Saturday, March 25, 2017

GateHouse: A criminal conviction shouldn’t have a lifetime of consequences

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
March 25, 2017
There is an often repeated maxim in the American criminal justice system relating to punishment, "He paid his debt to society." That maxim is obsolete. Why? A man or woman who has been convicted of a crime carries that debt forever — figuratively and, in many instances, literally.
In Pennsylvania, the bipartisan "Clean Slate" bill would automatically seal the record of an offender after staying crime-free for 10 years with the intent of making it easier for people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors to find jobs and housing. The bill is the first of its kind in the nation, reported the Buck County Courier-Times.
While the bill is admirable it does not go far enough. To make a real impact on recidivism, a bill in Pennsylvania, or any other state, must include all criminal offenses, not just nonviolent offenses.
In 2009, Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura of Carnegie Mellon University wrote in "Redemption in the Presence of Widespread Criminal Background Checks," that there comes a time after a period of crime-free behavior that an ex-offender is no more likely to commit a crime than the general population.
Their analysis was based on a statistical concept called the "hazard rate." The hazard rate is the probability, over time, that someone who has stayed crime-free will be rearrested. For a person who has been arrested in the past, the hazard rate declines the longer the former offender remains crime-free.
The study examined the hazard rate for 18-year-olds when they were arrested for a first offense of one of three crimes — robbery, burglary and aggravated assault. For robbery, the hazard rate declined to the same arrest rate for the general population of same-aged individuals at age 25.7, or 7.7 years after the robbery arrest. After that point, the probability that the former offender would commit another crime was less than the probability of other same-aged individuals in the general population.
Ten years crime-free should entitle an offender, violent or nonviolent, to sweep the slate clean. Leaving an individual's criminal record intact long after he or she remains no more of a threat than anyone else, is simply nonsense.
Easy access to criminal records has increased the stigma of crime, creating formal disabilities — disenfranchisement, housing restrictions, government entitlement ineligibility, statutory employment prohibitions and even deportation.
This is a big deal. An estimated 65 million U.S. adults have criminal records and they often confront barriers that prevent even the most qualified from securing employment, according to the National Employment Law Project. A single criminal conviction should not tarnish a life otherwise spent abiding the law.
The public appears ready to look at alternatives. According to Public Opinion Strategies, a polling company, 87 percent of voters in Philadelphia suburbs said they believe the state "should break down barriers" to help offenders get out from under their perpetual debt to society.
The actual financial debt that comes with a conviction comes in two forms, both equally devastating. First, the costs associated with fines, court costs, administration fees and supervision fees. Former offenders may be saddled with big fines, and state surcharges which may be difficult, or impossible, to pay. Those costs may be around long after a sentence is served.
Those fees begin to add up — the offender falls behind and ends up in jail for failure to pay. The offender loses her job, again, and the process starts all over — a form of indentured servitude.
Second, a criminal record makes it difficult to get a job, public assistance, college loans, public housing, professional licensing and a host of other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. The financial consequences are obvious and failure is inevitable.
A criminal conviction shouldn't have a lifetime of consequences.
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 and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Arkansas official asks Rotary Club members to witness next month's 8 executions in 10 days

A shortage of required citizen witnesses to watch eight lethal injections over a 10-day period next month prompted the state prison director  to call on Rotary Club members to volunteer, reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Citizen witnesses are there to verify that the individual executions are carried out according to law. A volunteer must be at least 21 years old, an Arkansas resident, have no felony criminal history and have no connection to the inmate or to the victim.
"The last times these were set, we actually did not have enough people volunteer," Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley told Little Rock Rotary Club 99 members. "You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21. So if you're interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office."
The eight executions are scheduled two at a time beginning April 17 and ending April 27.
Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said he does not have a current count on the number of citizen witnesses who have signed up for the role. Kelley is making informal inquiries to find more volunteers, he said.
"Depending on the response received, further recruitment may not be necessary," Graves said.
The state's death penalty law, A.C.A. 16-90-502, Section 3, requires that the prison director procure no fewer than six and no more than 12 citizen witnesses for each execution. Kelley must determine that witnesses meet the requirements and that they do not present a security risk.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, March 23, 2017

