Thursday, September 30, 2010

State Police: Crimes Reported in PA Dropped 5.4 Percent in 2009

Uniform Crime Report Shows Violent Crime Fell 4.9 Percent

The overall number of crimes in Pennsylvania reported to state police through the Uniform Crime Reporting System dropped 5.4 percent in 2009, with violent crimes declining 4.9 percent to their lowest total since 2003, Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski announced today.

The statistics are included in the 2009 Uniform Crime Report available online through the Public Services link at

Pawlowski said the total number of crimes reported to state police in 2009 was 955,669, compared to the 1,010,703 crimes reported in 2008.

The number of violent crimes, which are murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped from 50,523 in 2008 to 48,023 last year. Property crimes, which are burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft and arson, decreased 6.8 percent from 298,024 in 2008 to 277,720 in 2009.

Pawlowski said the number of Crime Index offenses, which are those considered most likely to be reported to police and are used nationally as a basis for comparing criminal activity, dipped 6.5 percent from 348,548 in 2008 to 325,743 last year. Crime Index offenses are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor-vehicle theft and arson.

The breakdown of reported Crime Index offenses for 2009 is as follows:

· Murders dropped 8 percent from 704 to 648;
· Forcible rapes increased 4.9 percent to 3,620;
· Robberies declined 6.9 percent to 17,464;
· Aggravated assaults dipped 4.8 percent to 26,291;
· Burglaries dropped 6 percent to 54,519;
· Larcenies/thefts were down 5.6 percent to 203,268;
· Motor-vehicle thefts fell 20.2 percent to 17,776, and
· Arsons declined 9.3 percent to 2,157.

The UCR also includes figures on 18 other types of crime, known as Part II offenses. Those reported offenses dropped by 4.9 percent in 2009, from 662,140 in 2008 to 629,893. Included in the Part II violations are reported incidents of vandalism – down 11.7 percent to 117,316 – and reported drug-abuse violations – down 3.8 percent to 52,565.

Other statistics from the 2009 UCR include:

· Arrests of juveniles for all crimes dropped 11.9 percent to 91,768 in 2009;
· Reported hate crime incidents decreased from 90 in 2008 to 74 last year. Hate crime incidents are those motivated by bias against an individual or group based on race, color, religion or national origin;

· The number of assaults on police officers in Pennsylvania fell 4.2 percent to 3,429 last year;
· Arrests for driving under the influence declined 1.8 percent to 55,568. Of the total, 77.1 percent of those arrested were male.

The commonwealth’s UCR system is a web-based system through which law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania enter monthly data directly into a state police database. Citizens can go to the website and view the data as soon as it is submitted.

“Police can submit data at any time with the web-based system,” Pawlowski said. “As a result, the numbers listed in the 2009 UCR Annual Report are subject to change as police departments update or review their reports.”

He said the UCR does not try to explain the reasons for any increase or decrease in particular crimes. “Its purpose is to help criminal-justice agencies adjust their efforts and resources,” he said.

To read more:

Murder on the Rise in NYC

New York City Police Department statistics through the first nine months of this year show the number of murders has climbed 13.2% from the same period last year. There were 341 murders at this point last year compared with 386 through September 26, 2010, according to the New York Daily News.

The murder rate is up 25.9% in Queens, 12.2% in Manhattan and 7.4% in Brooklyn - the borough which some of the city's most crime-plagued neighborhoods.

According to the Daily News, eighteen people have been murdered in Brooklyn's 67th Precinct, known as Flatbush. "People are not working, there are no jobs, so people are out on the street," said Karen Brown, a Flatbush resident. "You aren't even secure when you're inside your own home."

The overall crime rate is down 1.5% citywide, primarily due to a 6.2% drop in grand larceny, most felony categories are up. For instance, the number of people shot citywide has gone up 4.5% from a year ago, jumping from 1,315 to 1,374, according to the Daily Mail.

The uptick in murders comes after a year in which the city recorded 466 - the fewest number of slayings since the NYPD began keeping track in 1963. This also comes on the heels of the FBI reporting that violent crime was down 5.3-percent nationwide in 2009.

New York has been a bellweather for the nation with regard to crime rates. Is the latest news out of New York City a harbinger of things to come?

To read article:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Drug Shortage May Impact Executions

The Associated Press reported Monday that several of the 35 states that rely on sodium thiopental to carry-out executions by lethal injection are having trouble finding the drug after the sole U.S. manufacturer delayed shipment until January at the earliest because of manufacturing problems.

According to Austin American-Statesman, some states have delayed executions. Other states are struggling to find a supplier for executions slated later this year.

The American-Statesman, addressed a number of states that have taken some action or indicated a position regarding the presumed drug shortage and its impact on executions. The list of states is below:

On Monday, California announced it will halt all executions after Sept. 30 because of the shortage.
An Oklahoma judge last month delayed one execution when the state tried to switch anesthetics after running out of its regular supply. While enough sodium thiopental was finally obtained from another state, the court-ordered delay remains in effect.

In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear several weeks ago held off signing death warrants to allow executions to proceed for two convicts because the state is almost out of sodium thiopental. The state's lone dose hits its expiration date Oct. 1, and officials have said they so far have been unsuccessful in purchasing additional doses.

In Arizona, officials initially said the state did not have the drug and were not optimistic about obtaining it in time for an Oct. 26 execution. But they have since said they placed an order and expect to have it by next week.

Virginia on Thursday executed the first woman put to death in the United States since 2005. But officials have since suggested that the state could have a problem after that, though it has no further executions scheduled.

Missouri has enough sodium thiopental for an October execution, officials said, but its supply expires in January. Ohio ran out of the amount of sodium thiopental that state procedures call for just three days before a May 13 execution.

Texas, the most prolific state in terms of executions, does not plan to halt executions. The state suggested a shortage in sodium thiopental would cause them to re-examine their protocol and utilize other drugs to carry out their executions. "We have three executions scheduled through the end of this year, and we have an ample supply to carry those out," Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville told the American-Statesman. "At the present, we are unaffected by the shortage."

To read article:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Georgia Executes Suicidal Prisoner

The 40th Execution of 2010

Georgia's suicidal death row inmate was executed last night. Brandon Joseph Rhode tried to kill himself last week by slashing his arms and throat with a razor blade. Since his suicide attempt his execution had been postponed several times as his lawyer's feverishly attempted to halt his execution.

An excerpt from the Associated Press report of Rhode's execution is below:

Rhode, was put to death by injection at the state prison in Jackson. He was pronounced dead at 10:16 p.m. Rhode declined to speak any last words or have a final prayer.

He was convicted in 2000 of killing Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during a burglary of their Jones County home in central Georgia. His coconspirator, Daniel Lucas, was also sentenced to death in a separate trial and remains on death row.

Rhode's execution had been set for 7 p.m. but was pushed back several hours as corrections officials waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on his plea for a stay of execution. The court rejected appeals later that night.

Medics then tried for about 30 minutes to find a vein to inject the three-drug concoction.

The prisoner's eyes darted around the room before the lethal mixture began coursing through his veins. Within minutes he was staring blankly at the ceiling of the death chamber. Moments before Rhode was pronounced dead he turned his head, exposing a bandage over the part of his neck he slashed.

It took 14 minutes for the lethal dose to kill him.

Rhode had initially been scheduled to be put to death Sept. 21, but the Georgia Supreme Court postponed the execution after Rhode was rushed to the hospital that day following a suicide attempt.

Rhode was stabilized at a local hospital and placed in a restraining chair to prevent him from removing the sutures from his neck or doing any other harm to himself, state attorneys said. Defense attorney Brian Kammer countered that Rhode was put in a "torture chair" and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

"He has been subjected to the surreal and incomprehensible: Heroic measures taken to stabilize his life by the prison staff that would then execute him," Kammer said in one court filing.

Kammer urged the Georgia Supreme Court Monday to push back the execution again so experts could evaluate whether Rhode was mentally competent to be executed, or understood why he was being punished. He said Rhode lost half his blood Sept. 21 when he cut himself, went into shock and could have suffered brain damage.

"The threat of execution has pushed Mr. Rhode's limited coping skills to the breaking point," spurring him to slash himself with blades he hid from guards while under a blanket, he said in the filing.

Rhode was the second person executed in Georgia this year and the 48th since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. He is the 1,228th execution nationwide since 1976.

