Friday, April 1, 2011

Some changes are coming. . .

Our office recently implemented a program of "deferred prosecution," where first-time offenders can fulfill a set of conditions (treatment, restitution etc.) and have their felony cases dismissed. The story is here.

We've been working on some other programs, too, hopefully rolling them out in the coming months:

Jury Trials

The first program deals with jury trials. On trial weeks we spend a whole afternoon picking a jury, time that could be spent trying the case itself. It's also a massive inconvenience for the sixty people (in each court!) who have to sit there so we can whittle them down to just twelve. Every week, then, more than 200 people have to give up their Mondays to come in here and not get chosen.

What we'll be doing is selecting a group of just sixty individuals from the community and using them, on sort of a rotational basis, to sit as jurors. They will be people of intelligence and some will have legal training. Each jury will have one former prosecutor on it, to help explain the law. (The defense bar also wanted a defense lawyer, but you don't need two people to explain the law, and everyone knows defense lawyers are all about getting acquittals, while prosecutors are interested only in doing justice).

There are some minor constitutional issues to work through, but we're confident it will speed up justice.

Reimbursing Defense Lawyers

We have no public defender system in Travis County so right now, defense lawyers are appointed to cases by a judge. And they get paid a flat amount dependent on the work they do, not the result. So a lawyer gets $1,000 a day whether he sleeps through a trial or works his tail off.

The county is looking to switch to a new system, paying them according to results. The details are still being hammered out, but it'll work like this: if the State offers to plead the case for five years and you go to trial and win, you get five thousand dollars. If you go to trial and your client gets ten years, you either owe the county ten grand, or you work it off by not getting paid for your next cases.

A bit of a gamble for defense lawyers, but the pay off can be huge.

Clothing in Court

I have posted before about some of the crazy things people wear to court. Well, a new study shows that what you wear in court can increase, or decrease, your sentence. Seems kinda commonsensical to me, but after seeing that study, our higher-ups clicked that:

bad clothing = longer sentence = increased costs

As a result, they've hired one individual to roam the courthouse on docket days (when most plea deals are made and sentences handed down) to advise defendants on what (not!) to wear. He will also have a bag with some collared shirts, demure dresses, and nice trousers that he'll loan to those not dressed properly. Seems extravagant, I know, but apparently the boffins have crunched the numbers and this guy's $75,000 salary will be a saving in the long run.

They ran this program in Williamson County three years ago, but had to cancel it when those borrowing the clothes for court stole them, and the style guru was found upside down with his head in a public commode. But that's Wilco for you, we're a little more civilized down here.

And talking of Wilco, . . .

No More Probation Department!

This isn't a program we're running, but one they're not running any more in the esteemed county to our north. Apparently they have been paying salaries and for office space to Williamson County's probation office, but not giving them any business. Because defendants are either sent to prison for life (the easy cases to win) or have their cases pled down to time-served (the hard cases to win), probation has been left out in the cold.

The few people that do get probation up there have it revoked the minute they leave the courthouse ("A condition of probation was to always park facing north, you're facing north-east, at best") and so the Wilco probation dept. is being shut down. Fortunately, most of those laid off will be able to find jobs at the over-stretched probation office here in Travis County.


  1. Happy April Fools Day ... Right?

  2. really, really funny. i was like WTF?! at first and then i figured it out. a little slow, but i'm going to blame that on the fact that it's now five days later...

  3. I read you're whole post right now and was thinking back to an article where the defense attorneys would have their clients wear glasses during the trial. Then I came in to comment and realized I had been duped! Nice one, thats what I get for stumbling on it almost two weeks too late.


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