Monday, May 2, 2016

Undisclosed informant jeopardizes mass murderer's conviction

Scott Dekraai armed himself with three handguns, drove to the beauty salon in Seal Beach, California, where his ex-wife worked and opened fire. The two-minute rampage in October 2011 left eight people dead and one injured.
Within an hour, Dekraai was pulled over by police and confessed. Numerous witnesses, including a survivor, could testify that he was the shooter. There was no reason to think that convicting him would be difficult.
Nonetheless, Dekraai’s attorney contends, prosecutors decided they wanted some insurance—so they planted an informant in the cell next to him at the Orange County Jail. “Inmate F” struck up a friendship with Dekraai and began asking questions, reported the ABA Journal.
This planting of an informant next to a suspect was not an isolated incident, according to Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders. After a year of investigation, Sanders filed a 505-page motion alleging that the DA’s office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department had a long-standing practice of planting undercover informants next to high-value defendants represented by counsel. In addition, the DA’s office routinely failed to hand over discoverable evidence and, when asked about it, deputies and prosecutors repeatedly lied, Sanders claims.
If true, such practices would be a violation of civil rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964’s Massiah v. United States that police officers who use undercover informants to interrogate someone represented by counsel violate the accused’s Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. And failing to turn over exculpatory information on this practice is a violation of the defendant’s 14th Amendment due process rights under 1963’s Brady v. Maryland.
Sanders’ allegations were explosive, triggering a year of hearings that led to an even bigger revelation: For more than 25 years, the sheriff’s department has maintained a database called Tred for tracking jail movements, but had almost never disclosed its information. That means prosecutors who knew about Tred records could have violated Brady dozens, hundreds or even thousands of times—and two decades of convictions could be called into question.
The revelations were so damning that Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals disqualified the DA’s entire 250-lawyer office from prosecuting Dekraai. “It is arguable whether or not the evidence currently before this court … reaches the standard of ‘outrageous governmental misconduct,’ ” Goethals wrote in March 2015. “What cannot be debated is the fact that serious, ongoing discovery violations continue to occur in this case.”
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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Senators revise controversial criminal justice reform package

Top senators have been quietly revising a controversial overhaul of criminal justice laws. The recently unveiled compromise addresses conservative criticisms that could have derailed the bill in the Senate, reported
Influential Senate Democrats and Republicans held a news conference trumpeting the changes and to try and show a renewed sense of momentum behind the long-stalled legislation that tries to ease mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.
“Obviously, reaching a consensus hasn’t been easy,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “But as you can see, we have a remarkable group of senators supporting the bill. We believe that it truly addresses in a bipartisan way the concerns that had been brought forward.”
The original version passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 15-5 in October, but tough-on-crime Senate conservatives — led by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas — warned that it would inadvertently release felons with violent criminal records early from prison. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was also a vocal critic of the bill — which the first endorser of his presidential campaign in the Senate, Mike Lee of Utah, helped draft — but has been quiet lately as he’s been campaigning.
The compromise won’t satisfy critics like Cotton, but nevertheless has been enough to sway a handful of other Republicans and to get influential organizations, such as the National District Attorneys Association, on board.
For instance, one section of the original legislation to reduce enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted under the Armed Career Criminals Act has been eliminated. The bill also now says that other reduced mandatory minimum sentences won’t apply retroactively for anyone who has been convicted of any serious violent felony. And it adds enhanced mandatory sentences for crimes involving Fentanyl, an opioid drug.
The influential district attorneys group wrote to Senate leaders earlier this week, saying the revised version “filters out the truly dangerous individuals” so they don't benefit from the reduced mandatory minimum sentences.
But the revisions weren’t enough to persuade some Republicans whom backers targeted. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, seen by some proponents as a potential supporter, argued that the revisions would still allow serious drug traffickers to be released early from prison.
“Proponents of this criminal-leniency bill have waged a disinformation campaign because they simply want to reduce the number of people in federal prison,” Perdue said.
That prompted FreedomWorks, one of the major conservative outside groups backing the Senate measure, to fire back at Perdue, calling the Georgia senator’s comments on the legislation “misleading and hypocritical.”
The next step for the Senate coalition behind the bill will be to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up the legislation this year. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has supported criminal justice legislation moving on a parallel track in the House, and the White House backs the effort.
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Saturday, April 30, 2016