To read article:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ohio's "Growing" Prison Problem

Last month the ACLU issued a report on Ohio's growing prison crowding problem. The report, entitled Reform Cannot Wait: A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost of Incarceration in Ohio from 1991-2010, evaluates two decades of studies that expose ineffective policies, inefficient use of funds and racial unfairness associated with Ohio’s criminal justice system, according to Cincinnati's CityBeat.

Among a gauntlet of alarming statistics, the report shows that Ohio’s prisons have reached 133 percent capacity, housing 50,920 inmates in a system designed to hold a maximum of 38,655.

Also, it reveals that the state’s prison population has quintupled since 1975, bringing a vast number of public policy choices — such as mandatory minimums and other sentencing charges — into question.

According to CityBeat, the report is divided into three sections, the first of which focuses solely on the cost of incarceration. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the average cost per inmate per day was $66.31 in 2010, and has risen since 2007. With an inmate population in August 2010 of 50,920, this totals up to roughly $3.4 million spent each day.

Statistics also show that Ohio spent nearly $1.76 billion on corrections in 2008 alone with 51,160 sentenced prisoners, marking a 1.5 percent increase from 2007.

It’s also worth mentioning that Ohio spends more than $109,000 annually to incarcerate one juvenile but only spends about $9,000 annually to educate a child.

The report's second section focuses on incarceration and public safety, highlighting the increased safety risks for inmates and corrections officers posed by overcrowded detention facilities.

“We have too many people and too little space,” says State Senator Bill Seitz, a Republican, who supports the ACLU’s call for reform. “As we continue to operate under very strained budgets in the state of Ohio, we have to do something about this problem because we don’t want there to be another Lucasville riot, which happened as a result of prisoner overcrowding.”

The section notes that such “over-criminalization” results in the added consequence of creating a growing class of low-level felony ex-offenders who are closed off from education, employment and housing, all of which are essential to rehabilitation, thus perpetuating crimes committed by previous offenders.

The third section examines incarceration and fairness. According to the report, African Americans account for only 12 percent of Ohio’s total population but about 45 percent of those incarcerated. In addition, statistics show that African Americans in Ohio are arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison almost 10 times as frequently as whites.

To read article:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

California to Resume Executions

State Constructs New $853,000 Death Chamber at San Quentin

California has scheduled an execution for next week. The state's death chamber has remained dormant for the past four years. Since 2006, California has revised its execution protocol, provided extensive training for its execution team, and constructed a $853,000 death chamber at San Quentin according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

California has a long and curious relationship with the death penalty. The Union-Tribune revealed that history recently, noting that the state began executing inmates in 1851 under the jurisdictions of counties. The first state-conducted execution was in 1893.

Lethal gas replaced hanging as the method of execution in 1937. The state’s lone gas chamber was built in San Quentin, where 194 people, including four women, ultimately were put to death.

Executions were halted in 1967 and the moratorium lasted for the next 25 years as legal challenges were made in state and federal courts.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the death penalty was unconstitutional. The state Legislature re-enacted the death penalty statute in 1977 and California voters approved a proposition on the issue in 1978.

There were not executions until 1992, when Robert Alton Harris was put to death in the San Quentin gas chamber.

In 1993, death-row inmates were given the choice of lethal injection or the gas chamber. Three years later, the first inmate was put to death by lethal injection.

Legal challenges halted the practice in 2006 when a condemned inmate claimed it was cruel and unusual punishment. In response, state officials revamped procedures for capital punishment and rebuilt the death chamber at San Quentin.

Albert Greenwood Brown is scheduled to be executed Wednesday. According to the Union-Tribune, Brown had been on parole for a previous rape conviction when he attacked, raped and strangled Susan Jordan with one of her shoelaces. He took her schoolbooks and student identification card, left her body in the dirt and went to work cleaning cars.

That evening, as Susan’s family searched for her, Brown called the family home several times, according to prosecutors. He asked the girl’s mother, “Susie isn’t home from school yet, is she?” and eventually told her where the body could be found.

To read article:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suicidal Inmate's Execution Postponed, Again

According to the Associated Press, convicted killer Brandon Joseph Rhode, who attempted suicide with a razor blade shortly before his initial execution has had his execution postponed for a third time. He is now scheduled for execution on Monday, September 27th at 7 p.m..

Rhode was convicted in 2000 of killing a father and two children during a burglary of their central Georgia home. Rhode slashed his throat and elbows hours before his Tuesday execution date, requiring hospitalization.

Originally his execution was rescheduled for 9 a.m. Friday. Correction officials pushed the execution back to 7 p.m. amid ongoing court appeals. Late Friday, Georgia's Supreme Court ordered a postponement until after 4 p.m. Monday — prompting prison officials to announce a 7p.m. execution that day.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay late Friday without comment in a brief statement.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Judge Won't Stop Execution After Suicide Attempt

The execution is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m.

CBS News is reporting that a federal judge has refused to postpone the execution of a man who attempted suicide on Tuesday, the day he was originally scheduled to die. His attorneys asked the court to postpone the execution because of his suicide attempt.
Below is an excerpt of the CBS report:

According to court filings, 31-year-old Brandon Joseph Rhode used a razor to slash his elbows and his neck, which caused him to go into traumatic shock. Authorities say Rhodes may have also suffered brain damage as a result of immense blood loss.

Rhode was stabilized after his attempt and he's since been put in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, a state attorney said.

Rhode's execution had already been rescheduled to 9:00 a.m. Friday after his suicide attempt, but the state moved his execution back 10 hours to 7:00 p.m. Friday, to allow for several appeals to work their way through the system, says corrections spokeswoman Sharmelle Brooks.

Rhode was convicted in 2000 of the killings of Steven Moss, 37, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during a 1998 burglary of their Jones County home. His co-conspirator, Daniel Lucas, was also sentenced to death in a separate trial and is on death row.

Rhode's attorney, Brian Kammer, filed an emergency motion in state and federal court arguing that the attempted suicide proves Rhode was mentally incompetent and executing him violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

However, U.S. District Judge William Duffey rejected the request to postpone Rhode's execution.

Virginia Executes First Woman in Nearly a Century

The 39th Execution of 2010

The Washington Post reported that Teresa Lewis was executed Thursday evening. She is the first woman executed in Virgina in nearly a century. She conspired with a man whom she was romantically involved to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money.

Below is an excerpts of the Post article.

Lewis, was a mother who became a grandmother behind bars. Wearing a light blue prison-issued shirt and dark blue pants, Lewis looked anxious as she was led by officers into the death chamber at 8:55 p.m. She was placed on a white gurney, with leather straps securing her ankles, legs, wrists and chest, before intravenous lines were attached to each arm.

Lewis asked whether Kathy Clifton, the daughter and sister of her victims, was in the chamber.

"I just want Kathy to know that I love you, and I'm very sorry," Lewis said before the drugs were pumped into her arms. Her feet, clad in flip-flops, twitched, but no other movement was visible. Her spiritual adviser, Julie Perry, cried as she stood in the back of the witness room.

Lewis was pronounced dead at 9:13 p.m.

Lewis's case generated passion and interest across the world. The European Union asked Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to commute her sentence to life, citing her mental capacity. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cited the case at an appearance in New York.

The case began on an October night nearly eight years ago, when Lewis prayed with her husband, slipped into bed next to him in their Danville trailer and waited for her two conspirators to come inside the door she had left unlocked. The two men showed up about 3:15 a.m., opened fire, then fled.

After the shooting, Lewis waited about half an hour to call 911. Her stepson, Charles "C.J." Lewis, died quickly. But her husband, Julian Lewis, whose body was riddled with birdshot, was alive and moaning "baby, baby, baby" when police arrived.

At first, Lewis told officers the shooting was the work of an unknown intruder dressed in black. But she eventually confessed that she and her lover, Matthew Shallenberger, then 22, killed for money. She led police to Shallenberger and a second gunman and ultimately admitted her crimes in court.

On Saturday, Lewis was moved to the Greensville Correctional Center, site of Virginia's death house. She requested her final meal: fried chicken, sweet peas with butter, German chocolate cake and Dr Pepper, corrections officials said.

Lewis's attorney, James Rocap, said she visited her son, Billy, twice Thursday and spoke with her daughter, Christie, by phone. He said she wrote private letters to both children.

Her supporters never said that Lewis was innocent or that she shouldn't be punished. But they said she did not deserve to die because she was borderline mentally retarded, with the intellectual ability of about a 13-year-old, and was manipulated by a smarter conspirator. It was wrong for her to be sentenced to death, they said, when the two men who fired the shots received life terms.

