Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ambushed judge returns fire and kills suspect

A judge was ambushed and shot Monday morning as he walked toward the Jefferson County Courthouse, and both the judge and a probation officer returned fire, fatally wounding the suspect, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A passenger in the suspect’s car has been questioned by police.
Steubenville City Manager James Mavromatis said that Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. was shot as he walked just outside the courthouse shortly after 8 a.m. The judge was armed and returned fire, firing at least five shots, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla. A probation officer fired an unknown number of shots. And the suspect, identified as Nathaniel Richmond, fired five shots.
The Steubenville police, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department and the FBI are investigating. The FBI is helping with the investigation, said Jefferson County prosecuting attorney Jane Hanlin, “because we asked them to.”
Mr. Richmond was hit three times by gunfire, the sheriff said. He is the father of Ma’lik Richmond, who was convicted in the 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl from Weirton, W.Va. Ma’lik was a high school football player at the time. The case gained national attention because the victim was incapacitated and because pictures from the scene were circulated on social media.
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Monday, August 21, 2017

Some long accepted forensic evidence being denounced

Hundreds of people have been  convicted in whole or in part on forensic science that has come under fire during the past decade, reported The Associated Press.
Some of that science — analysis of bite marks, latent fingerprints, firearms identification, burn patterns in arson investigations, footwear patterns and tire treads — was once considered sound, but is now being denounced by some lawyers and scientists who say it has not been studied enough to prove its reliability and in some cases has led to wrongful convictions.
Even so, judges nationwide continue to admit such evidence regularly.
“Courts — unlike scientists — rely too heavily on precedent and not enough on the progress of science,” said Christopher Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project. “At some point, we have to acknowledge that precedent has to be overruled by scientific reality.”
Defense lawyers and civil rights advocates say prosecutors and judges are slow to acknowledge that some forensic science methods are flawed because they are the very tools that have for decades helped win convictions. And such evidence can be persuasive for jurors, many of whom who have seen it used dramatically on “Law & Order” and “CSI.”
Rulings in the past year show judges are reluctant to rule against long-accepted evidence even when serious questions have been raised about its reliability:
— A judge in Pennsylvania ruled prosecutors can call an expert to testify about bite marks found on a murder victim’s body, despite 29 wrongful arrests and convictions nationwide attributed to unreliable bite mark evidence since 2000.
— A Connecticut judge allowed prosecutors to present evidence that a footprint was made by a specific shoe belonging to a man accused of murder, despite a 2016 finding by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that such associations are “unsupported by any meaningful evidence or estimates of their accuracy.”
— In Chicago, a federal judge rejected a request to exclude testimony of government experts to describe firearm and tool-mark comparisons they performed on bullets collected at crime scenes in the trial of Hobos gang members. The judge reasoned that defense lawyers were free to cross-examine the government’s experts.
Two reports by scientific boards have sharply criticized the use of such forensic evidence, and universities that teach it are moving away from visual analysis — essentially, eyeballing it — and toward more precise biometric tools.
But some defense lawyers fear any progress on strengthening forensic science may be lost under President Donald Trump.
a serious problem.”
The National Registry of Exonerations at the University of California Irvine has documented more than 2,000 exonerations since 1989. Nearly one-fourth list “false or misleading forensic evidence” as a contributing factor.
And a report last fall from the President’s Council criticized several “feature-comparison” methods, which attempt to determine whether a sample from a crime scene is associated with a sample from a suspect by comparing patterns. The council said those methods — including analysis of shoeprints, tire tracks, latent fingerprints, firearms and spent ammunition — need more study to determine their reliability and error rates.
When the reliability of forensic evidence is challenged through DNA testing or other new evidence, it often results in the granting of a new trial, even if there is other strong evidence against a
 Science, an independent panel of scientists, researchers, judges and attorneys that had been studying how to improve the reliability of forensic practices.
Some forensic methods have been questioned by defense lawyers for years, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit consisting of some of the nation’s most distinguished researchers, released a report that found that with the exception of DNA, many methods had not been tested enough to be considered valid.
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Sunday, August 20, 2017

When a white person kills a black man in America

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences, reports The Marshall Project.
In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than the one for homicides involving other combinations of races.
In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Overall, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.
The disparity persists across different cities, different ages, different weapons and different relationships between killer and victim.
“If, for instance, white-on-black homicides were mainly defensive shootings in a residence or business, and black-on-white shootings mainly occurred during the commission of a street crime, then the [racial] disparity would be warranted,” wrote researcher John Roman in a 2013 Urban Institute study of justifiable homicides.
Although the F.B.I.’s Supplementary Homicide Report tracks more than 100 details about each killing, the location of the death is not recorded. In addition, some police agencies, indeed some states entirely, choose not to share some or all information on killings.
Still, the disparities in how police classify these cases remain across widely different circumstances and causes of death. Whether the killer and victim were married, lovers, neighbors or complete strangers, whether they were shot, stabbed or beaten, the trend holds. The killings of black men by whites were two to 10 times as likely to be called justifiable.
Even after adjusting for the ages of the killer and victim, their relationship and the weapon used, the likelihood of a white-on-black-male case being called justifiable was still 4.7 times higher than in other cases.
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Saturday, August 19, 2017

