Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mangino Featured on WKBN-TV 27

Officials Debated Proposed 'Castle Doctrine'

Sarah Poulton, WKBN-TV 27
August 25, 2010

If someone breaks into your home, your first instinct may be to defend yourself and your property.

If you live in Pennsylvania, your options may be limited. There is currently no law that protects Pennsylvanians from protecting themselves during a home invasion.

Over the weekend, a Mercer County homeowner shot a person believed to be an intruder. Greenville police said the suspect, David Keck, 46, of Greenville, broke into a home at 150 Plum St. just after 4 a.m. Saturday and attacked the two people who lived there.

The homeowner, Charles Heck, shot Keck, who was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center and was listed in critical condition Monday evening. Keck was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of burglary and criminal mischief.

While the investigation is ongoing, local representatives say they've been trying to devise a law that would limit the liability of a homeowner in this situation.

Many states have what's known as a "castle doctrine," which allows homeowners to enjoy protection from illegal trespassing and violent attacks while in their home. According to State Rep. Chris Sainato, Pennsylvania does not have a castle doctrine.

Sainato, who represents parts of Lawrence and Beaver counties, and State Rep. Michele Brooks, who represents parts of Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence counties, have co-sponsored a bill that would act as a castle doctrine for Pennsylvania.

According to the State Legislature's website, House Bill 40 was originally introduced in Jan. 2009. After lingering in the judiciary committee for more than a year, it was voted out by a vote of 22-4 on May 25 and was assigned to the appropriations committee.

The bill states that the castle doctrine is a common law doctrine of ancient origins that "declares that a home is a person's castle." Sainato said the bill frees the homeowner of liability and gives the homeowner the right to use self defense.

Brooks said she supports this law because people have the right to stand up for themselves, their family and their property. The bill was designed to send a strong message to criminals that law-abiding citizens will protect themselves.

"If a strong enough message is sent by law abiding citizens that we are going to protect ourselves and our families, maybe crime will decrease because people will realize that they won't get away with it," Brooks said.

Some law enforcement officials are against the passage of the bill because they're afraid it will protect those engaged in illegal activities. Mercer County District Attorney Bob Kochems declined comment on this case because it is still under investigation, but he said this is not something that happens frequently.

Kochems said the bill in House is what's known as a "stand and defend" law, meaning a person could defend their position on the street without retreating. He fears that drug dealers could try to claim territory and thinks the bill is too broad, he said.

"[Pennsylvania] already has an effective castle doctrine," Kochems said. "There's almost no duty to retreat in your home, which is what the castle doctrine is."

When informed of this allegation, Brooks said that this law is for law-abiding citizens. She said that if a person is in the process of breaking the law in some form when an intruder enters the premises, that person is not protected under the castle doctrine.

"It's for law-abiding citizens who are being threatened by someone who is breaking the law," Brooks said. "People should have that protection. A victim should have more rights."

Atty. Matt Mangino, who served as Lawrence County's district attorney from 1998-2002, said while there is no existing castle doctrine in place, there is statutory law in Pennsylvania that says a person can defend himself or herself if that person thinks he or she is in imminent fear of being raped, killed or kidnapped.

Mangino said similar bills have been introduced into the House unsuccessfully. He said he's not familiar with the current bill's language, but has an idea of what the bill would propose.

The current statute gives citizens the ability to defend themselves inside their home, but not in public, even if they're in fear for their lives, he said.

Mangino said the difference between defending yourself in your home and defending yourself outside of your home in Pennsylvania is pretty simple: "Outside your home, if there's a means of retreat, you can do that. In your home you don't have to retreat. If you feel you're about to be raped or killed or kidnapped you can use deadly force to protect yourself."

He added that in terms of protecting yourself inside your home, the only permission that would differ from the current statue is that the homeowner would be allowed to use deadly force.

Mangino said he's been involved in some cases where there was use of force. He said he remembers one case where a man was shot in his home, which was also his place of business. The homeowner returned fire, and shot the invader. Mangino said he did not prosecute the homeowner, but he did prosecute the invader.

Mangino said the castle doctrine will also protect homeowners from civil liability. There have been cases in the past where a homeowner, who has used force against an invader, has had civil suits filed against them.

"If they find that you've complied with the castle doctrine, that this person was in your home and you used whatever force was necessary to stop this person, you're immune from civil liability," Mangino said. "In Pennsylvania that doesn't exist. If someone came into your home, you shoot them, police investigate but did not prosecute you, you can still be responsible civilly."

Indiana Paying for Law and Order Reputation

Indiana is paying for its reputation as a tough "law and order" state. Since 2000, the legislature has passed 117 criminal laws or penalty enhancements. In the same time, Indiana lawmakers have not passed a single measure that reduces prison terms.

The result, according to the Indianapolis Star: Indiana's prison population has jumped by more than 40 percent, and the cost of running the prisons has soared by 76 percent, to $679 million a year.

By 2017, Indiana Department of Correction officials say, the cost will balloon to more than $1 billion. Department of Corrections Commissioner Ed Buss is leading a push by the administration of Governor Mitch Daniels to rein in the cost of the state's prison system by changing the way felons are dealt with after sentencing.

Indiana is looking at other “law and order” states who have reigned in prison costs. Texas and Ohio, two states responsible for nearly have of the executions carried out this year, have found innovative ways to cut prison costs.

According to the Star, in Texas the legislature spent $240 million to create treatment programs, specialty courts, probation, mental health programs and halfway houses. Texas also created short-term jails for adults serving less than two years, increased the number of parolees and adopted measures to reduce the number of incarcerated juveniles.

In Ohio, lawmakers received are moving on recent recommendations for change. The experts found, as reported by the Star, that Ohio is being bankrupted by low-level offenders who keep cycling in and out of prison -- at a cost of about $21 million a month. Nearly three-quarters of the state's low-level drug and property offenders serve brief sentences, then are returned to the community with no supervision.

The Star is reporting, that in Indiana no specific proposals are on the table,but these are among the possible options:

» Increasing the number of felons on probation.

» Creating more programs such as home monitoring and work-release.

» Setting up more drug and alcohol counseling.

To read more: http://www.indystar.com/article/20100830/NEWS02/8300319/State-bears-high-cost-of-law-and-order

Monday, August 30, 2010

Supreme Court Decision Could Cost Taxpayers $1 Billion

Federal Prison "Good Time" Calculations Criticized

This summer the U.S. Supreme Court decided Barber v. Thomas, 560 U.S. ____ (2010). A case that will cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money.

Michael Barber originally filed a writ of habeas corpus in a federal district court. Barber argued that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inaccurately calculated his good time credit toward the service of his federal sentence. The good time credit statute provided that a prisoner "may receive credit toward the service of his sentence (15-percent) or up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner's term." He argued that the BOP should calculate good time credit based on the sentence imposed rather than the time an inmate has actually served in prison. The district court denied his petition. He appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BOP's 12.8-percent rule by finding that the phrase "term of imprisonment" could be interpreted in different ways within the same sentence of the statute, according to Stephen R. Sady the Public Defender who argued the case before the Court.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing for a three judge minority suggested, "[T]he Court's interpretation — an interpretation that in my submission is quite incorrect — imposes tens of thousands of years additional prison time on federal prisoners according to a mathematical formula they will be unable to understand. And if the only way to call attention to the human implications of the case is to speak in terms of economics, then it should be noted that the Court's interpretation comes at a cost to the taxpayers of untold millions of dollars.…The interpretation the Court adopts, moreover, will be devastating to the prisoners who have behaved the best and will undermine the purposes of the statute."

Sady makes the calculations, in terms of time and money, and they are astounding: up to 36,000 years of federal overincarceration, costing taxpayers up to $951 million.

Sady writes in an opinion piece in the National Law Journal that, "Congress should now amend the good-time credit statute to require the 15% rate against the sentence imposed that has received bipartisan support in previous legislation and that provides the basis for the federal guidelines' sentencing ranges."

To read more: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202471121126&Too_much_time_in_prison&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pennsylvania's De Facto Moratorium on Executions

An interesting article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer by Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press. Scolforo explores the "de facto" moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania. Three men have been executed in Pennsylvania since the reinstatement of the death penalty--all three asked to be executed. It been nearly a half a century since a contested execution was carried out in the commonwealth.

The article is worth reading if you're at all interested in the state of criminal justice in Pennsylvania.

Pa. executions a rare occurrence

Many warrants have been signed, but only three men have been put to death since the '70s.

HARRISBURG - Last week, Gov. Rendell signed three more death warrants - for an Allegheny County man who killed his wife and teenage son nearly a decade ago, the killer of a Reading police officer, and Jerry Chambers, who is on death row for the slaying of a 3-year-old Philadelphia girl who was beaten and left to die, trapped between a bed and a radiator.
Don't expect them to be executed anytime soon.

Rendell, a death-penalty supporter, has signed 113 execution warrants during his two terms, but it appears likely he will leave office in a little more than four months without seeing any of them carried out.

Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s, only three men have been put to death; all had given up their appeals. The state's last contested execution occurred in 1962, even though the state currently has about 215 men and five women awaiting execution, including 50 who were sentenced in the 1980s.