Prison chaplains and fellow inmates supported Lewis, saying she created a ministry of sorts in prison and was a source of strength for other women looking for a maternal figure. Some prisoners said she sang gospel music, calming the ward.

McDonnell, who has supported legislation to expand the use of the death penalty, denied a first clemency request, then a second renewed plea. He said in a statement that no medical expert had determined that Lewis was mentally retarded as defined by Virginia law.

McDonnell said Lewis was an active participant in the crime, giving the men cash to buy weapons and drawing her 16-year-old daughter, who had sex with one of the gunmen, into the plot. Lewis had helped orchestrate an earlier failed plot to kill Julian Lewis and left the door unlocked the night of the shootings.

In 2003, Lewis pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to death by a judge who called her "the head of this serpent." One shooter, Rodney Fuller, made a deal with prosecutors in return for a life sentence. The judge sentenced Shallenberger to life, saying that was only fair because of Fuller's deal.

But Shallenberger, who dreamed of becoming a mob hit man, later told a former girlfriend in a letter that he had used Lewis because he wanted money to go to New York and become a drug dealer. He committed suicide in prison.

On Friday evening, Kathy Clifton, Julian Lewis's daughter and C.J.'s sister, learned from McDonnell's office that the execution would probably be carried out. After dinner, she went to the cemetery where her father and brother are buried.

"We went just to visit," Clifton said. "That's the last place I saw them."

Clifton said this week that she planned to witness Lewis's execution to honor her father and brother. She has kept scrapbooks documenting the criminal case.

Julian Lewis, a Vietnam veteran who worked as an electrician at the Dan River textile plant, often cared for Kathy Clifton's son, his grandson. C.J. Lewis, who was in the National Guard, was a musician and played piano, mandolin and guitar. His daughter was 4 when he was slain.

Clifton, who said she had forgiven Teresa Lewis, had never pushed for the death penalty. But she had said earlier that Lewis's death would bring "vindication."

"I feel like once it's all said and done, I'll be able to shut the door on this chapter and move on with the future," Clifton said.

"I will know for a fact she will never be able to harm anyone again," Clifton said. "She claims to be a Christian, and I don't know how strong her faith is, but I have faith in my Lord. He says not to kill, but He also says to obey the law of the land. If she was truly a spiritual person, she would be happy to go along with any sentence."

Rocap said Lewis asked him to thank the people who fought to spare her life, saying: "It was just awesome."

"Tonight, the machinery of death in Virginia extinguished the beautiful and childlike human spirit of Teresa Lewis," Rocap said.

As she visited with family and lawyers over the past few days, Rocap said, Lewis prayed for her victims, for McDonnell and even the prosecutor.

"She laughed, she sang, she prayed," Rocap said. "I think, frankly, she had accepted what was going to happen a long time ago, and she was very peaceful."

In an interview last month at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for women, where Lewis was imprisoned for seven years because the state's death row accommodates only men, she said she prayed and read her Bible. She had nightmares about the murders and said she thought of Julian Lewis and C.J. Lewis each day.

"I wish I could give Kathy the world and take away her hurt," Lewis said then. "I can't even imagine the pain she's been through all these years."

Lewis is the 108th person executed in Virginia since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 and the 1,227th executed nationwide. She is the third person executed this year in Virginia which has executed more people than every other state but Texas.

Lewis is the 12th woman to be executed in the United States since 1976. According to the Post, The most recent was in Texas in 2005, when Frances Newton was killed by lethal injection for shooting her husband and two children.

To read article:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Study: More Victims Less Punishment

This week, The Crime Report included a recent study from Social Psychological and Personality Science which found in three different experiments that increasing the number of people victimized by a crime actually decreases the perceived severity of that crime and leads people to recommend less punishment for crimes that victimize more people.

The research entitled The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm Is Judged to Be Less Harmful was conducted by Loran F. Nordgren and Mary-Hunter Morris McDonnell.

The report was composed of three studies. Each study was summarized in the report:

In Study 1 we found that increasing the number of people victimized by fraud reduced the perceived severity of that crime and led people to recommend a less punitive jail sentence for the perpetrator.

In Study 2 we replicated this effect and found evidence for another implication of the
scope-severity paradox. Participants were more likely to engage in unethical behavior when the consequence of that behavior affects more victims.

Study 3 looked to archival data to test whether the scope-severity paradox occurs outside the laboratory. Examining the punitive damages awards assessed from defendants in toxic tort cases between 2000 and 2009, we found that juries assessed larger punitive damages from defendants whose offense harmed fewer plaintiffs.

The report begins by introducing the concept of "scope insensitivity" or "scope neglect." The report uses the following examples to expound on the theory that people are notoriously insensitive to the magnitude of outcomes. When asked how much people would pay to save 2,000, 20,000, or 200,000 migrating birds from drowning in uncovered oil ponds, participants stated a mean willingness to pay $80, $78, and $88, respectively (Desvousges et al., 1993). Similar research has demonstrated that people were willing to pay only 28% more to protect 57 forest preserves than what they would pay to protect a single preserve (McFadden & Leonard, 1993) and were willing to spend the same amount of money to clean up hundreds of polluted lakes compared to the cleanup of one polluted lake(Kahneman, 1986).

Is it rational to believe that individuals would be willing to pay 10 times or 100 times more to prevent disaster. Don't people think within there means? Most individuals have the means to contribute $80 to protect 200 birds. Is it reasonable to think that an individual would pay $8,000 to protect 200,000 birds?

The question remains, are people less emotional about mass tragedy or are they simply limited or overwhelmed in there ability to address or mitigate a catastrophic event.

To read the full report:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Arizona Schedules First Execution Since 2007

The Associated Press is reporting a three year hiatus from executions in Arizona could be ending.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a motion by prosecutors for an execution warrant for death row inmate Jeffrey Landrigan, and the court said it will issue a warrant shortly.

However, the Supreme Court also said it will consider delaying the execution if state officials report they cannot get all three drugs to conduct an injection execution. There's been a shortage reported for at least one drug, and the court set an Oct. 1 deadline for a report on availability.

The execution would be Arizona's first since 2007 and follow judges' rulings that upheld Arizona's injection execution method last year.

Landrigan was sentenced to death for a 1989 murder of a Phoenix man.

Cato Institute: Vouchers for Indigent Defense

Some would suggest that public defender offices around the country facing crushing caseloads are beginning to compromise the quality of their legal representation. Stephen J. Schulhofer, the Robert B. McKay professor of law at New York University School of Law and David D. Friedman a professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law writing on behalf of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, propose radical reform to criminal represention of the indigent.

The executive summary of the report suggests that the current system is in violation of free-market principles that are honored almost everywhere else, the person who has the most at stake is allowed no say in choosing the professional who will provide him one of the most important services he will ever need.

The situation is comparable to what would occur if senior citizens suffering from serious illness could receive treatment under Medicare only if they accepted a particular doctor designated by a government bureaucrat. In fact, the situation of the indigent defendant is far worse, because the government's refusal to honor the defendant's own preferences is compounded by an acute conflict of interest: the official who selects his defense attorney is tied, directly or indirectly, to the same authority that is seeking to convict the defendant.

As a corrective, the authors propose a free market for defense services. The proposal suggests a voucher system. There are two variations. A lump-sum payment to the accused's lawyer of her choice or an hourly voucher paid in the same way. The report explores the pro's and con's of each proposal.

The authors contend that the voucher system is not as radical as it appears. Ontario, Canada uses a voucher system for indigent defense.

My Take

Some jurisdictions in this country use a voucher system for some offenses such as murder. It is not a pure system as proposed in the report, there are a pool of attorneys from which to choose. The system has two inherent flaws. Initially, hourly vouchers lend themselves to abuse. Some attorneys will prolong a proceeding with frivolous pleadings to access additional fees. On the other hand, lump sum vouchers face the opposite problem. Some attorneys will avoid issues or coerce pleas to get the representation over as quickly as possible, while earning the same lump sum.

The authors free-market theory also presupposes that every defense attorney in a jurisdiction will want to participate in the voucher program. The preeminent physician in a given community gets the same Medicare payment as any other physician in the community. Will a preeminent defense attorney who is paid $350 an hour by private clients accept a $65 hourly voucher from a indigent client? That is unlikely, but it is truly the free market at work.

