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Is There Chaos in the Dallas Criminal Justice System? Consider These Five News Stories in May 2016

Criminal defense lawyers tend to see the world a bit differently than most. Maybe that’s because we are privy to things that most of the general public is not and it skews our perspective. However, if anyone has been reading the news stories for the past three or four weeks coming out of Dallas County, it’s hard to think that they wouldn’t be concerned and curious about what the heck is happening here.

Consider these five news stories from the past few weeks. What do you think?

 

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Dallas Police Department Reveal Names of Alleged Sexual Assault Victims Online (With Age and Home Address)

The Dallas Police Department has its own website (you can check it out here). Part of the Dallas Police site provides an online search function, where you can pull up information about incident reports filed by the DPD as well as stuff like arrest records.

Apparently, mistakes were made somewhere within the department recently because if you searched its Offense Incidents Records database, you would learn not only about pending criminal matters but as the Washington Post discovered, you could learn the names of alleged VICTIMS of sexual assault as well.

That’s right. The Washington Post accessed the public database a few weeks back and learned the identities of six women who had filed complaints for sexual assault with the Dallas Police Department. In some cases, more than their names and ages were provided. The database also showed the complainant’s home address, too.

When the Washington Post called the Dallas Police Department to ask about this, they were told it was an error. Those who come forward and report sex crimes to the police are not supposed to be revealed on the web site.

It’s pretty much standard operating procedure in criminal justice systems across the country to keep the names, addresses, and identities of those who report rape or sexual assault private and confidential. The rationale is that this helps to protect victims, as well as encourages others to come forward and report sex crimes in the future.

Assume that this glitch has been fixed by now. And that the Washington Post will keep checking back on the DPD site just to make sure.

Dallas District Attorney Susan Hawk Checks Back Into Houston Psychiatric Hospital

This week, it was revealed that Dallas District Attorney Susan Hawk has returned to the Menninger Clinic in Houston for in-patient treatment. This is the same facility where D.A. Hawk spent two months last year in her fight against depression and attention deficit disorders.

Right now, Hawk’s “number one” (to use Star Trek vernacular) Messina Madson is running things in Hawk’s absence. No word on how long Hawk will be absent from work.

This story is going to get bigger, of course. Last year, some were so outraged that Susan Hawk did not resign from office because of her health issues that they sued to have her removed. That lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Imagine the incentive for another removal campaign now that DA Hawk has turned the reins over to ADA Madson for an indefinite hospitalization? There’s going to be cries getting louder and louder for her resignation, that’s a given. Whether or not there’s going to be more formal moves to oust her, we’ll see.

But one thing is for sure: down at the Office of the District Attorney for Dallas County, there’s additional stressors to deal with now, in what is always a stressful environment.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price Investigated for Choking Assault by Special Prosecutor

A special prosecutor has been appointed to sort things out in the John Wiley Price assault case, because the Dallas District Attorney’s Office has recused itself. Susan Hawk’s office stepped back from the John Wiley Price case because of a conflict of interest: for one thing, Price is a Dallas County Commissioner and the Commissioners control the DA Office’s budget.

As for what the allegations involve, it seems that back in February Commissioner Price was politicking at a local radio station and there was an altercation between John Wiley Price and former City Councilman Dwaine Caraway.

A man working for Caraway got involved, as well — and it’s alleged that John Wiley Price choked this guy. No grand jury has been scheduled to hear this case.

No charges have been filed as a result of this incident (which happened back in February).

Part of this skirmish was caught on this video:

As for Dallas City Councilman John Wiley Price (we’ve covered him before). He has been arrested and charged by federal prosecutors for corruption (read the full indictment here) and right now, his trial in federal court is set for September 2016.

Murders in Dallas Up 60% From Last Year

Dallas homicides have increased 60% this year, in comparison to last year. A 60% jump in murders? That’s serious stuff.

Of course, this seems to be a national trend. FBI Director James B. Comey was recently quoted by the Washington Examiner as requesting that the media give MORE ATTENTION to a “surge” in murder rates in the country’s larger cities.

That’s right: the head of the FBI wants the press to inform the American public that there’s a lot more killing going on in our big urban areas — that murder is trending.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown is telling the City Council here in Dallas that the DPD is making progress in combating homicides here. Part of that is the Violent Crime Task Force that the Dallas Police Chief has created. He’s also created a Domestic Violence Task Force (to battle the big rise in domestic violence here) and a Property Crimes Task Force (ditto).

That’s a lot of DPD Task Forces, huh?

Meanwhile, WFAA is reporting that the THIRD police academy class in a row may be cancelled because not enough people are signing up to be trained as police officers for the Dallas Police Department.   That’s putting the DPD in a “critical” spot according to the vice-president of the Dallas Police Association.  Read that story here. 

New Allegations of Prosecutorial Misconduct by the Dallas District Attorney’s Office

Earlier this month, two local defense attorneys came forward on behalf of their client (whose name has not been revealed) and accused attorneys working as prosecutors for the Office of the Dallas County District Attorney with prosecutorial misconduct.

They are alleging that these prosecutors, working in the child abuse division, allowed a young man (18 years old) to spend two years of his life in the local jail because they keep back evidence from his defense team. Two years.

And this evidence was important: it revealed that the witnesses against him had changed their stories of what had happened.

Added twist: when the defense lawyers didn’t agree to the plea deal offered by the prosecution, instead of moving forward these prosecutors went after a second indictment against the teenager. Wow.

As for what happened in the underlying case: the charges against the man were dropped.

And the District Attorney’s Office has agreed to his expungement request. Expungement is good, but what the heck is going on? For details in the underlying case here, read the coverage provided by WFAA.

What Do You Think?

Criminal defense work is important and vital to a free society. Criminal attorneys defend not only their individual clients, but also the rights and freedoms guaranteed to us all by the federal constitution and its Bill of Rights. Was there an improper search by the police? A Motion to Suppress is needed. Is there a lack of probable cause to indict? A Motion to Dismiss can be filed.

This is not a profession where you want to see a rising market share. The news that there are spikes in serious crimes like murder and domestic violence is not good for anyone.

Now consider these five news stories, all being reported within the month. This isn’t everything that we could consider either — just five stories that will fit into a blog post.

What is happening here in Dallas and the Dallas County criminal justice system? Obviously, pressure is high and stress can impact a system in shocking and strange ways.

From a criminal defense perspective, it’s times like these where we must all be vigilant to protect against abuse and overreach and to work together toward an efficient system. Chaos hurts us all.

For more on defending felony crimes at the state and local level, read our web resources as well as checking out Michael Lowe’s Case Results. Also read his article:

PRE-ARREST CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS – Dallas Justice Blog


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