Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Philadelphia's 'Stop-and-Frisk' Challenged

In Philadelphia, where police embraced an aggressive stop-and-frisk policy nearly three years ago in response to rising gun violence, civil rights lawyers filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that Philadelphia police have been targeting people based solely on race, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The tactic, in which officers can stop and frisk pedestrians as long as there is "reasonable suspicion" of illegal activity, was designed to drive down the number of illegal guns on the street.

Attorney David Rudovsky, one of the lawyers who filed the suit, acknowledges that racial profiling can't be proved "solely by the numbers."

"The key question is: If you control for factors like police deployment and crime rates, would that explain the disparity?" Rudovsky told the Inquirer.

Rudovsky said a better benchmark would be to look at the "hit rate" - how often the stops result in arrest or the discovery of a weapon or other contraband.

The lawsuit says just 8 percent of the stops in 2009 resulted in arrests, often for "criminal conduct that was entirely independent from the supposed reason for the stop." Beyond the overall number of stops by race in 2009 and the arrest percentage, Rudovsky and his co-counsel lack data to search for patterns and figure out precisely who gets frisked and why, according to the Inquirer.

To read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_top_stories/20101129_Federal_lawsuit_alleges_stop-and-frisk_unfairly_targets_minorities.html#ixzz16lrVeGts

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rendell Vetoes Castle Doctrine Bill

Governor Ed Rendell vetoed Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine law that would have expanded the rights of gun owners to defend themselves. The bill expands gun owners' rights by removing retreat requirement. The governor said it encourages violence.

"If we can protect the sanctity of life we should," Rendell told the Associated Press. "We should not have a basically 'shoot first' mentality."

"The expansion of the Castle Doctrine is a solution in search of a problem," Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico told the Associated Press. "People can defend themselves in their own homes, people can defend themselves on the streets."

Marsico supported the governor's veto and opposed the bill. "Where are the law-abiding citizens who are getting prosecuted by the police and district attorneys in Pennsylvania for acting in self defense?" Marsico told Associated Press. "It's not happening."

Marsico worries that an expanded Castle Doctrine will give bad guys a legal loophole to shoot people and get away with it.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Rendell criticized the bill as a dangerous solution to a nonexistent problem that would encourage a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality.

"I do not believe that in a civilized society we should encourage violent and deadly confrontation when the victim can safely protect themselves" through retreat, Mr. Rendell wrote in his veto message. "As keepers of the public trust, we have the solemn duty to protect our citizenry, not put them in harm's way, and to protect the sanctity of human life."

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10331/1106641-100.stm#ixzz16ieBES7f

Child Abductions Fall, Fear Continues to Climb

According to the Denver Post, reports of missing children have plummeted — both in Colorado and nationally. Efforts to more accurately classify the cases have made some progress, but organizations from law enforcement to advocacy groups still put the largest, though sometimes misleading, numbers front and center. As abductions dip fear continues to rise.

"Emphasizing missing children is a holdover from that (1980s) period and not the best way to approach these problems," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"The largest portion of the so-called missing children issue is runaway kids. To lump them into a problem that's largely a police problem has always been a question of whether you're mixing apples and oranges. They got lumped together in part because they gave heft to the numbers."

In the '80s, those weighty numbers gave political clout to an emerging issue. Even in decline, they remain attention-grabbers. The media, particularly 24 hour cable news networks, run with the exceedingly rare stories of abducted children. A child is abducted in San Diego and parents in New Hampshire ran and lock their doors.

The Denver Post's stories by reporters Louis Kilzer and Diana Griego in 1985 debunked the "national paranoia" surrounding missing kids, won a Pulitzer Prize and led to changes in the way organizations approached the issue.

A quarter-century later, authorities have a more clearly defined, technologically equipped and well-organized response to such cases. And yet, some experts say, parental anxiety over child safety has only intensified.

Stranger danger has resulted in an onslaught of legislation aimed at the imaginary predator who snatches up children for sexual gratification and torture. THe incidence of stranger abduction is rare. In Colorado for instance, since the establishment of the Amber Alert system in 2002, there have been only four alerts of stranger abductions. A 1999 nationwide survey found out of 800,000 children reported missing only 115 were considered stranger abductions.

The greatest danger for children comes from within the confines of their very homes or from extended family and friends who are responsible for most sex offenses against children.

To read more: Dispelled kidnap myths do little to allay parents' fears - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16725742#ixzz16g15bVxu

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Former Supreme Court Justice Takes on the Death Penalty

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently wrote a book review for the New York Review of Books. The book is entitled “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” written by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University.

The New York Times describes the review in this way, "In a detailed, candid and critical essay to be published this week in The New York Review of Books, he wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria."

In 1976, after just joining the Court, Stevens voted to reinstate the death penalty. In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.

According to the Times, Justice Stevens said the court took wrong turns in deciding how juries in death penalty cases are chosen and what evidence they may hear, in not looking closely enough at racial disparities in the capital justice system, and in failing to police the role politics can play in decisions to seek and impose the death penalty.

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/us/28memo.html?_r=2&hp

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Newark: Violence on the Rise, Police on the Decline

Newark, New Jersey's largest municipality, has spent decades fighting off a reputation for high crime. Newark has struggled with its murder rate, which in 2009 was almost eight times the state average.

According to the Huffington Post, in recent years, more serious crime -- murders and rapes -- have risen in Newark. In 2008, there were 67 murders; in 2009, that number increased 19 percent, to 80. The 52 rapes reported in 2008 ballooned in 2009 to 70, a 35 percent increase. The bad news continued in 2010: as of October 31 of this year, murder is up 16 percent and rape, 9 percent, compared to 2009.

So how has Newark Mayor Cory Booker decided to address the city's 16 percent increase in homicides this year. How about a 13 percent decrease in police officers. According to the Star-Ledger, the mayor's proposal would amount to $2.7 million in cuts that would result in the layoff of 167 officers. The cuts would also include a one-year suspension of stress pay and clothing allowances, pay deferrals and cuts in overtime. The city proposed a $1.2 million reduction in overtime, $3.7 million in pay deferrals and $1.9 million in unpaid work days, department wide.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's massive cuts are now starting to have an impact on local municipalities and it is not good. Although Christie has vowed not to raise taxes local government entities will not have that luxury. In urban areas like Newark, the tax base may not support even basic services like public safety.

The result, a city with a soaring violent crime rate reduces it police force by 13 percent. Newark may be the first kink in the armor of Governor Christie's hard-charging "slash and bury" policy.

To read more: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/newark_negotiations_break_down.html

Friday, November 26, 2010

Geriatric Prisoners and Soaring Prison Health Care Costs

Geriatric prisoners represent the fast growing segment of prison population. This is in spite of the fact that prisoners age out of crime. The older the prisoner the less likely that she would re-offend. This is not to mention the ailing and elderly inmate who can hardly care for himself let alone victimize another person.

Why are geriatric prisoners on the rise? The criminal justice system tends to increase penalties based on an offender's past criminal behavior not his potential for future criminal behavior. Older offenders tend to have a history of criminal activity, even though their likelihood of future offending may be low. A young offender, with little time to establish a history of criminal activity, and a much higher likelihood of offending will receive a shorter sentence than an aged offender.

What are the implications for a system that imposes its harshest punishment on the group least likely to re-offend? First, is prison crowding. When you fill up prisons with inmates who may not be a risk to society and couple that with violent offenders who have caused harm to society, prisons tend to fill up quickly, and then stay filled.

