Men's Breakfast Report, April 2011
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, April 9 with Jeri Yenne, District Attorney for Brazoria County. Jeri was raised in Wisconsin, later came to Texas and was elected District Attorney for Brazoria County.
The District Attorney is in charge of prosecuting all felony cases in the county and misdemeanor cases brought to county courts. Unlike in most counties, she is also responsible for the court’s civil cases. She has five lawyers working on civil cases. Brazoria County has the district attorney handle civil cases because many years ago the commissioner’s court did not like what the civil attorney was doing. They therefore got the legislature to pass a law that moved all civil cases to the district attorney’s office in Brazoria County only.
When she took over the DA’s job there were about 2500 felony cases pending. She tries to keep the number below that even though the population has increased substantially since then. This requires cooperation from the judges. Some defense attorneys will not start negotiations until a trial date has been set and imminent. She sometimes has 400 felony arrests from Pearland filed at a time. Pearland gets crime spillover from Houston. There are several murder cases. The most prominent one she mentioned is where a man shot his cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend through the door of the boyfriend’s apartment. The murderer had never met the victim but just shot him for the flimsiest of reasons.
One crime that presents high danger to the public and has very high recidivism is drunk driving. Jeri says that if a repeat drunk driver gets probation he will have to wear an ankle monitor and must have an interlock on his car so that he cannot drive drunk. She also says that anyone who has served time for drunk driving will not be eligible for probation. If he has served time for another offense such as burglary, probation may be considered, but not if it was for drunk driving. She said that the new law that requires a blood test on arrest has helped increase the conviction rate since the results are unarguable.
Another common offense is drug possession. She said that people arrested for possession can be assigned to drug court. Dealers, however, are not sent to drug court. Drug court has helped get users off drugs. In one recent case a person who had been an addict for ten years has been clean for a year. Drug court has reduced the incarceration rate considerably and gotten addicts back into productive society. Unfortunately, the legislature may not fund drug court this biennium. Jerri was asked if legalizing marijuana would reduce the load on the justice system and the need for jail space. She said that she is not in favor of legalizing marijuana because she thinks that it is a gateway drug into worse drugs. She also said that most people arrested for other drugs also have used marijuana.
When asked about prosecution for the pigeon drop organized crimes, she said the real problem is identity theft. She says that thieves have scanners that can steal information from credit cards and then run up large bills. She said that one scammer had a million dollars in a house in Houston. This person was suing to get has money back but was not showing up for his criminal trial. She persuaded the judge that the civil case should not go forward unless the scammer showed up for the criminal case.
Another common offense is gambling with eight-liners. The problem is that the customers want to gamble. The game rooms do not make money if there is no gambling but make a great deal of money if there is gambling. Jeri says she is doing more extensive prosecution, but that it will probably not deter the offenders.
Mental illness also comes into the justice system because there is almost no other way to handle it in Texas. Jeri says that the jail now has people qualified to screen for mental illness and that the cases can be handled. It is possible to commit a person involuntarily to a state mental institution for evaluation. She tries to keep mental cases out of jail but if they are significant danger to others they may have to be imprisoned. There is a case of a woman in Freeport who likes to burn down houses and is out on probation.
Medical care is provided to prisoners through M.D. Anderson since John Sealy in Galveston is no longer able to do so. Jeri says that the contract needs to have a cap for each patient so that a single prisoner can’t run up a quarter million dollar bill. In one case, the prisoner was told by his family to stay in prison since he was getting better treatment for his cancer than he was outside.
As usual, the men had an interesting discussion and a good meal. The next meeting will be Saturday, May 14.