Soon to be ex-prosecutor George Weissfisch’s second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth ideas for improvement of the Harris County DA’s Office (here’s the first in the series):
There is no need to screen cases at intake by hand.
Weissfisch Solution: We create a macro on the computer just like the macro for MOEP’s. When a charge is taken instead of filling in the stops by hand and counting the priors to set the bond and writing the enhancement paragraphs, we have the computer allow us to select the offense from a list – then the pleadings appear and we select the appropriate stops or add in language. The bond is automatically calculated based on the history in the computer. The DA should be allowed to change the bond if necessary. If the bond is higher than the standard schedule then a high bond request automatically pops up for the reason to be entered and will also print out (as it does with moeps) further the prosecutor should be able to select from priors as to which will be used for enhancement. If priors are selected that don’t work for enhancement.(for example if the prosecutor is trying to use a STJ to enhance a 3rd degree- even though I know this NEVER happens) then the computer should alert the prosecutor. The prosecutor can override the alert if she believes that the enhancement is correct. Then everything gets printed.
This system would save time, eliminate the need for the typists, eliminate mistakes made from bad handwriting and eliminate a lot of the careless mistakes made b/c the prosecutor is tired (at 3:30 a.m.) and eliminate the need for the prosecutor to place her initials at the top so that we know who screened the case, since the computer would track who it was. High bond requests would never be missing.
To be warrants
To be warrants are often done wrong
Weissfisch solution: There should be a template for each of the common offenses with all of the essential elements already included. This would make sure that prosecutors don’t leave out necessary elements and would save time in typing the to be warrant. Plus: when warrants are rejected b/c something is done wrong the prosecutor is never told what he did wrong, therefore the prosecutor thinking that everything went fine the last time continues to do to be warrants in the same incorrect way each time and never learns. A copy of all rejected warrants should be given to the prosecutor who wrote it so that they can learn from their mistake To be s and calls should be split up.
The biggest waste of time that occurs at intake is when a prosecutor is working on a To Be warrant with an officer present and interrupts his work to answer a call or two , and then gets back to the to be.
Often times a prosecutor can be interrupted several times during one to be. As mentally draining as an 8 hour shift at intake is already it is inefficient to lose ones train of thought while working on a to be to try to pay attention to the officer on the phone who has a “cluster to run by you” and then try to remember where one left off on the warrant.
Weissfisch Solution: assign one prosecutor to phone calls and another to to bes for 2 hours and then switch off. Plus the complaint desk and the chief are available in the event that either one gets swamped at any given time.
IDEA #3: NO MORE TO DO’S
It is unnecessary for DA s to waste time doing to dos to request photo spreads, witness & defendant’s statements, 911 tapes, scene photos, scene videos, sur videos, search warrants etc.
Weissfisch solution: We create a list of all the essential items that we will need in every case if they exist. The district attorney meets with the chief of each police agency and asks them to implement a policy that all of their officers turn over a copy of all the items on the list (if they exist in that case) at the time they turn over the offense report. This way the defense can look at everything they need at the first setting and the case does not need to be delayed to get these items. Most importantly the #3 doesn’t waste hours a day trying to get in touch with someone to send these over. If the officer doesn’t have something available then they would have the responsibility to send it over when they get it.
If any agency in uncooperative and refuses to make this a policy in their organization then we simply do not extend that agency the courtesy of accepting their charges over the phone. We would require those officers to come to intake for charges and present all of the items on the list before we accept charges.
The #3’s only real to do should be talking to victims and getting ready for trial.
IDEA #4: Street contracts
Not allowing street contract prevents officers from getting the larger players in the drug world.
Having a requirement that all defendants who wish to work a contract with the DA to help catch other drug dealers be first taken into custody and their contract be in writing seems to make sense on the surface. However narcotics officers have stated to me that when a drug distributer gets arrested on a large drug case, the higher level drug dealers become aware of the arrest, when that defendant suddenly appears on bond and shows up trying to make buy, these dealers quickly figure out that they are working a contract and don’t deal with them.
By allowing the officers to call special crimes and get permission (if def meets the criteria) to allow a street contract then the def can make the deal with the bigger dealer before that dealer could know that the defendant has been caught and is working with the state.
Specifically in the meth community, larger dealer are very aware of anyone being taken into custody.
IDEA #5: REDACTING
Redacting of offense reports by prosecutors creates a huge time burden on everyone and creates delays in the resolution of cases while defense attorneys wait for their copy of the report. The plan for prosecutors to redact ORs in addition to their already overburdened work schedule is unsustainable. Redacting with a black sharpee that does not actually cover the information to be redacted is worse than not redacting at all. If there is in fact liability for allowing the def atty to have the identifying information, then doing something to prevent this that we know is insufficient clearly places prosecutors at a greater risk for liability under civil law, because it shows that we could foresee the harm and we have taken steps, that we know are insufficient, to prevent that harm.
Weissfisch Solution: A redacted copy of every report needs to be in the file to give to def atty from the very beginning of each case.
This needs to be done at intake (perhaps by the typists that we no longer need – see weissfisch solution on intake).
There is computer software already available that can redact (and properly cover sensitive material). The ORS need to be scanned in (which is the same work required to make a xerox) and the program redacts the material that we program it to redact and then a def atty copy is printed which is marked def atty copy (on every page) the computer can even track how many pages are printed/redacted for that OR # so that if there is a question later as to what was turned over to def atty we would know how many pages we gave them.
Under this system on pia or at very least by the next setting we hand over a copy of the OR to the def atty. If we really want to get fancy we have intake print out a copy of the confidentiality agreement already filled out with defendant’s name cause # and OR report #.
IDEA #6: TRAINING
Many prosecutors have difficulty receiving their required CLE each year and the much of the CLE training is very general and not very practical. We often find prosecutors move to felony (who are very talented) but who do not know how to try felony offenses. In some instances when prosecutors are promoted to #2 they are unprepared (or lack confidence) for the types of cases they begin trying.
Weissfisch Solution: The office could hire me (or someone else like me) as an independent contractor, I could:
a) Give a CLE each month (1 ½ hours each) covering different areas of trial. (to include the required hours of ethics)
b) Or I could work with prosecutors as they promote to felony (or when they promote to #2)
c) Or we could institute a mini baby prosecutor school (1 week boot camp) for new prosecutors (especially if we institute my #4 policy) that way the chiefs who are busy with their cases wouldn’t need to spend as much time with the new hires. I could give a 1 week intense boot camp each month for all new prosecutors and then 6 months later they go to TDCAA’s baby prosecutor school.
This would give prosecutors proper training at a lower cost. I have taught for TDCAA, NDAA, and given in house CLEs in addition to the training I have given to the prosecutors who have worked in my court.
I have been teaching TaeKwonDo for the past 21 years in my business.
I enjoy teaching, I am good at it and would love to share my knowledge with current & future prosecutors.
George, if Pat Lykos doesn’t take you up on your offer there’s a thing or three you can teach baby defense lawyers.
Think about it.