To read the full report:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Man Attempts Suicide Hours Before his Scheduled Execution

Execution Postponed for 48 Hours

As reported by the Associated Press:

The Georgia Supreme Court has delayed the execution of a man convicted of killing two children and their father when they caught him burglarizing their home.

Brandon Joseph Rhode was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA.

His attorneys filed a motion Tuesday urging the court to delay the execution because Rhode attempted suicide hours before it was to take place. The motion said Rhode is "incompetent" and executing him would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The execution is now scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, but it could be later.

"The state Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay, 'pending petitioner's access to counsel' and an opportunity to file an application to challenge his mental competency to be executed," Supreme Court spokeswoman Jane Hansen said in a statement.

Rhode was given the death sentence in 2000 for the 1998 killings of 37-year-old Steven Moss, his 11-year-old son Bryan and 15-year-old daughter Kristin during a burglary of their Jones County home

95% on NC Death Row Request Racial Bias Review

Nathan Koppel of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote and interesting article on the Racial Justice Act adopted in North Carolina. The law affords death row inmates an opportunity to have their sentence reviewed for racial bias. Below are excerpts from the article.

Last year, North Carolina enacted what's known as the Racial Justice Act, requiring judges to let any inmate off death row if the judge finds that race was a "significant factor" in the death sentence.

About 95% of the state's death-row population, or 152 inmates, filed bias claims by the August deadline, according to the North Carolina attorney general's office. The law also allows future capital-murder defendants to claim racial bias. Convicts whose petitions were successful would instead face life sentences, with no chance of parole.

North Carolina's new law is among the most hotly debated responses to recent criticism of the death penalty. Many states have rethought the sentence amid new genetic evidence that has freed some inmates.

Maryland has suspended its use of the death penalty while it reviews whether lethal injection causes undue pain; Texas last year passed a law to improve legal representation in death-penalty appeals. New Jersey and New Mexico in recent years abolished the death penalty.

North Carolina has undertaken the most far-reaching effort to date to examine the amorphous question of whether race played an improper role in decisions to seek or impose death sentences.

It likely will be several months before any of the claims are considered by the courts, attorneys said.

"There are so many variables that can legitimately affect a prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty, including the seriousness of an offense," said Christopher Slobogin, a death-penalty expert at Vanderbilt University Law School. "This will be a messy enterprise."

Other states could follow North Carolina's lead. Legislation is pending in Pennsylvania to allow death sentences to be challenged on the grounds of racial bias. A similar bill was introduced this year in California, though it was defeated because of concerns it would cost too much to administer, said a spokeswoman for Democratic California state senator Gilbert Cedillo, who introduced it.

Many prosecutors are concerned that the new law allows murder defendants to try to prove bias through broad statistical evidence, such as data showing that North Carolina prosecutors, on a county-wide or state-wide basis, have sought the death penalty more frequently against black defendants or in cases involving a white victim. "You shouldn't try a case on statistics," said Sarah Stevens, a North Carolina Republican legislator. "Statistics can be manipulated."

Most bias claims cite two recent studies from Michigan State University College of Law. One study found that in more than 1,500 cases between 1990 and 2009, North Carolina defendants of all races were more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of their alleged victims was white.

Another study concluded that in the cases of the 159 people currently on death row in the state, prosecutors removed blacks from juries at more than twice the rate that they struck prospective nonblack jurors.

To read more:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crime Reporting Questioned

Are Crime Rates Really Falling as Depicted by the UCR?

St. Louis has recently changed its method of counting property crime. The FBI suggested that multiple thefts in a single area should be counted as one crime and not the total number of thefts that occurred. This will have an impact on crime rates across the country.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, experts in policing said the questions about St. Louis' crime numbers provide more proof that so-called "Uniform Crime Statistics" aren't very uniform — or meaningful — despite the importance that people place on them.

A raw crime count doesn't provide a clear picture of a city's safety. Counting the true number of victims would "put more light on the fact that there is a serious problem," a city resident told the Post-Dispatch. "A lot of people were affected."

The data aren't good for the sake of comparison, either.

The FBI warns that one city's crime totals can't be compared fairly against another's because of differences in how totals are compiled. And when a city — like St. Louis — changes the basic way it counts crime, it could be pointless to compare today's figures to previous years, reported the Post-Dispatch.There is often a question of trust. Many U.S. police departments — New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta — have been caught deliberately under-reporting crime in the past.

The Post-Dispatch revealed in 2004 that the city police failed to notify the public after discovering an error that omitted more than 5,000 crimes from the previous year's totals, making it seem as though the city was safer than it actually was. The next year, the newspaper exposed the department's use of informal memos to keep some rapes and other crimes off the books.

Then there is the question of completeness. Cities report eight categories of serious crime to the FBI: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson. Other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, fraud, drug peddling and most white-collar crimes — as well as sex crimes against men — aren't included in the index.

Even when cities are honest about counting crime, they often have different standards for what constitutes a crime. New York City doesn't count thefts of items worth less than $1,000. Cities in Illinois don't follow the FBI's "hierarchy rule," which instructs police to count only the most serious offense in an incident. If a victim is murdered, raped and robbed, Illinois jurisdictions will count all three offenses. Cities in most other places would only count the murder.

Cities in Tennessee are ahead of their contemporaries by reporting data under a new system called the National Incident Based Reporting System. But when their data are convered to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system — standard in almost every state — there is an inflation of 3 to 5 percent, experts told the Post-Dispatch.

"There are all kinds of limitations with the UCR but, alas, it is the best we have because it is the only thing we have right now," W. Richard Janikowski, who directs a criminology research center at the University of Memphis, told the Post-Dispatch.

Then there are cities that just do it wrong.

Some fail to understand or observe a basic FBI guideline for years, and no one catches the error. Like St. Louis, Dallas discovered that it was over-counting larcenies and other property crimes, making the city's crime rate appear to be one of the nation's highest, reported the Post-Disptch.

Every year the FBI generates a great deal of attention when it discloses that crime rates are down yet again. This year the FBI reported a 5.3-percent decline in violent crime. How much weight should be given the UCR? How much of the decline can be attributed to error, deceit and manipulation?

There is a certain amount of consistency between the UCR and the National Crime Victimization Survey. The crime victimization survey is an alternative method of determining crime rates by surveying crime victims. Twice each year, data are obtained from a nationally representative sample of roughly 49,000 households comprising about 100,000 persons on the frequency, characteristics, and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States. The survey is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.

To read more:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Execution Scheduled for Virginia Woman

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell said Friday evening that he will not spare the life of Teresa Lewis who is set to become the first woman executed in the state in nearly a century.

According to the Washington Post, on October 30, 2002, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, Lewis's con-conspirators, arrived at her Danville trailer. As she slipped out of bed, Shallenberger, who was Lewis's lover, opened fire on Julian Lewis, a Vietnam veteran who worked as an electrician at the nearby Dan River textile plant. Fuller shot C.J. Lewis, Julian's son, an Army reservist who was visiting.

Lewis is scheduled for execution on September 23, 2010. Lewis's supporters have argued that she does not deserve to die because she is borderline mentally retarded and was manipulated by a much smarter conspirator. They say it is unfair that Lewis was sentenced to death while the two men who fired the shots received life sentences.

The landmark case with regard to the death penalty and mental retardation originated out of Virginia, Atkins V. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Darryl Atkins was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His attorneys successfully argued that executing the mentally retarded would violate the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusually punishment. Ironically, Atkins case was remanded to Virginia state court where he was once again sentenced to death. His sentence was later reduced to life in prison following revelations of prosecutorial misconduct.

According to the Post, McDonnell said Lewis had admitted the "heinous crimes" and noted that no medical professional has concluded that she is mentally retarded under Virginia law. "I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court," McDonnell said.

McDonnell's denial of the clemency petition means that Lewis, a mother and grandmother, is likely to become the first woman executed in the United States since September 2005, when Frances Newton was killed by lethal injection in Texas for the shooting deaths of her husband and two young children. The Post reported that since 1900, 50 women have been executed across the country, according to the District-based Death Penalty Information Center. Eleven women have been executed since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

No woman has been executed in Virginia since 1912, when Virginia Christian, 17, was electrocuted for the murder of her employer, Ida Belote. The two fought after Belote accused Christian of stealing a gold locket, according to the Post and accounts at the time said.

