Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Prisoners will have access to college loans

More prisoners may soon have access to federal subsidies to pay for college under a new Obama administration initiative, ending a 20-year ban on Pell grants for state and federal prisoners, reported Politico.
The move could come as soon as this week. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are scheduled to visit Goucher College’s Prison Education Partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, to make “an important announcement related to federal aid.”
The Obama administration has increased total federal aid available to students by more than $50 billion and increased tax benefits and credits by an additional $12 billion, part of a total of about $150 billion a year in grants and loans for higher education. More than 2 million additional students now receive Pell grants, and the maximum Pell award has increased by more than $1,000.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for such a policy, and House Democrats including education committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced legislation to reinstate Pell eligibility for federal and state prisoners. Prisoners in local, municipal or county correctional facilities haven’t been banned from access to Pell.
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Monday, July 27, 2015

1 in 25 sentenced to death are innocent?

Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations wrote recently for the Washington Post: How many people are convicted of crimes they did not commit?
Last year, a study I co-authored on the issue was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are later shown to be innocent: 1 in 25.
Death sentences are uniquely well-documented. We don’t know nearly enough about other kinds of criminal cases to estimate the rate of wrongful convictions for those. The rate could be lower than for capital murders, or it could be higher. Of course, in a country with millions of criminal convictions a year and more than 2 million people behind bars, even 1 percent amounts to tens of thousands of tragic errors.
The problem may be worst at the low end of the spectrum, in misdemeanor courts where almost everybody pleads guilty.
Why then did they plead guilty? As best we can tell, most were held in jail because they couldn’t make bail. When they were brought to court for the first time, they were given a take-it-or-leave-it, for-today-only offer: Plead guilty and get probation or weeks to months in jail. If they refused, they’d wait in jail for months, if not a year or more, before they got to trial, and risk additional years in prison if they were convicted. That’s a high price to pay for a chance to prove one’s innocence.
Police officers are supposed to be suspicious and proactive, to stop, question and arrest people who might have committed crimes, or who might be about to do so. Most officers are honest, and, I am sure, they are usually right. But “most” and “usually right” are not good enough for criminal convictions. Courts — judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sometime juries — are supposed to decide criminal cases. Instead, most misdemeanor courts outsource deciding guilt or innocence to the police. It’s cheaper, but you get what you pay for.
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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Police officers killed by gunfire down by 25%

While there was an increase in killings of police officers in 2014, that came after a year in which such killings were at a historic low, according to the Washington Post.
Now, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has released its mid-year report on police officers’ deaths in 2015. Through the end of June, the number of officers killed by gunfire has dropped 25 percent from last year, from 24 to 18. Two of those incidents were accidental shootings (by other cops), so the number killed by hostile gunfire is 16. (As of today, the news is even better: Police deaths due to firearms through July 23 are down 30 percent from last year.)
That’s the same number of cops who have died on the job of a heart attack so far this year. The leading cause of deaths for cops this year has been traffic fatalities: Car accidents have claimed 30 police lives, an increase of 20 percent over last year.
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why are so many of Pennsylvania's mentally ill being locked up?

According to The Crime Report, based on an analysis of data from county and state prisons, PennLive estimates that nearly a third of Pennsylvania's 87,756 inmates had a mental illness on an average day last year. Of those inmates, PennLive estimates, about a third of them had a "serious mental illness" – defined as the most chronic and debilitating of mental disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Both those rates are significantly higher than the rate among Pennsylvanians outside of prison.
It begs the question: Why are so many of the state's mentally ill being locked up?
Pennsylvania isn't the only state to have significantly high numbers of mentally ill people behind bars. Multiple studies have found disproportionately high rates in correctional facilities across the country.
Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, said the trend goes back to the 1960s.
Through much of the early 20th century, Humphreys said, a large number of America's seriously mentally ill were held in state psychiatric hospitals.
In the 1960s, however, due to growing concerns about abuses within these facilities and the ethics of confining people for the entirety of their lives, the country began a massive push to close state hospitals and move patients into the community. The hope was that they could live happier and more productive lives with the help of caseworkers and newly developed psychotropic drugs.
Between 1955 and today, America's total state hospital population fell from 558,000 to 43,000 – a decrease of more than 90 percent.
Pennsylvania embraced that campaign, known as deinstitutionalization, as much as any other state. Since 1955, the Commonwealth has closed more than 10 state hospitals and cut its average daily patient population from 41,000 to 1,500 – a decrease of 96 percent.
While the plan to treat former patients in the community might have been well-intentioned, Humphreys said, there was a key problem: Many states didn't invest enough money in case management and other community programs to meet the needs of former patients and those who would've been treated.
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Friday, July 24, 2015

