Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: The much maligned plea bargain

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 29, 2011

State Representative Bill DeWeese said that Governor Tom Corbett, then attorney general, made three key misjudgments when the AG’s office indicted DeWeese. "He thought I'd never run again," DeWeese said. "If I did, that I'd never win. And he thought I'd plea bargain." DeWeese ran, he won and he wants nothing to do with plea bargaining.

DeWeese is not alone in taking issue with the plea bargain. There are no two words associated with the criminal justice system that are more maligned and misunderstood than “plea bargain.”

Crime victims despise those two words more even than “not guilty”. Politicians from city counsel to the United States Senate deride the system because of the underhanded “deals” made with vicious criminals. Even police officers, the frontline in the war on crime, challenge prosecutors when they perceive that the terms of a plea bargain are too lenient.

The plea bargain, however unpopular or unseemly, is a much needed tool in the administration of justice. If the plea bargain were to disappear the criminal courts would grind to a halt. The American Bar Association recently argued in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargain.

Setting aside the fact that the trying every criminal case is impossible, there are other compelling reasons to plea bargain. Prosecutors are intimately familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of every case. There are situations where a plea to a lesser offense is better than a not guilty verdict. A reluctant witness or a poor witness may influence a plea negotiation.

Unfortunately, many crimes are committed in rough neighborhoods that are inhabited by tough people. Witnesses often have to deal with their own demons, such as criminal records and substance abuse -- such witnesses do not impress juries. In those cases, a plea bargain may not be palatable, but is better than the alternative.

Innocence has also become an issue in plea bargaining. At times, innocent people enter into plea bargains to avoid a likely conviction at trial and the hefty sentence that often follows. Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, told the New York Times that 19 of the 261 people exonerated so far through DNA testing had pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Morning Call: Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

The Allentown Morning Call takes an interesting, indepth look at the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It has been 12 years since Pennsylvania executed a convicted killer, but in that time, death row cost taxpayers more than $27 million.

Every year, the state Department of Corrections spends an estimated $10,000 more for each inmate on the country's fourth largest death row compared to other prisoners. That's despite a de facto halt on capital punishment in Pennsylvania for all but prisoners who voluntarily go to their executions. The last person put to death against his will was in 1962, half a century ago, reported The Morning Call.

The most recent to be executed, in 1999, was Philadelphia torture-murderer Gary Heidnik—and only because he bowed to it by waiving his appeals. Since then, the state has housed on average 227 inmates a year facing death sentences, for an additional cost of $27.24 million, or $2.27 million annually.

According to The Morning Call, Heidnik's July 6, 1999, execution was the first and only conducted in the state's then-new execution complex, a former field hospital that was opened two years earlier on the grounds of Rockview State Prison .

It cost taxpayers $118,539 to turn the building into a maximum security center with new cells, secure phones and an electronic monitoring system — a price kept down by the use of prison labor, according to the state Department of General Services.

Read full article here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Delaware Execution, First in Six Years

The 30th Execution of 2011

Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced that Robert W. Jackson III was put to death by lethal injection shortly after midnight this morning, according to Reuters.

State law requires executions to be done in the early morning to avoid disrupting operations at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center north of Smyrna, Delaware, reported the Associated Press.

He was sentenced to death for killing Elizabeth Girardi with blows from an ax he wielded during a 1992 burglary attempt at her home in Hockessin, Delaware.

Governor Markell denied a last-minute request for a reprieve, noting that the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court had already decided not to stay the execution, reported Reuters.

"Mr. Jackson's death sentence was recommended by a jury, imposed by a judge, and reviewed by state and federal appellate courts at all levels," the governor said in a statement issued at 12:12 a.m. local time, shortly after the death of Jackson, who was 18at the time of the murder.

"It is my prayer that his victim rests in peace and her family finds some closure, May God have mercy on Mr. Jackson," Markell told Reuters.

It was Delaware's first execution since 2005 and the first inmate executed in Delaware using pentobarbital, which a number of states have switched to after a shortage of another execution drug.

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Death Penalty Showdown in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee sent a letter to U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island Peter Neronha denying the request for temporary custody of Jason Wayne Pleau, under the terms of the detainers act. Chafee did so on the basis that Pleau could face the death penalty under the federal charges, and Rhode Island has rejected the death penalty, reported the National Law Journal.