Despite the lack of executions and the continual flow of inmates sentenced to death by county courts, the number of inmates awaiting capital punishment is gradually declining, though the state's death row remains the nation's fourth-largest.

At one point the Corrections Department housed nearly 250 condemned inmates, but their ranks have been thinned by court reversals, resentencings to life in prison, and deaths by natural causes and suicide.

Rendell says he considers the death penalty a deterrent, but only when executions are carried out relatively quickly.

"It's very frustrating - it's frustrating to the families, it's frustrating to the police," he said. "You can build anything in the world in three years. You should be able to have all appeals exhausted in three years."

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association attributes the state's de facto death-penalty moratorium to actions - or lack of action - by federal judges, particularly those on the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

"What we're finding is there are long stays and long delays in scheduling that are having the effect of preventing these sentences from being carried out," said Richard Long, executive director of the district attorneys association.

But defense lawyers with extensive experience in capital-punishment cases say inadequate funding of criminal defense on the state level is the main reason for the lack of executions. They contend that the state's capital-murder trials are plagued by problems that state and federal appeals courts cannot ignore, that there are systemic problems with how the state conducts capital cases, and that Rendell's three-year proposal would exacerbate those conditions.

"Speeding people through the justice system is what, historically, has led to false convictions and people being killed," said Michael Engle, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He said eliminating the death penalty would save money, lighten the appellate caseload, and stop the use of death sentences that mislead victims' families.

Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978, state courts have overturned 80 death sentences and state and federal courts an additional 44, said Harrisburg-based assistant federal defender Robert Dunham, who led the Death Penalty Resource Center in the 1990s.

More than half were overturned because of ineffective defense lawyering; prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination in jury selection, and improper argument and jury instructions were other causes, he said.

Of those 124 cases, 69 had a subsequent final determination, and only five death sentences were reinstated, he said. Many reversals occur with the full consent of prosecutors, in recognition of problems that occurred at trial. Those figures relate to post-conviction appeals, not direct appeals that are confined to the trial record - 93 more sentences were overturned through direct appeal, often involving invalid aggravating circumstances, problems with evidence, and improper argument or jury instructions.

"So long as Pennsylvania systematically fails to adequately provide resources at trial, cases will be reversed post-conviction," Dunham said.

Lawyer Marc Bookman, a founder of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, said "an ungodly amount of money" has been spent on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

"Aside from the moral issue, it's an incredible waste of money," Bookman said. "We're propping this thing up so that some of our leaders can claim to be tough on law and order.

"But it's all just a farce. It's all just pretend."

Read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/pa/20100829_Pa__executions_a_rare_occurrence.html#ixzz0y19nIZ9X

Sexting Hot Issue With Many State Legislatures

Last month I wrote about the Tunkhannock Effect for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/08/tunkhannock-effect.html. The article explored the many traps that existed for a prosecutor who wanted to do the right thing but over stepped his boundaries. The First Amendment got into the way and may have an impact on the proliferation of sexting legislation around the country.

This year, at least 16 states have introduced or are considering bills or resolutions aimed at sexting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In general, the legislation is aimed at educating youth about the risks of sexting, deterring them from the practice and imposing penalties for taking part in the activity.

Illinois enacted a law this year that makes it misdemeanor offense for those under age 17 to knowingly disseminate materials that depict nudity or other sexual activity by electronic transfer.

Arizona enacted a law that makes it a misdemeanor to use an electronic communication device to transmit visual sexual depictions of minors.

The Indiana Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would make it a separate delinquent act for those under age 18 to disseminate any material that depicts nudity or sexual conduct of minors. But there was confusion over the bill, and the issue was punted to the study committee.

"It's a national concern," Indiana State Representative Linda Lawson, chairwoman of the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, told the Associated Press. "Parents are concerned, schools are concerned. My job is to figure out what we should do here."

Lawmakers should move cautiously in trying to curb the practice of teens sending racy photos or videos of minors by cell phones. In Pennsylvania, policymakers have learned that influencing morality, interfering with the First Amendment and being overzealous can undo the best of intentions.

To read more: http://www.nwitimes.com/news/state-and-regional/indiana/article_6c596279-59bb-54ed-b264-21ec01b2c765.html

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ohio Seeks to Execute Victim of Botched Execution

Death Row Inmate Challenges States's Second Try

On September 15, 2009, Rommell Broom was escorted to the Ohio death chamber at Lucasville Prison. He was to be executed for the 1994 rape and stabbing death of a 14-year-old Cleveland girl as she walked home from a football game.

Two hours later, Broom walked back out of the death chamber. Governor Ted Strickland halted Broom's execution after the corrections staff tried for two hours to find a suitable vein for injection of the lethal three drug cocktail. Broom said he was stuck with needles at least 18 times, with pain so intense that he cried and screamed.

The botched execution of Broom set in motion a number of unprecedented reforms in Ohio regarding capital punishment. First,the state added a backup method that allows executioners to inject two drugs directly into muscle if a usable vein cannot be found. Secondly, the state adopted a new method of execution switching the IV injection from three drugs to one. The new one drug--Ohio Method--has been adopted by Washington and is being looked at by other states.

The botched execution also opened the door for Broom to challenge the constitutionality of another execution attempt pursuant to the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost denied a motion by the state to dismiss the challenge against another lethal injection attempt on Broom. The Court also found that Broom can continue arguing that he should have access to attorneys during any future execution attempt.

The state opposes Broom's challenge. Ted Hart, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office, told the Associated Press, the judge "simply held that Broom's claim is plausible enough to survive immediate dismissal."

To read more: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ju0_UPvEVxUhVLghH9flkDra4lEAD9HS3F580

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kentucky’s Baze Gets Unlikely Execution Delay

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear set a September 16 execution date for convicted rapist and murderer Gregory L. Wilson. At the same time he held off signing two other death warrants because there is a shortage of a key drug used in executions.

Wilson was sentenced October 31, 1988, to die for his part in the 1987 kidnapping and murder of Deborah Pooley a year earlier in Kenton County in Northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from her hometown of Hamilton, Ohio.

Beshear selected Wilson's case from among three recommended for execution warrants by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway because it was the oldest.

Requests for execution dates are pending for Ralph Baze, convicted of killing a sheriff and a deputy in 1992, and Robert Carl Foley, convicted in 1993 and 1994 of killing six people in two incidents.

Beshear said the state has only enough sodium thiopental for one execution. Sodium thiopental is a powerful anesthetic that is used as part of a lethal three drug cocktail administered intravenously during executions. Kentucky's new supply of the drug isn't expected until early 2011.

The Ralph Baze being temporarily spared is the same Ralph Baze who gained notoriety when he unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection. In Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of Baze and Thomas Bowling, who were on Kentucky’s death row. They argued that executing them by lethal injection would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. On April 16, 2008 the Court rejected the challenge thereby upholding Kentucky's method of lethal injection. The Court’s decision also ended a de facto moratorium that had been imposed when the court took up the case.

Ironically, Baze is now being kept alive by an inadequate supply of the very drugs he unsuccessfully challenged. At least 100 offenders have been executed nationwide since the court ruled on Baze’s challenge in 2008.

To read more: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100825/NEWS01/308250107/Beshear+decides+one+killer+will+be+executed+Sept.+16

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Execution Ban Lifted in Washington state

Killer Scheduled to be Executed in Spetmeber, First Execution Since 2001

The state of Washington has lifted its de facto moratorium on executions. A recent state Supreme Court decision rejected an argument that the state's method of lethal injection amounted to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to the Seattle Times, a unanimous opinion written by Justice Debra Stephens, lifted a stay of execution for death-row inmate, Cal Coburn Brown. His execution is scheduled for September 10. The ruling puts Brown on the road to being the first person executed in Washington since 2001.

Brown was convicted of raping, torturing and killing a woman in a Seattle hotel in 1991, before leaving her body in the trunk of her car. He was arrested in California after being accused of another brutal sexual assault and murder.

Brown's appeal, which was joined by two other condemned inmates, had put a hold on executions for the past year as the case wound through the courts.

During Brown's trial he argued that a single drug method of execution was more humane that the current three drug process. The trial judge found that the three drug method did not violate the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

However, before the case reached the Supreme Court, Washington changed its method of execution to the "Ohio method" or the single drug method. Ohio became the first state to move to a single drug method. The single lethal dose of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, has been used without problems in eight Ohio executions.

According to the Times, the new policy makes one-drug lethal injection the primary method of death, but also allows the inmate to choose the three-drug method, or hanging. Since Washington reinstituted the death penalty in 1975, the state has executed four killers. There are currently eight men on Washington's death row.

To read more: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012485671_lethalinjection30m.html?syndication=rss

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Governor Rendell Signs Three Execution Warrants

Governor Edward G. Rendell has signed execution warrants for Kenneth Hairston, Cletus Rivera and Jerry Chambers. The three offenders are being held in the State Correctional Institution at Greene.