DOC Sec. Wetzel: Mandatory minimums don't work

Pennsylvania Secretary of Correction John E. Wetzel and Director of Planning, Research & Statistics Dr. Brett Bucklin published the following commentary in the Harrisburg Patriot-News:
Most Pennsylvanians would agree that ensuring public safety is what they want most from the criminal justice system. 
When it comes to law and order we are all willing to pay to be safe, and we recognize that decisions about public safety must never be made based simply on balancing budgets. 
At the same time, many Pennsylvanians are uninformed about a current policy discussion underway in our criminal justice system, which is mostly going unnoticed and hides under the false guise of improving public safety. 
The debate is over mandatory minimum sentencing. 
Several mandatory minimum sentencing laws were found to be unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. 
Legislation to reinstate these laws are right now being considered by the General Assembly, which might be fine if there was any evidence that mandatory minimum sentences enhanced public safety. 
But the record is clear that they don't. 
Statewide crime numbers are only available through 2015, but show that the violent crime rate in Pennsylvania remained the same in 2015, while both property and drug crime rates declined. 
Local statistics from Philadelphia and Harrisburg reveal that crime rates for major crime types dropped in these cities during 2016. 
Crime in Pennsylvania is lower now than it was in 1970, before mandatory minimums existed. 
If mandatory minimums are supposed to enhance public safety, this is not reflected in Pennsylvania's crime rates, which have continued to drop without them.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require courts to treat all defendants the same, regardless of the facts of the case or the person's circumstances.  
This one-size-fits-all approach does not work when it comes to healthcare or education policy, so why should we think it works in criminal justice?    
Some prosecutors argue that mandatory minimums are needed because some judges are too lenient. The fact is that judicial discretion is already structured in Pennsylvania under sentencing guidelines. 
Judges in Pennsylvania sentence within the recommended guidelines 90 percent of the time, and the seven percent of cases where judges depart below the guidelines is mostly due to a recommendation by the prosecutor. Sentencing guidelines render mandatory minimum sentences unnecessarily rigid. 
There is no good evidence that mandatory minimums do anything to make the public safer. 
Judge David Ashworth once again ordered Samuel Santiago to serve 20 to 40 years in state prison for the repeated rape and sexual assault of a girl beginning when she was 4 and continuing for nine years.
Take one purpose of sentencing, to deter future criminal behavior.  The science on deterrence is now clear that it is the swiftness and certainty of punishment that deters, not the severity. 
Mandatory minimums target the severity of punishment by unnecessarily ratcheting up sentence lengths.  For criminals who tend to be impulsive, inconsistently delivered and arbitrarily long sentences do nothing to deter future crime. 
A study by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing found that the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence was not a predictor of criminal re-offending.
Mandatory minimum sentencing wastes taxpayer dollars and diverts limited resources away from pursuing more serious offenders and supporting law enforcement. 
Estimates are that if Pennsylvania's Legislature reinstates mandatory minimums it could cost taxpayers as much as $85.5 million per year. 
For all of these reasons, a bi-partisan consensus has built around the country that mandatory minimums are ineffective and should be scaled back or eliminated. 
More than 30 states have now reconsidered mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  Conservative groups like Koch Industries, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Commonwealth Foundation here in Pennsylvania, have all expressed opposition to mandatory minimums. 

Yet many in our Legislature are ignoring these realities and moving forward to quietly reinstate mandatory minimums. This puts Pennsylvania out of touch with the facts.
To read more CLICK HERE 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump budget will slash funding for domestic violence victims

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” blueprint  eliminates the 43-year-old Legal Services Corporation, the federal entity that provides millions for state-based legal aid operations, reported The InterceptOne-third of cases handled by LSC-affiliated groups involve women who are victims of domestic violence.
Not to mention the cut would deny millions of poor people access to the civil justice system, which would disproportionately impact women, who make up 70 percent of clients served by LSC funds. One-third of cases handled by LSC-affiliated groups involve women who are victims of domestic violence.
Trump wrote that his “aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens — a government that puts the needs of its own people first. When we do that we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.” 
Cutting a program that provides for the safety of domestic violence survivors — among many others — seems an odd way to achieve greatness, according to The Intercept. Currently, 93 percent of the LSC’s $385 million federal budget goes to fund 134 nonprofit legal aid organizations operating more than 800 offices across the U.S. and its territories.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Thiel College-Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project No. 5

The neuropsychology issue raised in juvenile death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court has jumped to non-death penalty cases like juvenile life without parole. Do you think brain development cases will further seep into juvenile criminal jurisprudence?  Explain your position in detail.

Man assaulted by twitter--DOJ makes arrest

A Maryland man has been arrested on a cyberstalking charge in connection with allegedly sending an epilepsy sufferer an animated Twitter message telling the victim that “you deserve a seizure,” federal officials said.
The victim has been identified as Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald who is a critic of President Trump. The Justice Department said that after viewing the strobe image, the victim “immediately suffered a seizure.”
Eichenwald has written for Newsweek about having epilepsy.
Cyberspace is filled with harsh exchanges. However, the allegations in this case suggest it may be one of the first in which physical harm resulted from receipt of a cybermessage.
The suspect was identified by the Justice Department as John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, Md. 
The Twitter message told the recipient “you deserve a seizure for your post,” according to a statement from the Justice Department. The statement did not name the alleged victim.
On his Twitter feed, Eichenwald said that the FBI had arrested “the man who assaulted me using a strobe on twitter that triggered a seizure.” The Dallas police also investigated.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, March 20, 2017

Balko: Bite mark analysis is winless in scientific reviews, but it is undefeated in court

Radley Balko of the Washington Post continues his fight against bite mark junk science, this time taking on a Blair County, Pennsylvania judge. Balko writes:
Every scientific panel to review bite mark analysis to date has found no scientific basis for its underlying premises: a) that human dentition is unique, and b) even if (a) were true, that human skin is capable of recording and preserving bite marks in a way that preserves that uniqueness in a usable way. So far, the discipline has been found to be scientifically unreliable by the National Academy of Sciences, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The latter two panels have called for barring bite mark evidence from criminal trials. Experiments by University of Buffalo scientists Mary and Peter Bush have also found no scientific basis for bite mark analysis.
Unfortunately, none of this seems to matter to the courts. Also of apparently little interest to the courts are the more than two dozen people wrongly arrested or convicted due to bite mark testimony. To date, every single court in the country to hear a challenge to bite mark evidence has shot that challenge down. Bite mark analysis is winless in scientific reviews, but it is undefeated in court.
To read more CLICK HERE