To read more:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Georgia Board Denies Clemency, Execution Scheduled

Clemency was denied Friday to a Georgia man, Brandon Joseph Rhode, condemned for a 1998 triple murder. A little more than 12 years ago, Rhode set out to burglarize the home of Steven and Gerri Moss. Rhode and an accomplice, also on death row, then systematically murdered three members of the Moss family.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, eleven-year-old Bryan Moss came home from school while the burglary was in progress. The boy could see the two men through a front window as they were ransacking the house. The boy, armed with a baseball bat, came in through the back, but he was subdued by Rhode and his accomplice Daniel Lucas, who were both armed.

They put Byran in a chair as they discussed what to do with him. They were still talking about their options when Lucas shot him in the shoulder.

Moments later, 15-year-old Kristin Moss was seen coming up to the house, so Lucas took Bryan to a back bedroom while Rhode waited for the boy’s sister. Rhode put her in the same chair and shot the teenager twice. Simultaneously, Lucas, in the back with Bryan, shot him again.

Rhode shot and killed the children's father when he got to the house and they shot the children several more times to be certain they were dead.

The Journal-Constitution reported that Rhode's execution is scheduled for 7 p.m., September 21, 2010. Only the courts or the Pardons and Paroles Board can stop an execution in Georgia. Rhode would be the 25th person in Georgia to die by lethal injection and the 48th the state has executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

To read more:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Drug Shortage Could Impact Executions

Sodium thiopental, a drug used as an anesthetic to induce unconsciousness is given to prisoners during lethal injections. In most states it's one of three drugs used to carry out executions.

Two states, Washington and Ohio, use only sodium thiopental in their executions. They administer enough of the sedative to cause an overdose, which kills the prisoner. Ohio has carried out eight executions using the just sodium thiopental and Washington has just carried out its first.

According to NPR there is now a shortage of sodium thiopental and the shortage has already had an impact on executions. Some states have been trying to get additional supplies of the drug for months. In August, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear was asked to sign death warrants for three prisoners but could set only one execution date because it only had a single dose of the drug.

"States can't just change their method of execution without either some legislation —or at least an administrative procedure — that goes before public comment," Richard Dieter with the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes the death penalty told NPR. He added, "And so to make the change is a six-month or a year process."

That is not necessarily so. After a difficult execution in Ohio last fall, Ohio halted executions for about three months. When executions returned to Ohio they went from a three drug method to the one drug method.

Ohio officials say they have a backup drug, but would not elaborate. According to NPR, implementing the use of a different drug may be a problem. In Oklahoma, officials want to use a substitute drug. But a judge didn't agree, and last month stopped an execution.

Ohio may be the state that forges ahead with a substitute drug for sodium theopental if the shortage begins to impact Ohio's record setting execution rate. This year, Ohio is behind only Texas in the number of executions carried out. Last year, they lead the way in changing the process.

to read more:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can Crime Rates Continue to Decline?

Over the last couple of days, this blog has explored the recent FBI report indicating a steep decline in violent crime and property crimes. The decline continues a trend that has brought crime rates to some of the lowest points in nearly half a century.

The decline in crime has continued in spite of a sputtering economy and reductions in law enforcement spending. However, there is some concern that prolonged reductions in law enforcement resources will inevitably have an impact on crime rates.

Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox recently sounded the alarm in the Boston Globe:

Despite the minimal direct link between economic conditions and street crime levels, an indirect and lagged effect is cause for concern. When the economy is tight, state and local governments cut budgets for crime prevention and crime control initiatives. Of particular concern are the diminished levels of police protection, particularly in high crime areas. From 2000 to 2009, the number of police officers per 1,000 residents in cities with populations of 250,000 and over has declined by 11% overall. As a result, many police departments have been forced to scale down certain special programs. Back to basics for men and women in blue has meant a reduction or elimination of anti-gang units and community policing efforts.

It has been in some of the poorest and most crime-infested neighborhoods where the negative effects of police budget cuts have hit the hardest. Over the past decade, city police departments have been asked to do more, but with less. The emphasis on homeland security and the attempt to protect potential targets of terrorism have left many hometowns unsecured against ordinary street violence.

To read more:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Experts Baffled by Falling Crime Rates

The Associated Press has asked some criminal justice experts why violent crime is down for the third straight year and property crime is down for the seventh consecutive year.

Experts are hard-pressed to come up with an explanation.

As I wrote in my post yesterday, according to the FBI violent crimes reported to police dropped 5.3 percent last year and reported property crimes fell 4.6 percent.

What has experts perplexed is that while crime rates continue to drop police budgets have been shrinking and the economy has been sputtering, usually a sign that crime is going to increase.

The Associated Press reported, the trend is "one of these welcome puzzles," says Richard Rosenfeld, president of the American Society of Criminology. "This is forcing us to think more seriously under what conditions economic activity influences crime."

There are no neat answers. Among the theories: As overall economic activity slows, more people who otherwise would be at work are unemployed and at home, and when they do travel they are not as likely to carry items of value, so burglaries and street robberies decline.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, when the economy went south crime rates went up. Inflation was high then, low now. Is that the difference, asked the Associated Press. For the experts, it's back to the drawing board.

All of the violent crime categories decreased from 2008, as did all property crime categories.

Murder fell by 7.3 percent, robbery by 8 percent, aggravated assault by 4.2 percent and rape by 2.6 percent.

Motor vehicle theft was down by 17.1 percent, larceny by 4 percent and burglary by 1.3 percent.

The FBI said victims of property crime aside from arson lost an estimated $15.2 billion during 2009.

Attorney General Eric Holder said that smarter policing practices and investments in law enforcement play a significant role in reducing violent and property crime. Holder told the Associated Press, that the Obama administration has provided an additional $519 million in Byrne Justice Assistance Grants to support state and local criminal justice partners.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said that while the falling crime rate is encouraging, the economy "could come back to haunt us" because of a nearly 10 percent drop per capita in police budgets in the past few years.

"There is a connection between the economy and crime rates, but it's not that when the economy is bad, people go out and commit crime," Fox told the Associated Press. "When the economy is bad, there are budget cuts. Less is spent on youth crime prevention and crime control on the street."

To read more:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

FBI: Violent Crime Down in 2009

Murders declined by 7.3-percent; Violent Crime is Down 5.3-percent

According to the figures released today by the FBI, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation declined in 2009 for the third consecutive year. Property crimes also declined in 2009, marking the seventh straight year that the collective estimates for these offenses dropped below the previous year’s total.

The 2009 statistics show that the estimated volumes of violent and property crimes declined 5.3 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, when compared with the 2008 estimates. The violent crime rate for the year was 429.4 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants (a 6.1 percent decrease from the 2008 rate), and the property crime rate was 3,036.1 per 100,000 persons (a 5.5 percent decrease from the 2008 figure).

These and additional data are presented in the 2009 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication is a statistical compilation of offense and arrest data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. (Although the FBI classifies arson as a property crime, it does not estimate arson data because of variations in the level of participation by the reporting agencies. Consequently, arson is not included in the property crime estimate.) The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above plus 21 additional offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations.

In 2009, there were 17,985 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies that participated in the UCR Program. These agencies represented 96.3 percent of the nation’s population. A summary of the statistics reported by these agencies, which are included in Crime in the United States, 2009,follows:

Nationwide in 2009, there were an estimated 1,318,398 violent crimes reported. The decline in the murder rate nationwide is impressive.

■An estimated 15,241 persons were murdered nationwide in 2009, which is a 7.3 percent decrease from the 2008 estimate, a 9.0 percent decrease from the 2005 figure, and a
2.2 percent decrease from the 2000 estimate.

■There were 5.0 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009, an 8.1 percent decrease from the 2008 rate. Compared with the 2005 rate, there was a 12.1 percent decrease in the murder rate; compared with the 2000 rate, a 10.4 percent decrease was recorded.

■More than 44 percent (44.8) of murders were reported in the South, the most populous region, with 21.3 percent reported in the West, 20.0 percent reported in the Midwest, and 13.9 percent reported in the Northeast.

Nationwide in 2009, an estimated 9,320,971 property crimes were reported.

Each of the property crime offenses also decreased in 2009 when compared with the 2008 estimates. The largest decline was for motor vehicle thefts: a 17.1 percent decrease from the 2008 figure. The estimated number of larceny-thefts declined 4.0 percent, and the estimated number of burglaries decreased 1.3 percent.

Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) lost an estimated $15.2 billion in 2009.
The FBI estimated that in 2009, agencies nationwide made about 13.7 million arrests, excluding traffic violations.