Hairston, 59, of Allegheny County, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for killing his wife, Katherine, and their teenage autistic son, Sean, in June 2001. He is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

In August 2008, Rivera, 28, was convicted of the shooting death of Reading police officer Scott Wertz. Officer Wertz was pursuing Rivera after responding to an altercation outside of a local convenience store in August 2006. Rivera was believed to have fired gunshots during the fight. Rivera's execution is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Chambers, 38, was sentenced to death in May 2005 for murdering three-year-old Porchia Bennett in Philadelphia on Aug. 16, 2003. His execution date is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21.

With these three warrants, Governor Rendell has now signed 113 execution warrants. None of those warrants have resulted in an execution. The last person executed in Pennsylvania was Gary Heidnik. He was executed on July 6, 1999. He kidnapped, tortured and raped six women and kept them prisoner in his Philadelphia basement. He murdered two of his victims.

Court Slams Troy Davis’ Quest to Prove Innocence

A federal judge ruled that Troy Anthony Davis failed to prove his innocence after the U.S. Supreme Court gave him a rare opportunity to clear his name.

Davis was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in 1991 for the slaying of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, who was shot while rushing to aid a homeless man being attacked outside a bus station.

The Supreme Court's decision to grant Davis an evidentiary hearing was extraordinary because federal death penalty appeals normally look only at questions of due process and constitutional violations, not guilt or innocence. The Court's order granting Davis a hearing was the first time in 50 years the high court had issued such an order.

To read more about the hearing please see these links to previous posts on this blog: http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/06/troy-davis-unprecedented-hearing-this.html http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/06/troy-davis-rare-innocense-hearing.html

After hearing two days of testimony in June, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. found that Davis is not entitled to a new trial or dismissal of the charges.
"After careful consideration and an in-depth review of twenty years of evidence," wrote Judge Moore, "the Court is left with the firm conviction that while the State's case may not be ironclad, most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr. Davis of Officer MacPhail's murder. A federal court simply cannot interpose itself and set aside a jury verdict in this case absent a truly persuasive showing of innocence. To act contrarily would wreck complete havoc on the criminal justice system."

"Ultimately," concluded Judge Moore, "while Mr. Davis's new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors. The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value."

According to the Fulton County Daily Report, Judge Moore's order suggested he viewed his role in the case as that of a "magistrate" for the Supreme Court, with any appeal to go directly to the Supreme Court, and he directed the district court clerk to forward the order to the justices.

The ruling against Davis sets the stage for Georgia officials to move forward with scheduling an execution date.

To read more: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202471011420&Ga_Death_Row_Inmate_Failed_to_Prove_Innocence_Rules_Federal_Judge

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memphis Uses Computer Model to CRUSH Crime

Memphis endured 28.8-percent fewer crimes during the first six months of 2010, compared with the same period in 2006. Overall crime dipped from 33,160 reported incidents to 23,598.

Why compare the first half of this year to 2006? In 2006, Memphis launched an evidence-based crime analysis computer model called Crime Reduction Utilizing Statistical History (CRUSH).

The department's Blue CRUSH initiative uses a daily analysis of computer data to define the city's crime "hot spots" so management know exactly where to put their manpower.

The police department Director Larry Goodwin teamed with University of Memphis criminologist Richard Janikowski to help develop Blue CRUSH several years ago. They continually study ways to improve the system.

Godwin told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he believes the innovative business model has played a key role in reducing crime. He also points to organizational changes since 2005, including sending officers deep under cover to infiltrate gangs and drug rings; creating a felony assault unit to investigate shootings, stabbings and severe beatings; and getting officers reliable equipment.

"Blue CRUSH is about putting police in the right place on the right day at the right time and you'll either prevent crime or catch someone committing a crime," Janikowski told the Commercial Appeal.

Traditionally, crime data has been analyzed monthly -- not daily -- meaning much of the information was stale by the time it reached the command staff, and then trickled down to the officers on the street.

Also, crime trends were tracked by wards, which are large areas. Blue CRUSH allows police to pinpoint their troubled areas down to the block, Goodwin told the Commercial Appeal.

Blue Crush is another example, not unlike the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA that have been profiled on this blog, of law enforcement agencies taking advantage of sophisticated evidence-based practices to fight crime.

The success of evidence-based practices are not going unnoticed. The Crime Report recently cited the efforts of U.S. House of Representatives' Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott who, in a recent address, said that what works in fighting crime “are not emotion-based, but evidence-based, practices. So, even in the face of the political games that are being played in Congress and the state legislatures, it is critical for you to remain committed to learning, implementing, and developing practices that are based in what actually works, and not what just sounds good.”

He said studies have shown that on average, evidenced-based prevention and intervention programs save about $5 for every $1 dollar spent. That sound like smart policing in tough economic times.

To read more: http://www.blogger.com/Blue%20Crush

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tennessee Governor Commutes Woman’s Death Sentence to Life in Prison

Gaile Owens was scheduled to be the first woman executed in Tennessee since record keeping began. She was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of her husband, Ron Owens, a respected associate director of nursing at a Memphis hospital.

On Feb. 17, 1985, she and her two young boys, Brian and Stephen, found Ron in a fetal position on the living-room carpet of their two-story home outside Memphis. His skull had been crushed in with a blunt instrument.

Detectives were later tipped off that Owens had made several visits to a rough Memphis neighborhood, hoping to solicit someone to murder her husband. Among those she approached was a local mechanic, Sidney Porterfield, who after hours of interrogation confessed to the killing.

Owens had exhausted her legal appeals and was set to die by lethal injection in September when Governor Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence to life in prison.

According to Nashville Public Radio, Bredesen said he studied 33 cases of wives who hired someone to kill their husbands. As a result, the reasoning behind the commutation included the following, “While that in no way excuses arranging for murder, that possibility of abuse and the psychological conditions that can result from that abuse seems to me at least a factor affecting the severity of the punishment.” Another factor was that Owens accepted a plea bargain for life in prison in exchange for her guilty plea. The deal hinged on Porterfield, her co-defendant, also pleading guilty, he refused to accept the plea.

Being on death row, Owens wasn’t able to build up credit for good behavior, so beyond commuting her sentence, Governor Bredesen also gave her a thousand days of so-called “prisoner sentence reduction credits.”

With good behavior, Owens will be eligible for parole in less than two years.

To read more: http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/by-lifting-gaile-owens-death-sentence-gov-phil-bredesen-redresses-a-quarter-century-of-judicial-missteps/Content?oid=1667674

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sex Offender Shantytowns May Soon Return to Miami

A year ago, as many as 140 people, mostly sex offenders, lived under the bridge over Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami. The situation was aggravated when already onerous residency restrictions that required sex offenders to keep 1,000 feet away from where children gather was expanded by local ordinance to 2,500 feet.

Lawsuits were filled, as the shantytown became a national disgrace. As the suits wore on, the Miami-based Homeless Trust decided to take action. Part of the trust's mission is to clear up homeless encampments.

According to the Miami Herald, last October, the trust awarded an $818,800 contract to Tampa-based Lutheran Services of Florida, which identified available housing, offered employment assistance and agreed to pay rent and utilities. The homeless sex offenders did not receive the money, Lutheran Services paid landlords directly. In March, the entrance to the old camp was sealed off and the nonprofit located housing for 92 sex offenders.

However, the Herald is reporting that many of the Tuttle Causeway sex offenders are once again homeless, and many of others are on the verge of being out on the streets again. Most are unemployed and unable to continue to pay the rent that was subsidized for six-months by the Homeless Trust.

The inevitable result, some say, is that a sex-offender camp could emerge in a new location any day now.

"If they can't afford rent, we may be back to square one," Jill Levenson, a professor at Lynn University in Boca Raton who is studying the impact of residency restrictions told the Herald. `"The problem with this solution it was only temporary, a band-aid."

My Take

The problem in Miami is not that they have more sex offenders than other major cities; or that the Miami sex offenders are more dangerous; or that they are less motivated to work; or that Miami employers are less likely to hire sex offenders. The problem is that Miami-Dade County's residency restrictions are five-times more restrictive than the state's residency restriction.

Florida requires that sex offenders stay 1,000 feet from where children gather, Miami-Dade County, which can enact more restrictive legislation than the state, requires a buffer of nearly one-half mile. That virtually eliminates sex offenders from living anywhere in Miami, maybe with the exception of living under a bridge.

Can this problem be solved? The Herald reported that Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter A. McNeil wrote to the Homeless Trust: "[U]sing the 1,000-foot criteria, most of the sex offenders living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway would be able to find a place to live in accordance with state law."

It is that simple. Are children in Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville at greater risk than those in Miami? Have sexual assaults of children decreased in Miami as compared to other cities in Florida? Miami's draconian residency restriction is a solution in search of a problem.

The Miami residency restriction actually makes children more vulnerable as sex offenders are forced underground. They are less easily monitored, and supervision is more difficult. Sex offenders caught up in this irrational, knee-jerk response to a serious problem often are left with little stability, no community support, no home and no hope.

To read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/07/26/v-fullstory/1747834/for-sex-offenders-wandering-awaits.html#ixzz0xLIkLTAw

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A West Coast Look at Predictive Analysis

UCLA Doing Research on Crime Fighting Predictive Analysis

Thursday's post explored the research being done by Dr. Richard Berk of the University of Pennsylvania with regard to predictive analysis and its application to criminal activity. http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/08/upenn-professor-predicting-criminal.html.