The oral argument in U.S. v. Pleau and the related In re Pleau drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Boston appellate courtroom. The defendant's counsel believes it to be the first reported case about a governor's refusal of a request from the United States for the temporary custody of a prisoner pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.

According to the National Law Journal, the appeal centers on the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, an agreement among certain states, the U.S. government, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which governs transfers of prisoners for unrelated trials from one state to another or from a state to the federal government or the federal government to a state.

According to his 1st Circuit brief, Pleau is serving two state court sentences, for a total of about 18 years, in a Rhode Island prison — one sentence as a parole violator and the other as a probation violator. His current release date is projected to be 2028.

In November 2010, Pleau was charged in federal court for the Sept. 20, 2010, murder and robbery of David Main in Woonsocket, R.I, as he was making a deposit at a bank, reported the National Law Journal.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eye-Witness Identification Still Problematic

Mistakes in eyewitness identifications occur in 75 percent of convictions overturned by DNA evidence nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, which has helped free 267 people.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical, even in this day and age, for police departments to not even have written procedures for conducting eyewitness identifications,” Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia who recently wrote the book Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, told Miller-McCune Magazine.

“It’s somewhat shocking, given how much we know after three decades of pretty intensive laboratory research, looking at eyewitness testimony and the lessons from so many of these cases,” Garrett said.

According to Miller-McCune, Virginia and North Carolina each passed laws following high-profile exonerations in those states that standardized eyewitness identification procedures. Attorneys general in other states, such as Wisconsin, and police chiefs in various cities, such as Philadelphia, have enacted what the U.S. Department of Justice and the Innocence Project consider model reforms. So far, nothing similar has occurred in Washington, where many police agencies don’t even have detailed written guidelines for eyewitness identifications.

Decades of research, led most notably by Gary Wells, a distinguished psychologist in the field of criminal justice, show that the human memory does not recall images like a video camera, reported Miller-McCune. Memory is much more malleable and can be strongly influenced by suggestion, no matter how inadvertent, Wells and others have found.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mangino Comments on Megan's Law

Pa. DAs Urge Legislature to Close 'Loopholes' in Megan's Law
Ben Present
The Legal Intelligencer
July 26, 2011

State prosecutors have been forced to drop dozens of cases against convicted sex offenders because of "loopholes" in Megan's Law, according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, prompting it to call for immediate legislative action to fix what it sees as errors in the 16-year-old law.

Meanwhile, three state senators have introduced legislation proposing several changes to bring Megan's Law into compliance with a federal statute, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).

Megan's Law fails to spell out a punishment for out-of-state offenders who do not to register upon moving to Pennsylvania, although the requirement is explicitly listed in the law. PDAA President Francis J. Schultz called it a "drafting error."
Additionally, the district attorneys association is calling for the General Assembly to enact legislation that would require homeless or "transient" offenders to register with the state, despite not having a permanent address.

Megan's Law makes information about sex offenders publicly available and requires offenders to register with the state.

"Closing the Megan's Law loopholes is a legislative no-brainer that has turned into a political headache, and the failure to close them is putting the public at risk," said Schultz, the Crawford County district attorney, in a statement.

In 2010, Congress passed legislation closing these loopholes, but then-Gov. Edward G. Rendell vetoed the bill because it was combined with a bill extending the common-law "castle doctrine." The castle doctrine bill, which expands a person's right to use deadly force outside his or her home or business, has since been signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, but the fixes to Megan's Law remain stagnant.

Former Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew T. Mangino said the requirement to register upon moving to Pennsylvania "has no teeth" because there is no penalty to go with it.

Mangino, who writes a column for the Law Weekly , said there really is no reason the errors have not been corrected.

"It seems like everything is in place to move along with closing these loopholes," he said. "It's just a question why it hasn't happened."

Mangino said the errors mean the state has "set itself up to be a safe haven [for sex offenders] for all intents and purposes."

