Monday, October 20, 2014

Florida man sentenced to life after 'Stand your Ground' defense

Michael Dunn was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the fatal shooting of Jordan Davis, after an argument over loud music. The judge cited Florida's stand your ground law in the sentencing, saying it has been misunderstood, reported The Christian Science Monitor.
The shooting fueled an ongoing debate over a new breed of self-defense laws, adopted in nearly half of all US states, which make it easier for armed individuals to kill in self-defense in public places.
Florida was the first state to make that change in 2005, and the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 was the most famous test of that law. The unarmed teenager was shot and killed after being pursued in the dark by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. In that case, the judge instructed the jury that, under the law, someone who reasonably believes their life is at stake doesn’t have to retreat from a situation before retaliating with deadly force.
Judge Healey cited Florida’s stand your ground law in his sentencing Friday, saying the measure has been misunderstood and suggesting that Dunn’s actions “exemplifies that our society seems to have lost its way. … We should remember that there’s nothing wrong with retreating and deescalating the situation.”
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

California voters to address prison overcrowding

California’s justice system has been dealing with a prison-overcrowding crisis that has embroiled it in a long court fight, reported FoxNews.
Voters this fall, however, could approve big -- and some say "dangerous" -- changes to the state’s sentencing system, aimed in part at easing the overcrowding. On the state ballot is a proposal that would dramatically change how the state treats certain “nonserious, nonviolent” drug and property crimes, by downgrading them from felonies to misdemeanors.
The measure, known as Prop 47, also would allow those currently serving time for such offenses to apply for a reduced sentence, as long as they have no prior convictions for more serious crimes like murder, attempted murder or sexual offenses.
The proposition would reduce penalties for an array of crimes that can be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors in California. This includes everything from drug possession to check fraud to petty theft to forgery. Prop 47 would, generally, treat all these as misdemeanors, in turn reducing average jail sentences. According to a state estimate, there are approximately 40,000 people convicted each year in California who would be affected by the measure.
“[Prop 47] allows the criminal justice system to focus in on more serious crimes,” Hughes said.
According to an analysis by the California Budget Project, state and local governments would save hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The measure dictates the savings be split among three different areas, with 65 percent going to mental health and drug treatment programs, 25 percent going to K-12 school programs and 10 percent going to victim services.
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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Minnesota sex offenders run for office to gain rights

Minnesota sex offenders fed up with political gridlock over controversial institutional treatment, are bringing their plight to light by running for elected office, reported the Minneapolis Star.
For the last three months, a group of sex offenders has quietly run a voter-registration drive up and down the hallways of the prisonlike treatment center in Moose Lake, where about 460 convicted rapists, pedophiles and other offenders are locked away indefinitely behind razor wire.
Some 155 are now registered to vote — amounting to nearly 20 percent of all voters registered in Moose Lake.
Their goal is to elect sex offenders to as many as eight city and county offices, where they can push for more freedoms and reintegration into the community. Among their demands, the offenders want the right to leave the facility without shackles and handcuffs; and for the city of Moose Lake to allow for halfway houses for offenders who progress in treatment for their sexual disorders.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

GateHouse: Asset forfeitures bolster local crime fighting efforts

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 17, 2014
The U.S. Department of Justice has made it possible for local law enforcement agencies to fund some of their policing practices through collaborative civil asset forfeitures. The process known as Equitable Sharing drives revenue to local crime fighting agencies, but not without consequences.

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 was a component of the Reagan-era war on drugs. The intent of the act was to tap into the illicit profits of drug kingpins. The loss of profits would make the drug trade less alluring and bolster enforcement practices by permitting forfeiture-related revenue to be used to pay informants, purchase equipment, pay investigators and finance complex law enforcement investigations.

The new law also allowed local law enforcement to get in on the action. Pursuant to the act, local law enforcement agencies were entitled to receive a portion of the net proceeds of forfeitures sought collaboratively with federal authorities — up to 80 percent of the seized assets.

In difficult economic times there is an incentive to fund local police departments with money other than from the pocket of taxpayers.

The problem is that not all the forfeited funds were coming from convicted drug dealers or from anyone convicted of a crime. The Washington Post analyzed the spending reports of thousands of DOJ asset forfeitures totaling $2.5 billion and found 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in cases in which no indictment was filed.

