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Some criminal justice quick hits

Some short commentary on a few articles that have appeared lately and were worth mentioning.

Murray Newman disputes the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea that there’s a better way to handle things, but only on the condition that some other alternative to the status quo, one that can be demonstrated to be better than what we’ve got now, is proposed. Newman doesn’t suggest an alternative, nor does he address the matter of the severe backlog in the criminal courts, which results in people spending a year or more in jail just to get their day in court, so I can’t say I’m persuaded by his argument. But read it and see what you think.

Grits has a thoughtful piece about the nature of the opposition to the Beyler report on Cameron Todd Willingham. I agree with basically everything he says, and I’ll add this: If people like Rick Perry and that Corsicana DA are not willing to admit the possibility of a mistake here, then the argument that our justice system is capable of correcting its mistakes is meaningless. I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea of capital punishment, but only in the context of a system that is extremely vigilant about getting it right, and you can’t get it right if you don’t admit when you’re wrong. The more that Perry and his ilk wage their baseless battle against the Forensics Commission and the Beyler report, the more convinced I become that we simply cannot have the death penalty in this state. It’s just too risky.

Speaking of Willingham and the science of arson, Dave Mann of the Observer spoke to NPR recently about recent events.

And speaking of Dave Mann, he notes that it just got a little harder for Rick Perry to claim that his little Saturday Night Massacre act on the Forensics Commission wasn’t all about political cover for himself. There’s not enough schadenfreude in the world if Perry goes down over this.

Finally, Lisa Falkenberg picks up on yet another frontier for criminal justice reform: the sorry state of doing autopsies, which are shockingly error prone in this state. Yes, sadly, the world of “CSI” really is make believe.

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