GateHouse: Lincoln and ‘the better angels of our nature’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
August 19, 2017
Hanging on the wall in my office is a painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter — “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.” The 1864 painting depicts Abraham Lincoln sitting in his office with members of his cabinet. It is a stark reminder today of “the better angels of our nature.”
Those men with Lincoln — Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War; Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury; Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy; Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior; William H. Seward, Secretary of State; Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General and Edward Bates, Attorney General — were, as Doris Kearns Goodwin proclaimed, a “Team of Rivals.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1862 that took effect on Jan. 1, 1863. In the wake of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is important to remember what Lincoln did over 150 years ago.
Some say as a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation sat in his desk, Lincoln wrote a letter to Horace Greeley the editor of the New York Tribune, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union ... If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Initially, Lincoln’s advisors were not in support of the Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln first proposed the idea many of his cabinet secretaries were concerned that the Proclamation was too radical.
During the meeting depicted in Carpenter’s painting, Secretary of War Stanton, brought up the idea of arming the freed slaves. Lincoln was thinking of something bigger. He rose, turned to his Cabinet and told them that he had prepared a draft of a proclamation that would free all of the slaves in the Confederate States.
Stanton and Bates supported Lincoln’s idea. Seward and Chase were reluctant and Blair was opposed. Welles and Smith apparently remained silent.
Seward suggested waiting for a Union victory to legitimize the Union’s authority to issue such a far-reaching order. The Battle of Antietam was the “victory” Lincoln was looking for. He issued the Proclamation just five days after the battle.
Chase wrote a letter to Carpenter in 1866, an apparent effort to revise history, noting that he and Stanton appear symbolically on Lincoln’s right in the painting, having “thoroughly endorsed and heartily welcomed the measure,” and the cabinet members who had at first “doubted, or advised delay, or even opposed” the proclamation appear on Lincoln’s left.
The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the 10 Confederate States still fighting the Civil War. Interestingly, the Proclamation did not outlaw slavery or free the slaves in the Union states that still permitted it.
The proclamation also authorized the enlistment of freed slaves in the Union Army, increasing the Union’s available manpower.
Maybe most important for the war effort, the Proclamation also prevented European forces from intervening in the war on behalf of the Confederacy. The proclamation made the abolition of slavery a goal of the war. Most European countries had abolished slavery and were squeamish about slavery in the Confederacy.
As Lincoln hoped, the Proclamation swung foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union and ultimately achieved his goal at saving the Union.
President Lincoln anticipated that the Emancipation Proclamation would be the most important aspect of his legacy. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he declared. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”
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, August 17, 2017

Civil forfeitures on the down swing

Today, three states—North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska—have abolished civil forfeiture entirely, reports the Institute for Justice.

Since 2014, 24 states and the District of Columbia have reformed their civil forfeiture laws:
Minnesota (the state enacted reforms in both 2014 and 2017)
Michigan (the state enacted reforms in both 2015 and 2017)
Utah (the state enacted reforms in both 2015 and 2017)

Fourteen states now require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases:
North Carolina
Missouri (enacted in 1993)
California (enacted in 1994) (excluding cash over $40,000)
Oregon (enacted in 2000)
Minnesota
Vermont
Montana
Nevada
New Mexico
Nebraska
New Hampshire
Ohio (excluding property valued at over $15,000)
Iowa (excluding property valued at over $5,000)
Connecticut
In a similar vein, Utah bans forfeiture for cases where the claimants are found not guilty and are acquitted.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Former President Obama’s tweet on Charlottesville is is the most liked tweet in Twitter’s history

Former President Barack Obama’s tweet on the violence fueled by neo-Nazi’s is Charlottesville has become the most liked tweet of all-time, reported the Washington Post.
Since leaving office, Obama has commented on major events or controversies, including the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, and Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis. He did so again on Saturday, after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Obama said, quoting former South African president Nelson Mandela in tweets.
The first tweet, which shows a picture of Obama smiling at four children, has been retweeted more than 1.1 million times and liked 3.2 million times as of as of this writing.
The message became the most liked tweet of all time, surpassing Ariana Grande's response to the deadly terrorist attack after her concert in Manchester. It also ranks No. 7 among the most retweeted tweets according to Favstar, a tweet tracking site.
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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Some states want to protect people who 'accidentally' run-over protesters

It the wake of what appears to be an intentional act to kill and maim counter-protester by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, VA, it is interesting to note that state lawmakers in at least six GOP-controlled states have pushed for laws this year that would shield drivers who hit protesters.
The bills are part of a wave of anti-protest proposals introduced since the rise of the Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump resistance movements, reported ThinkProgress.
Two Republican lawmakers in North Dakota started the trend in January when they introduced a bill that would protect motorists who hit pedestrians blocking traffic, as long as the consequences are unintentional.  State Rep. Keith Kempenich (R) said he authored the legislation after his mother-in-law was swarmed on a roadwayby people protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages,” the proposed law read.
The bill was rejected in a 41-50 vote in February, but not before it inspired similar legislation in other red states across the country.
In Tennessee, lawmakers proposed a measure to protect drivers from civil liability after a motorist ran into safety workers at a rally against President Trump’s travel ban in Nashville. Police said that five or six protesters ended up on top of an SUV before the driver, who was not arrested, left the scene. The bill failed in a House committee in March.

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