Second, those old and infirm inmates cost a lot of money. In Kentucky, the department of corrections is paying $20,000,000 a year on geriatric inmates. Currently, the law in Kentucky provides for the release of a terminally ill inmate within a year of dying.

According to WAVE-TV, some in Kentucky, including State Senator Kathy Stein, have fought for laws that would ease rules on medical parole to include inmates who are not deemed a threat. Stein believes the money saved could be shifted to other areas, like education.

But her bill was opposed by state prosecutors, including Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel, and ultimately defeated.

"If you go on and start cutting these people loose that undercuts the whole system," Stengel told WAVE-TV. "And I think it short changes the victims of crime."

Prison health care costs are skyrocketing. State budgets are foundering. And that's fueling a debate on whether policymakers should release prisoners with serious medical conditions in order to cut health care costs and save taxpayer dollars. WAVE-TV asks a pointed question, is the criminal justice system forcing prisoners to pay their debt to society or forcing society to pay to comfort those inmates in their dying days?

To read more: http://www.wave3.com/story/13535955/prisoner-medical-costs-skyrocket-some-call-for-early-releases

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Illinois Strapped With Soaring Prison Budget, Governor Re-Elected

Last year, Illinois boasted of a declining prison population. Governor Pat Quinn had implemented an early release policy for state prisons. Illinois even considered closing a state prison in Vandalia. Then something more important came up than public safety or a state budget, an election.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the reason for the rising numbers of inmates over the last year has everything to do with fewer inmates getting out of prison due to a backlash against a policy change by Governor Quinn that allowed the early release of about 1,700 inmates over four months.

Under fire by an opponent in a heated primary fight, Quinn in January suspended the controversial program, called Meritorious Good Time Push, after news media reports that some prisoners sentenced to short terms of incarceration were freed after as little as a few days in state prison under the program. At the same time, Quinn also suspended the state's regular Meritorious Good Time program, which had been in place for three decades and reduced the prison time of nearly two-thirds of the state's inmates by an average of a few months, reported the Tribune.

As a result, the prison population began rising immediately and has gone up every month since, reaching a peak of 48,731 last week.

With the Illinois Department of Corrections about $95 million behind on its bills, many prison vendors haven't been paid for months. According to the Tribune, fed-up contractors have stopped extending credit to prisons, causing shortages that have led wardens to barter among themselves to stay stocked with essential items like paper goods and soap.

As for Vandalia, the population at the downstate minimum-security prison nearly doubled, rising to 1,700 this fall from 950 last November, reported the Tribune. Now, nearly 100 inmates sleep dormitory-style in a basement area previously closed off by prison officials. The bunks are only about 2 feet apart. This raises serious concerns about security in the prison for both corrections officers and inmates.

Governor Quinn won the election and the state of illinois is saddled with a soaring corrections budget, prison overcrowding and potentially volatile correction facilities. I'm sure the voters of Illinois understood what was at stake when Governor Quinn took the action suspending early release in the midst of a contentious campaign.

To read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-record-prison-population-20101122,0,4611892,full.story

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Florida Ignores Supreme Court Decision on Juvenile Lifers

Florida lame-duck governor Charlie Crist has generated national attention for his pledge to seek a pardon, for Jim Morrison, of the rock group the Doors, who died more than 39 years ago. Morrison was arrested in 1969 for indecent exposure during a concert in Miami.

While Crist has given numerous interviews about the Morrison case – saying “my heart bleeds” for Morrison's family – he has ignored the plight of 116 inmates who are serving life sentences without parole for non-homicide conviction they incurred as juveniles.

The governor's failure to act is in contravention of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___ (2010). The Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole for a non-homicide offense violate the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Florida has more juveniles serving life without parole for non-homicide offenses than all other states combined. Yet, Governor Crist, the Florida legislature and courts have all but ignored the Supreme Court's decision in Graham. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, in several high-profile cases Florida courts are re-sentencing the juveniles to new terms that still amount to life sentences.

Governor Charlie Crist and the state Cabinet are now poised to reject the clemency case of a 15-year-old who received four life sentences for armed robberies in the Tampa Bay area.

At Crist's last Clemency Board meeting, set for December 9th, lawyers will ask state officials to consider the case of Kenneth Young, who is representative of the 116 Florida juveniles who were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for non-murder crimes, reported the Herald-Tribune.

While Jim Morrison gets the attention of the out-going governor, 116 offenders who have been granted relief by the country's highest court are ignored or worse, are subject to efforts that are intended to thwart the Court's action on behalf of youthful offenders.

To read more: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20101121/ARTICLE/11211086/2055/NEWS?p=all&tc=pgall&tc=ar

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scripps Study Reveals Potential Work of Serial Killers

Youngstown, Ohio Begins Review of Unsolved Homicides

A Scripps Howard News Service study based upon computer records of 525,742 homicides committed from 1980 to 2008 has pointed to the possibility of serial killers at work in several regions across the U.S.

The FBI provided most of the data. But Scripps supplemented the data using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain detailed records of 15,322 killings that local police did not disclose to the federal government's entirely voluntary crime reporting system.

The study identified 161 clusters in which 1,247 women of similar age were killed through similar means. At least 75 percent of the cases in each cluster were unsolved at the time they were reported under the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report program.

The Scripps study prompted police in Youngstown, Ohio to begin a fresh review of decades-old files and evidence storage boxes related to several homicides.

"In the early 1990s, we thought we had a serial murderer running around. Yes, we definitely thought we had one," Captain Rod Foley of the city's homicide squad told Scripps.

Foley is contacting other police departments, looking for any physical evidence from a series of suspected rape-murders in his area that could be shipped to Ohio authorities for DNA analysis.

"We had a suspect back then," Foley told Scripps. "We thought he had a pattern. He would rape them. Sometimes he'd shoot them or do some other things to them."

Many killings go unreported and remain missing persons. Sometimes victims are not even reported missing. Homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill men and particularly woman engaged in risky behavior never make it onto police investigation reports. Crime victim surveys and the FBI crime report may not be providing a true picture of violent crime, specifically homicide.

To read more: http://www.scrippsnews.com/content/serial-killings-study-prompts-police-launch-investigations

Monday, November 22, 2010

NYC: Violent Crime on the Rise

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), New York City's overall crime rate—calculated by totaling seven so-called index crimes: murders, rapes, robberies, felony assaults, burglaries, grand larcenies and auto thefts—dropped 1.26% from a year earlier. The "drop" is attributable to a reduction in property-crime complaints, most notably fewer grand larcenies. However, hidden in the "drop" in crime is the fact that all four violent crimes are projected to show increases at year's end, including 15% hikes in both murders and rape.

Eli Silverman, a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-author of a study challenging the accuracy of the NYPD's statistics, has a different explanation. He told the WSJ the police department is manipulating statistics by downgrading many property crimes to minor offenses that don't show up in the official crime rate. Violent crimes are much harder to downgrade and may be being reported more accurately, he says.

"They've made it [low crime] symbolic for all their achievements," Silverman told the WSJ, "They've made it a selling point for tourism and business….They made it a narrative, a story and they can't deviate from that story. They're stuck in that story."

New York City is the latest major city to reveal and up-tick in violent crime. The sputtering economy has had a dramatic impact on state and local government budgets. The budget crisis has resulted in fewer police officers, early release of prisoners, cuts in programming and fewer employment opportunities. All of this contributes to higher violent crime rates.

Policymakers seem content to balance the budget on the back of public safety cuts. What would John Q. Public pay for the safety and security of his family?