House Bills 68 and 75, which address the loopholes, cleared the House of Representatives in February. Since then, however, the legislation has not moved.
Legislators and officials interviewed by the Law Weekly said correcting Megan's Law is among the General Assembly's top priorities upon its scheduled return to session in September.

"Our goal is to get legislation to the governor's desk before the end of the calendar year," said Erik Arneson, spokesman and policy director for Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware. "One way or another, Megan's Law issues are on track to be addressed this fall."

"We have people out there committing sex crimes against our children and we need to address it as soon as we can," added Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin. "It's unfortunate we couldn't do it before the summer break."

Additionally, the legislature will also look to bring Megan's Law into compliance with SORNA, the federal law also known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

Sen. Jane C. Orie, R-Allegheny, along with Sens. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, and John Rafferty, D-Berks, proposed 10 changes last month to Megan's Law in order for it to comply with SORNA.

The compliance changes will miss a deadline set for tomorrow, which technically means the state could see a 10 percent slash in federal funding. But Pennsylvania will not suffer any punishments, according to Arneson, who added the legislature will aim to have Megan's Law reformed by the end of this year.

Greenleaf added the House and Senate are more focused on getting the law right and, if the eventual bill amending Megan's Law doesn't match with SORNA requirements, the state could forgo the 10 percent in funding. Greenleaf said the General Assembly will also examine whether the money would cover enforcement of the co-requisite SORNA provisions. Greenleaf said the loopholes in registration and transient offenders remain the legislature's top priorities.

"The money is not as important," Greenleaf said. "We have to be smart about how we spend our money but, when we are dealing with a violent offender, [getting the law right] is the priority as well as protecting the public."

In the co-sponsorship memo, Orie outlined 10 changes to Megan's Law which include a tiered classificatory system, extending registration requirements to juveniles who commit rape and other severe offenses, and expanding the list of offenses subject to the law. Under the changes, a previous offender no longer subject to registration would also be subject to re-registration if he or she is convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison.

The changes would also require transient offenders to register and update their registration information.

In 2009, the Superior Court held in Commonwealth v. Wilgus that homeless offenders are not subject to Megan's Law.

Orie also listed four additional changes not explicitly required by SORNA, including a correction to the out-of-state registration loophole.

Last year, the Superior Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Arroyo that a convicted rapist from New York could not be penalized for failing to register in this state, reversing a Lancaster County trial court decision.

"If the General Assembly desires to punish persons such as appellant who fail to comply with their sexual offender registration requirements, then it is the General Assembly's prerogative to do so," Judge Robert E. Colville wrote in the majority opinion

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Georgia Law Reducing Sex Offender Restrictions has Little Impact

Last year, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdure quietly signed legislation easing restrictions that banned most sex offenders from living and working near schools, parks and places where children gather. There are more than 20,000 sex offenders registered in Georgia, according to the Associated Press.

The law allows sex offenders who are disabled or living in a nursing home to petition for release from the registry after they finish their sentences. It also lets those convicted of kidnapping or false imprisonment of a minor that didn't involve any sexual contact ask for release. Another part allows those whose sentences and probation ended more than 10 years ago to ask a court for removal.

State officials have removed a total of 107 sex offenders from the list at the order of the courts, according to Associated Press. The Sex Offender Registration Review Board is reviewing another 42 applications. The sex offender review board has received 50 court-ordered requests from offenders to take their names off the list, and eight people have so far been removed.

The other 99 sex offenders who were removed from the list after the law took effect didn't have to go through the review board. Those figures include applicants whose probation or parole ended at least a decade ago, reported the Asssociated Press.

It is unclear how many people could take advantage of the new law. What is clear is that the law was not well publicized and many sex offenders are unaware of its enactment.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Californians: Cut Costs, Release Prisoners

This year California plans to spend $9.8 billion on prisons, making it the third-highest general fund expenditure, behind education and healthcare, according to the Los Angeles TImes. Californians are fed-up with the enormous expenditures on incarceration.

A survey by the Los Angeles Times and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, shows a clear shift in attitude by residents forced to confront the cost of tough sentencing laws passed in recent decades.

More than 60% of respondents, including majorities among Democrats, Republicans and those who declined to state a party preference, said they would support reducing life sentences for third strike offenders convicted of property crimes such as burglary, auto theft and shoplifting.

