Monday, October 3, 2022

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer dead at 74

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer has died, reported the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. Justice Baer was a conscientious and dedicated jurist.  I had the pleasure of getting to know Justice Baer during his campaign for the Supreme Court and kept in touch with him over the years.  He was kind and generous with his time.  He will be deeply missed as a justice and as a friend.

Baer, 74, who was first elected to the state’s highest court in 2003, and became chief justice last year after Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor retired, died at his home in suburban Pittsburgh on Friday, the state court system said in a statement, reported The Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Justice Debra Todd, who is the longest continuously serving member of the court, will become the first woman to serve as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, the state court system said.

In a statement, Todd said Baer’s death is a tremendous loss for the court and Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania has lost a jurist who served the Court and the citizens of the Commonwealth with distinction. Chief Justice Baer was an influential and intellectual jurist whose unwavering focus was on administering fair and balanced justice. He was a tireless champion for children, devoted to protecting and providing for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens,” Todd said.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered flags to be flown at half staff in Pennsylvania until Baer’s interment.

“I’m extremely saddened to learn that Chief Justice Baer passed away. He was a respected and esteemed jurist with decades of service to our courts and our commonwealth. I am grateful for his contributions and leadership in the Supreme Court,” Wolf said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, noted Baer was known for his work on behalf of children and families in the legal system.

“His admirable work in the area of foster care, adoption and child advocacy is something that has had a monumental impact on the lives of countless Pennsylvania children and made the dream of becoming a family a reality for many,” Benninghoff said.

House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said Baer was “a giant in the Pennsylvania legal community for more than 40 years,” adding that he received numerous accolades for his advocacy on behalf of children.

“Most recently, Justice Baer had been a fierce defender of free and fair elections. I have no doubt that his legacy to Pennsylvania will endure,” McClinton said.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said Baer served with distinction in his decisions on difficult and weighty issues.

“The chief justice was an honorable man doing a difficult job.  He was respectful, honest and carried himself with dignity and integrity. Those are all the hallmark qualities of a true public servant, regardless of title or position,” Cutler said.

A graduate of Duquesne University Law School, Baer started his legal career in 1975 as a deputy state attorney general. After practicing law privately, Baer was elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1989.

As chief justice, Baer oversaw the court’s decisions in pivotal cases stemming from changes in Pennsylvania’s election law, upholding the General Assembly and Wolf passed legislation to allow voting by mail.

He also led the court’s 4-3 decision selecting Pennsylvania’s new congressional map after Wolf vetoed the plan passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature. 

Baer also joined in Justice Kevin Dougherty’s dissenting opinion in the case where the Supreme Court threw out disgraced actor Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction and prison sentence. 

Dougherty and Baer reasoned that, although the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office improperly used testimony Cosby provided in a civil case after former District Attorney Bruce Castor agreed not to prosecute Cosby, the remedy was to suppress that evidence rather than making him immune to prosecution.

“We should not use Castor’s ‘blunder’ to place Cosby in a better position than he otherwise would have been in by forever barring his prosecution,” Doughery wrote.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The real crime threat is the lack of reliable crime data

Crime is on the political agenda in a big way this year, with Republicans zeroing in on it as their favorite topic now that gasoline prices are moderating, reported Bloomberg.

Which naturally raises the question: Is crime rising? To which the shocking answer is — nobody knows. Not because anything unusual is happening, but simply because the usual state of America’s information on crime and policing is incredibly poor.

Contrast this state of affairs with the amount of data available on the US economy. There are monthly updates on job creation, the unemployment rate and multiple indexes of inflation. Commodity prices are publicized on a daily basis. Reports on gross national product come out quarterly, with timely revisions as more data comes in. Policymakers benefit from a deeply informed debate, enriched by commentary from academics and other observers.

But on crime the US is, to a shocking extent, flying blind. As a July report from the Brennan Center for Justice noted: “More than six months into 2022, national-level data on crime in 2021 remains unavailable.”