To read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703567304575628580735588388.html

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Court Authorizes Substitute Drug for Oklahoma Executions

Federal Court Rules Animal Sedative is Appropriate for Lethal Injection

Oklahoma received the green light to substitute pentobarital for sodium thiopental during executions. Oklahoma uses a three-drug cocktail to carry out lethal injection. The federal judge's ruling will allow Oklahoma to be the first state to use a sedative other than sodium thiopental.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, death-row inmate Jeffrey Matthews had his execution stayed while his attorneys and the state's attorneys argued over which sedative to use. Matthews execution will now be rescheduled by the state Court of Criminal Appeals. Earlier this month fellow death-row inmate John David Duty, whose execution is scheduled for December 16th, joined the request to delay the executions.

The thrust of the inmates' objection is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, which is one of three execution drugs administered during lethal injection in most states. In Ohio and Washington state sodium thiopental is the only drug used for lethal injection. Oklahoma officials will now use pentobarbital, a drug usually used for animal euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.

According to the Oklahoman, Matthews was convicted of killing his great uncle during a 1994 McClain County home-invasion. Duty strangled his cellmate in 2001while in was in prison for armed robbery, first-degree rape and shooting with intent to kill.

Read more: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-gets-ok-to-use-substitute-drug-for-execution/article/3516319#ixzz15vZnHla9

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canadian PM Ratchets Up Crime Rhetoric

Crime Rates Continue to Fall Across Canada

Charles Pascal, a professor at the University of Toronto and a former Ontario deputy minister, wrote a recent op-ed in the Toronto Star taking Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to task for his crime policies.

The policies do not differ much from fear mongering polices proposed and enacted by American politician. At times the policies are more about being "tough-on-crime" than instituting meaningful public safety policies.

One example cited by Pascal is a Harper supported law eliminating a two-for-one credit for time served in remand custody. If someone served 30 days while awaiting a chance at justice (this would be akin to an American inmate unable to post bond) and was then convicted, he used to get credit for 60 days when it came to sentencing. Why? Because conditions in remand are the worst of the worst. And because remand time is “dead time,” not considered when calculating release dates. The effect of this new law will be disproportionate for marginalized populations, especially aboriginal peoples.

Pascal wote in the Star, on the face of it, it appears to be a good idea (tough-on-crime) to scrap the two-for-one credit, the kind of superficial bumper-sticker policy that was opposition-proof. Then, after the bill’s passage, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page did an analysis of costs, concluding that the bill to taxpayers will amount to a minimum of $5 billion over five years for this single piece of legislation — about what would be required for a national early-learning and care program that would, among so many other things, reduce the illiteracy that is so highly correlated with crime.

Pascal turned to Paula Mallea, a lawyer and research associate at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who wrote a report suggesting that Harper’s agenda has more to do with rehabilitating his “tough guy” image and zero to do with rehabilitating either offenders or his $54 billion deficit.

Some of the tough-on-crime rhetoric doesn't seem to be consistent with reports in Canada, just as those in the U.S., that crime continues to go down across the country, with violent crime moving clearly down, according to the new Crime Severity Index.

To read more: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/891822--harper-tough-on-crime-but-soft-on-facts

Friday, November 19, 2010

Liptak: High Court’s Judicial Craftsmanship Questioned

Adam Liptak of the New York Times takes the U.S. Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, to task for the Court’s sweeping and politically polarized decisions. More importantly Liptak raises concern about the quality of the Court’s judicial craftsmanship.

Liptak writes that the Court in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the towering 1954 decision that held segregated public schools unconstitutional, managed to do its work in fewer than 4,000 words. When the Roberts Court returned to just an aspect of the issue in 2007 in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, 551 U.S. 701 (2007), it published some 47,000 words, enough to rival a short novel. In more routine cases, too, the Court has been setting records. The median length of majority opinions reached an all-time high in the last term.

Critics of the Court’s work are not primarily focused on the quality of the justices’ writing, though it is often flabby and flat. Instead, they point to reasoning that fails to provide clear guidance to lower courts, sometimes seemingly driven by a desire for unanimity that can lead to fuzzy, unwieldy rulings.

Liptak wrote that the opinions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S.Ct.876 (2010), the January decision that lifted restrictions on corporate and union spending in candidate elections, spanned 183 pages and more than 48,000 words, or about the length of “The Great Gatsby.” The decision — ninth on the list of longest majority opinions — was controversial, but the questions it addressed were not particularly complicated.

In May, the Court struck down life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders who did not kill anyone. In Graham v. Florida, 650 U.S. ___ (2010), the Court said only that states must provide “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release.” In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wondered what that could possibly mean, wrote Liptak.

There are a number of the other examples of the Court either rambling on or being ambiguous with regard its decision. Anyone interested in getting a glimpse into the workings of the Roberts Court should read this article.

Liptak's article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/us/18rulings.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Erie: Alleged Child Killer Mentally Retarded?

Attorneys Argue Death Penalty Should Not Apply

In August, Aaron Noyer was charged with criminal homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary in the death of two-year-old Elizabeth Neimeic of Erie, Pennsylvania.

According to Dave Lohr of AolNews.com, crime scene investigators found Noyer's finger- and palm prints inside the Neimeics' home, authorities said. When Noyer was brought in for police questioning, he allegedly told police he had climbed through the girl's bedroom window to burglarize the home.

During the burglary, Noyer allegedly abducted Elizabeth and took her to a nearby area. There, next to a pair of railroad tracks, he removed her clothing and sexually assaulted and strangled her, authorities said. Afterward, Noyer threw the child to the ground at least twice, police said.

Noyer has an extensive criminal record. He was charged with arson as an 11-year-old. He has had a PFA filed against him for threatening a girlfriend. Now his lawyers say he is mentally retarded and therefore cannot face the death penalty.

Noyer filed a motion Tuesday, challenging Erie District Attorney Jack Daneri's intention to seek the death penalty. According to the Associated Press, Daneri says three aggravating factors qualify Noyer for the death penalty: the victim was younger than 12; the killing allegedly happened as part of another felony; and Noyer has a history of violent crime.

The Erie Times-News says Noyer's IQ has been tested at 57. His attorneys argue that he should be exempt him from execution under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In Atkins, the Court ruled 6-3 that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishments. Although the Supreme Court did not establish a bright line rule regarding IQ and mental retardation, some suggest that an IQ under 70, may be indicative of mental retardation.

To read more: http://www.aolnews.com/crime/article/pa-police-make-arrest-in-toddlers-abduction-slaying/19578258

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Public Opinion Poll: 83 Percent of Americans Support the Death Penalty

The Crime Report, an online site for news and multimedia information and networking resource for journalists, practitioners, researchers, and the general public, recently posted two very different opinion polls regarding the death penalty.

Last week, The Crime Report posted that Angus Reid Public Opinion found that most Americans support the death penalty in murder cases, but are divided on whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent for potential criminals. The online survey of a representative sample of 1,006 adults found that 83 percent of respondents support punishing homicide with the death penalty, while 13 percent are opposed.

A majority would also use capital punishment to punish rape (62%) and kidnapping (51%), but not armed robbery (40%). While 39 percent think capital punishment acts as a deterrent, 35 percent disagree.

Interestingly, four-in-five respondents (81%) believe innocent people have been executed in the U.S.; only six per cent think that this has never happened. There are no known incidents of an innocent person being executed in the United States since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976.

Yesterday, The Crime Report posted a national poll of 1,500 registered voters conducted on behalf of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) by Lake Research Partners. The DPIC claims growing support for alternatives to the death penalty.

