Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baltimore murders surge in wake of riot

May was Baltimore's deadliest month since 1999, the Baltimore Sun reports. There have been 108 homicides across the city this year, with 35 in the month of May alone.
According to CNN, council member Mary Pat Clarke believes this month's violence is a legacy of the riots and unrest over the death of Freddie Gray after being in police custody in April.
The riots triggered fires and looting in April, and at least 20 officers were injured in the melee. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and dispatched the National Guard to address the unrest. "It's deplorable," City Councilman William "Pete" Welch told The Sun. "The shootings and killings are all over the city. I don't think any part of the city is immune to this. I've never seen anything like it." Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is "disheartened and frustrated by this continuing violence, particularly when you think about the progress that the city has made," said her spokesman, Howard Libit.
The mayor met for nearly two hours Sunday with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and members of his command staff about adjustments police are making. "She is confident that the steps being taken by the Police Department will quell this latest uptick in violence," Libit said. Batts wrote a letter to community leaders and elected officials yesterday, telling them he has reassigned "several veteran leaders" to the city's Western District. Batts said the city is "in the midst of a challenging time. ... Please be assured that the Baltimore Police Department is moving aggressively to both address the increase in violence, as well [as] to modernize and better equip ourselves for the future."
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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

U.S. Senate: Sixth Amendment widely violated by courts nationwide

Recently the United States Senate Judiciary Committee held a first-of-its-kind hearing to shine much-needed light on pervasive — and largely unexamined — problems in the largest segment of our criminal justice system, reported the Washington Times. Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa heard expert testimony describing widespread violations around the country of the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel for Americans charged with misdemeanors.Our nation prosecutes an estimated 10 million misdemeanors each year. Although some misdemeanor offenses criminalize dangerous conduct — such as assault or driving under the influence — most are for far less dangerous, nonviolent conduct, often involving no harm to another person. These include loitering, minor drug possession offenses, and even boating and fishing license violations.
Troubling recent research shows that many state, county and municipal court systems routinely undermine and often directly violate the constitutional right to counsel in misdemeanor cases. In characterizing this evidence, Mr. Grassley stated, “The Supreme Court’s Sixth Amendment decisions regarding misdemeanor defendants are violated thousands of times every day.” No other Supreme Court decisions “have been violated so widely, so frequently, and for so long,” he added.
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Monday, May 25, 2015

FBI: Patriot Act didn't help solve any big terror cases

In a report released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) admits that the mass surveillance capabilities authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act have not helped solveany big terrorism cases, reported The Week. "The agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders," said DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
The report also reveals that the FBI expanded the scope of surveillance it deemed acceptable under Section 215, investigating "groups comprised of unknown members and [obtaining] information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation."
This news comes as the Senate considers whether to renew, modify, or nix Section 215, which along with a few other provisions of the Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1. 
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Firefighters on the frontline of heroin epidemic

Responding to overdose calls is part of the job for first responders–but they say it’s also impacting the services they provide, reported WKBN-TV.
At Ohio’s fire training academy in Reyonldsburg, Akron Firefighters Association Local 330 President Russ Brode said heroin isn’t a new epidemic–it’s been going on for years. Brode said Akron firefighters go on six to ten heroin overdose calls everyday.
As of May  15, 131 days into 2015, Lane EMS has been on 123 drug overdose calls on the year for its service area.
Officials with Lane couldn’t confirm if all of those calls were for heroin. It did research the ages for the calls. Randall Pugh with Lane said that the calls included people as young as 14 and as old as 82.
First Responders in Akron and Cincinnati say they’re going on multiple heroin overdose calls every day.
“My area that i have is through a major thoroughfare, where we see a lot of people who can’t wait to get to their home to take their heroin,” Doug Stern with the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters said. “They’re stopping at drug store bathrooms, gas station bathrooms, restaurant bathrooms, in the parking lots.”
Firefighters say educating people about how destructive heroin is is key. Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor says it’s an effort everyone needs to be involved in.
“You can’t do just the law enforcement side,” Taylor said. “You have to get the community involved, the faith-based groups involved, parents, teachers, coaches.”
Taylor said Ohio is making some progress in fighting the heroin problem, but there’s a lot more to do.
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Saturday, May 23, 2015