There is some data. In America’s largest cities, the murder rate rose in 2021. And since national crime trends almost invariably follow the trends observed in this sample of 22 cities, analysts are confident that there was a nationwide increase in murders last year. It’s also very likely that there was an overall increase in shootings and violent assaults. But beyond that, it’s hard to say.

It’s possible to draw sharper conclusions by going back to 2020, the most recent year for which there is official data. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program makes clear that there was a very large increase in murdering in 2020. It also shows that the rise took place across the board — murders rose 20% in rural counties and 20% in suburban ones, so whatever went wrong can’t be pinned entirely on “Democrat mayors” or big-city politics.

That said, the increase in central cities with 250,000 or more people was even larger — about 34%. With hard numbers rather than statistical imputations in hand, it’s clear both that there was a city-specific problem — presumably related to the fallout from George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent national wave of protests — and that whatever that problem was, it doesn’t explain the majority of the increased killings.

For 2021, the picture gets much fuzzier. Murder rose in big cities, but by a much smaller amount than it did the prior year. And in smaller communities? Who knows.

For 2022, researchers tell me the best source is the data assembled by a private company called AH Datalytics. Its team basically looks at 92 large cities that publicly report murder data in a somewhat timely matter and puts the numbers into a spreadsheet. This ends up pretty messy, since as of this writing some cities (Kansas City, Washington) have updated information from as recently as Sept. 14, while others (San Antonio, Shreveport, La.) are updated only to March 31. And of course this rough-and-ready calculus doesn’t allow for comparison of crime trends in central cities with suburbs and rural areas.

Nonetheless, for the record, murder is running at a pace that’s about 3.5% lower this year than last year.

The dearth of information is a problem not only for rigor-minded policymakers. It also leaves the political arena open for manipulation by demagogues. Since nobody actually knows in real time what’s happening, anecdotes can just stand in for made-up fears. Since the very real murder surge of 2020 now has people primed to believe “crime is out of control” narratives, any particular instance of violence can be used to support that story.

What all this anecdata fails to recognize is that the US is a gigantic country, so even in a very low-crime year like 2014, there were multiple people being murdered every day. A person could have issued daily updates painting a terrifying portrait of life in the US even at a time when violence was at its lowest ebb.

By the same token, when murder really was soaring in 2020, it was easy for progressives to stay in ideologically convenient denial for far too long, since it was genuinely impossible to actually prove that it was happening until much later. The people who dismissed the anecdotal evidence of rising crime were, in that case, mistaken. But the Republicans who are stoking fears of rising crime right now also appear to be mistaken. And the lack of information about geographical patterns in murder trends means no one has much ability to assess what social or policy factors may be in play.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Handgun applications on the rise in New York City

With three months left in the year, the number of these applications are on track to surpass the total number handgun permit applications from last year, reported Spectrum News.

“Business has doubled,” said Seneca Sporting Range Owner John DeLoca.

Customers tell DeLoca they’re worried about crime and new gun regulations enacted in reaction to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling said the state’s law requiring people to show "proper cause" to get a license to carry a concealed handgun outside the home was unconstitutionally restrictive.

“People have the right to protect themselves and their homes,” DeLoca said.

John Jay College’s Associate Professor of Public Policy Warren Eller puts the numbers in perspective, pointing to 2020 when there were 5,820 permit applications.

​“When you’re talking 3,000 even 6,000 in a city of 8.5 million, that’s still a pretty trivial amount,” Eller said.

He said the city did reject 70% of the applications that year. He added all 3,000 will not be approved.

“We’re talking 3,000 — the potential for 3,000 new people to have a concealed carry. That’s not saying they’re going to get it,” Eller said.

DeLoca said the process to get a permit takes a year and half to two years. He believes the rush in applications may only be a fad.

“I bet you in a year, two years, there are going to be a lot more used guns up on the market,” DeLoca said.

DeLoca said the weight of the gun along with wearing more clothes to conceal it may make an open carry permit less attractive.

He recommends applying for a premise permit ​for the home, but said that might not even be the best option for everyone.