The DPIC found that 61 percent of voters would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder, including life with no possibility of parole and with restitution to the victim’s family (39 percent), life with no possibility of parole (13 percent), or life with the possibility of parole (9 percent). The DPIC is opposed to capital punishment.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said cost was a very or somewhat convincing argument against the death penalty. Voters ranked emergency services, creating jobs, police and crime prevention, schools and libraries, public health care services, and roads and transportation as more important budget priorities than the death penalty, said the survey. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed would favor replacing the death penalty with life with no possibility of parole if the money saved were used to fund crime prevention programs, according to The Crime Report.

To read more: http://www.angus-reid.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/2010.11.09_Death_USA.pdf


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rendell Signs Prison Reform Package Into Law

Pa. joins other states in adopting risk assessment in sentencing

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
November 15, 2010

Last month, Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed into law a prison reform bill. In part, Act 95 of 2010, formerly known as Senate Bill 1161, directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop a risk assessment instrument for use by judges in sentencing criminal offenders. The law was sponsored by state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, and was recently touted by the GOP House Caucus as being able to identify criminals who are "at a lower risk to reoffend and who may be recommended for alternative sentencing programs instead of additional prison time, such as county and state intermediate punishment programs."

The specific language of Act 95 provides:

(a) General Rule — The commission shall adopt a sentence risk assessment instrument for the sentencing court to use to help determine the appropriate sentence within the limits established by law for defendants who plead guilty or nolo contendere to, or who were found guilty of, felonies and misdemeanors. The risk assessment instrument may be used as an aide in evaluating the relative risk that an offender will reoffend and be a threat to public safety.

(b) Sentencing Guidelines — The risk assessment instrument may be incorporated into the sentencing guidelines under section 2154 (relating to adoption of guidelines for sentencing).

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that at least five states in 2009 adopted some form of risk assessment procedure with regard to sentencing. Florida is utilizing a risk assessment instrument for purposes of prison diversion programs. Illinois has authorized the development of risk assessment for purposes of sentencing. Tennessee is including a risk assessment tool in its pre-sentence reports. Washington is using risk assessment for purposes of placement in residential drug treatment. North Carolina is considering risk assessment when imposing community-based punishment.

State appellate courts have upheld the use of risk assessment tools at sentencing. This summer, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Malenchik v. Indiana , that "offender assessment instruments are appropriate supplemental tools for judicial consideration at sentencing" and "legitimate offender assessment instruments do not replace but may inform a trial court's sentencing determinations ... the trial court's consideration of the defendant's assessment model scores was only supplemental to other sentencing evidence that independently supported the sentence imposed."

Virginia has been utilizing risk assessment information at sentencing since 1994. In fact, for many years Virginia was the only state using risk information at the time of sentencing.

Former Virginia Gov. George Allen was elected in 1994. Soon after taking office he and the legislature created the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission and charged the commission with increasing prison stays for violent offenders and placing 25 percent of otherwise incarceration-bound nonviolent offenders in alternative forms of sanctioning.

Virginia's sentencing scheme was not just about diverting nonviolent low risk offenders. It was also about "incapacitating" high-risk offenders. In the process of creating new sentence guidelines the sentencing commission studied thousands of prison terms and determined the actual time served for specific offenses and then set sentence ranges based on those findings. Dr. Richard Kern, director of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, suggested the next step was to weed out those offenders "who we are afraid of" from those "we were just ticked-off at." For those feared, longer prison sentences. For those that merely annoyed, diversion to alternative punishment.

The higher the assessment score, the less likely the offender will be diverted from prison. First, all violent offenders and anyone convicted of distributing more than one ounce of a controlled substance were eliminated from consideration for diversion. The remaining offenders were administered an assessment prior to sentencing.

The risk assessment, because of its heavy reliance on age, gender and juvenile criminal records, had the effect of increasing the assessment score for young, male offenders. Older, nonviolent career criminals tend to score lower on the assessment. The result is consistent with research that indicates that the most violent segment of the population is 16 to 24 year-olds.

The Virginia sentence guidelines are utilized to control prison growth while incapacitating violent and criminally active young offenders. The recidivism rate for those diverted from prison is 12 percent as compared to those sent to prison who recidivate at a rate of 38 percent.

The guidelines also provide for increasing the length of sentences for violent sex offenders. A specific risk assessment was devised for sex offenders. After studying prior sex offenders and their recidivism rates, the commission recommended sentence guidelines for sex offenders. The sentencing judge could use the risk assessment score to determine a moderate, high risk or very high risk sex offender and increase the upper end of the guideline range by 25, 50 or 100 percent. In effect, the guidelines enabled the sentencing judge to incapacitate the offenders who pose the greatest risk to society.

Virginia's sentencing scheme has saved millions of dollars and enhanced public safety. Virginia's success is evident no matter what is used as a barometer. First, a look at a Vera Institute report, The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections , is instructive. While Pennsylvania's correction costs increased by 4.49 percent in 2009, Virginia's decreased by 1.3 percent. Only two states, West Virginia and Wyoming, had a greater percentage increase in correction costs than did Pennsylvania.

Second, a Pew Center on the States' report, 2010 Prison Count, found that Pennsylvania's prison population increased by 4.3 percent in 2009, while Virginia's decreased by 1.3 percent.

Most importantly, Virginia's violent crime rate in 2009 was 226 violent crimes per 100,000 people, the state's lowest number since the mid-1960s. In 2009, Pennsylvania had 380 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Virginia's innovative sentencing scheme appears to have addressed two lofty goals, reduce prison population and incapacitate the worst of the worst. Virginia's focus on empirical risk assessments at the front end of the punishment process is a smart approach to fiscal responsibility, public safety and offender accountability.

Now, Pennsylvania has an opportunity to make an impact on public safety as well. It is imperative that policy-makers remember that risk assessment tools can be relied on to divert low risk offenders to places other than prison, as well as have a role in incapacitating the worst of the high risk offenders.

‘Stand Your Ground’ Bill on Governor Rendell’s Desk

Governor will review the bill before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

Last night the Pennsylvania House of Representatives sent to Governor Ed Rendell a bill that expands the use of self-defense in Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The legislation known as "stand your ground" enables people to use lethal force to defend themselves without retreat outside their homes. Currently the law allows those protections only within one's home.

The bill was approved by a 161-35 vote. Gun groups, many of them from Western Pennsylvania, pushed for the bill's passage over the past five years, reported the Tribune-Review.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association opposed the bill. Association president, Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation.

Two years ago Ohio passed a version of the Castle Doctrine. Prosecutors had concerns about the law when it was passed and that concern has not abated.
"It was not made to protect drug dealers from drug dealers, but that's how it's being used," Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told the Columbus Dispatch.

In rural Pike County, a man who ripped off a drug dealer's wares shot the dealer through the heart after he broke a window in an attempt to enter the defendant's car. Defense attorneys contended that the man acted lawfully. A jury convicted him of reckless homicide rather than murder, reported the Dispatch.

In Franklin County, a man fatally stabbed an acquaintance that pushed his way into the defendant's home during an argument. His attorneys said the law granted him an absolute right to defend himself with deadly force. According to the Dispatch, the prosecution countered that the law "is not a license to commit murder."

The use of the castle-doctrine defense has not succeeded in heading off homicide convictions, but appeals of trial-court verdicts are promised that could produce rulings interpreting the law.

"I am surprised it took this long to become an issue," Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien told the Dispatch. He fears that the law is being used to "confuse jurors to think there was self-defense under the law when there wasn't."

