The State of Texas: April 21, 2014
Photo of the Day
If texting while driving is bad, then imagine if you’re the San Antonio police officer who was allegedly texting while motorcycling. A passerby snapped a picture of the offense (seen here) and sent the image to SAPD, which they “referred to the Traffic Commander and is currently under investigation.”
The following is an important summertime PSA from KSAT: How to handle a snake bite. Two important do-nots: “Do not try to capture the snake” and “Do not try to cut or suck the venom.” Hear that, city slickers?
Major Come Down — The Austin-American Statesman‘s piece on the state of Texas’s drug testing labs and the damage they do to the entire legal system highlights numerous factors and effects, but one of the most disheartening results is that men and women are being convicted for drug-related crimes before related lab analyses of suspicious substances can even be processed. At least twenty drug offenders have been exonerated because of this and “although no one is keeping close count … the false-positive drug cases date to 2005, their incidence has accelerated, with 14 of the wrongly convicted earning exonerations within the past two years.” As the Statesman points out, these cases are not the “emotionally wrenching” stories of exonerated men on death row, but often people with a history of drug abuse and run-ins with the law. But innocent until proven guilty should remain the standard, even if many plead guilty in the time it takes the lab to process suspicious drug evidence, often because they lack the financial support needed to have legal representation that’s not pro bono. Also “Critics say it would be simplistic to lay the blame entirely on an overburdened forensic testing system. Defense lawyers complain that police share responsibility for making crimes out of inconsequential drug busts. More than half of the defendants identified by the newspaper were charged with possession of barely a gram — the size of a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar — or less of what were thought to be illegal drugs.” Then there’s the burden labs have faced since “the surge in blood alcohol tests related to no-refusal operations,” that is happening more frequently throughout the state.
Not Perry Helpful — You know it’s a slow news day when nearly every news outlet is running with a story about an issue that may or may not come up at a later date: the Associated Press wonders if a statewide texting and driving ban will be addressed nine months from now. “Repeated efforts to implement a statewide ban on texting while driving in Texas may continue to fail even after Gov. Rick Perry leaves office next year,” and the piece predicts Greg Abbott will almost certainly not wrestle with the issue. “The longtime attorney general is against more government mandates that ‘micromanage adult driving behavior’ [but] would promote safe driving.” In a rather deadpan aside, the piece obligingly mentions that Wendy Davis (currently polling at 37 percent to Abbott’s 51 percent) “co-wrote one of the bills that would have banned texting while driving during her time in the Texas Senate.”
Investigations For Everyone! — April investigations bring May . . . wait. That’s not it. In any case, the Wendy Davis mini-scandal that erupted last week has seen some twists and turns in the past week. First came Wayne Slater’s story that questioned whether Davis used her senatorial influence to assist clients at her law firm. Then Slater and others reported that Davis was being investigated by the FBI. Or not? Documents regarding the toll authority were sent to the FBI, some of which had a connection to Davis, but “it’s not clear whether Davis’ work for the tollway authority is a focus of the FBI or only part of the material collected in connection with its look into tollway agency operations,” wrote Slater. The FBI’s been mum, but “the agency charged with prosecuting state public corruption cases wrapped up an investigation into state Sen. Wendy Davis last year without finding any issues worth pursuing, its director said, and did not uncover anything it believed it should refer to the FBI,” according to a Texas Tribune piece on Friday. The Austin American-Statesman reported that “[t]here is no evidence that Davis is an object of interest for the FBI.” On the other side of the aisle, the AP examines the impact the grand jury investigation might have on Governor Rick Perry’s future plans. “The grand jury probe could draw attention back to more contentious issues, even if Perry is not indicted. And if the panel does pursue charges, ‘that would be very, very hard to overcome, particularly because voters already have a perception of him in their mind, and right now he’s been busy cleaning that perception up,'” said a Republican strategist.
Drone Wars — There’s a bit more turbulence in the brave new skies of drone use. A Texas-based search-and-rescue group, which started out on horseback and has been involved in such cases as Natalee Holloway and Caylee Anthony, has been told by the Federal Aviation Administration to halt its use of search drones. “The FAA advised Texas EquuSearch in February that use of drones must stop immediately because rules do not yet allow for commercial use of such devices. But [the group’s] search volunteers . . . claim their drones are not used for commercial purposes and therefore should not be subject to the restrictions,” according to the AP. “This is the latest in a series of skirmishes between the search organization and the agency that up until now did not include an outright order to ground all its drones.” The issue highlights some major hiccups in the use of drones. Law enforcement have slowly begun using the technology, bringing with it questions of privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. And the FAA is desperately trying to catch up on creating guidelines for the emerging technology. The EquuSearch case complicates the matter, since it argues that its drones are not for “commercial” use and, in fact, have done nothing but provide better, cheaper, faster search assistance. It’s certainly an issue that needs to be resolved before we even consider allowing Amazon deliveries.