“Before I took out my gun and use it I would beat you with my seven iron before I’d shoot you,” DeLoca said.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, September 30, 2022

Oregon governor has granted more clemency than all predecessors combined over last 50 years

Last October, Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, signed an executive order granting clemency to 73 people who had committed crimes as juveniles, clearing a path for them to apply for parole, reported The Guardian.

The move marked the high point in a remarkable arc: as Brown approaches the end of her second term in January, she has granted commutations or pardons to 1,147 people – more than all of Oregon’s governors from the last 50 years combined.

The story of clemency in Oregon is one of major societal developments colliding: the pressure the Covid-19 pandemic put on the prison system and growing momentum for criminal justice reform.

It’s also a story of a governor’s personal convictions and how she came to embrace clemency as a tool for criminal justice reform and as an act of grace, exercising the belief that compassionate mercy and ensuring public safety are not mutually exclusive.

“If you are confident that you can keep people safe, you’ve given victims the opportunity to have their voices heard and made sure their concerns are addressed, and individuals have gone through an extensive amount of rehabilitation and shown accountability, what is the point of continuing to incarcerate someone, other than retribution?” Brown said in a June interview.

When Brown, a Democrat, became governor in Oregon in 2015, she received the power of executive clemency – an umbrella term referring to the ability of American governors and the president to grant mercy to criminal defendants. Clemency includes pardons, which fully forgive someone who has committed a crime; commutations, which change prison sentences, often resulting in early release; reprieves, which pause punishment; and eliminating court-related fines and fees.

During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brown was one of 18 governors across the US who used clemency to quickly reduce prison populations in the hopes of curbing virus transmission.

She approved the early release of 963 people who had committed nonviolent crimes and met six additional criteria – not enough, according to estimates by the state’s department of corrections, to enable physical distancing, and far less than California, which released about 5,300 people, and New Jersey, which released 40% of its prison population.

But Brown’s clemency acts stand out in other ways. Brown removed one year from the sentences of 41 prisoners who worked as firefighters during the 2020 wildfire season, the most destructive in Oregon history. 

She has pardoned 63 people. Most notably, she has commuted the sentences of 144 people convicted of crimes as serious as murder, yet have demonstrated “extraordinary evidence of rehabilitation”.

Democratic and Republican governors in North Carolina, LouisianaMissouriKansas and Ohio have granted clemency for similar reasons. Yet Brown’s numbers are among the highest in the US, and the impact of her decisions are profound: Oregon’s prison population declined for the first time since the passage of the state’s Measure 11 mandatory minimum sentencing law in 1994.

Measure 11 codified mandatory sentences for 16 violent crimes, required juveniles over the age of 15 charged with those crimes to be tried as adults, and ended earned time. Since its passage, Oregon’s prison population tripled to nearly 15,000 people and three new prisons were built.

Brown also stands out for who she grants clemency to. Forty per cent of Brown’s commutations are Black, in response to Black Oregonians being incarcerated at a rate five times higher than their share of the state’s population. Nearly two dozen other clemency recipients were convicted as juveniles. Many were sentenced to life without parole and other lengthy sentences.

To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Crime and fear take center stage in campaigns across the country

One message in campaign ads from Republican candidates and their allies ahead of the Nov. 8 elections is this:

America is a dangerous place. Democrats made it that way.

The ads — in races for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House — aim to trigger fear. They typically contain three elements: News reports of violent events; crime statistics; and blame cast on the Democratic candidate, reports Politifact.

One ad attacking New York’s Democratic governor warned voters their lives could be at stake.

"You’re looking at actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul’s New York, and it’s getting much worse on Kathy Hochul’s watch," the narrator says while video clips show  shootings and beatings. "On November 8th, vote like your life depends on it. It just might." 

These types of ads, said Dan Gardner, author of the book "Risk: The Science And Politics Of Fear," are "very deliberately designed to increase the feeling of a lack of safety. They want you to be afraid because that’s effective. 

"Feeling threatened is a great motivation, we’re wired to respond to feelings of threats," he added, referring to voter turnout. "There’s a reason why this is one of the oldest plays in the political playbook."