Nearly 70% said they would sanction the early release of some low-level offenders whose crimes did not involve violence.

About 80% said they approve of keeping low-level, nonviolent offenders in county custody — including jails, home detention or parole — instead of sending them to state prisons. The same percentage favors paroling inmates who are paralyzed, in comas or so debilitated by advanced disease that they no longer pose a threat to public safety.

Only 12% of respondents said they'd be willing to accept less state spending on healthcare or education to pay for more prisons. And less than a quarter of voters want to pay higher taxes to build prisons or ship inmates to private lockups in other states to comply with the courts, reported The Times.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fed's Make It Easier to Prosecute

Some Federal Statutes Dispense With Proving Criminal Intent

The U.S. Constitution mentions three federal crimes by citizens: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. By the turn of the 20th century, the number of criminal statutes numbered in the dozens. Today, there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, according the Wall Street Journal.

There are also thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties. Some laws are so complex, scholars debate whether they represent one offense, or scores of offenses.

Counting them is impossible. The Justice Department spent two years trying in the 1980s, but produced only an estimate: 3,000 federal criminal offenses.

The American Bar Association tried in the late 1990s, but concluded only that the number was likely much higher than 3,000. The ABA's report said "the amount of individual citizen behavior now potentially subject to federal criminal control has increased in astonishing proportions in the last few decades."

According to the Wall Street Journal, some of these new federal statutes don't require prosecutors to prove criminal intent, eroding a bedrock principle in English and American law. The absence of this provision, known as mens rea, makes prosecution easier, critics argue.

As federal criminal statutes have ballooned, it has become increasingly easy for Americans to end up on the wrong side of the law. Many of the new federal laws also set a lower bar for conviction than in the past: Prosecutors don't necessarily need to show that the defendant had criminal intent, reported the Wall Street Journal.

A study last year by the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers analyzed scores of proposed and enacted new laws for nonviolent crimes in the 109th Congress of 2005 and 2006. It found of the 36 new crimes created, a quarter had no mens rea requirement and nearly 40% more had only a "weak" one.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Will Pennsylvania close its Megan’s Law loopholes?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 22, 2011

Has Pennsylvania become a safe haven for out-of-state sex offenders? A loophole in Megan’s Law makes it impossible for prosecutors to pursue out-of-state sex offenders who move to Pennsylvania and fail to register. The loophole was revealed in April 2010, yet continues today.

Megan’s Law requires sex offenders to register with the state police after they are released from prison. As the result of an apparent oversight by legislators the law does not provide for prosecuting out-of-state lifetime registrant sex offenders who move to Pennsylvania but fail to register with the state police. Megan’s Law also fails to address registration requirements for homeless offenders.

The loopholes came to light when the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a Lancaster County conviction against an out-of-state sex offender who failed to register in Pennsylvania. The Court found that the law did not criminalize the failure to register.

Last fall, the General Assembly passed a set of bills to close the loopholes. At the time, the legislation was attached to the Castle Doctrine bill as a ploy to get Governor Ed Rendell to sign both bills. He did not. The Castle Doctrine and Megan’s Law amendments were both vetoed.
During the current legislative session, a bill to provide specific criminal sanctions for sex offenders who fail to comply with registration requirements passed the House by a vote of 197 to one. “Needless to say, I am thrilled that this legislation received the support it deserved. Obviously, nothing is more important than protecting the children in our Commonwealth,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico.

State Representative Garth Everett said that there was virtually no opposition to the bill. "This important legislation was vetoed by the governor last year and now will have an opportunity to go through the proper legislative process and get to Governor Tom Corbett," said Everett.
So, why haven’t the loopholes been closed?

The legislation has not moved since early February. The Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association (PDAA) has confirmed that across the state “dozens” of cases have been withdrawn due to the flaws in Megan’s Law. However, there is little evidence that out-of-state sex offenders are flocking to Pennsylvania, but the concern remains.

“Closing the Megan’s Law loopholes is a legislative no-brainer that has turned into a political headache, and the failure to close them is putting the public at risk,” said PDAA President and Crawford County District Attorney Francis J. Schultz. “This legislation passed the General Assembly once before and there is no good reason why it shouldn’t quickly and easily pass again.”