The 2009 arrest rate for violent crimes was 191.2 per 100,000 inhabitants; for property crime, the rate was 571.1 per 100,000 inhabitants.

By violent crime offense, the arrest rate for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter was 4.1; forcible rape, 7.0; robbery, 42.0; and aggravated assault was 138.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.

By property crime offense, the arrest rate for burglary was 98.1; larceny-theft, 442.3; and motor vehicle theft, 26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. The arrest rate for arson was 4.0 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In 2009, there were 14,614 law enforcement agencies that reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of October 31, 2009, they collectively employed 706,886 sworn officers and 314,570 civilians, a rate of 3.5 employees for each 1,000 inhabitants.

To read the full report:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Seeking Direction on Mitigation Evidence

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
September 13,2010

Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a Post Conviction Relief Act court decision to grant a new sentencing hearing for a man condemned to death for a 1993 Lebanon County murder.

The majority opinion in Commonwealth v. Martin , written by Justice Max Baer, was premised on the PCRA court finding that Bradley Martin's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate, and present, evidence regarding Martin's mental health.

Baer alluded to some confusion created by recent court decisions on the issue. He wrote, "[W]e recognize that resolution of a claim that counsel was ineffective for failure to present mitigating evidence has proven, in the recent past, to be quite difficult, resulting in several divided opinions of this court."

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, in a concurring opinion, addressed, "the majority's characterization of this court's 'divided opinions' concerning mitigation claims."

Castille noted "that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of decisions in this area" and acknowledged the difficult nature of evaluating ineffective assistance of counsel claims as a result of failing to present mitigation evidence. He suggested consistency may be gleaned from a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

How did this issue make its way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court?

In 1994, Martin was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death for killing a 74-year-old man with whom he had corresponded while serving a sentence in the Lebanon County Jail. His girlfriend, Carol King, received the same sentence.

Martin filed a PCRA petition, alleging, among other things, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present mitigation evidence regarding his mental health, during the penalty phase of his trial. After an evidentiary hearing, the PCRA court found there was merit to Martin's claim. An appeal followed.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the decision of the PCRA court. Baer wrote, "[T]he PCRA court underwent a painstaking analysis regarding the claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and present mental health mitigating evidence ... we affirm the order of the PCRA court."

The seminal case in the area of ineffective assistance of counsel is the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision Strickland v. Washington .

In that case, the high court set forth a two-prong test to determine whether a defendant received ineffective counsel. First, trial counsel's performance must be deficient. In order to find a deficient performance, the defendant must demonstrate that counsel's representation fell below an "objective standard of reasonableness."

Second, the deficient performance must have prejudiced the defense so as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Prejudice is shown by proving the result would have been different, but for counsel's unprofessional errors.

Within the framework established by Strickland , it would be instructive to examine the five U.S. Supreme Court decisions Castille suggested would provide much needed guidance in the sometimes convoluted area of mitigation evidence.

In a 2009 decision, Porter v. McCollum , a Florida court convicted George Porter of murder and sentenced him to death. Porter argued that his attorney's failure to present evidence about his war record and how it left him a changed man violated his right to effective counsel.

The U. S. Supreme Court held that Porter's Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel was violated.

The court found there was a "reasonable probability" that Porter's sentence would have been different if the jury had heard the mitigating evidence that his attorney failed to uncover or present.

In Bobby v. Van Hook , another 2009 case, an Ohio court convicted Robert J. Van Hook of aggravated murder and sentenced him to death. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Van Hook's lawyers performed deficiently in investigating and presenting mitigating evidence during sentencing.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 6th Circuit. The court chided the 6th Circuit for adopting the American Bar Association's 2003 "Guidelines" to evaluate Van Hook's counsel. The ABA Guidelines are not mandates; they are merely evidence of what a reasonably diligent lawyer would do in a similar situation. Even assuming that an appropriate standard was used to evaluate Van Hook's counsel, the court held that his attorneys acted reasonably.

In Wong v. Belmontes , a third 2009 case, a California court convicted Fernando Belmontes of murder and sentenced him to death.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Belmontes' attorney failed to prepare and present sufficient evidence to humanize Belmontes, which may have mitigated his sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit. The court held that while a competent attorney may have included more mitigating evidence at sentencing, there was no reasonable probability that more evidence would have led to a different sentence.

A more recent case, Smith v. Spisak , came down earlier this year. In that case, Frank Spisak was convicted of murder in an Ohio court and sentenced to death. The 6th Circuit ordered a new sentence hearing, finding Spisak's counsel was ineffective in his presentation of his closing argument at sentencing.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

The court held that even though counsel's closing argument was inadequate, there was no "reasonable probability" that a better closing argument would have made a significant difference in Spisak's sentence.

And in another 2010 opinion, Wood v. Allen , Holly Wood was convicted in an Alabama court of first degree murder and sentenced to death. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Wood's counsel was not ineffective. The court found that Wood's attorneys acted reasonably when they decided it was in Wood's best interest to leave out information that illustrated his mental deficiencies.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, finding that the record indicated that counsel's failure to pursue or present evidence of the defendant's mental deficiencies was the result of a deliberate decision to focus on other defenses.

Five decisions, originating out of three circuit courts finding that trial counsel was, at times, effective and ineffective is both instructive and a bit overwhelming.

Baer's admonition in Martin seems fitting: "No two capital defendant's will have the same life histories and no two counsel will proceed in the identical manner."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Washington Carries Out First Execution Since 2001

38th Execution of 2010

Washington state carried out its first execution since 2001. Cal Coburn Brown was executed early Friday by lethal injection for the 1993 murder of a Seattle woman. Brown is only the fourth person executed in Washington since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. He is the 1,225th person executed nationwide since 1976.

The Associated Press reported the execution as follows:

Brown, 52, died at 12:56 a.m. PDT, after a four-member team injected a lethal one-drug cocktail in the execution chamber of the Washington State Penitentiary.

The father, brother and two sisters of his victim, Holly Washa, 21, witnessed the execution, as did King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

Brown protested sentencing disparities, saying that criminals who had killed many more people, such as Green River killer Gary Ridgway, were serving life sentences while he received a death sentence.

"I only killed one victim," he said. "I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out."

Brown did not apologize to the family of the victim, but said he understood their emnity for him. He said he forgave that hatred, held no emnity toward them and hoped the execution would give them closure. He also said the prison staff had been most professional and that he had no complaints about his treatment there in 17 years.

After his comments, Brown, who was lying on his back strapped to a gurney, looked up at the tubes sticking out of the wall and connected to his body. When the drug was administered, his chest heaved three times and his lips shuddered, then there was no movement.

Brown's attorney and members of his family were not present at the execution, though he spoke with them by phone on Thursday.

The U.S. Supreme Court, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court on Thursday all rejected efforts to stay the execution. Gov. Chris Gregoire rejected his plea for clemency on Wednesday.

It was Washington's first execution since 2001, and Brown had been on death row for 16 years.

Brown had argued that his mental illness was not adequately considered during his sentencing and that it should bar his execution. According to court records, he suffered from bipolar disorder.

Brown confessed to killing the 21-year-old Washa during an interrogation in California for an alleged assault on a woman there. He later led authorities to Washa's battered body, which was inside the trunk of a car.

Brown, who is from San Jose, Calif., had a history of violence against women, including a 1977 conviction in California for assaulting a woman with a knife at a shopping center. He also served 7 1/2 years — the minimum sentence — for assaulting another woman in Oregon in 1984.

To read more:

Pennsylvania, Ohio approach death penalty differently

Youngstown Vindicator
September 12, 2010

An overwhelming majority of Americans support the death penalty. Polling conducted by Gallup over the course of 20 years has consistently found that at least two-thirds of American’s support the death penalty for those convicted of first degree murder.

The high-water mark was 1994, when 80 percent of Americans supported capital punishment. Homicide rates were alarmingly high in the mid-1990’s. However, today with crime rates at, or near, their lowest point in nearly a half-century, support for the death penalty is not only stable but increasing.

A Pennsylvania poll conducted in 2009 by Susquehanna Polling and Research on behalf of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that 67 percent of Pennsylvanians supported the death penalty. Looking at it from a different perspective, the Ohio Poll conducted last year by the University of Cincinnati, Institute for Policy Research found that 70 percent of Ohioans were opposed to abolishing the death penalty.