Today the Los Angeles Times reported on work being done by professors at UCLA regarding predictive analysis. According to the Times, predictive policing is rooted in the notion that it is possible, through sophisticated computer analysis of information about previous crimes, to predict where and when crimes will occur. At universities and technology companies in the U.S. and abroad, scientists are working to develop computer programs that, in the most optimistic scenarios, could enable police to anticipate, and possibly prevent, many types of crime.

Jeff Brantingham, a UCLA anthropologist who is helping to supervise the university's predictive policing project told the Times, "The naysayers want you to believe that humans are too complex and too random — that this sort of math can't be done."

"But humans are not nearly as random as we think," he said. "In a sense, crime is just a physical process, and if you can explain how offenders move and how they mix with their victims, you can understand an incredible amount."

George Mohler, a UCLA mathematician, makes the case that the time and place of past crimes can be used to determine where and when future crimes are most likely to occur. To do this, he argues, police need to start thinking of crimes the way seismologists think of earthquakes and aftershocks.

According to the Times, Mohler's theory stems from a peculiar aspect of crime. Much as an earthquake sets off aftershocks, some types of crimes have a contagious quality to them.

When a home is burglarized, for example, the same house and others in its immediate surroundings are at much greater risk of being victimized in the days that follow. The phenomenon is called an exact or near-repeat effect.

The same dynamic can explain the way rival gangs retaliate against one another. And, although it is harder to pin down in more complex crimes that are motivated by passion or other emotions, experts tell the Times it holds true there as well.

There are skeptics who, as in Thursday's post, invoke the movie "Minority Report" (the 2002 sci-fi film in which cops arrest people for crimes they are about to commit)as a prelude to the hidden dangers of using predictive analysis to combat crime. The LAPD is quick point-out that the technology will not turn the city into a real-life version of "Minority Report."

"There is the science of policing, and there is the art of policing," said LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who relies heavily on technology as the head of the department's counterterrorism efforts but remains wary of predictive policing.

Downing told the Times,"It is really important that we learn how to blend the two. If it becomes all about the science, I worry we'll lose the important nuances."

To read more: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-predictcrime-20100427-1,0,7558446.story?page=2

Cleveland Legislator Wants to Sanitize Criminal Records

If the following editorial did not appear in a reputable newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, it would be hard to believe it is true. An Ohio state senator has sponsored a bill, along with 5 co-sponsors, that would require the criminal record of any non-violent offender to be wiped from her record after 5 crime free years.

However, expungement is not enough. The record, or any reference to the offense, must be purged from the media archives, even the Internet, or there will be consequences.

The Dispatch reports like this:

A bill sponsored by state Senator Shirley A. Smith of Cleveland would allow nonviolent criminals with multiple convictions to ask to have their police and court records sealed after they've gone five years without any legal trouble. That's troubling enough: Society is entitled to know when someone repeatedly has broken the law, violently or not.

But Smith's bill goes much further: Incredibly, it would require that individuals and private businesses destroy any records they have of the convictions of people whose records have been sealed. Newspapers and other news media would have to delete old stories from their archives and the Internet. Should one slip up and fail to alter these histories, the penalty would be steep: a $250,000 fine. Someone who intentionally told others about an expunged conviction would be hit for $500,000 and $1 million if the information went out over the Internet.

This troubling sci-fi-esque legislation is a testament to the need for truly part-time legislative bodies. The full-time legislator has too much time to dream-up ridiculous, unconstitutional blabber that has no chance of passing and has no place within a conscientious deliberative body.

It is good to see the dispatch call out Senator Smith and her co-sponsors (Senators Teresa Fedor of Toledo, Dale Miller of Cleveland, Sue Morano of Lorain, Nina Turner of Cleveland, and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati) for such nonsense.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Public Defenders Fight for Smaller Caseloads

The current sputtering economy has hit states particularly hard. The result has been dramatic cuts in corrections, law enforcement and prosecution. Many criminal justice observers are concerned that the significant reductions in crime are in peril because of the budget woes.

Often overlooked in this debate are the legal protections that must be provided to those accused of a crime, especially those who cannot afford to pay for their own legal counsel.

Nearly fifty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). In the case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own attorneys. The case overruled Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942), that found special circumstances like illiteracy, stupidity or being in an especially complicated trial, must be present for the court to appoint counsel.

What resulted was the establishment of public defender offices, paid by states or counties, to represent indigent people accused of not only felonies but any crime that could result in jail time.
With the public defender came another layer of criminal justice costs. That group of practioners is, accoridng to some, now "overworked and underpaid." The issue is coming to a head in places like Missouri where the public defenders are invovled in a work slow down.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the defenders say they are overworked beyond the breaking point. Some prosecutors say they don't believe it. And the sides cannot agree on a common set of numbers to frame their dispute.

Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, has complained that if he can prosecute 100 percent of the criminal cases with 31 trial lawyers, the public defender should be able to handle the 28 percent it represents with its 17 lawyers.

Public defenders in Florida have taken similar measures, according to the National Center for State Courts.

Some critics have accused the Missouri system of exaggerating its problems to pressure the Legislature for more money in tight times, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Dean Dankelson, who is president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and Jasper County prosecuting attorney, recently told the Post-Dispatch that the tactics are "reckless, self-interested and irresponsible," and accused the defenders of "attempting to hold the entire criminal justice system hostage."

The pay range for public defenders starts at $37,296 and goes to $68,000 for the district defender, the top attorney in each office.

To read more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/article_01e30ffd-ae92-504a-b91a-bc89a35e7e07.html

Thursday, August 19, 2010

UPenn Professor Predicting Criminal Behavior

Richard Berk, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has developed new crime prediction software intended to reduce the rate of many crimes including murder.

Predicting future crimes does sound, well, futuristic, Berk told Discovery Magazine. Even his students at the University of Pennsylvania compare his research to the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report."

In the interest of full disclosure, I earned a Master Degree in Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. I had the pleasure of working with faculty members who were working directly with Professor Berk. The work being done at Penn is extraordinary.

Nevertheless, Berk said, it is more "Like trying to find the needle in the haystack" than the glitzy work portrayed in Minority Report.

Discovery Magazine goes into detail explaining the genesis of Berk's work. Beginning several years ago, the researchers assembled a data set of more than 60,000various crimes, including homicides. Using an algorithm they developed, they found a subset of people much more likely to commit homicide when paroled or probated. Instead of finding one murderer in 100, the UPenn researchers could identify eight future murderers out of 100.

Berk's software examines roughly two dozen variables, from criminal record to geographic location. The type of crime, and more importantly, the age at which that crime was committed, were two of the most predictive variables.

"People assume that if someone murdered then they will murder in the future," Berk told Discovery. "But what really matters is what that person did as a young individual. If they committed armed robbery at age 14 that's a good predictor. If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn't predict very much."

Baltimore and Philadelphia are already using Berk's software to help determine how much supervision parolees should have. Washington, D.C. is now set to use the algorithm to help determine lesser crimes as well. If those tests go well, Berk told Discovery the program could help set bail amounts and suggest sentencing recommendations.

My Take

Predicting all human behavior is impossible. If we could predict human behavior there would be no crime. No matter how effective the predictive instruments there will be outliers. There will be people who kill or maim who were not being incapacitated (in jail) or subject to intensive supervision because the predictive tools indicated a low risk.

Unfortunately, those outliers often control the political debate. The knee-jerk reaction by policymakers often does more harm than good. Dr. Berk's predictive model is an evidenced based practice that is supported by rigorous research. His model promises to reduce recidivism and victimization. Yet, it is not foolproof and hopefully those who make the laws and implement policy understand and account for that simple truth.

To read more: http://news.discovery.com/tech/crime-prediction-software.html

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Texas Executes Third Person Involved in Double Homicide

36th Execution of 2010

Texas has executed a former gang member who took part in the rape and murder of two teenage girls who were walking home from a neighborhood party 17 years ago in Houston.

Peter Anthony Cantu was strapped to a gurney in the Huntsville Unit prison death chamber and given a lethal injection Tuesday evening as relatives of his victims, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena, looked on.

Prosecutors say Cantu, 35, was the leader of a group of six teenage gang members who took part in the attack.

No crime in modern Houston history has resonated like this one. According to the Houston Chronicle, on the morning of June 30, Houston awoke to learn of events of a few days earlier that defied belief.

Two High School students had left a Thursday night gathering of friends in a rush to be home before their curfew. To save time, they took a shortcut that led along railroad tracks near a park. By coincidence, a six teenagers, gang members, who had just completed a boozy, fight-filled gang initiation ritual noticed their shadowy figures. The girls were grabbed, repeatedly raped, then strangled, beaten and stomped beyond recognition.

People normally immune to the shock of another murder were stunned by the savagery of what happened on a moonless muggy night in Houston. This was something more than the danger inherent in big-city life. This suggested a lurking evil, omnipresent and inchoate. If it could show up at such a nondescript moment - teenagers unknown to each other passing in the night - perhaps no one's safety was more than an illusion.