GateHouse: Harper Lee remakes Atticus Finch

          Matthew T. Mangino
          GateHouse Media
          July 24, 2015
Lawyers are often not held in high esteem, unless of course, you need one. “Go Set a Watchman,” the new novel by Harper Lee, has done nothing to improve the image of lawyers.
More than a half century ago, Lee published her first novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Watchman” is her second. “Mockingbird” introduced adoring fans to Atticus Finch. A small-town Alabama lawyer, Finch has inspired young men and women to pursue careers in the law for decades.
Atticus, as his children Jem and Scout referred to him, was a beacon of integrity in a state “dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.’”
Lee won a Pulitzer Prize for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and never released another book until last week when HarperCollins released “Go Set a Watchman.”
Both stories are told through the eyes of Scout — Jean Louise Finch. In “Mockingbird,” Scout is a child of six through nine; in “Watchman” she is an adult of 26.
Although “Watchman” is a sequel to “Mockingbird,” it was written prior to “Mockingbird.” This curious alignment gives rise to some inconsistency. For those familiar with “Mockingbird,” Jean Louise thinks back to her father’s memorable trial at the Maycomb Courthouse. However, Jean Louise’s memory is not the same as ours. The defendant, Tom Robinson, did not have his arm “chopped off,” he was not acquitted and the case did not have overtures of consensual sex between a black man and a white woman.
What Lee does effectively is to bring her readers, through Jean Louise, back to the courtroom where Jean Louise was most proud of Atticus and reveal him not as a stalwart litigator seeking justice, but as an unabashed racist.
Lee also reveals that Atticus — this much revered man of principle and integrity — was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, albeit according to his apprentice, as a means to find out who was under those hoods, “[Y]our daddy did and still does get mighty uncomfortable around folks who cover up their faces.”
Jean Louise, crushed by what she discovers, confronts her father, “I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody in my life and never will again.”
“Watchman” is the story of a young woman coming to terms with her father, her hometown and her life.
Atticus, who was an effective and competent jurist in “Mockingbird,” is revealed as a lawyer intimidated by the legal prowess of the NAACP and frightened by the changes thrust upon the South by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Atticus tells Jean Louise, “You do not seem to understand that the Negroes are still in their childhood as a people.”
We knew little about Atticus after “Mockingbird,” except that in a single trial he was a stand-up guy in the face of strong community opposition. “Watchman” portrays Atticus as a complicated and layered character — no different than any other man or woman.
Just like others we exalt because of a single battle, a heroic feat, an extraordinary athletic accomplishment or for taking a wrong and making it right, there is more to that person than a single point in time.
Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad and most often it’s both. The question that “Go Set a Watchman” raises is quite simple: Do we accept the flaws and move forward, or do we let the pangs of disappointment force us to walk away?
Even in the world of make believe nobody is perfect.
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.
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Vindicator: Miranda rights of accused ‘ain’t what they used to be’