To read more: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_709483.html

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence

Execution Would Have Been the Last Under Governor Strickland

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has spared the life of Sidney Cornwell, a killer scheduled to be executed tomorrow. Cornwell's sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to the Associated Press, the Ohio Parole Board had recommended against mercy for Cornwell, but Strickland said jurors might have chosen a different sentence if they had known of the condition, called Klinefelter Syndrome. The condition caused Cornwell to develop motor and language skills late and gave him large breasts as a boy, which led to repeated teasing.

Cornwell, of Youngstown, was scheduled to die by lethal injection for the killing of Jessica Ballew. The girl was on her porch in Youngstown in 1996 as Cornwell and other Crips gang members were hunting for a member of the Bloods a rival gang. He opened fire on people who apparently knew his intended victim, killing the girl, reported the Associated Press.

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said he did not believe Cornwell deserved mercy. "Although I disagree with the governor's decision, I respect his right to make that decision," Gains told the Associated Press.

Seventeen men have been put to death since Governor Strickland took office in 2007. The eight men executed this year is the most in a single year since Ohio re-instituted the death penalty in 1999.

Cornwell is the third death row inmate this year to be spared by the governor. Cornwell is the last inmate to face the death penalty with Strickland as governor. Governor Strickland was defeated in his bid for re-election earlier this month.

To read more: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ic8rg35Zlm9cqHvMhxNU9xbzR3HA?docId=0102977eeca14d11a3073beafe64232c

Congress Ignores I.R.S. Regulation Denying Information to Missing Children Investigators

The government has data that could be helpful in tracking down thousands of missing children across the country. However, existing federal tax laws prohibit the disclosure of the information.

The Internal Revenue Service says that taxpayer privacy laws severely restrict the release of information from tax returns. According to the New York Times, privacy laws enacted a generation ago to prevent Watergate-era abuses of confidential taxpayer information brought about the restrictions.

The Congress has enacted specific exceptions allowing the I.R.S. to turn over information in child support cases and to help federal agencies determine whether an applicant qualifies for income-based federal benefits. However, Congress has refused to act on missing children. Information that would be helpful in tracking down child abductors is apparently off-limits.

The I.R.S. would be of little help in finding a child abducted by strangers. Stranger abductions are exceedingly rare. The I.R.S. can be helpful in the case of family abductions. According to the Times, about 200,000 family abductions are reported each year in the United States, most of which stem from custody disputes between estranged spouses. About 12,000 last longer than six months, according to Justice Department statistics reported by the Times, and involve parental abductors who assume false identities and travel the country to escape detection.

As unlikely as it may seem, a significant number of adults responsible for family abductions file federal tax returns. The Times reported that a 2007 Treasury Department study examined the Social Security numbers of 1,700 missing children and the relatives suspected of abducting them, and found that more than a third had been used in tax returns filed after the abductions took place.

Those addresses could be used by investigators to rescue abducted children. Yet, the I.R.S. will not provide the confidential taxpayer information. A federal judge in Virginia agreed with the I.R.S. and refused to issue an order authorizing the I.R.S. to turn over the addresses to law enforcement authorities.

It is beyond comprehension that the Congress cannot carve out an exception to the tax code to enable the I.R.S. to assist law enforcement agencies locate missing and abducted children. Missing children’s advocates see the I.R.S. data as a potentially powerful resource. “There are hundreds of cases this could help solve,” Cindy Rudometkin of the Polly Klaas Foundation told the Times, “And even if it helped solve one case — imagine if that child returned home was yours.”

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/13/business/13missing.html?_r=2&hp

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ohio Schedules Record Ninth Execution for Tuesday

Sidney Cornwell is set for execution at 10 a.m. on November 16, 2010 in Ohio's Death House at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. He was convicted of the 1996 Youngstown area gang-related killing of Jessica Ballew.

According to the Warren Tribune Chronicle, prosecutors say Cornwell, a member of the Crips street gang, was looking for Richard ''Boom'' Miles, a member of rival gang, the Bloods, who had shot and wounded a member of the Crips a day earlier. Miles' girlfriend lived in the Oak Park Lane home on the North Side where Jessica was staying.

Three-year-old Jessica had walked on the front porch about 2:15 a.m. to ask for a glass of water when a car with three men inside rolled by and someone inside started firing, reported the Tribune Chronicle. Ballew was killed, and three others on the porch were wounded.

The state parole board has recommended against clemency. Governor Ted Strickland has not decided to grant clemency or allow the execution to proceed. If the execution proceeds as scheduled it will be the ninth execution of 2010. Ohio has already executed more inmates this year than in any other year since the death penalty was reimposed in 1999.

To read more: http://www.tribtoday.com/page/content.detail/id/549574/Cop-recalls-killer-s-case.html?nav=5021

DNA and the Execution of Claude Jones

Test Results Do Not Prove Innocence of Texas Man Executed

A DNA test on a single hair has stirred some controversy regarding Claude Jones who was condemned to die for the 1989 killing of liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager, who was shot three times outside the town of Point Blank, Texas.

The hair had been the only piece of physical evidence linking Jones to the crime scene. But the recently completed DNA analysis found it did not belong to Jones and instead may have come from the murder victim, reported the Associated Press.

According to Time Magazine, that single 1-inch strand of hair was the key to Jones' original conviction. A truck carrying Jones and Danny Dixon did pull up in front of Hilzendager's liquor store that night. One man got out, went inside and gunned Hilzendager down, according to two eyewitnesses across the highway (neither could see the murderer's face). Both Jones and Dixon were certainly capable of the crime — both were on parole after serving time for murder. But there was little other firm evidence of which one had done it. Dixon accused Jones, and Jones accused Dixon.

The fact that the hair was actually Hilzendager's doesn't mean that Jones was necessarily innocent, but it does mean that the jury convicted him, in part, on possibly inaccurate evidence. DNA testing may have address the issue with the hair sample. As the execution drew near, Jones petitioned Governor George W. Bush for a stay of execution and the right to DNA testing. Apparently, the briefing papers given to Bush by his staff did not include the request for the DNA testing, and Bush denied a stay of execution, according to Time.

Jones' had a brutal past. While serving a 21-year prison sentence in Kansas, he poured a flammable liquid on his cellmate and set him on fire, killing him. Authorities also said his getaway driver, Danny Dixon, was previously convicted of shooting a girl between the eyes and burying her in a cemetery, reported Associated Press.

This DNA test is not an exoneration of Jones. This is not a case where the DNA test indicated that Jones is factually innocent. Could DNA testing prior to his execution been enough to stay his execution or even grant him a new trial? We can speculate that he might have received some relief from the court.

What we do know is that two convicted killers pulled up in front of a liquor store and the store owner was brutally murdered. A witness said said Jones confessed to the killing.

To read more: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iR9jEuLMk-vBBvGHm6XmfYL0qzEw?docId=1efabe1138424c3087e40841c4a4f149


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oklahoma Turns to Animal Euthanizing Drug for Executions

Oklahoma federal judge Stephen Friot will soon hear arguments on whether Oklahoma can execute John David Duty with pentobarbital a drug used for euthanizing animals. The drug would be substituted for sodium thiopental the powerful anesthetic that is widely used for lethal injection and is in short supply.

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of thiopental, announced this summer that it had ceased production of the drug until 2011, citing a shortage in one of thiopental's raw ingredients.

Oklahoma authorities have suggested that veterinarians regard pentobarbital, which it is proposing as a substitute anesthetic for death row inmates, "as an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals," that is "substantially" similar to thiopental, reported the WSJ.

