Sunday, September 22, 2019

PA State Police stopped collecting data on race of drivers pulled over

The Pennsylvania State Police, the nation’s third-largest statewide law enforcement agency, quietly stopped collecting data on the race of drivers stopped by its troopers in 2012, making it far more difficult to detect bias, reports Spotlight PA, a project of major Pennsylvania newspapers, according to The Crime Report.
This week, after being presented with the findings of Spotlight PA’s nationwide survey that showed the force was the largest of 11 statewide law enforcement agencies that do not collect race data during stops, Pennsylvania State Police officials said the agency would reverse course and resume collection next year.
“We do feel that collecting this information would yield valuable statistical information for the department,” said Lt. Col. Scott Price, deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
When initially asked why data collection was discontinued, a spokesman for the State Police said it was based on studies that found no evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops. One of those studies had, however, identified “racial, ethnic, and gender disparities” in how troopers dealt with motorists after they were stopped.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the state police, alleging troopers were violating the law by stopping and holding people based solely on their Latino appearance.
The failure to collect racial data can “undermine” police legitimacy, commented Georgetown law Prof. Christy Lopez, a former official in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It makes it look like you either don’t care about disparities, or you are trying to hide what the data shows.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 21, 2019

GateHouse: Killing of 3 teens shines light on stand-your-ground

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 20, 2019
This past week in Rockdale County, Georgia, three masked teenagers - ages 15, 16 and 16 - allegedly tried to rob three individuals in front of their home.
One of the teens allegedly fired a shot in the direction of the would-be robbery victims. None of them were hurt, but, and this is a big but, one of the targeted victims returned fire and killed all three of the retreating teens.
Georgia allows people to take deadly action when they have a reasonable belief it is necessary to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to prevent a felony that involves the use or threat of physical force.
In 2005, Florida passed the first stand-your-ground law expanding on what was known as the Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine permitted the use of deadly force within one’s home without first attempting to retreat.
Florida’s stand-your-ground law stated “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” Georgia’s law mirrors the Florida statute.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws in at least 25 states provide that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker anywhere in which one is lawfully present. At least 10 of those states have language stating one may stand his or her ground.
Research published several years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that stand-your-ground increased homicide rates. Soon after the law took effect in Florida, there was a sudden and sustained 24% jump in the monthly homicide rate - the rate of homicides caused by firearms increased by 32%.
An investigation last year by the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida newspaper, found that the rate of homicides declared justifiable tripled in the five years after the passage of stand-your-ground.
More than 11 million Americans now have concealed carry permits. Stand-your-ground and the proliferation of gun ownership has increased the potential for unnecessary violent confrontations.
Professor Ronald L. Carlson of the University of Georgia, told The New York Times that the Georgia law provides that someone may “use whatever force to protect themselves if a felonious assault is about to be made upon him,” and is not obligated to retreat.
According to the Washington Post, the Georgia case joins a national debate over stand-your-ground laws fueled by high-profile cases. The Florida law came under scrutiny after the police invoked it in declining to arrest George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
In 2012, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman after Martin allegedly punched Zimmerman, slammed his head against the sidewalk and knocked him to the ground. The outrage that followed Zimmerman’s acquittal helped launch Black Lives Matter. As for Zimmerman he had several brushes with the law after the trial, including assaultive behavior.
Not all cases have ended the way Zimmerman’s did. Last year, a Florida jury convicted Michael Drejka of manslaughter for shooting Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida. Drejka unsuccessfully sought the protection of Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Maybe the senseless loss of three young lives in a Georgia neighborhood will cause lawmakers to rethink the idea that gun slinging is the answer to America’s ills.
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 and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, September 20, 2019