Matthew T. Mangino
The Youngstown Vindicator
July 13, 2015
In Pennsylvania, requesting an attorney in writing is not enough to ensure an accused’s right to counsel before being questioned. As the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona approaches its 50th anniversary, the protections once afforded those accused of a crime, in the melodious words of Duke Ellington, “ain’t what they used to be.”
The Miranda decision is best known for the warnings that police give suspects before they are interrogated. The warnings have been so famously recited during decades of television crime dramas, “You have the right to remain silent ...”
Since 1966, the year Miranda was decided, the U.S. Supreme Court and some state appellate courts have chipped away at the decision. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in separate cases, that even ambiguous Miranda warnings by law enforcement are sufficient, but a less than specific invocation of those rights by a suspect is inadequate.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a prosecutor’s mention of a defendant’s silence before he was arrested or given Miranda warnings did not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights because the defendant did not expressly invoke those rights.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has taken shots at Miranda as well. Last year, the court decided two cases that found simply being silent is not enough to exercise your right to remain silent.
The court concluded that a detective’s testimony about a suspect’s silence was permissible because it was employed for the narrow purpose of describing the police investigation and not for implying the defendant’s guilt.
However, a defendant’s right against self-incrimination would be violated if the prosecution used a suspect’s silence as proof of guilt in an argument to the jury.
This term, in a case titled Commonwealth v. Dennis Bland, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the effectiveness of an anticipatory invocation of the right to counsel, or put another way, a suspect’s written demand for legal counsel before being advised of his rights.
Bland was arrested in Florida in connection with a homicide in Pennsylvania. The day after his arrest, a lawyer faxed Bland a form letter that “reflected a very clear putative” invocation of his right to counsel – a fundamental right provided by the U.S. Supreme Court through Miranda.
Bland signed the form and returned it to his lawyer, who forwarded copies to the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
The request for counsel was straightforward and unambiguous. Yet, when he returned to Pennsylvania still in police custody, a Philadelphia detective came to interview him and provided him with Miranda warnings. Bland did not have an attorney present as he explicitly requested. As a result, he waived Miranda and confessed to the murder.
Bland’s attorney argued to the court, “my client wanted an attorney and the detective knew it.” The court agreed and threw out the confession.
The appeal, which ultimately made its way to the state Supreme Court, “centers on the nature of a valid invocation of the Miranda-based right to counsel, specifically, in terms of whether the right must be asserted in close temporal proximity to custodial interrogation or may be effectively invoked remotely from such questioning.”
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor wrote, “[W]e hold that ... an invocation of the Miranda-based right to counsel must be made upon or after actual or imminent commencement of in-custody interrogation.”
In Pennsylvania, it is not enough to take advantage of a constitutional right of which a suspect is aware. A suspect must wait until she is advised of those rights – of which she is already aware – to explicitly declare her intention to invoke those rights.
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 @MatthewTMangino.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Federal prosecutors split with President on sentencing reform

Nervous federal prosecutors attempted to rally opposition to criminal sentencing reform in response to President Barack Obama’s week of issuing commutations and making pro-reform speeches. reported U.S. News and World Report.
The president and a bipartisan alliance in Congress say inflexible penalties for various drug crimes should be reduced or eliminated as a matter of fairness. But the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys says elected officials should make no such change.
Obama, who recently became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, would threaten public safety if he signs legislation allowing judges greater discretion, they warned.
“The federal criminal justice system is not broken,” Steve Cook, the association's president, said at a lightly attended event in the nation's capital. “What a huge mistake it would be,” he said, to change sentencing laws.
Cook predicted the crime rate would rise and prosecutors would lose a tool to extract information if laws were made more lenient. He also denounced reform proponents for saying nonviolent offenders are being ensnared by tough decades-old drug laws.
The U.S. has the highest number of prisoners in the world at about 2 million, most of whom are held in state or local facilities. More than 200,000 are held in federal prisons.
Cook’s colleagues did not speak at the news conference. He described the event as the first of its kind by the group, which claims to represent 1,500 assistant U.S. attorneys, about 30 percent of the total.
Former President Bill Clinton, one of the leaders responsible for establishing inflexible penalties, this week said doing so led to the imprisonment of a lot of "minor actors for way too long." The association views his reversal as “misinformed,” Cook said: “We think he was right before.”
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