Different approaches

Pennsylvania and Ohio share a border — they share similar sentiments regarding the death penalty — but each state could not be more different in its respective approaches to capital punishment. Ohio has executed seven killers this year, more than every other state but Texas. Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999.

Pennsylvania has executed three men since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. All three men waived their appeal rights and asked to be executed. There is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It has been nearly 50 years since a contested execution was carried out in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell continues to sign death warrants. He has signed 113 in his nearly eight years as governor. He recently signed three of those death warrants. One of the warrants is for the killer of a Reading police officer. Gov. Rendell said at a recent press conference, “It’s very frustrating — it’s frustrating to the families, it’s frustrating to the police. You can build anything in the world in three years. You should be able to have all appeals exhausted in three years.”

In January of 2007, the Cincinnati Enquirer posited, “Less than a month since (Gov. Ted) Strickland was sworn into office, the new governor’s actions are raising questions about whether he will curtail or even halt executions.” Gov. Strickland decided that carrying out executions was in Ohio’s best interest and he has not looked back.

Slow pace

Nothing seems to slow the pace of executions in Ohio. On Sept. 15, 2009, Romell Broom was scheduled to be executed. On that day, personnel in the death chamber of Lucasville State Prison were unable access a suitable vein for the injection of the lethal three-drug cocktail that would bring about his death. Over several hours, prison staff probed for a vein approximately 18 times before Gov. Strickland stepped in to suspend the execution.

Ohio put executions on hold for three months while it studied options for establishing a back-up or alternative lethal injection protocol. The state came back and took the unprecedented step of moving from a three-drug protocol to a single drug protocol. The single drug method has since been adopted by the state of Washington and is being considered by a number of other states. Ohio has executed eight inmates using the single drug method in spite of ongoing objections to the constitutionality of the procedure.

Has the decision to carry out executions at a record pace had an impact on crime in Ohio? The Crime State Rankings 2009 released by CQ Press compared all 50 states in more than 500 crime-related categories. Pennsylvania is listed as the 25th safest state, down from 24, and Ohio is listed as the 28th safest state, up from 29.


In 2008, Ohio had 460 murders, Pennsylvania had 700. Ohio has 10 percent less people than Pennsylvania, yet its murder rate, 4 killings per 100,000 people, is 29 percent lower than neighboring Pennsylvania.

Gov. Rendell recently told the Associated Press that he “considers the death penalty a deterrent, but only when executions are carried out relatively quickly.” Ohio, his neighbor to the west, may ultimately be the testing ground for his theory

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do Geriatric Prisons Promote Public Safety?

In 1990, Virginia had 900 inmates over the age of 50. Now there are more than 5,000. According the Washington Post, the numbers have soared since the General Assembly abolished parole for the newly convicted in 1995. The “tough on crime” posture of the violent 1990’s has resulted in bulging prisons, expanding corrections budgets and the formation of the prison industrial complex.

Virginia’s problem is just an example of what nearly every state is experiencing—an aging prison population and the resulting medical and geriatric costs. The Post describes what prison officials have dubbed the “wheelchair brigade” at the Deerfield Corrections Center in Virginia.

Everyday just before lunch time, 60 men in wheelchairs stream across the prison courtyard and into the mess hall, followed closely by a group of inmates hobbling on canes, leaving the blind and the senile to shuffle inside last.

The Post reported that the daily migration does not include the two rooms full of elderly inmates too weak to make it outside.

Geriatric prisons are not unique to Virginia. In Pennsylvania, the infirm and elderly are housed predominately at Laurel Highlands Correctional Facility in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

The cost to states to house and care for geriatric or unhealthy inmates is enormous. The Post reported it costs $28,800 annually to house an inmate at the geriatric prison, compared with the $19,000 at most of the Virginia's medium-security prisons. That is nearly a 50-percent increase in cost.

The obvious questions are: What risk is a 75-year-old, wheelchair bound, dialysis patient to society? Do prison wheelchair brigades contribute to the public good? Balance those questions with a high price tag and the morality of confining offenders until there death and the true scope of the problem comes into focus.

To read more:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Alabama Executes Man for '93 Murder

37th Execution of 2010

According to the Associated Press, Alabama executed Holly Wood a 50-year-old death row inmate for shooting his former girlfriend to death.

Prison officials say Wood died by lethal injection yesterday at 6:21 p.m. He had no last words. Two of his sisters witnessing the execution screamed, cried and prayed loudly.

In 1993, Wood broke into the Troy home of his former girlfriend and shot her in the head with a shotgun while she was sleeping.

His attorneys claimed he had an IQ of 70 or less. They argued that Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304(2002), the U.S. Supreme Court decision that bars the execution of the mentally retarded should have prevented his execution.

Wood also argued that he should not be subject to the death penalty because his trial lawyers wrongly failed to tell the jury about his mental limitations. Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his claim that his trial attorney was ineffective, Wood v. Allen, 588 U.S. ___ (2010). The High Court also rejected his last minute appeal to stay his execution.

He was the fourth inmate executed in Alabama this year. The 48th execution in Alabama, and the 1,224th nationwide, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Portland Mayor Fires Commission Over Police Lay-Offs

Portland Mayor Sam Adams has fired the eight members of a citizen’s Budget Advisory Commission that criticized the mayor’s proposed 2010-11 budget.

The mayor’s budget proposal called for the lay-off of 25 police officers. In May, Police Chief Rosie Sizer called a press-conference to challenge the lay-off of police officers. Two days later she was fired.

The new chief, Mike Reese, will assemble a new advisory board, “with significant accounting and budgeting or relevant business experience.” The ousted board consisted of a Harvard educated lawyer, a vice-president at Wells Fargo Bank, one of Portland’s top 25 business women and an Amherst College grad.

One former board member told the Oregonian, “(We’re) honestly confused, upset, angry and insulted.”

To read more:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Alabama Set to Execute Man for '93 Killing

Alabama death row inmate Holly Wood is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection today at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama. The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wood was convicted of the September 1, 1993 shotgun slaying of his former girlfriend at her home in Troy.

Wood still has two appeals pending. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering an appeal from Wood that suggests that he should not be executed because of a mental disability. According to the New York Times, defense lawyers argued that a court-appointed lawyer with less than a year of trial experience failed to tell jurors during sentencing that Wood is not mentally competent to be executed. His I.Q. has been found to be well below 70, the score that experts often consider the border for mental retardation.

Wood's original appeal gained some notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that his trial counsel acted reasonably when they failed to present evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase of his trial, Wood v. Allen, 588 U.S. ____ (2010).

Also, Governor Bob Riley has yet to decide on a clemency petition filed by Wood's attorneys asking that the execution be stopped.

Barring a last minute reprieve, Wood is expected to spend today visiting with friends and relatives and eating a final meal.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Virginia Commission Reviews Eye Witness Identification Procedures

The Virginia State Crime Commission is looking at reforming the way police do eyewitness lineups to identify suspects, according to

This week, commission members will listen to testimony regarding the reliability of eye witness identification. The commission will then consider whether the state should require local law enforcement agencies to adopt reforms such as sequential lineups--showing witnesses pictures of possible suspects one at a time, rather than grouping pictures together.

The commission is the result of a legislative movement toward reforming lineup procedures, sparked by data showing that eyewitnesses aren't always reliable, and that reforms in lineup procedures could make it less likely that a witness will name the wrong person reported

There is a body of research that is critical of traditional lineups that group potential suspects together. Witnesses tend to compare the people in the lineup with each other and choose the one who looks most like the perpetrator, rather than comparing each person with the witness's own memory.

Additional reforms include requiring that lineups be done by a member of the police force who does not know which one of the group is the real suspect, so that person cannot give any inadvertent cues to the witness.

Another suggestion is for police to have a standard statement instructing the witness that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup, so that the witness feels less compelled to choose one of the people in the lineup.

In Virginia some law enforcement agencies, including the state police, have already adopted the sequential lineup procedure, after a recommendation from the state Department of Criminal Justice several years ago, according to

To read more:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Connecticut: FBI Investigating Relationship Between Prosecutor and Defender

According to the Hartford Courant, Martin Minnella a prominent Connecticut defense attorney is under investigation by the FBI. He has been bragging to potential clients for years that he has an "in" with State's Attorney John Connelly and can get them better deals if they pay him more money — in effect, extorting funds from them because of the special relationship.

A federal grand jury investigating the relationship between Connelly and Minnella will convene early next week in New Haven to hear testimony from some of those clients, sources familiar with the investigation told the Courant.