Political spending on ads about crime, what data shows

In 448 ads from Sept. 1 through Sept. 15 for Senate, House and gubernatorial races, crime was the third-most mentioned issue, behind abortion and inflation, according to an NBC News analysis.

Spending on ads about crime is high. The New York Times reported on Sept. 26, citing data from AdImpact, a subscription service, that in the previous two weeks, Republican candidates and groups spent more than $21 million on ads about crime — more than on any other policy issue — and Democrats spent nearly $17 million. 

The ads are rooted in real-world changes. Although nationally, violent crime remains below the record rates of the early 1990s, several categories of violent crime have seen significant increases since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

"The murder rate is still 30 percent above its 2019 level," though murders in major cities and shootings nationwide have decreased this year, compared with the same period in 2021, the New York Times reported

In 70 large U.S. cities, aggravated assaults and robberies increased in the first half of 2022, compared with the first half of 2021, while homicides and rapes decreased, according to police department surveys by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, an organization of police executives representing the largest cities in the United States and Canada. 

Candace McCoy, a criminology professor at City University of New York, said the COVID-19 pandemic helped spur increases in violent crime as people recovered from isolation, the loss of loved ones and other residual effects.

"People are just in despair and the trauma radiates," she said. "People get angry when they’re traumatized."  

Max Kapustin, a Cornell University economics and public policy professor who is affiliated with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, referenced the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of police and said it’s not uncommon to see spikes of violence after incidents of police violence.

"Combined with the strain and disruption caused by COVID, and the fact that acts of violence can kick off retaliatory cycles, it means this increase may be with us for some time," Kapustin said.

Some statistics in ads check out, blame is misplaced

Here’s a closer look at the New York ad plus ads in two hotly contested races for the Senate, which now has a 50-50 party split.

The claims of rising crime are often valid, but the blame is often misplaced.

New York: Hochul has been governor since August 2021, following the resignation of Democrat Andrew Cuomo; she had served as lieutenant governor since 2015.

The ad, released Sept. 14, said violent crime is "getting much worse on Kathy Hochul’s watch." It was from her Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. 

Zeldin’s campaign did not cite statewide crime figures when contacted by PolitiFact, but pointed to statistics for two cities, including New York. 

Year-to-date data through Sept. 18 from New York City police shows that murder was down 13% from the same period in 2021, but other violent crimes increased year-over-year, including robbery (up 38.1%) and felony assault (17.4%). 

Governors play a role in fighting crime by helping determine funding for local governments, including police departments. But  many factors, including the stress of the pandemic and the pressures of inflation in the past year, contribute to fluctuations in crime, which is typically viewed as a more local issue. 

One ad attacked a Georgia U.S. senator who is even more removed from the crime problem in a single city.

Georgia: A social media ad from 34N22, a super PAC that supports the Republican nominee, Herschel Walker, targeted Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. The PAC’s name comes from Walker’s jersey number as a University of Georgia football player (34) and the year of the election (22). 

The ad claimed: "Atlanta — more likely to be a victim of murder, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft than Chicago." 

The super PAC cited to PolitiFact a July 27 news story by 11 Alive TV in Atlanta that compared year-to-date crime figures from the Atlanta and Chicago police departments for 2021 and 2022.

The statistics show that on violent crime, the picture was mixed.

Murder and aggravated assault rates, per 100,000 people, were higher in Atlanta than in Chicago. On the other hand, Chicago had higher rates of rape and robbery. 

McCoy, the criminologist, told PolitiFact that crime control is a local matter. 

If candidates for federal office "go around saying that crime is their primary issue, either they don’t know what the federal government does, or they are pandering," she said.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin Truth PAC, a super PAC supporting GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, targeted the Democratic nominee, Mandela Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor. In an ad posted Sept. 17, the narrator said:

"Violent crime up across Wisconsin. Families nervous about their safety. Yet, Mandela Barnes called for releasing half of Wisconsin’s jailed inmates. That would mean releasing over 10,000 criminals right into our neighborhoods." 

The images in the ad included a clip of a man driving an SUV into a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee in November 2021, leaving six people dead and more than 60 injured. 