Even the police were stunned. The attackers shouted obscenities at TV cameras when they were arrested and reportedly bragged of their crimes once in their jail cells. The Chronicle reported, that the killers didn't crumple or cry when recounting the bestiality of their acts to investigators. All of it - the entire ugly tableau of human destruction - was told as if it had been a TV rerun from a year ago.

Two other gang members have also been executed and two are serving life prison sentences. The sixth was convicted as a juvenile and is serving a 40-year prison term.

Cantu was the 17th Texan executed in 2010. He is the 1,223rd person executed in the U.S. since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Judge Stays Oklahoma Execution

A federal judge issued a stay of execution today hours before Oklahoma death row inmate Jeffrey Matthews was scheduled to be executed.

Matthews was convicted of killing Otis Earl Short, 77, and assaulting Short's wife, Minnie Delores Short, whose throat was slashed, during a 1994 burglary.

The Shorts' granddaughter, Carol Cowan, said nine family members were driving to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Tuesday to witness the execution when they received a phone call regarding the latest stay, reported the Daily Oklahoman.

Federal Judge Stephen P. Friot in Oklahoma City issued the third stay Tuesday after Matthews joined in a lawsuit filed by another death row inmate and challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Matthews' attorneys objected to the Corrections Department's substitution of one of the drugs used in Oklahoma's execution process.

The department wanted to substitute Brevital, a form of methohexital sodium, for sodium thiopental, which is normally used for sedation. During lethal injection, the sedative is administered first, followed by a drug that stops breathing and then a drug that stops the heart.

The stay will remain in effect until October 15, 2010.

To read more: http://www.newsok.com/federal-judge-issues-stay-of-execution-in-jeffrey-matthews-case/article/3486076?custom_click=headlines_widget#ixzz0wvDBDYx4

Two SC Children Drown Strapped in Car Seats: Mother Questioned

Eerily Similar to Susan Smith Case

The bodies of two young boys, an 18-month-old and 2-year-old, were pulled early Monday morning from a submerged Chrysler sedan in the Edisto River, about seven miles west of Orangeburg, South Carolina. The children were still strapped in their car seats when they were recovered.

On Monday, the police questioned 29-year-old Shaquan Duley, the boys' mother. Police are trying to determine whether the deaths were an accident or possibly deliberate.

The deaths are eerily similar to the the 1994 murder of two South Carolina children by their mother. In Union, South Carolina, about 100 miles north of Orangeburg, Susan Smith first reported to police that her car and young sons Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, had been hijacked by a black man, but she confessed 10 days later that she had sent her boys into John D. Long Lake strapped in their car seats.

The Susan Smith case was one of the first examples of the "media mob" that has become nearly routine during sensational or high profile criminal cases. Media mob is the term used to describe hoards of television, radio, print and now electronic media that descend on a street, courthouse or town to cover a story with nationwide appeal. In 1994, the media attention catapulted a young prosecutor named Tommy Pope into the national spotlight.

Pope's most effective moment during Smith's trial was a videotaped re-enactment that he used to show jurors that it took Susan Smith's car six minutes to sink with her children strapped inside. Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. She is incarcerated at Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood, South Carolina. She is not eligible for parole until November 2024.

Pope visited Lawrence County, Pennsylvania at my invitation in 2004. He shared the meticulous planning that was involved in producing the now famous videotape. He shared the gut-wrenching video with college students during a workshop that also provided some insight into dealing with the media during high profile cases.

Pope was also the featured speaker at a Police Officer Appreciation Dinner hosted by my office at the time, the Lawrence County District Attorneys Office.

Pope has since retired as a South Carolina county prosecutor. He recently re-emerged in politics as a candidate for the state house. He is challenging on of the longest serving members of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

To read more: http://news.bostonherald.com/news/national/south/view.bg?&articleid=1275243&format=&page=1&listingType=natsouth#articleFull

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Tunkhannock Effect

What we're learning about sexting, the First Amendment and prosecutorial authority
The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
August 16, 2010

In the fall of 2008, officials from Tunkhannock Area School District in Wyoming County confiscated and turned over to the local district attorney a number of student cell phones suspected of having nude and semi-nude photographs of students. What happened next set in motion a series of events that have altered the legal and political landscape of not only Wyoming County, but of the whole of Pennsylvania, as well.

In less than two years, a federal district court took the unusual step of granting an injunction preventing the county's district attorney, George Skumanick Jr., from filing criminal charges; Skumanick lost his bid for re-election; the General Assembly has taken steps to criminalize the alleged conduct; and a second federal lawsuit has been filed by a former Tunkhannock student alleging school officials illegally searched her cell phone.

The electronic distribution of nude or explicit photographs by cellular telephone has come to be known as "sexting" — a derivation of the commonly used term for transferring electronic text messages by cell phone, "texting."

When the photographs were discovered, the Tunkhannock Area School District felt that the matter was more than school misconduct, they suspected criminal activity. The district attorney thought the photographs rose to the level of felony, sexual abuse of children.

The statute, 18 P.S. 6312, makes it a felony to possess or distribute images depicting a minor engaged in "sexual intercourse, masturbation, sadism, masochism, bestiality, fellatio, cunnilingus, lewd exhibition of the genitals or nudity if such nudity is depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any person who might view such depiction."

Last year, Skumanick told Wired magazine, "Just depicting nudity could be considered a sex act."

Skumanick was looking for a way to hold the students accountable, teach them some life lessons and not burden them with a criminal record and designation as a sex offender. Skumanick's goals may have been laudable, but the means used to achieve those goals were anything but perfect.

Skumanick's plan failed at every turn and the repercussions are still not fully known.

Initially, Skumanick addressed a student assembly. He told students that possessing inappropriate images of other students could result in criminal prosecution under state law prohibiting the possession of child pornography. Skumanick emphasized that a conviction could result in a felony record and the possibility of spending up to seven years in prison.

A conviction would also impose reporting requirements pursuant to Megan's Law, he told the students.

The district attorney then sent letters to 16 students — 13 girls and 3 boys — who either appeared in the images or possessed the images that were on the confiscated cell phones.

During a meeting with the students and their parents, Skumanick made it clear that he would file felony charges against the students unless they agreed to six months of probation and participated in a five-week education program. The program was designed in part by the district attorney's office. He gave the parents 48 hours to respond.

Thirteen students agreed to Skumanick's terms.

The parents of three girls refused the deal. Skumanick then threatened to charge the girls pursuant to the child pornography statute. The parents of those three students filed a lawsuit to enjoin Skumanick from filing criminal charges.

A federal district court granted the injunction requested by the students and their parents and no criminal charges were filed. Skumanick's office responded by filing an appeal to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, Skumanick lost his bid for a sixth term to former public defender Jeff Mitchell by about 500 votes out of 5,651 votes cast.

Mitchell told the Scranton Times Tribune that the Tunkhannock case, "became too much of a media circus."

In late March, the 3rd Circuit ruled that the injunction was properly granted. The court ruled that a text that is not found to be child pornography is protected by the First Amendment.

The court was also clear that a prosecutor, however well intentioned, does not have a role in the upbringing of children.

The opinion in the case, Miller v. Mitchell, stated that school officials have a "'secondary responsibility'" in the upbringing of children and "in certain circumstances the parental right to control the upbringing of a child must give way to a school's ability to control curriculum and the school environment."

The court went on to find that "[t]he District Attorney is not imbued with that same 'secondary responsibility.' Indeed, we find no support for this proposition in any related statute, regulation, or case. The district attorney is not a public education official, but a public law enforcement official."

Skumanick's good intentions went beyond his authority.

In the aftermath of Tunkhannock, the legislature has begun to address the issue of sexting in a more formalistic manner.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, introduced a bill that would impose a misdemeanor of the second degree for teens caught sexting. When the bill was introduced Grove said "[t]eenagers need to get the message that sending a nude photo — even of themselves — is a crime, and they can be punished for sending these images."

Several weeks ago, the House passed Grove's version of the bill with some amendments, including a provision providing for a summary offense if a minor knowingly transmits a visual depiction of himself or herself engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and the image is sent to another teen who is known to the sender and a willing recipient.

The legislation defines "sexually explicit conduct" as "lewd or lascivious exhibition of the genitals, pubic area, breasts or buttocks. Nudity, if the nudity is visually depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or sexual gratification of a person who might view the depiction."

The bill now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who chairs the committee said, "What I'm trying to do is provide an alternative so that the prosecuting attorney can file something against them if appropriate without giving them a criminal record."

Grove commented: "Decriminalizing these acts would be, in a way, sanctioning sexting, and could lead to the exploitation of our youth."

The final wave of fallout from Tunkhannock is the recent filing of a federal lawsuit not only against the Wyoming County District Attorney's Office, but also against the Tunkhannock Area School District.

As previously reported in The Legal, the lawsuit alleges that cell phones have become one of the most important storage devices for private material.

The suit alleges, "cellular telephones store large amounts of personal and often very private data, including lists of contacts, text messages, photographs and videos. A search of the device is akin to browsing through someone's address and appointment book, opening and reading letters sent by U.S. mail, and rummaging through a family photo album or viewing home videos."

The suit raises an interesting question — can a student's cell phone be searched without "reasonable suspicion?" The Tunkhannock Effect continues to ripple across the state.