Detroit police arrest suspected serial killer

Prosecutors announced murder charges against a 34-year-old man in the slayings of four women in Detroit whose deaths authorities have characterized as the work of a serial killer, reported The Associated Press.
Deangelo Martin is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of felony murder in the killings of the women whose bodies were found in abandoned houses in the city as far back as February 2018, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said at a news conference.
Martin, who was arrested in June, was already charged in the stabbing and sexual assault of 26-year-old woman in May and the kidnapping and assault of a 51-year-old woman in June.
Police Chief James Craig has said he sees similarities between three of the slayings and the assaults of at least two other women who survived attacks.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we believe he is a serial killer,” Worthy said.
She named the victims as Annetta Nelson, 57, whose body was found Feb. 26, 2018; Nancy Harrison, 52, who was discovered March 19, 2019; Trevesene Ellis, 55, was found March 24; and Tamara Jones, 55, who was found June 5.
All the victims were found face down with a used condom beside them, she said. A coroner determined that Nelson and Harrison died of blunt force trauma but the cause of death for the other two couldn’t be determined because their bodies were too badly decomposed, Worthy said.
Police are investigating two additional possible homicide cases that might also be connected, she said.
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Martin’s appointed defense attorney in the assault and kidnapping cases.
Police have said they believe all the women were sex workers.
“Predators ... look for people who are seemingly vulnerable, left out and left behind,” Worthy said. “People that they think will not fight back, people that they think nobody cares about, people that they think won’t be missed. But they’re wrong.”
She continued: “We worked tirelessly to make sure that we can bring them some modicum of justice, of respect and of dignity, no matter what they were engaged in before, during, after they were reported missing.”
Martin was initially arrested in June in the rape and attempted murder of a woman who was able to escape the attack. At that point, police had already uncovered three homicide victims, and teams of police officers and other city workers were searching hundreds of vacant buildings for more bodies.
“This is the kind of case that creates so much fear in our community,” Craig said during the news conference. “We’re very diligent, relentless in how we approach these matters.”
Six years ago, Detroit had at least 30,000 empty houses and 20 square miles (50 square kilometers) of vacant land. Mayor Mike Duggan has said removing blighted houses is a priority in his efforts to revive Detroit since the city’s 2014 exit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Duggan this week announced plans to ask voters to approve the sale of up to $250 million in bonds to eradicate residential blight across the city. A proposed resolution to put the initiative on the March 2020 ballot has been submitted to the City Council.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Oregon's less than unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases to be reviewed by SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled hear arguments on Oct. 7 in Ramos v. Louisiana and determine whether it should overrule Apodaca v. Oregon and hold that the sixth amendment of the constitution guarantees a state criminal defendant the right to a unanimous jury verdict, reported the Salem Statesman Journal.
Apodaca v. Oregon refers to Robert Apodaca and two other Oregon men convicted of felonies whose cases went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. 
Apodaca, then 23, of Salem, was convicted by a split Marion County jury in 1968 of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to five years in prison. According to newspaper archives, Apodaca cut a man's neck with a knife during a fight on State Street earlier that year. 
It took the jury less than 10 minutes to convict Apodaca. 
Apodaca and two other Oregon men appealed their convictions. After the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review, the men took their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the non-unanimous juries that convicted them violated their constitutional rights.
The court reviewed whether a conviction stemming from a less-than-unanimous jury decision violated the men's right to a fair trial by jury as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a fair trial and impartial jury; the Fourteenth Amendment ensures due process of the law and equal protection of law. Neither explicitly states unanimous jury verdicts are required for conviction. 
In 1972, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to a trial by jury was not violated by a non-unanimous verdict in state court. 
Apodaca's and the two other men's convictions were upheld. 
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who dissented along with three others, said the ruling "cut the heart out" of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
Since the ruling, Oregon has continued to allow non-unanimous jury convictions in manslaughter, sex abuse, attempted murder and rape cases.  
Louisiana voters ended the practice in 2018, leaving Oregon as the lone holdout for non-unanimous verdicts in the United States.
A widespread push emerged during the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session to take the issue of non-unanimous juries to voters.
Opponents of the system said it leads to racism, wrongful convictions and serious miscarriages of justice. Even sides who typically opposed each other — prosecutors, defense attorneys and activists — were united against the non-unanimous jury system. 
Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at the Lewis & Clark Law School, said Oregon's decision to allow non-unanimous verdict in the 1930s was the result of racism and xenophobia.
A Jewish defendant was acquitted of murder and instead convicted of manslaughter because of a hung jury in 1933, a public outcry ensued. Many blamed the hung jury on immigrant and non-white jurors. 
The next year, Oregon voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow non-unanimous jury verdicts.
This choice, Kaplan said, effectively silenced minority juror voices and abandoned the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. 
Even Oregon's district attorneys joined in urging legislators to repeal the system on the ballot. 
The resolution to bring the issue to voters passed unanimously and with no opposition in the House, but the resolution died in committee and never went to the Senate for a vote.
Some speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear Ramos v. Louisiana may have contributed to the resolution losing momentum.
“Some felt that we should let the case on the issue pending before the United States Supreme Court, Ramos v. Louisiana, play out before advancing a constitutional amendment to voters,” Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said in a statement after the session ended. “This issue remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to fight to ensure that non-unanimous juries become a relic of Oregon’s past.”
She vowed to work during next year's short legislative session to bring it to voters in 2020.
DOJ lawyers made it clear in the first page of the brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that they were not aiming to address whether Apodaca was correctly decided.
"Nor does this brief contend that a non-unanimous jury rule is preferable to a unanimous jury rule," the brief reads. "In fact, there is widespread agreement among the stakeholders in Oregon's criminal justice system that the state's constitution should be amended to require jury unanimity prospectively."
Rather, the brief was filed to outline the impact of ruling that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity on state prosecutions. 
"I filed the amicus brief in Ramos ... to explain the dire situation the Oregon justice system would find itself in if Apodaca were to be overturned," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. 
As Oregon's attorney general, she favors unanimous jury verdicts for cases going forward.
But, Rosenblum clarified, for 47 years, Oregon judges have relied on the Apodaca ruling upholding the constitutionality of non-unanimous verdicts. 
"If that decision were to be reversed now, hundreds, if not thousands, of past Oregon felony convictions since 1972 could be overturned," Rosenblum said. "Already criminal defense lawyers have set over 250 cases currently on direct appeal in motion."
Oregon Justice Resource Center Executive Director Bobbin Singh said this was an unfortunate position for Rosenblum to take, accusing her of being "afraid of too much justice."
Everyone acknowledges and admits that the non-unanimous jury system is rooted in racism and xenophobia, Singh said. 
"It undermines the integrity of convictions," he said. "I think this is all well-understood and accepted by pretty much everyone at this point. If we accept that, then we should accept it in its entirety."
He likened the current dilemma with the case McCleskey v. Kemp — "one of the most horrific decisions to emerge from the Supreme Court as it relates to racial disparities and discrimination and the death penalty."
In the 1987 decision, Singh said, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged racial disparities existed when it came to death sentences, but said it would be "too disruptive" to fully acknowledge the problem. 
"We can't accept these truths and these realities in piecemeal or in ways that are just convenient for us," Singh said. 
DOJ attorneys said Oregon has a legitimate reliance in maintaining convictions made since Apodaca, saying the brief was submitted to alert the Supreme Court that overruling the 1972 decision would cause widespread disruption in the criminal system, including to the victims and witnesses in each felony case tried to conviction and affirmed in the past eight decades in Oregon.
"The extent to which Oregon has relied on Apodaca cannot be overstated," the brief said. "Oregon courts have given a non-unanimous jury instruction in almost every single felony jury-trial case for the past 47 years."
Tens of thousands of jurors have followed these instructions. The DOJ outlined a future if Apodaca was overturned:
Trial, appellate and post-conviction courts would be flooded with non-unanimity claims.
The criminal justice system would be overwhelmed by the "staggering" number of cases to be re-tried.
Many cases could not be re-tried due to loss of evidence and witnesses from the passage of time. 
In Ramos' reply brief, his attorneys said Apodaca was a splintered decision.
"So even from the very beginning, convictions obtained by non-unanimous verdicts rested on unsteady— indeed, defective — legal footing," attorneys said in the brief. "Louisiana and Oregon relied on Apodaca at their own risk."
They also contended that there is no good reason to believe ruling in Ramos' favor would severely burden the court system. 
Rosenblum said a better outcome would stem from voters, not the courts, eliminating Oregon's non-unanimous system.
"In my view, legislators should refer this important issue to the ballot so Oregonians can vote, and hopefully end the long-standing practice in Oregon of non-unanimous jury verdicts," Rosenblum said. "If we move forward with a referral to the people, I believe the Supreme Court will be less likely to outright reverse Apodaca, and we will be in a much better position to make a compelling argument to the Court to that effect."
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Distinguished DOJ award for lawyers who worked on Kavanaugh nomination