Many states, including Arizona, California, Kentucky and Tennessee, have combed domestic or overseas suppliers in search of thiopental, in some cases successfully. Other states, such as Texas, have a sufficient stockpile on hand to cover near-term executions, but they could run into delays next year if Hospira doesn't make a new supply, reported the WSJ.

Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone since Nov. 28, 2005, but the state supplied a drug used for an execution in Oklahoma. A shortage of sodium thiopental has sent states across the country scrambling to acquire doses before their next scheduled executions. Some have turned to Arkansas.

After the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay on two executions scheduled earlier this year because of objections raised over the state’s recently changed lethal-injection law, the state was left with extra supplies of the drug that will expire in 2011.

Efforts to obtain thiopental from foreign sources have created controversy and legal battles. Arizona used a dose of sodium thiopental obtained overseas to execute Jeffey Landrigan earlier this month, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/10/condemned-mans-final-words-boomer.html. A lawsuit filed last week in London alleges that Tennessee ordered a supply of thiopental from Britain to carry out the scheduled January execution of Edmund Zagorski.

To read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704146904575602784093885378.html?mod=WSJ_hp_MIDDLENexttoWhatsNewsThird

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amazon, Pedophiles and the First Amendment

Can the Government Proscribe Speech that Incites Criminal Activity?

The answer is maybe. This issue has taken on renewed interest in light of Amazon's decision to offer for sale and then pull-off the market, “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct.”

Some have suggested that Amazon's decision to pull the book has violated the author's right of free speech as embodied in the First Amendment. A private entity, such as a book seller cannot violate an individuals right to free speech. The First Amendment applies to government intrusion on the rights of individuals, or the press, to speak freely.

Private entities censor content all the time. In fact, Amazon has a list of content restrictions. If a book publisher could not pick and choose based on content, then everyone who has ever submitted a rejected manuscript could argue that her right to free speech was infringed upon.

Now to the issue of the government intervening to legitimately restrict speech for purposes of public safety. In Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444(1969), the U.S. Supreme Court refused to restrict speech, at a KKK rally, without a showing of "imminent lawless action." It is unlikely that the pedophile guide is inciting imminent lawless action, a guide book by its very title indicates conduct at some future time. The U.S. Supreme Court has said future conduct is not imminent.

However, there is a interesting federal decision out of the Fourth Circuit, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, that held a book publisher civilly liable for a how-to-book for hit men that was used by a reader to commit three murders.

To read more: http://www.pbpulse.com/arts-and-culture/book-reviews-arts/2010/11/12/amazon-stops-selling-self-published-guide-for-pedophiles/

Homicide Rate Soars in Boston

Just this week I wrote about the rising homicide rate in Orlando, Florida, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/11/orlandos-homicide-rate-soars.html. The Boston Globe is reporting a similar dramatic increase in homicides in Boston. The number of people murdered in Boston has risen 46.5 percent since this time last year.

The Boston police commissioner suggested that the increase can be attributed to a combination of more people turning to the drug trade to make money and the release of drug dealers from prison. That combination has led to 63 homicides through November 8th of this year. At the same point last year, there were 43 killings. According to the Globe, there have been 21 homicides in Boston since September.

Are the soaring homicides rates in Orlando and Boston the result of a shift in crime fighting priorities? Nearly all of America has enjoyed unprecedented crime reductions. Unfortunately, when crime trends shift downward policymakers direct less attention, and less resources, toward crime fighting.

That shift in priorities does not come without consequences. Couple the misguided notion that crime is under control, and will continue to remain under control, with a struggling economy, state and local government budget woes, police officer layoffs, the early release of prisoners to save money and it is easy to understand the potential for a spike in violent crime.

Most states are at a crucial juncture, cut costs or provide for public safety. What is safety and security worth to the average citizen?

To read more: http://mobile.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/11/11/surge_in_city_homicides_laid_to_drug_crime

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Texas Backtracks on Prison Closings

Not long ago, Texas was exploring the possibility of closing prisons. Texas is America's "law and order" state. The Lone Star state has carried out more than a third of all executions nationwide. The idea that Texas would reduce its prison population came as a shock. I wrote about closing Texas prisons earlier this year, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/02/texas-closing-prisons.html.

Faced with a $20 billion budget shortfall, the Texas legislature proposed closing some state prisons to save money. Much was made of Texas' reinvestment in treatment as opposed to prison construction. However, those prisons that were nearly empty have slowly begun to fill-up.

Since May, when 153,977 inmates were housed in Texas’ 112 state prisons, the number has grown to 155,022 inmates, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Texas policymakers cannot agree on the reasons for prison growth, most agree that if the trend continues, it could make decisions about cutting state spending even more difficult.

The Express-News reasoned that full prisons cannot be closed without releasing inmates, a politically unthinkable solution. That leaves treatment and rehabilitation programs — two areas where Texas has expanded its funding and has been successful in recent years at reducing its prison population — as the likely targets for significant cuts.

Texas, not long ago, touting its cutting edge treatment programs is now in the unenviable position of slashing those very programs.

To read more: http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-politics/cutting-prison-budget-could-be-challenging-if-inmate-1032688.html

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Orlando's Homicide Rate Soars

Murder is Up 45 Percent Compared With the Same Time Last Year

The number of homicides in greater Orlando for 2010 have surpassed the total number of 2009 slayings, according to the Orlando Sentinel. This week marked the 45th killing of the year, compared with 33 last year.


"It's very difficult to prevent a homicide," sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons told the Sentinel. "Usually a homicide is a spur of the moment, emotional act."

The Sheriff's Office has focused its efforts on trying to prevent violent crime by taking illegal guns and drugs, which could potentially lead to murder, off the streets, Solomons said.

Detectives and experts have long struggled to find a reason behind the rise and fall in homicides, and have mostly come up empty, reported the Sentinel.

Investigators have seen increases this year in domestic violence-related killings, which account for about one-third of the county's homicides so far this year. University of Central Florida sociology professor Jay Corzine said those slayings could be tied to the economic collapse.

"The poor economic conditions are affecting families," Corzine told the Sentinel, adding that the high foreclosure rate in the county could also be a contributing factor.

Deputies fear that the homicide rate could reach the high levels it did in 2008, when 73 people were slain.

"There is always a concern that we could go back to those record levels," Solomons told the Sentinel. "That is why we do things proactively, but sometimes it's just the way the cards fall.

"We could go a month without one and then we could have a three in a nine- to 12-hour period."

To read more: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-11-08/news/os-murders-orange-county-20101019_1_homicide-rate-orange-county-homicides-slayings

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brutal Connecticut Home Invasion Results in Death Penalty

"You Have Been Exposed to Images of Depravity and Horror that No Human Being Should Have to See"

The Associated Press is reporting that jurors in New Haven Superior Court voted unanimously to send Steven Hayes to death row after deliberating over four days. Hayes was convicted of a night of terror inside a suburban home where a woman was strangled and her two daughters were tied to their beds, sexually assaulted and left to die in a gasoline-fueled fire. The home invasion generated national attention.

The judge, in thanking the jurors for their service, said, "You have been exposed to images of depravity and horror that no human being should have to see."

William Petit Jr., the husband and father of the victims, said the verdict was not about revenge. "Vengeance belongs to the Lord," Dr. Petit said. "This is about justice. We need to have some rules in a civilized society." He also said it wouldn't bring closure, saying whoever came up with the concept was "an imbecile," according to the Associated Press.

Defense attorney Tom Ullmann said Mr. Hayes, who had attempted suicide while incarcerated, smiled at the verdict. "He is thrilled with the verdict. That's what he wanted all along," his lawyer said.

