In his editorial piece today, Pat McCann wrote that the following questions are ones that need to be addressed by whoever becomes District Attorney in 2009. Before I list them, I do have to point out that I noticed he wrote:
"Republicans will have a contested primary with experienced candidates, Jim Leitner and Kelly Siegler, as well as Houston police Capt. Doug Perry and former Judge Pat Lykos."
Now, God knows that I'm no grammatical genius (just read these posts closely), but was Pat saying that Leitner and Siegler were the only "experienced" candidates? I think he was.
And I couldn't agree more.
Now, onto the questions he posed for the new D.A.:
1. Will the district attorney's office begin to work to find serious alternatives to help the mentally ill who wind up in district and county courts? My Answer: I can't see why not. The Andrea Yates case left a bad taste in the public's mouth because it looked like the D.A.'s office was ruthlessly pursuing a clearly mentally ill woman. I think this got spun a lot by the media and the issue as to whether or not she was legally insane was something much more debatable than the media did. Nevertheless, I think this is an issue to be resolved by the legislature, but I think that any good D.A. is going to back that something be done, and done quickly.
2. Will the district attorney's office continue to prosecute minor drug cases with such vehemence, clogging our dockets and wasting resources and jail space? Good question. My Answer: Show me a prosecutor who is trying a minor drug case with "vehemence" and I'll show you a rookie prosecutor. Those that have been prosecuting for a long time get tired of the infamous "crack pipe" cases, and don't know what to do with them anymore. Recent policy changes within the office have banned the use of 12.44(a) on the cases, which was at least some sort of consolation prize to those representing clients charged with them. But they are still accepting the charges like they were going out of style. One or the other has got to give before the docket becomes so unimaginable that there is a crisis created solely by the charging decisions. My suggestion on the residue cases? Class C, baby.
3. Will the new DA continue to support the serious and thorough review of the HPD lab fiasco? At this point, how could he or she not? This one is a "no brainer" for the candidates.
4. When will we see the return of genuine second chances for first-time offenders? This is the only place where I think Pat slips a little, because the question is over-broad. Should there be a second chance for first offenders on drug charges? Sure. Thefts? Absolutely? Aggravated Sexual Assault of Child or Murder? Well, let's hold on there a minute. It has been my experience that the ADA's will try to help keep a record clean if the Defendant is charged with a (more or less) minor offense, provided that the Defendant wants the same thing for himself. Too often, a Defendant will leap at the chance for a reduced amount of pen time rather than place accept a deferred adjudication with a chance to get something off of his record. Also, what, if any effect is there if the Defendant is 17 years old and has a lengthy and violent criminal history?
5. How often and when should the death penalty be sought, and at what cost? A valid question from a person who morally opposes the death penalty. I think the reality is that the change in legislation that resulted in life without the possibility of parole has led to a drastic reduction in the cases that the Office seeks the death penalty on. I think that for the Office to seek death on a Defendant now, the case has to be something that truly shocks the conscience, or the Defendant's criminal history has to be something that would scare the living crap out of the common citizen.
Great article, Pat.