The Justice Department will present a prestigious award to the team of lawyers who did "work in support of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh" to the Supreme Court, according to an internal email sent to department staff .
The email, obtained by CNN, says Taylor Owings, Douglas Rathbun and Craig Minerva along with others across the department were selected to receive "the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service."
The award -- the department's second highest for employee performance -- is often given to employees who worked on key prosecutions.
News of the award comes amid renewed scrutiny of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court last year as a new book is published that contains a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale.
The victim declined to be interviewed by the book's authors, and her friend told the authors she does not recall the incident.
Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor and the first accuser to come forward, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both teenagers. He has denied all allegations against him.
While President Donald Trump has stood by Kavanaugh -- as he did throughout his nominee's confirmation process -- some Democrats, including presidential candidates, are jumping on the wave of renewed scrutiny to call for Kavanaugh's impeachment.
"I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the US Senate and most importantly to the American people," said Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "He was put on the court through a sham process and his place on the court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice."
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

K9s trained to sniff out child porn?

You’ve heard of bomb- and drug-sniffing police dogs.
You may have heard of service dogs that can detect changes in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels. They are trained to wake their masters before they lapse into a coma.
But did you know police K9s can be trained to sniff out child porn?
The Miami Herald reported the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has a 2-year-old yellow lab named Ty that has been trained to detect the chemical scent of electronics that are often hidden in the most unusual of places, reports WJXT News4 Jax.
It should be made clear Ty isn’t trained to detect the content on the electronics, just the electronics themselves. But it’s safe to assume if someone is going to great lengths to hide a thumb drive, chances are there’s some data on it a person doesn’t want you to see.
Ty’s official title: Electronic Scent Detection Canine, or ESDC for short.
“What Ty is trained on is a chemical odor that most of your electronic devices will have in them, and he picks up on that odor,” Clay County spokesman Deputy Drew Ford told News4Jax.
“The suspects and criminals get very, very creative when it comes to hiding electronic devices,” Ford told First Coast News.
How creative?
Think micro SD cards or thumb drives that hold data, which can include offenses like child pornography, tucked inside books, taped to the bottom of drawers, even slipped inside a shower curtain rod.
The sheriff’s department has found the electronics in all of these places, often thanks to the K9 nose that knows.
When Ty, who works with deputies in the department that tackles crimes against minors, isn’t sniffing out SD cards, he’s used as a therapy dog to help anxious kids.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 16, 2019

Politicians blame video games for violence — but the data doesn’t back them up

After two mass shootings that killed 31 people and wounded dozens more, the New York Times reported that powerful Republicans, including the president, blamed an old bogeyman: video games.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” President Trump said in a White House address on the shootings. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
Mr. Trump’s words echoed those of Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader. In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday morning, Mr. Patrick implored the federal government to “do something about the video game industry.”
“We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others,” added Mr. McCarthy on a different Fox show.
Armed with little and often unconvincing evidence, politicians have blamed violence on video games for decades. Their rhetoric quickly ramped up in the 1990s, after games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom popularized the genre of violent first-person shooting games. Since then, video games have been blamed for shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and many others in between.
Researchers have extensively studied whether there is a causal link between video games and violent behavior, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, there is broad agreement that no such link exists.
According to a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”
Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, led the committee that developed the policy statement. In an interview, he said the evidence was clear that violent video games are not a risk factor for serious acts of aggression. Neither are violent movies, nor other forms of media. 
 “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive,” said Dr. Ferguson. “Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
The Supreme Court has also rejected the idea. In striking down a California law that banned the sale of some violent video games to children in 2011, the court savaged the evidence California mustered in support of its law.
“These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively,” Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion. He added: “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s address, the hashtag #VideogamesAreNotToBlame began trending nationally on Twitter, with most tweets mocking the idea that video games were to blame for either of the shootings.
To read more CLICK HERE