According to the Associated Press, jurors were divided over whether Mr. Hayes really wanted a death sentence, but that argument did not play a big role in the deliberations. An early jury note indicated a division over a claim that Mr. Hayes was mentally impaired at the time of the crime turned out to be just a hypothetical example of a vote.

Mr. Hayes will be only one of ten men on Connecticut's death row. The state has only executed one man in the last 50 years. His accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will be tried next year. He also faces the death penalty. The Associated Press reported that prosecutors rejected offers by both men to plead guilty in exchange for life terms, their attorneys have said.

To read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10313/1101848-84.stm#ixzz14mtnxlr5

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tennessee Postpones Upcoming Execution

The Associated Press is reporting that the execution of a Tennessee Death Row inmate has been delayed for a three weeks. The State Supreme Court postponed the death of Stephen Michael West over the weekend.

West was set to die November 9th. That will now happen November 30th. The last minute ruling stems from a lawsuit filed challenging Tennessee's three-drug, lethal injection system. West's claims that Tennessee's method of lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

West's lawyers continued that recent autopsy evidence from three executions indicate that the first drug, sodium thiopental, of a three-drug protocol used by the state does not render a convicted killer unconscious before the fatal drugs are administered.

West was convicted for killing a mother and daughter in Union County back in 1986.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

When does Miranda apply?

Youngstown Vindicator
Sunday, November 7, 2010

In 2005, a 13-year-old seventh grade special education student from North Carolina was suspected of a crime. The police went to his school to question him about a string of neighborhood burglaries. The police were informed that the student had a digital camera that had been removed from one of the homes.

The student was escorted from his class into a conference room, where he was interrogated by a police investigator in the presence of the school security officer, the assistant principal, and a school intern. His parents were not contacted, and he was not given any warnings about his constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent or to have an attorney present during questioning.

Custodial interrogation

The student confessed to the burglaries and was arrested. Attorneys for the student sought to throw his confession out, suggesting that the “schoolhouse” interview was really a custodial interrogation.

The 1966 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Miranda v. Arizona held that statements made in response to questioning while in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the suspect was informed of the right to consult with or have an attorney present during questioning and the suspect was informed of the right to remain silent prior to questioning. The prosecution must also show that the suspect not only understood the rights, but voluntarily waived those rights.

The North Carolina juvenile court ruled that Miranda did not apply. The student was not in police custody. The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed, “This court adheres to the view that the custody inquiry states an objective rule designed to give clear guidance to the police.”

An adult accused of a crime who is invited to the police department for questioning and who at some point is detained by police must be Mirandized, read his rights, prior to continued questioning. The North Carolina Supreme Court does not think that a learning disabled, 13-year-old is entitled to the same protections.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the student’s appeal. Although this case seems to beg for correction, don’t expect the high court to jump in and change the law in favor of an accused. The court has decided three Miranda cases in the last year, and none has favored those accused of crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Florida v. Powell, wherein the court found that ambiguous warnings were sufficient. In Maryland v. Shatzer, the court ruled that even after a suspect invoked her right to counsel, investigators could, after a 14-day hiatus, re-establish contact to further pursue interrogation. In Berghuis v. Thompkins, the court ruled that a suspect must specifically and unambiguously invoke his to right to remain silent; silence itself is not sufficient.

High Court decisions

Anthony J. Franze, co-counsel for the defendant in Florida v. Powell, examined the three Supreme Court decisions in a recent article for the Harvard Law & Policy Review. Franze suggested the following to emphasize how Miranda is evolving: The police can take an individual into custody, read him an ambiguous Miranda warning (Powell), and then question him for hours without a lawyer present. If the suspect does not speak up and unambiguously invoke his right to counsel or right to remain silent, police can persistently question him and use even a single, terse, one-word response after hours of questioning as an implicit knowing and voluntary waiver of his rights (Berghuis). If, by chance, the suspect does unambiguously invoke his rights, the police can release him for 14 days and then pick him up on day 15 to begin the entire interrogation process anew (Shatzer).

The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly moved to the right on the issue of Miranda. It will be interesting to see how the court rules on the North Carolina case. Parents entrust their children’s safety and well being to the administration and staff of their respective schools. Is it unreasonable for parents to expect that their children’s fundamental constitutional rights will also be protected?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Will Ohio Seek British Execution Drug?

Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch asked in a recent column: Will a British-made drug be used in Ohio executions? Or will a dozen convicted killers get a temporary reprieve? I answered that question in a recent blog, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/11/scotus-opens-door-to-substitute.html.

According to the Dispatch, a national shortage of thiopental sodium has prison officials in Ohio and three dozen other states scrambling to figure out how to carry out legally required lethal-injection executions.

Arizona came up with its own solution, buying thiopental sodium from a British manufacturer so it could execute Jeffrey Landrigan, 50, last week.

A British newspaper, The Guardian, said Arizona obtained the drug from Archimedes Pharma UK, the sole British manufacturer.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials say they have enough of the drug for the execution of Sidney Cornwell of Mahoning County, scheduled for November 16. Beyond that, the supply is uncertain.

Prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn declined to tell the Dispatch whether the state has considered or will consider buying from Great Britain or other foreign sources.

No executions are scheduled in Ohio in December or January, but two are set after that: Frank Spisak of Cuyahoga County in February and Johnnie Baston of Lucas County in March.

In addition, county prosecutors from across the state have petitioned the Ohio Supreme Court to set execution dates in 10 other cases. The court has not acted on the requests, but monthly dates throughout 2011 have been put "on hold" for possible executions.

According to the Dispatch, the problem is a result of a supply shortage from the sole U.S. manufacturer of thiopental sodium, Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill. The company said it doesn't expect to be able to resume production until the first quarter of next year because of a shortage from a supplier of raw material.

Further, Hospira wrote to Ohio and all other states, objecting to the use of the drug for executions. The company said its product is intended to "improve or save lives," not to take them.

In December, Ohio became the first state to switch to a single drug for executions, replacing a three-drug mixture that also uses thiopental sodium. Washington state followed suit.

Although Ohio has an alternative method of execution involving intramuscular injections of strong painkillers, it will be used only as a backup when the single-drug method fails, officials said.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, cleared the way for Arizona to use the foreign-made drug, legal challenges are in the works. I recently wrote about a lawsuit filed in London on behalf of Edmund Zagorski, a Tennessee inmate scheduled to be executed in January. Tennessee is among several states looking into buying thiopental sodium from foreign sources. http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/11/uk-abolitionists-fight-export-of.html

To read more: http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/11/05/copy/ohio-is-running-out-of-execution-drug.html?adsec=politics&sid=101

Friday, November 5, 2010

UK Abolitionists Fight Export of Execution Drug

Death penalty opponents, especially those opposed to getting drugs for lethal injection overseas, have an ally in Great Britain. According to Gather.com, Reprieve, a death penalty opposition group,is seeking judicial review in the UK to halt the sale of the sedative sodium thiopental to the United States.

Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs used for lethal injection in most states. However, it is the single drug used for execution in Ohio and Washington. Reprieve is taking advantage of the shortage in America of sodium thiopental which has forced the postponement of executions in Oklahoma and Kentucky. However, an execution was carried out in Arizona with a drug presumably obtained in the UK.

The group first appealed to Vince Cable, the British Business Secretary, requesting that they stop shipping the drug to the US. Cable declined the request.

Reprieve has revealed that they are working on behalf of Tennessee death row inmate Edmund Zagorski. In 1983, Zagorski was convicted of killing two men during a drug deal. Zagorski faces execution on January 11, 2011. Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve characterized the sale of sodium thiopental, as a collection of blood money. There was no indication of what Smith would call the murder of two men during a drug deal-"legitimate business practice."