Two Executions Scheduled for Tuesday

There are two executions set for Tuesday, August 17, 2010. It appears they are both on schedule to be carried out.

According to the Associated Press:

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has refused a clemency petition from condemned killer Peter Cantu, who is set to die Tuesday in Huntsville for a notorious 1993 double rape-slaying in Houston.

Cantu was one of five young gang members condemned for killing two teenage girls.

In Oklahoma, The Pardon and Parole Board has denied a clemency request for Jeffrey David Matthews.

He's scheduled to be put to death Tuesday at the Oklahoma state penitentiary in McAlester for the murder of 77-year old Otis Earl Short in McClain County during a robbery in 1994.

They would be the 36th and 37th execution of 2010.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Public Officials Question Executions in Ohio

Ohio is on Pace to Carry Out Record Number of Executions in 2010

Kevin Keith walked into an apartment north of Columbus, Ohio, during the winter of 1994, and started shooting, he killed three people and wounded three more. Among the dead was a 4-year-old girl. The wounded included and 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

Apparently, Keith was looking for revenge after being arrested for selling drugs based on the cooperation of one of the victim's relatives. Keith was arrested two days later. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Both state and federal appellate courts have upheld the conviction. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

According to the Mansfield News Journal, efforts to spare the life of Keith have been heroic, and there should be no argument that the defense has been allowed to present all the evidence there is in hopes of convincing Governor Ted Strickland to grant a stay of execution.

At last week's clemency hearing, the defense spent seven hours that included the testimony of nine people, all begging for the life of a man convicted of killing three people (including a 4-year-old girl) and injuring three others (including two children).

"I can't see me being put to death," said Keith, 46, who is scheduled for the requisite clemency hearing this week and for execution Sept. 15. "It would be a sad day for me, my family and the justice system."

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Keith is not the only person that is concerned about the criminal justice system and the impact of his execution or any execution in Ohio.

Keith's case, coupled with the fact that Ohio is on pace for a record number of executions this year, have prompted high-level current and former officials to call for a comprehensive review of all Death-Row cases — and possibly a moratorium. The Dispatch reported that two former prison directors and three prominent Republicans: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, former Attorney General Jim Petro, and state Senator David Goodman all have some reservations about the death penalty.

Adding to the momentum are five death-sentence commutations by two governors since 2003, passage of a strong new DNA law to avoid wrongful convictions, and exonerations of three inmates because of new DNA tests results.

Pfeifer, who first urged a death row review in a Dispatch story in May, remains the strongest advocate for a review.

"This isn't about me or anything I might do," Pfeifer told the Dispatch, "although I might have to revisit that if the new governor says, — I don't want any part of it."

Petro supports the death penalty but favors forming an independent task force to examine death row cases and halting executions while that review is being conducted.

"We should show restraint, caution, and diligence with these cases," Petro told the Dispatch. "DNA has opened a lot of people's eyes with what it can do. When you are talking about death, you can't afford to make even one mistake."

Two former state prison directors, Reginald A. Wilkinson and Terry Collins, who witnessed 34 of 39 executions since 1999, agree that the death row cases should be reviewed to see if they are the "worst of the worst," the standard set down when Ohio resumed capital punishment 11 years ago.

Wilkinson, director from 1991 to 2006, takes it a step further.

"I'm of the opinion that we should eliminate capital punishment,'' he told the Dispatch. "Having been involved with justice agencies around the world, it's been somewhat embarrassing, quite frankly, that nations just as so-called civilized as ours think we're barbaric because we still have capital punishment."

Keith is scheduled for execution on September 15, 2010. The only person standing between him and lethal injection is Governor Strickland. He has the authority to commute Keith's sentence to life in prison.

Not everyone in Ohio is looking to overhaul capital punishment. Justice Pfeifer's six colleagues on the Supreme Court, plus Governor Strickland and Attorney General Richard Cordray, have no interest in a study commission, much less a moratorium.

To read more: http://www.ohio.com/news/100211769.html

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SCOTUS to Hear California Prison Crowding Case

The United States Supreme Court will review California’s appeal of a court order that requires the removal or release 0f nearly 40,000 inmates from that state’s 33 prisons. A special three-judge federal court panel ruled last year that overcrowding in the prison system has led to inadequate health care, which violates the constitutional rights of inmates.

The California prisons have a total capacity of about 80,000 but has been housing more than twice that number in recent years. Currently, there are approximately 149,000 inmates in the state. In January, the federal judges accepted a plan proposed by the administration to reduce the number of state prisoners to 110,000.

California has been complying with the court order, which wants the reduction made by 2011, even while appealing. The state has made changes to its policies regarding sentencing and parole and transferred some inmates to other states. California proposes reducing the inmate population through early release of some non-violent prisoners, diverting some 20,000 people either to local jails or to house arrest, building a new prison medical facility, and sending inmates to private prisons located in other states. At this point, 8,500 prisoners have been transferred out-of-state.

To read more: http://www.legalinfo.com/legal-news/u-s-supreme-court-will-hear-california-prison-overcrowding-case.html

Friday, August 13, 2010

Alabama Executes Man for 1992 Murder

35th Execution of 2010

On Thursday evening Alabama carried out its third execution of 2010. Convicted killer Michael Jeffrey Land was put to death for the 1992 murder of 30-year-old Candace Brown who was kidnapped from her home and later found shot in the head.

Governor Bob Riley turned down Land's request for clemency. His attorneys were unsuccessful in getting the Alabama Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution. According to the Associated Press, Land was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m. at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama after spending 17 years on Death Row.

When Holman Prison Warden Tony Patterson asked Land if he had any final statements, Land replied "No. Thank you though." Land was administered the lethal injections at about 6:13 p.m. and shortly after fell into unconsciousness as he recited prayers and held the hand of the prison chaplain.

Land is the 47th person executed in Alabama and the 1,223rd executed nationwide since the death penalty was reauthorized in 1976.

To read more: http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2010/08/alabama_executes_michael_jeffr.html

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Drugs

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox,a member of the same conservative National Action Party as current President Felipe Calderón, was president between 2000 and 2006 and was a staunch U.S. ally in the war against drugs.

Newsweek is reporting that Fox has called for the legalization of drugs. Fox said "radical prohibition strategies have never worked." Fox is falling in line with a number of Latin American leaders who have declared the war on drugs a failure.

"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good," he wrote in an Internet posting, according to Reuters, "but we have to see [legalization of the production, sale, and distribution of drugs] as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits."

Last year three former Latin American leaders—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico opined that drugs should be legalized and regulated.

To read more: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/10/ex-mexican-president-adds-his-voice-to-calls-to-legalize-drugs.html

Maryland Gets First "Gang" Conviction

2007 Law Enhances Penalties for Gang Connection

The Maryland Gang Prosecution Act, enacted in 2007, received its first test in a Maryland courtroom. This week a Baltimore jury convicted Dajuan Marshall of participating in a gang resulting in death along with his conviction for murder and kidnapping.

The gang conviction could add 20 more years to his sentence and a fine of up to $100,000. The law calls for enhanced penalties if prosecutors prove that an underlying crime, such as murder, contributed to a criminal, gang conspiracy.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Marshall killed rival gang members who belonged to a different set of the Bloods. Prosecutors said Marshall "wanted to run the Bloods' gang in Baltimore and saw (one of his victims) as an obstacle."

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley told the Sun he was proud to have signed the act into law, saying it was "yet another tool for Maryland prosecutors to put individuals who terrorize our neighborhoods behind bars."

To read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-gang-conviction-20100809,0,2714594.story

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Op-Ed Proposes Ranking Court Systems

Amy Bach is the author of Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. She wrote a thought provoking op-ed for the New York Times this week. Bach proposes a “justice index” to show how the essential aspects of our local courts are working.

Bach's "justice index" would rank local courts in the same way that college rankings are compiled. The index would evaluate county courts on factors like cost, recidivism, crime reduction and collateral consequences, including whether people lose their jobs or homes after contact with the criminal justice system.

Bach suggests piloting the index by amassing data from the country’s 25 biggest counties, where the courts are most likely to collect large amounts of information. Then through a panel of experts establish standards for the measurement. Once those measurements are determined they can be replicated by smaller jurisdictions.

An example of a form of measurement, according to Bach, would be the percentage of certain types of cases that get thrown out after a defined period of time, a possible indicator of inefficiency as well as disregard for traditionally under-prosecuted crimes. The index would also assess whether a county court has certain legal protections in place, like requiring that interrogations and confessions be taped.

The general public would be able to access the rankings and supporting data related to specific areas like civil liberties or crime reduction, in the same way college applicants can look at which schools are best for student life or athletics.

To read full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/11/opinion/11bach.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1281528012-Pm7Cgm2biSGdEBowkQUlyg

Ohio Man Apologizes Before Execution

34th Execution of 2010

Roderick Davie is the 40th person executed in Ohio since 1999. However, executions have increased in frequency this year. Davie is the seventh person executed in Ohio in 2010. Ohio's executions account for more than 20-percent of all executions carried out nationwide this year. Davie was convicted of the 1991 murder of two former co-workers, and the wounding of a third, at the Veterinary Company of America in Warren, Ohio.

