter Jennifer Latson claiming a First Amendment right to talk to an incarcerated defendant even over the defendant's objection. I don't think that right trumps the sheriff's power to regulate jail visits and, as it turns out, the sheriff has a media visitation policy:

Inmate Interview Requests

  1. On camera interviews, if permitted, will be done within the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.

  2. Requests for interviews must be made in writing. These requests can be made directly to the Public Information Officer, who is located at the Harris County Sheriff's Office Headquarters, 1200 Baker Street.The request must be accompanied by a signed letter, on letterhead stationary, from the defendant's attorney of record (faxed letters are acceptable, but the fax must be from the attorney's office) in the criminal proceedings, reflecting the attorney's approval of the interview request. The letter must also state that the judge having jurisdiction over the criminal proceeding has been informed, and that the judge has approved of the interview.

  3. Any media representative who conducts an interview within the boundaries of the institution waives their personal right to be free from search of his/her person or property so long as he/she remains within the boundaries of the institution grounds.

  4. A release signed by the inmate from whom the interview is requested must be obtained prior to the dissemination of any photos, recordings or any personal information derived from the interview forms are on file with the Harris County Sheriff's Office).

  5. If the above criteria is met and the inmate wishes to be interviewed, the facility staff will accommodate the media by arranging a safe, secure area for the interview to be conducted away from the general inmate population.

  6. Only one interview will be arranged and granted. If the inmate returns to custody for a proceeding related to the original charge or charges (bond forfeiture, bench warrant) subsequent interview requests will be denied.

  7. Every member of the news crew must have media credentials, identifying them and their employer, before they will be allowed to enter the interview room.

  8. A deputy sheriff must be in the interview room with the inmate at all times. The deputy may intervene or halt the interview if the inmate or reporter fails to follow the stated guidelines.

If the Sheriff followed this policy, lawyers wouldn't have to worry about Jennifer Latson extracting damning statements from their clients. I wonder if the Sheriff's dereliction of policy might make Latson a de facto agent of the government, or if Latson's violation of the policy might be grounds for a successful 38.23 challenge to the admissibility of the statements.

Speaking of the Sheriff, he defends himself and his policies. "You know I'm not perfect, and I don't pretend to be perfect, but I have the best interest of Harris County and this department."

Speaking of Harris County, the Chron has an online database of city and county employees' 2007 salaries, and it's searchable. Mmmmm, searchable data goodness! I'm like a kid in a candy shop, and very happy with the Chronicle right now. Harris County prosecutors - especially chiefs - really get paid very well, if you count the benefits. I think it'd probably be hard for all but the luckiest or most business-savvy to make comparable money in criminal defense.

Same with cops, really. HPD Officer Javier Calvillo made $71k in base and $91k in overtime last year, for a total of $162k; those wages (just shy of Chuck Rosenthal's $163k and just over Tommy Thomas's $159k) made him the 78th highest-paid Harris County or City of Houston employee.

Calvillo, like other police officers, gets paid overtime money for attending court on arrests he's made. Youve got to wonder whether the potential of overtime money might entice cops to maybe make DWI arrests here and there that they wouldn't have made if they didn't stand to gain financially.

On second thought, no, you don't really have to wonder. You pay cops to make arrests, and you're going to get some lousy arrests.

Caveat juror.

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