GateHouse: President Obama takes on criminal justice reform

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 29, 2016
This week is National Reentry Week. Reentry is a correctional term of art that encompasses the release of prisoners in federal, state and local lock-ups who are making the transition from prison to the community.
President Barack Obama chose this week to unveil a series of federal initiatives designed to model a new framework for prisoner reentry in the United States. The initiatives are being touted as important steps to alleviate the devastating consequences of mass incarceration.
The Obama administration, believes using evidence-based practices can reduce crime by 16 percent and reduce criminal justice spending by a whopping $10 billion.
A new report from the Council of Economic Advisers offers criminal justice reforms that center on the economic gains to be had from reducing the prison population, increasing the number of police on the street, providing for expanded reentry opportunities and investing in cutting-edge policing tactics.
President Obama’s plan has some similarities to Justice Reinvestment Initiatives enacted in 27 states. Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, examine corrections and related criminal justice spending; manage and allocate criminal justice populations in a more cost-effective manner; and reinvest savings in strategies that can hold offenders accountable and decrease crime.
According to the Georgetown Public Policy Review, the reviews are mixed on state Justice Reinvestment. The Policy Review found “significant costs savings have yet to materialize for justice reinvestment programs on the whole. Justice Reinvestment states were slightly less likely to reduce annual costs as compared to non-justice reinvestment states.”
The Policy Review found that from 2006-2013 justice reinvestment states were only .125 times more likely to reduce prison expenditures than increase expenditures while non-justice reinvestment states were .136 times as likely to reduce expenditures.
“The (Obama) Administration is committed to a holistic approach to criminal justice reform that creates a fairer and smarter system in the community, the cell block and the courtroom,” the report suggested.
America incarcerates more people for longer periods of time than any other country in the world and though incarceration played a role in reducing violent crime to near record lows, it has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
According to the report, “A large body of economic research shows that incarceration has only a small impact on crime reduction, and that this impact diminishes as the incarcerated population grows. Instead, the surge in incarceration has been driven by changes in criminal justice policies.”
Beginning in the 1960s crime became a political prop. As the Republican Party effectively used crime to elect local, state and national candidates, politicians of all persuasions wanted the label “tough on crime.” Even Senator Bernie Sanders, a so called Democratic-Socialist running a competitive campaign for president, voted for President Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill that has been blamed, in part, for soaring prison populations.
Politicians ignored the effects of their proposed policies in the 1980s and 1990s. Today the result of those policies is the enormous personal and financial cost of mass incarceration.
The report suggests some innovative ways of reducing crime. The authors forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, according to the Washington Post, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent.
The incarceration trends of the last decade cannot be sustained. If President Obama’s legacy is to include some success in dealing with an overcrowded and racially disproportionate correction system he and his advisers need to work fast.

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 and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Georgia carries out its fifth execution of the year

The 13th Execution of 2016
Daniel Anthony Lucas, a man described by a prosecutor as "pure damn evil", was put to death by lethal injection on April 27, 2016 at 9:54 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, according Reuters.
Lucas confessed to fatally shooting Bryan Moss, 11, near Macon on April 23, 1998, after the boy arrived home from school and found Lucas and Brandon Rhode burglarizing the house, according to court records.
Rhode next shot Bryan's sister, Kristin Moss, 15, and their father, Steven Moss, 37, when they arrived home, and Lucas then "shot all three victims again to make sure they were dead," Lucas' attorneys wrote in court papers.
Georgia executed Rhode for the murders in 2010.
Lucas was the fifth person executed this year in Georgia and the 13th in the United States, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.
Lucas' lawyers described him as a changed man in a petition asking the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life with parole, but the board denied the request late Tuesday. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lucas' request for a stay of the execution on Wednesday.
"For the past 18 years he has devoted himself to learning and self improvement," the petition said. "He has been a model inmate. He has found faith."
After enduring an abusive childhood, Lucas became a "desperate alcoholic and addict, and he committed a horrible crime," his lawyers said, but is "not beyond redemption."
Lucas requested a last meal of meat pizza, steak and cheese calzone, stuffed Portobello mushroom, chef salad with ranch dressing and honey mustard dressing, and orange juice, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Police shootings: The reverse racism effect

