Jail

Jailing of Rape Victim Could Spur Criminal-Justice Reform in Texas

Outrage over the handling of a Harris County rape case could lead to reform in the state's witness-detention processes.

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Texas may get a revision to its witness detention laws after a Harris County rape victim was held in jail for nearly a month, including over Christmas, because prosecutors worried she may not testify against her attacker unless forced to. The attacker, Keith Hendricks, was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The victim, "Jenny," went on to file a federal lawsuit against Harris County. According to the lawsuit, Jenny—who suffers from mental health issues—was jailed for 27 days after an emotional breakdown on the witness stand made prosecutors doubt she would return to court.

While confined, Jenny was held in a general-population facility where she was attacked and given a black eye by another inmate, had an altercation with a jail guard, and was regularly refused psychiatric medication, her lawsuit claims.

The case has spurred Texas state Sens. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) to push for reforms to witness attachment orders, the process by which witnesses may be jailed prior to in-court testimony. Such orders, officially known as writs of attachment, are "a rarely used, but extremely vital tool for attorneys to ensure the testimony of a witness," said Huffman. Yet they "should only be used when there is no other way to hear testimony that is critical to public safety or in the best interest of the public" and only in a way that assures witnesses' rights are protected.

The way Jenny was treated "shocks your conscious," Whitmire told Houston's Channel 2 News. He and Huffman pledged to introduce legislation reforming the attachment process when the state legislature convenes again until January 2017. The legislation will insist that any witness subject to an attachment order has access to a court-appointed attorney.

Meanwhile, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson defended the district's decision to jail a rape victim for weeks. In a video statement, she asked: "How were we to assume that a homeless, mentally ill victim of an aggravated sex assault would return to testify at the trial of her rapist when that victim was going through a life-threatening mental health crisis and had expressed her intention not to testify?"

But Jenny's lawyer, Sean Buckley, said the DA's statement is false and Jenny was never homeless. "She has to know that is [a] false statement because her investigators were the ones who went there to pick Jenny up at her apartment and bring her to Houston to testify," Buckley told Channel 2 news reporter Jace Larson this week. "Now that I know the district attorney's office is willing to lie to the public about the facts of this case, I've got to protect my client. I'll be sending out subpoenas for their emails and phone records." Buckley alleges that the attachment order used to hold Jenny was improperly obtained, and prosecutors should be charged with committing official oppression.

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  1. But there was corroborating evidence of the rape, wasn’t there? I presume there was, the jury might otherwise have been a bit skeptical.

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  2. Couldn’t they have put her in a mental health facility, at the very least? It’s not like jails have a great track record of being sensitive to inmate needs and health.

    1. Are you nuts? That would require thought and effort!

    2. Oh, Sug…. What were they supposed to do, treat her like an actual witness, and put her up in some sort of protected housing??

      Think of the precedent that would set: people actually expecting to be treated well when attempting to help the DA, and NOT be thrown into the pokey! What kind of non-authoritarian world would that be??

      1. It’s Texas. Honestly she should just be happy she wasn’t raped right there in the courtroom.

        1. Well, let’s go with:

          It’s Texas Harris County. Honestly she should just be happy she wasn’t raped right there in the courtroom.

          /distinction with a difference

        2. In Texas, I’d think twice about trying rape out considering plenty of women are not only trained to shoot but are actually armed. Of course, Houston like all major Texas cities, are liberal democrat bastions so…who knows.

          1. In a courtroom, silly prole. Those women wouldn’t be armed.

  3. Texas may get a revision to its witness detention laws after a Harris County rape victim was held in jail for nearly a month, including over Christmas, because prosecutors worried she may not testify against her attacker unless forced to.

    Washington solved this problem by filing charges even if the “victim” recants or refuses to do so.

  4. The way Jenny was treated “shocks your conscious,” Whitmire told Houston’s Channel 2 News.

    If that was a direct quote, you’re going to want to put a [sic] in there.

  5. How were we to assume that a homeless, mentally ill victim of an aggravated sex assault would return to testify at the trial of her rapist when that victim was going through a life-threatening mental health crisis and had expressed her intention not to testify?

    Obviously, the only possible option in toss her in the county jail, general population no less. No other options.

  6. Here’s another story that’s on ENB’s beat:
    41 charged in human trafficking sting operation.

    The person being trafficked? An undercover cop. Yep. Trafficking.

  7. “…to ensure the testimony of a witness,”

    Compelled speech, anyone?

    Why in the fuck has no defense lawyer, on cross examination, asked the witness if they were jailed to compel them to give the testimony they gave?

    1. The standard advice for trial lawyers is “never ask a question in a court when you don’t know the answer.” Some people take that a step further, and advise “never ask a question in a court unless the answer helps your client.”

      The reason defense attorneys generally don’t ask witnesses if they were jailed to ensure testimony is because the answer is often “I didn’t want to comply because I was afraid that your client or his friends would kill me if I testified.” Which is a REALLY bad look for the client.

  8. I don’t get it — of what worth is an uncooperative witness after such treatment? From the point of view of a juror, I should think it would render the witness extremely unreliable; simultaneously, it makes the prosecution look desperate. Leaving aside the injustice of it, I don’t see how it’s a good idea.

  9. “The legislation will insist that any witness subject to an attachment order has access to a court-appointed attorney.”

    Wait…so they’re saying that isn’t the case now even though they threw this person in jail, presumably without filing criminal charges? Well, I’d say this entire writ needs to be unwrit since it clearly violates the Federal Constitution.

  10. If someone is a rapist they are a threat to people’s security. In the absence of other considerations it would make sense to use whatever measures you can to put them away, for the greater good of potential future victims.

    But other considerations do exist. And taking away the liberty of a completely innocent victim for the purpose of enforcing that “greater good” security is deeply questionable. And it’s rather unclear that the abridgement of liberty actually did anything to help put the bad guy away.

    (Does this remind you of anything?

  11. “prosecutors should be charged”

    Bitch should be woodchipped but neither one of those things Is going to happen.

  12. The nutpunches are just raining down this afternoon.

    I think the writertariat must be pissed at the commentariat for the mountains of abuse heaped on them for their crap coverage of the Presidential race.

    1. Thankfully, we can take it even better than we dish it out. Bring it on, I wasn’t planning on kids anyway.

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  14. Texas may get a revision to its witness detention laws …

    Witness detention laws? In this case, applied to the victim/accuser. A whole new obscene thing the government does.

    La Wik: Material Witness

    18 U.S.C. ? 3144, commonly referred to as the “material witness statute,” provides as follows:

    If it appears from an affidavit filed by a party that the testimony of a person is material in a criminal proceeding, and if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena, a judicial officer may order the arrest of the person and treat the person in accordance with the provisions of section 3142 of this title. No material witness may be detained because of inability to comply with any condition of release if the testimony of such witness can adequately be secured by deposition, and if further detention is not necessary to prevent a failure of justice. Release of a material witness may be delayed for a reasonable period of time until the deposition of the witness can be taken pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

  15. “How were we to assume that a homeless, mentally ill victim of an aggravated sex assault would return to testify”

    That’s your fucking problem, bitch. Never knew that this was even a thing, but I am exactly 0% surprised by it. The state has a wonderful way of coming up with atrocities I never even pondered before hearing about them.

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