The Youngstown Vindicator provided a very vivid portrait of Davie's last day. Early Monday, Davie was transported from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to the Death House at the state prison.

He spent most of the day in a holding cell just 17 steps from the death chamber, talking to family members on the phone, praying and singing.

Davie, who went by the name Abdul-Hakiym Zakiy, was allowed to have a Quran, a miswak (a twig used by Muslims for cleaning their teeth) and cap in his holding cell.

He declined lunch Monday, saying he was fasting. During the evening, he was allowed contact visits with his brother and sister-in-law.

Davie did not make a special evening-meal request, but he broke his fast Monday night with a prison-issued vegetarian meal, including vegetarian nuggets, sweet potato, cauliflower, pineapple, cookies and grape drink.

He slept briefly after 1 a.m. but spent most of the night on the phone with his mother, a daughter and a niece. He ate a snack cake and wrote a letter about 4:30 a.m., then showered and dressed in clean clothing before cell-front visits with his brother and sister-in-law.

A prison log of his activities while in the Death House noted that his visits with family went well, with Davie laughing at times. He became emotional closer to the time of his execution, however, holding hands and praying with prison chaplains.

The execution was completed without complication. Prison staff took about 10 minutes to insert shunts into veins in both arms, and Davie was pronounced dead about 10 minutes after the lethal injection was started.

For his last statement, Davie thanked his parents “for their unconditional love and support through all of this.” He thanked his daughter for “helping me become a man and change” and a niece “for holding my heart.”

He also asked family members of the victims for forgiveness, looking at each of them as he was strapped to the execution table and mentioning them by name.

“Miss Jefferys,” Davie said to the mother of Tracey Jefferies, who was beaten to death. “I’m sorry and don’t know if that means anything to you, but that’s from the bottom of my heart. I mean that. I’m sorry, Miss Jefferys.”

He added later, looking at William John Everett who was shot and left for dead, “John, I hope you can let it go man and forgive me. You hear me, John?”

The victims’ witnesses watched quietly, holding hands at times. Davie turned his head and looked at them as he shut his eyes for the last time. He was pronounced dead at 10:31 a.m. Davie is the 1,222th person executed in the modern era of the death penalty.

To read full article: http://www.vindy.com/news/2010/aug/11/821791-killer8217s-execution-brings-some/?newswatch

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Judges Build "Taj Mahal" in Midst of Budget Crisis

Judges in Tallahassee, Florida have received $48 million in funding to build an extravagant courthouse in the face of Florida's worst financial crisis in decades. The St. Petersburg Times reported that other Florida court budgets have been slashed and courts across the state have laid off staff, quit buying law books and curtailed building maintenance. Programs like drug courts, which have helped thousands of people stay out of trouble, have been limited. Mice run rampant in a Tampa courthouse, while West Palm Beach judges struggle to get courtroom temperatures below 90 degrees because of a malfunctioning air-conditioning system.

Scheduled to be completed in November, "Taj Mahal" is a $48 million behemoth in which each judge will get a 60-inch LCD flat screen television in chambers (trimmed in mahogany), a private bathroom (featuring granite countertops) and a kitchen (complete with microwave and refrigerator), according to the Times.

How did it get funded? According to the Times, like many things that gain life in Tallahassee, the courthouse grew out of a last-minute amendment on the last day of a legislative session. The funding for the courthouse was buried in the middle of a 142-page transportation bill, approved the last day of the 2007 session.

To read full story: http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/article1114049.ece

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rachel's Law: Might Not Be What You Think

Have you ever heard of Rachel's Law? Unlike Megan's Law or Amber Alerts, Rachel's law means different things in different places.

In Florida, Rachel's Law was named for Rachel Hoffman a recent Florida State graduate who was arrested for possession of marijuana and Ecstasy. She was coerced into being a confidential informant in a large drug sting. She was murdered in the process. Rachel's Law now requires training for police who recruit confidential informants; informants must be told that a sentence reduction may not happen; and informants must be told they have the right to a lawyer.

In New York, Rachel's Law is named for author Rachel Ehrenfeld. She was found liable of libel in an overseas court for her book "Funding Evil." The law is also known at the Libel Terrorism Protection Act. The law protects American authors against libel in foreign countries were libel laws are not as strict.

In Arkansas, Rachel's Law is named for Rachel Rutherford a 15-year-old girl who was killed in a boating accident. Rachel's law increases the age for lawful operation of watercraft from 14 to 16.

All three Rachel's' Laws were enacted within the last two years. Interestingly, Florida has enacted it own Rachel's Law (Hoffman) and has enacted New York's Rachel's Law (Ehrenfeld) as well. It's not clear which law actually gets the Rachel's Law designation or if its Rachel's I and Rachel's II.

My Take

On thing is clear. It seems every tragic event has a knee-jerk legislative response. In Arkansas, if a 16-year-old is killed operating a boat will the age be raised to 18? Will the Florida legislature respond legislatively to every incompetent act by police officers during criminal investigations? How about in New York, would the legislature have acted if Ehrenfeld's book was about a Hollywood starlet? The failure of the legisliature to protect someone writing about terrorism is unpatriotic.

From 2000 to 2007, 454 new offenses were added to the federal crime code. It is no coincidence that prison population grew at an enormous pace over the same period of time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ohio Man's Execution Scheduled for Tuesday

If Carried Out Ohio Will Be Responsible for 7 out of 34 Executions Nationwide this Year

Roderick Davie is scheduled for execution on Tuesday at Ohio's Lucasville Prison. His last hope, Governor Ted Strickland's intervention, is unlikely. Davies will be the 7th person executed in Ohio this year. With executions scheduled every month through November, Ohio is on record pace for executions.

In 1991, Davie walked into a Veterinary Companies of America store in Warren, Ohio where he’d been recently fired, and ordered John I. Coleman, Tracey Jefferys and William Everett, all former co-workers, to lie face-down on the floor.

Everett, who survived, was shot in the back of his head, shoulder and left arm. He remained conscious through out the attack. Coleman was killed execution-style with five gunshots.

Jefferys attempted to escape, but Davie brought her back at gunpoint. After firing his last bullet into Coleman, Davie beat Jefferys to death with a metal chair on which police later found Davie’s fingerprints in Jefferys’ blood.

The Ohio Parole Board voted unanimously to refuse clemency for Davie. The board cited the brutality of the murders, the fact that their were multiple killings and an no apparent errors in the legal process. Although Governor Strickland could still grant clemency to Davie, it's unlikely in light of the boards action.

Davie refused to participate in the clemency proceeding. Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins told the Youngstown Vindicator, “This is an example of why you need the death penalty,” the prosecutor called Davie an “unabashed psychopath.”

To read more: http://www.vindy.com/news/2010/jul/23/parole-board-no-clemency-davie/

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chicago’s Crime Problem: Reality or Sensationalism

Crime is declining in Chicago yet no one seems to know it, or believe it. The police are trying to persuade jittery Chicagoans to ignore the fear factor because, bad as it seems, crime is going down.

Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis blames a “24/7 news cycle" for creating the mistaken impression that crime is on the rise. Weis noted that crime has dropped for "19 consecutive months" and that July homicides were down 24-percent from the same period a year ago.

Weis told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I would never stand here and say that the violence we're suffering in Chicago is acceptable. It's not. But I do think it's important to frame things. For the past 20 years, we were hovering in the 800-to-900 homicide range . . . We've cut that in half.”

However, many in Chicago think that things can get a whole lot better. The Sun-Times reported that in 2009, there were 16 murder victims per 100,000 residents in Chicago. That's at least double the murder rates in Los Angeles, 8 per 100,00 and New York, 6 per 100,000. When it comes to robbery and aggravated battery, Chicago's rates dwarf those of L.A. and New York.

As Mayor Richard M. Daley faces re-election, crime will be a major issue. The question is—will the reality of falling crime rates or the illusion of greater lawlessness control the debate?

To read more: http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/2563784,CST-NWS-daley04.article

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Criminal Justice Policy and the Art of Political Survival

This blog has often addressed politically motivated knee-jerk reactions to criminal justice issues. For instance, the rush to draft more and more legislation to punish, supervise and banish sex offenders. The movement to criminalize everything from distracted driving to sexting by high school students.

Many policymakers are weary of being labeled soft-on-crime and the political repercussions that come from such a label. Political survival dictates that thoughtful, evidence based practices give way to hot-button, politically safe crime fighting efforts.

Greg Berman of the Center on Court Innovation has written a article for The Crime Report that expounds on a book he co-authored that encourages policymakers to challenge the status quo. The article is worth reading.

From The Crime Report:

Last week, UK Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt gave a wide-ranging speech about criminal justice. Toward the end of his remarks, he devoted a single paragraph to arts programming in prisons, saying, “Arts activities can play a valuable role in helping offenders to address issues such as communication problems and low self-esteem.”For the British tabloid press, Blunt’s endorsement of arts programs for inmates was a gift sent from the slow-summer-news-day gods.

The front page of the Daily Mail heaped scorn on the announcement, declaring: “Now You Pay for Prison Parties: Tory Minister Says Taxpayer Must Fund Balls and Comedy Workshops for Criminals.” The Daily Mirror, summed up the same sentiment in fewer words: “You Clown.”