A new study has found  white officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects, according to the Washington Post.
The results come from a laboratory project at Washington State University using highly realistic police simulators, in which actors in various scenarios approach and respond to officers on large, high-definition video screens in an attempt to recreate critical situations on the street. The officers are equipped with real guns, modified to fire infrared beams rather than bullets, and the scenarios can branch into conflict or cooperation, depending on the officers’ words and actions.
It’s the third time researchers at Washington State — Lois James, Stephen M. James and Bryan J. Vila — have set up simulations to monitor the differing reactions of police when confronted by white or black suspects. And all three times, they found that officers took significantly more time to fire their weapons if the subject was black, according to their latest report, “The Reverse Racism Effect,” to be published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

North Carolina's death row is shrinking, it's not what you think

Nine death row inmates in North Carolina have died of natural causes since 2006, when the state’s last execution took place, according to The News Observer.
With executions essentially on hold in North Carolina, the state’s death row population is aging. Of the 152 inmates on death row, 66 are age 50 or older. The oldest, Blanche Moore, who was convicted in Forsyth County in 1990 of murdering her longtime boyfriend with arsenic, is 83.
The prison population overall is getting older. At the end of 2015, there were 1,963 prisoners age 60 or older, more than three times as many as in 2005, according to the state Division of Prisons. Nearly 1 in 5 of the state’s 37,000 prisoners is now age 50 or older.
The graying of the prison population is a long-standing national trend. In 2006, the state commissioned a study to document its aging prison population and to help plan for it. The study noted that longer prison sentences combined with the overall aging of the U.S. population had made the elderly the fastest-growing portion of prison inmates.
The report also noted that the National Institute of Corrections defines elderly inmates as those age 50 or older, because as a group they show the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and poor health care.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Obama Administration: Mass incarceration is failing to prevent crime

Mass incarceration is failing to prevent crime, reported the Portland Press Herald, The Obama administration is looking in a few unconventional places for new ideas on public safety.
For example, raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour could prevent as many as half a million crimes annually, according to a new report from the White House’s Council of Economic (CEA) Advisers, a group of economists and researchers charged with providing the president with analysis and advice on economic questions.
Spending an additional $10 billion to expand police forces could reduce crime by as much as 16 percent, they project, preventing 1.5 million crimes a year.
In the report, the CEA argues for a broader analysis of the problems of crime and incarceration, touching on subjects that seem unrelated to criminal justice, such as early childhood education and health care. The authors of the report contend that by helping people get by legally, those other elements of the president’s agenda would be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration.
The authors of the report review research on the costs of incarceration as well as the benefits in terms of reducing crime. An inmate in a prison can’t commit a crime on the street, and the risk of being imprisoned might deter some from breaking the law.
Criminologists have found, however, that criminals aren’t deterred by the prospect of incarceration if they think they won’t be caught. The likelihood of being punished is more important to criminals than the punishment’s severity. And plenty of inmates aren’t habitual criminals. Imprisoning offenders who aren’t likely to commit more crimes in the future anyway is an expensive way to keep the public safe.
For these reasons, the authors of the White House’s report conclude that mass incarceration just isn’t worth the money. Hiring more police officers or investing in public education would do more to reduce crime and create greater monetary benefits for society as a whole, they say.
The authors consider a few ways of reducing crime. They forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration – a massive increase – would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent, according to the report.
The most effective way to reduce crime would be to spend more money on policing, the report projects. Research consistently shows that departments with more manpower and technology do a better job of protecting the public, and the United States has 35 percent fewer officers relative to the population than do other countries on average.
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