The easy money led to an aggressive form of policing known as “highway interdiction.” A vehicle is stopped for a traffic violation, is searched and cash is seized. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back. According to Reason Magazine, “your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

Here is how a person not charged with a crime can lose a large sum of cash: A police officer stops a vehicle for a minor traffic violation and then searches the vehicle based either on the “consent” of the occupants or if the K-9 unit shows up and provides a “dog alert.” A dog alert is when a trained K-9 becomes agitated while sniffing around a stopped vehicle for the scent of drugs. If the dog “hits” on a vehicle there is enough probable cause to search the vehicle.

How reliable are dog alerts?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that as long as a drug-sniffing dog is well-trained his performance on the job really doesn’t matter.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that it was enough that a dog’s “satisfactory performance” in a certification or training program provided sufficient reason for an officer to trust its alert, even though errors “may abound” when dogs get put to the test in the field.

“Law enforcement units have their own strong incentive to use effective training and certification programs,” Kagan wrote.

The incentive for some police departments may be different than Kagan envisioned. Since 2001, there have been about 62,000 cash seizures on highways and elsewhere without search warrants or indictments and processed through the Equitable Sharing program, according to The Post.

The potential abuses of asset forfeiture have long been recognized. In 2000, Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, fought for the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act — with the intent of making it more difficult for the federal government to seize property without evidence of wrongdoing.
This past July, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. The bill changes the burden of proof in federal forfeiture cases making it more difficult for the government to prove the basis for the forfeiture of assets in court.

The FAIR Act would also abolish the Equitable Sharing Program. The act would make it less likely that police and prosecutors would confiscate the assets of individuals guilty of nothing more than driving around with cash in their car.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overdoses from prescription painkillers down

New federal data show deaths from prescription painkillers have decreased for the first time since 1999, while heroin deaths have surged, suggesting some addicts may have turned to illicit drugs as new federal and state restrictions made prescription narcotics harder to get, reported USA Today.
Abuse of prescription opioids, such as the powerful painkiller OxyContin, fueled a surge in overdose deaths, which quadrupled from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,917 deaths in 2011. The numbers are based on mortality data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2012, the latest year available, deaths from prescription painkillers dropped 5% to 16,007, according to CDC data made public by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Deaths from all categories of prescription drugs dropped 3%, the data shows.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Black male teenagers more likely to be shot than white


Black male teenagers are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than are white males, says a study by ProPublica reported by the Christian Science Monitor. Between 2010 and 2012, there were 1,217 deadly police shootings reported to the FBI. Black males between the ages of 15 and 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million; for white male teenagers, the rate dropped to 1.47 deaths per million.
According to The Crime Report, ProPublica looked at more than 12,000 incidents of police homicide reported between 1980 to 2012. In 77 percent of cases where the cause of incidents were “undetermined,” the person shot was black. Between 2005 and 2009, 62 percent of cases reported "officer under attack" as the cause. The study comes with an important asterisk. ProPublica notes that the federal data, which are self-reported by police departments, are “terribly incomplete.”


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Manhunt for Pennsylvania cop killer costing $1.4 million a week

The manhunt to find suspect Eric Frein is costing law enforcement agencies about $1.4 million per week as hundreds of officers from three states have flocked to the Poconos to form a net around the man accused of gunning down two Pennsylvania state troopers, reported The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The round-the-clock manhunt involving as many as 1,000 officers each day is now in its fifth week, as costs escalate and police leave their home jurisdictions to capture Frein.
With no guarantee that the search will end soon, it raises the questions of how long the Pennsylvania State police, FBI, ATF and local officers from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey can keep up the pressure.
The answers to those questions, according to retired state police Troop M Cmdr. Ted Kohuth, are “as long as it takes” and “whatever cost is necessary.”
“It is true that the costs of this are great,” said Cmdr. Kohuth, who retired as commander in 2003 before spending eight years as a police chief. “But the costs of failing to do it are much greater. It would set a dangerous precedent. You do not let a killer who assassinated a law enforcement officer run free.”
The total cost of all that labor tallies nearly $1.4 million per week, not including the many local officers and state officers from New Jersey and New York who have joined the search.
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