Texas In the Blawgospheric Lead

Whether it’s the water or the barbecue, I can’t say, but once again, Texas leads the way in criminal defense blawgs with the newest kid on the block, Liberty & Justice For Y’all.  Headed up by Brandon W. Barnett, a Texas criminal defense lawyer who describes himself as “currently assigned as a criminal litigation consultant for the Marine Corps in Washington D.C.,” but headed back to the motherland as soon as his time is done.

L&J4Y is a group blawg, though the other conspirators (including some prosecutors) remain anonymous, at least for the time being.  The blawg is a mix of caselaw analysis and commentary, such as this post on the 5th Circuit decision in U.S. v. Banegas :

In Banegas, the court’s stated reason for shackling the defendant was that “everyone in this court who has tried a case pro se that’s incarcerated” gets shackled. Nothing more was offered. Was it because the defendant was a safety threat ? A flight risk? An involuntary break-dancer? The record doesn’t reflect – it’s just how the court always does it.

In Deck, the Supreme Court took a look at the issue of shackling and identified several historical factors that should be considered in determining whether a defendant should be visibly shackled: 1) past escape, 2) prior convictions, 3) that nature of the crime for which the defendant was on trial, 4) conduct prior to trial while in prison, 5) any prior disposition toward violence, and 6) physical attributes of the defendant like size, strength, and age.

Despite whether the trial court uses these factors or other factors tailored to the particular case, it MUST state its reasoning on the record so that the issue may be resolved by the appellate court. When the appellate court is left to guess at the reason for shackling, it has no choice but to find a due process violation and vacate the conviction.

What’s notable about L&J4Y is the absence of any self-promotion in the background.  When I first read through the blawg, I had no idea who was doing the writing.  Brandon has since added in a bit of background info so at least we knew who to praise or yell at, as the case may be.  This is all about the law, with no ulterior motives.

I learned about L&J4Y from Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast, who provided a great survey of the type of posts offered:

LJY points us to an article discussing the “burgeoning jurisprudence of placing a premium on citizens’ ignorance of their Fourth Amendment rights,” and another on the question of whether copying computer data constitutes a seizure. A separate post describes how, when it comes to Texas courts interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, essentially all circumstances are “exigent.”

LJY also describes a recent, contentious 5-4 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling which threw out a confession because a police officer falsified a government document (faking fingerprint results from a crime lab) to show the suspect during an interrogation. And we learn of another positive CCA decision holding that out-of-court statements by a confidential informant violate the Confrontation Clause if presented at trial.

However, just in case these decisions make you think the Texas CCA has changed its stripes, LJY informs us of the court’s ruling that police may seize items not described in a search warrant, overturning decisions by the trial judge and appellate court. (Deference to findings by the trial court, judging from the majority opinion, only apply when their rulings benefit the prosecution.)
As you can see, Brandon and his gang have their eyes on Texas, and Texas is never at a loss for fascinating fodder when it comes to quirky, often bizarre, decisions in criminal law.

It’s been said lately that the blawgosphere has become a tough place to break into, with too many blawgs getting too few views.  L&J4Y proves otherwise, with good writing, interesting subjects and no sense that it’s just part of somebody’s marketing scheme.  But the part that gets me is why Texas seems to remain that place where criminal law blawgs flourish, far more so than anywhere else in the country.  More executions, more blawgs?  More craziness, more blawgs?  You would think that Maricopa County would have more blawgs per capita than anywhere else, if that was the case. 

In any event, it’s good to have new blood in the blawgosphere and L&J4Y is a welcome new neighbor.  Go check it out and let Brandon know that it’s not just me, Grits and his mother reading.

6 comments on “Texas In the Blawgospheric Lead

  1. SHG

    Thanks for joining the conversation, but I can’t promise you praise every time.  No telling what next week will bring.

  2. Gritsforbreakfast

    “But the part that gets me is why Texas seems to remain that place where criminal law blawgs flourish, far more so than anywhere else in the country.”

    It’s simple, really: We’re just better than you. 😉

    Seriously, the reason LJY stands out is they’ve identified a niche – in this case analyzing state-level appellate cases. It doesn’t hurt that our Court of Criminal Appeals is widely considered the worst court in America, so there’s a lot to talk about.

  3. Gritsforbreakfast

    That is only one aspect, though an important one, of Texans’ general, overall superiority. 🙂

    Couple of other thoughts: We don’t have many public defenders so our criminal lawyers dealing with indigent clients (and therefore the justice system’s biggest problems) are less institutionalized – that might contribute to the greater number.

    Also, Texas has more blogs in other areas too. A friend who works professionally in social media and who is now living in California told me the other day that, when she moved west, she was surprised that political blogging generally is less common there than in Texas, and that the political class pays less attention to them, for whatever reason.

    I suspect it might also be that back when blogging was new in 2002-2004, there were quite a few Texan early adopters (including Grits in the crimlaw field) that focused on Texas exclusively at a time when blogging was dominated by folks like Atrios, Kos, etc., and everyone wanted to be a national blogger. Maybe that’s happenstance or due to Texans’ well-documented sense of exceptionalism, but the trend of bloggers getting serious on state and local issues began quite early here.

  4. Mandy

    As for fewer public defenders, it may not be that non-PDs are “less institutionalized” than they are less regulated. No boss man watching what you do on company time. No threat of being fired for what you blog, etc.

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