"From a rational perspective, it doesn’t actually tell you anything about safety because it’s an incredibly unusual, strange crime," Gardner said about the clip. "But from a psychological perspective, it’s extremely powerful."

Some violent crimes have increased in Wisconsin. 

Since Barnes was sworn in along with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in January 2019, homicides jumped from 187 in 2019 to 321 in 2021, according to the Wisconsin Bureau of Justice Information and Analysis. Aggravated assaults increased, while the number of rapes stayed about the same and robberies dropped. 

But the ad misleads about Barnes. He has supported reducing the state’s prison population by half, over several years, but not by releasing half of the inmates. 

Instead, he has advocated for prison education programs to reduce recidivism and for sending drug offenders to rehabilitation rather than prison.

Democrats’ ads about crime, meanwhile, typically have defended their records.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is facing Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, pushed back against ads painting him as soft on crime with an ad Sept. 26 featuring a uniformed sheriff praising Fetterman. 

In Florida’s Senate race, Rep. Val Demings used ads in June and August to highlight her efforts to curtail crime when she served as Orlando’s police chief. She is running against GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.

Will the ads be effective?

Experts’ views differ on whether ads highlighting violent crime are effective in motivating voters.

Two national polls conducted in September indicate that the public believes the GOP does a better job handling crime than Democrats. 

"Republicans have long been perceived as being tougher on crime," said Karlyn Bowman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute think tank whose specialties include public opinion and elections. 

The ads highlighting crime aim "to motivate voters to see the candidate themselves in a certain way," said University of Nebraska sociologist Lisa Kort-Butler, who studies the media and crime. "Tough-on-crime messaging historically and tacitly represents something more than crime: that the candidate is on the side of ‘us’ and against ‘them.’"

Julia Azari, a political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said that in the past, "law and order" messages were used as a wedge to highlight racial tensions and drive some Democratic-leaning voters away from the Democratic Party. 

"However, today, the parties are highly sorted on race and partisanship dominates vote choice," she said. "So it seems unlikely that these ads will function as effective wedges to split the Democratic coalition, though they could still prove powerful in other ways, such as mobilizing Republican voters or tipping swing voters in close races."

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Judge stops enforcement of Delaware law outlawing homemade 'ghost guns'

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring Delaware from enforcing provisions of a new law outlawing the manufacture and possession of homemade “ghost guns,” which can’t be traced by law enforcement officials because they don’t have serial numbers, reports The Associated Press.

Friday’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by gun rights advocates after Democratic Gov. John Carney signed a law last October criminalizing the possession, manufacture and distribution of such weapons as well as unfinished firearm components.

Judge Maryellen Noreika denied a motion by Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, the sole defendant, to dismiss the lawsuit. She instead granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs to prohibit enforcement of certain provisions pending resolution of the lawsuit.

The judge wrote that without an injunction, the plaintiffs would “face irreparable harm ... because they are threatened by criminal penalties should they engage in conduct protected by the Second Amendment.”

While declining to issue a permanent injunction, Noreika said that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their arguments that a ban on possessing homemade guns violates the Second Amendment, and that the prohibition on manufacturing untraceable firearms is also likely unconstitutional.

Noreika said Jennings had offered no evidence to support her assertion that the prohibitions don’t burden protected conduct because untraceable firearms are “not in common use and typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

Jennings similarly failed to substantiate her argument that the prohibitions on possession and manufacturing are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

At the same time, however, Noreika said restrictions on the distribution of unfinished firearm frames or components do not unduly burden a person’s Second Amendment rights. She noted that such components are still available if they include serial numbers and manufacturer information and are obtained from federally licensed gun dealers.

The judge also held that a provision restricting the distribution of instructions for using a three-dimensional printer to produce a firearm or component is not an unjustifiable regulation of speech under the First Amendment.

To read more CLICK HERER

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Mangino discusses Pike County Massacre on Law and Crime Network

Watch my interview on Law and Crime Network with Linda Kenny Baden discussing the Pike County massacre. 

To watch the interview CLICK HERE