Moving quickly to halt the damage, 10 Downing Street distanced itself from Blunt. A spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron effectively drew a line under the matter, declaring, “We just want to make it clear to the public there will be no such parties.”

In all fairness, Blunt could have easily avoided the whole incident with a quieter approach to change. But while the “prison parties” controversy is of minor consequence and will no doubt soon be forgotten by everyone (save perhaps Crispin Blunt), it does offer a telling example of how an overheated media and political culture complicates criminal justice policymaking.

Risk-Averse Policymakers

It’s as true in the United States as it is in England.

It is fair to say that many American criminal justice officials live in fear of finding themselves in a similar position to Crispin Blunt: out on an island, on the wrong side of the “tough on crime” debate. This understandable fear has broad consequences for the field of criminal justice. Among other things, it creates a risk-averse environment where both policymakers and practitioners are reluctant to challenge the status quo and test new ideas.

This is a problem that Aubrey Fox and I examine in our new book Trial and
Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure (2010: Urban Institute Press). The central argument of the book is that criminal justice officials should adopt a lesson from the field of science, embracing the trial-and-error process and talking more honestly about how difficult it is to change the behavior of offenders and reduce chronic offending in crime-plagued urban neighborhoods.

In an effort to encourage greater reflection within the field of criminal justice, Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform tells the stories of several criminal justice programs that have experienced both success and failure, including drug courts, Operation Ceasefire and D.A.R.E. The trials and tribulations of these programs offer a host of important lessons, highlighting the challenges of inter-agency collaboration, the difficulties of managing leadership transitions and
the gap that often exists between criminal justice researchers and practitioners.

Of all the obstacles that bedevil criminal justice reformers, none is more complex than mastering the politics of crime, particularly when the media gets involved.

In the US, there are countless examples of cities and states passing “get tough” legislation quickly on the heels of horrific local tragedies that attracted frenzied media coverage.

Unintended Consequences

These laws, which include truth in sentencing, mandatory minimums and three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation, often have unintended consequences. For example, California’s efforts to reform its parole system and reduce the unnecessary use of incarceration have been hindered by an array of laws and ballot initiatives that have limited the flexibility and discretion of criminal justice officials.

Thankfully, some places have managed to avoid the fate of California. As we detail in our book, one such example comes from Connecticut, where state legislator Mike Lawlor found himself in the media spotlight in the aftermath of a horrible triple murder committed by two parolees who had been released from prison by the local parole board.

Local papers and elected officials clamored for someone to blame and something to do. Into this vacuum rushed advocates for ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out” legislation.

Rather than fight this movement head on, Lawlor provided the media with another target: the failure of Connecticut’s criminal justice infrastructure to communicate all of the necessary information about the parolees to the local parole board. By focusing attention on this mistake, Lawlor was able to use the media coverage to help pass nuts-and-bolts technology improvements rather than sweeping sentencing changes.

Of course, understanding the impact of media and political outrage is one thing; actually doing something about it is quite another.

For example, one criminal justice official in the United Kingdom recently acknowledged that even well-thought-out policy is often altered ”at the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press.” He went on to promise a change from an era of policymaking with “a chequebook in one hand and the Daily Mail in the other.”

The official? None other than Crispin Blunt.

To read more: http://thecrimereport.org/2010/08/01/rethinking-the-politics-of-crime/

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Congressman Calls for Execution of Wiki Leaker

Army Spec. Bradley Manning was arrested last month after allegedly disclosing classified information to people not authorized to receive it and obtaining "more than 150,000 diplomatic cables" from the State Department. He was removed from Kuwait and is being held by the Army in Quantico, Virginia.

He is alleged to have posted classified information on the website wikileaks. The site publishes leaked documents that are intended to shed light on government and corporate misconduct. Postings are to remain anonymous.

He is charged with two counts of violating the UCMJ, one related to loading onto his own unsecured computer a set of information and adding unauthorized software to a military network computer, and the other related to accessing and passing information onto someone not entitled to have it.

Manning is not charged with treason. Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan told a radio station on Monday that he believes that he should be charged with treason.

Rodgers goes a step further and suggests that Manning ultimately should to be executed. When the WHMI interviewer suggested that treason in war is a capital crime, Rogers replied: "Yes, and I would have absolutely, I would support it 100 percent. He put soldiers at risk who are out there fighting for their country, and he put people who are cooperating with the United States government clearly at risk."

To read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20012502-281.html

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Congress Addresses Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

Congress has finally addressed a controversial sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine. Since the 1980's those convicted of possession of crack cocaine were being punished more harshly than those possessing powdered cocaine.

The disparity existed in the amount of cocaine possessed and the application of mandatory minimum sentencing. Under current federal law, 5 grams of crack triggered a mandatory sentence of five years while it took 500 grams of cocaine to trigger the same sentence--an offender needed 100 times more powder cocaine to receive the mandatory.

Many critics of the law contend that the 100:1 disparity had a disproportionate impact on African-American men. The change has come after more than 25 years of debate and considerable consternation by federal judges who looked for ways around the application of the mandatory minimums.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation that will reduce the 100:1 disparity to 18:1, which raises the threshold to 28 grams of crack for a mandatory five-year sentence, according to The National Law Journal.

To read more: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202464009761&Congress_Passes_Bill_to_Cut_Federal_Sentences_in_Crack_Cocaine_Cases

Monday, August 2, 2010

‘A Letter to America’: A Blueprint for the Future

David Boren has had, by any standard, an illustrious career. He was governor of Oklahoma. He spent 16 years as a United States Senator. He served as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence longer than any other member of the Senate. Yet, he walked away from one of the most powerful leadership positions in one of the most power bodies in the world. He has spent the last 14 years as President of the University of Oklahoma.

Boren is part of Oklahoma’s first family. His father served in the U.S. House of Representatives and his son Dan serves there today. Boren left the Senate with 2 years remaining in his third term, in part because of the growing partisanship that made his work in government distasteful.

The concerns that forced Boren from public office have grown in the 14 years that followed. In his new book A Letter to America, Boren proposes a blueprint for keeping America on track as a leading world power.

The book implores readers to look realistically at the world order. America has only 6-percent of the world’s population. China and India have five times as many people as the U.S. Their economies will soon equal America’s economy. Unfortunately, America has also squandered the good will earned following World War II and enhanced immediately after 9/11. All of this adds to the urgency of Boren’s writing.

Boren’s most passionate writing is conveyed in his call for reform in campaigns and elections. Boren left the Senate due to the partisan backbiting that created gridlock in the Congress. That was 14 years ago. Matters have grown far worse.

The author points to the bipartisanship that followed WW II to illuminate his concerns for today. What if our current Democratic President and Congress proposed something like the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Germany after the war. Imagine the GOP talking points, “The Democrats want to tax you to help the very people who killed and wounded our fathers and sons.” Instead, in 1945 and 1946 GOP leaders supported the plan to rebuild our former enemies.

Boren proposes a couple of things to address the incivility in public life. First create a commission to redistrict congressional districts. Take that authority away from partisan state legislatures. An independent commission would structure districts that are representative of the people they serve. Second, create campaign reform that would reduce out-of-district special interest money. Require that campaign contributions come from people who live in the district.

One thing missing from Boren’s reform package was term limits. During a recent visit to the Chautauqua Institution in New York, I had the chance to talk with Boren about the role of term limits in his plan for reform. Boren said without reservation, “I’m not convinced that term limits are a good thing.” Boren felt that legislative bodies need some historic perspective that only veteran lawmakers bring to the table. He believes that other reforms (redistricting and finance) will push out poor legislators and will not subject good legislators to arbitrary removal.

In A Letter to America, Boren also suggests that the president institutionalize bipartisan mini-cabinets made up of congressional leaders from both parties. He implores moderate legislators to form bipartisan caucuses and he wishfully suggests electing an independent president who would form a multi-party cabinet fashioned after Churchill’s war cabinet of WW II.

The book also sets forth five things that America can do to insure its place among national powers. First, better understand the rest of the world, through study abroad beyond the borders of Europe. Second, understand the goals that unite countries. Third, reconstruct our intelligence system for a post-cold war world. Fourth, cooperate with the rest of the world to meet environmental challenges, and finally create a military force of leading countries to police the world and respond to crisis.

While Boren also writes about the country’s economic health or more aptly, our unhealthy economy and gives equal time to our failing education system or as he puts our failing memory—history study has fallen out of vogue—I want to focus some attention on his chapter titled, “Our Disappearing Middle Class.”

Boren bemoaned the fact that more members of the middle class have dipped into the ranks of the working poor or those in throes of poverty. He wrote that in 2005, the income for the top 1-percent of the richest American’s grew by 14-percent, while the average income for 9 out of 10 American’s dipped by 6-percent. He proposes a more progressive tax structure, expansion of federal education grants and health care for the uninsured.

Boren’s A Letter to America contains an ambitious plan for sustaining America. If America is to continue to be a world superpower we need ambitious plans. America needs to dream big and Boren provides a blueprint as a first step toward making those dreams come true.