Apparently, Connelly is also under investigation. Sources familiar with the investigation told the Courant, that Federal authorities will present evidence on several trips to Las Vegas and at least one to baseball's spring training in Florida that Connelly and Minnella went on that were paid for by Minnella. On some of those trips, Connelly was accompanied by a female friend.

Connelly's office has turned over at least 25 criminal cases; many of them drug cases, to federal authorities for review. Some of them, sources said, involve sentence modifications for Minnella's clients. According to the Courant, Connelly is the only one who can approve sentence modification requests.

States Attorneys in Connecticut are appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission. They serve a term of eight years.

To read more:,0,6653715.story

Monday, September 6, 2010

Astonishing Look at New York City's Homicide Rate by Race

Yesterday's post noted an interesting article in the New York Times written by Clyde Haberman, "To Lengthen Men's Lives, Focus on Guns," There was an interesting paragraph in the article that merited some additional investigation.

The article focused on how gun violence targeted toward young men has expanded the disparity between life expectancy of men and women. In New York City, the life expectancy of a woman is 82 years-of-age for men it is 76-years-of-age.

Near the end of the column Mr. Haberman suggested that less gun violence would most favor blacks and Latinos, "they account for 95 percent of both homicide victims and suspects in the city."

New York City has averaged less than 500 homicides over the last three years (496, 516 and 461) that would mean that less 25 Caucasians were killed in New York City each year. That number seemed unbelievably low.

New York City has 8.4 million residents and millions of tourists each year. A New York Times article on September 2, 2010 had a little different take on the numbers.

From 2003 through 2009, New York City averaged 540 murders a year. Caucasian men and women represented, on average, 8-percent of murder victims and 7-percent of killers. That would amount to about 43 Caucasian victims of murder each year and about 37 killings by Caucasian perpetrators per year. Still astonishingly low numbers for one of the world's largest cities.

To read more:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gun Violence and Life Expectancy

The Crime Report included this recent summary of an interesting New York Times article by columnist Clyde Haberman. The columnist noted that gun violence in New York City has helped create a gender gap in life expectancy.

A female born in the city in 2008 has a life expectancy of 82 years years, while the typical male will live to 76. Haberman says the difference comes in “the tendency of all too many young men, defined as those 18 to 34, to settle disputes with guns. In that age group, men are nine times likelier than women to become homicide victims. They account for half of all such victims in the city, though they make up only 12 percent of the population.” He adds, “Whenever someone dies really young, life expectancy for the entire city dips.”

The Crime Report noted that the decline in violent crime is a big reason that life spans have risen sharply over the last two decades. In today’s New York, with about 500 homicides a year, people can expect on average to live six and a half years longer than they could in 1990, when there were more than 2,200 murders.

Even today, young black men are homicide victims at three times the rate of Latinos, 12 times that of white men and 70 times that of men of Asian background. “But strictly as a health matter, getting rid of guns is a no-brainer,” Haberman writes. “If homicides could miraculously be made to disappear in New York, the health department says, the gender gap in life expectancy would be cut almost in half for that 18-to-34 age group. It means that a lot of young men would have many more years of real living instead of a courtship with death.”

To read more:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence

Kevin Keith was Scheduled to Die in 10 Days for the Murder of Three People

This week, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland commuted convicted multiple murderer Kevin Keith's death sentence. He was to be execution on September 15, 2010.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Keith, a cocaine dealer, was convicted of murdering two women and a four-year-old girl by spraying a Columbus apartment with bullets as revenge against a drug informant.

"It is my view, after a thorough review of the information and evidence available to me at this time, that it is far more likely that Mr. Keith committed these murders than it is likely that he did not," Governor Strickland said in a statement.

"Yet, despite the evidence supporting his guilt and the substantial legal review of Mr. Keith's conviction, many legitimate questions have been raised regarding the evidence in support of the conviction and the investigation."

"I have commute Mr. Keith's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Should further evidence justify my doing so, I am prepared to review this matter again for possible further action."

Governor Strickland has carried out 16 executions since taking office in 2007. However, he commuted the last two out of three killers scheduled for execution. He spared the life of Richard Nields in June, but allowed Roderick Davie to be executed in August.

This also marked the second time Governor Strickland's decision was contrary to the parole board's recommendation in a capital case. According to the Dispatch, he allowed the execution of Jason Getsy to go forward in August 2009 even though the board voted to spare his life. In making this decision, the governor rejected an 8-0 recommendation from the parole board that Keith should be executed.

To read more:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Predictive Analysis Challenged

I have written recently about the use of predictive analysis in the criminal justice system. There is remarkable work being done at the University of Pennsylvania,, and at UCLA, However, not everyone is sold on the use of computer models to predict crime and violence.

Bill Stanton, a former NYPD officer and founding partner of QVerity, a security firm, takes issue with the use of predictive analysis to make bail and sentencing recommendations.

In a recent appearance on Fox News, Stanton questioned a computer model that can do no better than identify future murderers with "8-percent accuracy." He does not provide any background to support his 8-percent figure.

Stanton said, “We all want to catch the bad guys. This is a tool, and I want to make sure this tool works properly. Eight out of 100 – 8 percent? I don’t know if I’d want to be a paratrooper with that type of percentage. A lot of questions need to be answered. … How heavily are we going to rely on this? Who’s writing up these algorithms? The person writing the algorithm has certain biases himself. These are things we have to look at. The software could be six times more accurate, and the results would still be a coin toss. Law enforcement budgets are far too tight to waste precious dollars on technology with such a questionable return on investment.”

My Take

Predictive analysis is not merely software, it is a sophisticated computer model which accounts for a myriad of factors. The model is here to stay and will be refined as technology is further developed. Predictive analysis has the potential to reduce victimization and reduce criminal justice costs. No one can argue with either of those results.

To read more:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ohio Death Row Inmate Challanges Request to Postpone Execution

Inmate Doesn't Want to Die-But Doesn't Want Help From Fellow Inmate

Many people have been working to save Kevin Keith from execution in Ohio. He is schedule to die on September 15. I have previously written about Keith's claims of innocence on this blog.

However, Keith is now trying to distance himself from someone with a legitimate interest in keeping him alive. Death row inmate Danny Lee Hill, who raped and killed a 12-year-old boy in 1985, wanted Kevin Keith's execution delayed so lawyers could interview Keith, according to the Associated Press.

Keith's attorneys wanted no part of Hill's request. The judge presiding over Hill's claim of mental disability was not thrilled by the request. Last week, lawyers for Keith sent a letter to Governor Ted Strickland, the only person left who could spare Keith, and made it clear they had nothing to do with Hill's motion.

Not long afterward, Hill's attorney dropped the request, citing in part "concerns expressed by the Court," referring to U.S. District Judge John Adams. Stephen Maher, senior assistant state Attorney General, has argued that federal court rules "provide numerous ways to obtain any relevant information Keith may have before his execution."

According to the Associated Press, Keith's attorneys have identified an alternate suspect and provided alibi witnesses. They argue that witness identification of Keith as the shooter was flawed. Keith says he's innocent of killing three people in 1994, including a 4-year-old girl, and has asked Governor Strickland for clemency. State and federal courts have upheld his conviction and death sentence. The Ohio Parole Board ruled unanimously last month to not recommend clemency.

To read more:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Effort to Reinstate Death Penalty in Switzerland Ends

Switzerland abolished the death penalty nearly 70 years ago. The “Committee for the Death Penalty” wanted to change that and reinstate capital punishment for Swiss murders involving sexual abuse.

The Committee said it launched the campaign because it believes Swiss law unfairly favors perpetrators over the victims and their families. The committee organized as the result of the brutal sexual assault and murder of a 28-year-old woman last year.

Under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, citizens can call for a referendum on almost any subject if they collect at least 100,000 signatures. The Committee received government permission to collect signatures for a referendum.

Then, without warning, The Committee for the Death Penalty abruptly withdrew their campaign to reinstate the death penalty. It gave no reason for terminating the much publicized campaign.

It appears the Committee was surprised by the kind of broad criticism that the death penalty proposal received when it was announced. Authorities said this week that capital punishment could breach the Swiss constitution or international treaties, and that parliament might have moved to block any referendum from taking place.

The death penalty has been abolished in nearly all of Europe. A moratorium on the death penalty is included the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Only Belarus still practices capital punishment. Latvia retains the death penalty only for crimes during wartime.