The drug shortage issue has lost some steam in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Landrigan v. Arizona. The high court, in a terse one-page order, agreed by a 5-4 decision with Arizona prosecutors that there was no reason to force the state to disclosure were the lethal injection drugs were obtained.

"There was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect," the court order said.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts were in the majority, lifting the stay. I wrote about Landrigan's execution last week, http://mattmangino.blogspot.com/2010/10/condemned-mans-final-words-boomer.html.

To read more: http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978657495

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Alabama Man Executed for Killing Daughter's Boyfriend

The 45th Execution of 2010

The Associated Press is reporting that a man condemned for killing his daughter's 16-year-old boyfriend in rural south Alabama in 1987 was executed Thursday without admitting to his daughter what she called the damage he caused by the killing and abusing her for years.

Phillip Hallford was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m. at Holman Prison and declined to say any final words. The 63-year-old Hallford spoke softly to the chaplain and guards for a few minutes as the injection was administered.

He was sentenced to die for forcing his then-15-year-old daughter to lure Eddie Shannon to an isolated area in Dale County, shooting the teen three times and throwing the body off a bridge. Trial testimony showed he was angry because they were dating.

His daughter, Melinda Hallford Powell, also says he sexually abused her and had never admitted it.

Powell was at her home in North Carolina and unable to attend the execution. She said she was "relieved" to hear that Hallford was dead.

"Now he's not going to hurt anybody else," she said.

Powell had said she hoped her father would admit to what he did to her and to Shannon before he died, but he didn't, only replying "no" when Warden Tony Patterson asked him if had anything to say.

Prison officials then began to administer the injection. Lying quietly strapped to a gurney, the bald, heavyset Hallford appeared calm. He closed his eyes, stopped moving and quietly slipped away.

Told that Hallford had nothing to say, Powell said, "I'm sorry to hear that."

Gov. Bob Riley refused to grant clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Hallford's final appeal just minutes before the injection.

To read more: http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/ala-man-executed-for-720599.html

Alabama Has Drug for Today's Execution

Alabama prison officials have an adequate supply of sodium thiopental needed for the execution of Phillip Hallford scheduled today, according to the Associated Press. He was condemned to die for the 1987 shooting death of his pregnant daughter's boyfriend in Dale County.

A national shortage of sodium thiopental has delayed some executions in other states, and Arizona had to go overseas to obtain the drug for an execution last week.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way last month for the execution of the 63-year-old Hallford. Assistant Alabama Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said Monday there are no legal filings pending to stop the execution. According to the Associated Press, Hallford's attorney, Andrew Kantra, said he was evaluating their options.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prison Expenditures Down for the First Time in Years

A report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections suggests that after decades of increases in corrections spending, states are trying something new. The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course is based on a two-part investigation that sought to gauge the current status of states’ corrections policies: Vera staff surveyed state officials about their planned corrections spending for fiscal year 2011 and reviewed states’ recent corrections-related legislative initiatives. The results show officials planning to spend less even as they initiate changes aimed at shoring up public safety.

“In what may portend a new era of sentencing and corrections policy, many states are cutting corrections appropriations, which were long seen as untouchable because of the perceived impact on public safety, and investing in ‘smart on crime’ solutions,” says Peggy McGarry, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “For those of us who have worked in the sentencing and corrections field for many years, these changes—should they persist—are astonishing.”

In a departure from decades of funding increases, the combined corrections appropriations of 44 states that responded to Vera’s survey are down for fiscal year 2011. Pennsylvania was on of the few states to increase their expenditures a 4.9-percent increase.

Although the total reduction is just 1.05 percent, this represents an important change. At the same time, states have been pursuing legislative initiatives that include investments in evidence-based innovations for reducing the incarcerated population, such as reducing prison terms for nonviolent offenders, relaxing mandatory-minimum sentences, and creating drug courts and other problem-solving courts.

According to the report’s authors, two factors are driving these developments. First, ongoing budget pressures are compelling officials to seek savings whenever safely possible. At the same time, states are drawing on decades of research and using identified policies and practices that can be counted on to yield positive results.

“As they cut corrections appropriations, state legislators and other policy makers are increasingly making policy choices that are based on research, analysis, and evaluation, with the goal of making more effective use of limited funds,” says McGarry. “The message has finally become clear: It is possible to reduce corrections spending while also enhancing public safety.”

As a complement to the study, the Center on Sentencing and Corrections has created an interactive online resource highlighting data from the new report. The page features a map and chart illustrating changes in individual states’ corrections spending from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, including sources, such as emergency stimulus funds disbursed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bloggers Beware: The Courts are Reading

Bloggers are the target of a series of voir dire questions in the state of Washington. According to The Crime Report and the Kitsap Sun, potential jurors in a Kitsap County, murder case were asked last week, “Have you ever written a letter-to-the-editor or ‘blog’ about any story you may have read or heard about relating to violent crime?” Prosecutor Kevin Hull said the “blogging” question could help reveal whether potential jurors have pre-formed opinions about the case, the defendant, or violent crime in general, reports the Kitsap Sun. (None of 200 who received the jurors’ questionnaire had answered yes on blogging as of Thursday.)

The new social media technology has emerged rapidly and the law has lumbered along in response to it, said Eric Robinson of the Reynolds Center for the Courts and Media in Reno, Nevada. Social media won’t inherently have a positive or negative impact on the court’s ability to administer a fair trial, Robinson said. He likens the changes to those that took place in courthouses when the telephone was invented — judges adjusted to having more information fanning out from their courtrooms more quickly and with greater opining. “I don’t think it’s necessarily good or bad for the courts,” he said. “They just have to deal with it.”

Link: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/oct/30/lawyers-in-sk-murder-trial-asking-would-be-if-on/

Monday, November 1, 2010

SCOTUS Opens the Door to Substitute Execution Drugs

Last week Arizona executed Jeffrey Landrigan amid lingering questions about where the state obtained the sodium thiopental for the execution. The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, found "There is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe." The majority consisted of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In the Supreme Court's divided order allowing the execution of Landrigan, the justices spurned arguments about the safety of a lethal injection mix and appear to have allowed the first U.S. execution using a drug from a foreign country, according to the USA Today.

Prison officials face a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used in lethal injections. The sodium thiopental shortage has threatened to block executions in Oklahoma and Kentucky. New supplies are not likely to be available until 2011. Most states use a three-drug cocktail of which sodium thiopental is one of the drugs. Ohio and Washington use only a single lethal dose of sodium thiopental for lethal injection in their respective states.

According to the USA Today, lawyers who follow capital punishment said it appeared to be the first time any state relied on an overseas drug maker. Arizona Chief Deputy Attorney General Tim Nelson said last week that it was the first time Arizona had to use a foreign drug. He also said it came from "a reputable source" and that officials believe it's safe. The drug apparently came from a British company.

Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an expert on capital punishment told the USA Today, “This is the first time that we've been aware of that this drug has been imported." The High Court’s decision and the action of Arizona officials seems to open the door to other states to seek sodium thiopental from international sources.

Ohio has admitted to a shortage of sodium thiopental. The state has its record 9th execution scheduled this month. Ohio was also the first state to move away from the three drug cocktail to a single drug method of execution. Ohio will be the next state to seek sodium thiopental from alternative sources or substitute another drug for purposes of carrying out executions.

To read more: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/supremecourtopinions/2010-10-27-supreme-court-lethal-injection_N.htm?csp=34news