GateHouse:Is Nebraska a death penalty game-changer?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 22, 2015
While a majority of our nation’s 50 states still have the death penalty on their books, that number has begun to shift in recent years. Prior to 2007, 12 states had outlawed executions; between 2007 and 2013, six states banned the procedure.
Now, Nebraska is on the verge of outlawing executions. But what is happening in Nebraska is different.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. That wasn’t unexpected. Maryland’s then-Gov. Martin O’Malley worked hard to get the death penalty off the books in his state.
Three other left-leaning states have abolished the death penalty in recent years — New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut in 2012.
Nebraska is not like any of those states. Nebraska is a red state, a conservative state with a Republican governor.
Thirty-two states and the federal government allow capital punishment. Nebraska may soon make it 31. Lawmakers in Nebraska agreed this week to abolish the death penalty. Nebraska would be the first conservative state in more than 40 years to ban capital punishment, reported The Associated Press.
Nebraska’s vote marks a shift in the national debate because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, argue that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars and question whether the government can be trusted to efficiently administer the ultimate punishment.
Conservative lawmakers who voted for repeal also suggested that the penalty is pointless because it is so rarely carried out.
This stands in stark contrast to traditional law-and-order conservatives who have long stood among the strongest supporters of capital punishment.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican supporter of Nebraska’s capital punishment law, has vowed to veto the measure. However, the vote margin in the unicameral Legislature is more than enough to override the veto.
“It’s looking like it could be a very dark day for public safety,” Ricketts told the Omaha World-Journal. “The Nebraska Legislature is completely out of touch with the overwhelming number of people I talk to.”
On the other side of the issue, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent and opponent of the death penalty, told The Associated Press, “Nebraska has a chance to step into history — the right side of history — to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society,”
Nebraska hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was the preferred method of execution. The state has never imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law. Some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from carrying out executions anytime soon.
The legislation would not apply retroactively to the 11 men on Nebraska’s death row. However, it would leave the state with no way to carry out their executions.
The state’s last execution was carried out during an era when Democrat President Bill Clinton was using the federal death penalty to secure his standing with the tough-on-crime constituency.
It’s a different time. As Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues her presidential bid, three of her Democratic rivals — former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Maryland’s former Gov. O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — are death-penalty opponents.
As Bruce Shapiro recently wrote in The Nation, “It should be clear by now that the federal death penalty, far from reflecting social consensus or meaningful deterrence, is entirely political in nature.” He suggested that the federal death penalty was “designed to sell the capital punishment back to states that clearly rejected it,” and the number of rejections continues to grow.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Practitioners seek to address mass incarceration and overcriminalization

The Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions is the latest to take up the challenge of mass incarceration in the U.S., reported The Crime Report.  The Aspen Institute hosted a forum on the issue recently in Washington, D.C., with three other organizations, the Center for Community Change, My Brother's Keeper Alliance, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
Vera President Nick Turner called the current interest in the issue of prisons and jails a "remarkable moment," noting that presidential candidates ranging from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton already are discussing it. Turner highlighted the high incarceration rate among African Americans and the fact that the U.S. is by far the leader among world democracies in its incarceration rate.
Aspen invited several organizations that are dealing with various aspects of the incarceration problem, from the conservative group Right on Crime, to Take Action Minnesota, which is campaigning to "ban the box," requiring or encouraging employers not to ask about job applicants' criminal histories. One speaker, Danielle Sered of the Vera Institute's Common Justice Program, urged more emphasis on getting crime victims involved in endorsing non-prison alternatives for offenders.
Paul Wright of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center argued that there is "not a one-size-fits-all solution" to reducing the nation's high incarceration totals. He urged more attention to the "overcriminalization of American life" such as imprisoning sex offenders merely for failing to register. Wright suggested that reforms may take some time, noting that it has taken several decades to reach the level of 2.2 million behind bars. So far, he said, rhetoric about reform has outpaced actual policy changes.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nebraska moves closer to abolishing the death penalty

Nebraska lawmakers agreed this week to abolish the death penalty.  Nebraska would be the first conservative state to do so since 1973 if the measure becomes law, reported The Associated Press.
The vote margin in the unicameral Legislature was more than enough to override a promised veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts, a supporter of capital punishment. Ricketts, a Republican, said the vote represented a "dark day" for public safety.
"Nebraska has a chance to step into history — the right side of history — to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society," said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent who has fought for four decades to end the death penalty.
The Nebraska vote marks a shift in the national debate because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, cast it as a waste of taxpayer money and question whether government can be trusted to manage it. Law-and-order conservatives in the United States have traditionally stood among the strongest supporters of the ultimate punishment.
Nebraska hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was used. The state has never imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law. Some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from executing anyone in the future.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate-to-liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011, Connecticut in 2012. But the last conservative state to do so was North Dakota in 1973. Thirty-two states and the federal government allow capital punishment.
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