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Georgia Video Tapes Latest Execution

The 29th Execution of 2011

Georgia executed Andrew Grant DeYoung on July 21, 2011 in a Jackson prison. The 37-year-old had sought to stay his execution, arguing that pentobarbital, which Georgia and several other states are now using due to the shortage of sodium thiopental, would result in an inhumane and painful death, according to All Headline News (AHN).

DeYoung was convicted in 1993 of fatally stabbing his parents and 14-year-old sister that same year in a plan he carried out with a friend to gain what he estimated was a $480,000 inheritance that he would use to start a business.

DeYoung's death was the first videotaped execution in Georgia, and the first nationwide after a 1992 execution in California by gas chamber was ordered filmed by a judge in response to a human rights lawsuit, reported AHN.

A state superior court judge had ordered DeYoung's execution recorded by camera in response to claims from DeYoung's lawyers that replacing sodium thiopental with pentobarbital would cause the inmate pain. According to AHN, Footage of the execution is under seal and will not be released.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of four media outlets allowed to witness the event, DeYoung did not manifest signs that he was in pain during his death.

Pentobarbital is commonly used to euthanize animals. Its approved use for people includes treatment for severe epilepsy, which is characterized by life-threatening seizures.

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Offenders to Get Review in Light of New Sentencing Guidelines

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
July 19, 2011

Federal judges will be pounding the Federal Sentence Guidelines as the result of two significant decisions in the last couple of weeks. Why? Two reasons. The first is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Freeman v. United States , and the second is the decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission regarding retroactivity of the sentence guideline amendment related to the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

In 2005, William Freeman pled guilty to a federal drug offense and was sentenced to 106 months in prison based on a plea agreement that referred to, and was consistent with, the federal sentence guideline of 46 to 57 months plus a 60-month gun enhancement.

Two years later, the U.S. Sentencing Commission amended the guideline to reduce the crack/powdered cocaine sentencing disparity. The guidelines were changed after criticism that harsher sentences for crack disproportionately punished African-Americans. The amendment changed the range of Freeman's sentence from 46 to 57 months to 37 to 46 months.

A federal judge refused Freeman's motion for a sentence reduction of about nine-months, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Federal District Court and the 6th Circuit had ruled that offenders such as Freeman, who had entered into plea bargains in which the proposed sentence was binding on a judge, could not take advantage of the new guidelines because their sentences were not based on the guidelines.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, "there is no reason to deny" Freeman a sentence reduction since federal law allows judges to correct sentences that were based on a guideline provision that was later adjusted, amended or ruled invalid.

In order to reduce unwarranted federal sentencing disparities, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 authorizes the U.S. Sentencing Commission to create, and to retroactively amend, sentencing guidelines to enhance judicial discretion. According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Freeman , "Title 18 U. S. C. §3582(c)(2) permits an offender who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment "based on" a guidelines sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by retroactive amendment to move for a sentence reduction.

"In every case the judge must exercise discretion to impose an appropriate sentence," Kennedy wrote. "This discretion, in turn, is framed by the guidelines. And the guidelines must be consulted, in the regular course, whether the case is one in which the conviction was after a trial or after a plea, including a plea pursuant to an agreement that recommends a particular sentence."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Roberts wrote that a plea bargain, like any agreement, has its bitter and sweet parts. "Because of today's decision, however, Freeman gets more sweet and the government more bitter than either side bargained for," wrote Chief Justice Roberts.

The precise impact of the Freeman decision is unclear because Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined in the majority, but concluded that a convicted offender is eligible for a reduction only if the plea agreement was specifically based on a recommended sentence that was tied to the guidelines.

This past week's other big news regarding the Federal Sentence Guidelines also had to do with the crack/powder sentencing disparity. The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to give retroactive effect to its proposed permanent amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines that implements the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentence disparity from 100 to 1 down to 18 to 1. According to The Washington Post , an offender would have to be convicted of selling 28 grams or more of crack to be hit with a five-year mandatory sentence. A 10-year prison term would be handed down for 280 grams or more. The legislation also eliminated a mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession.

The Federal Sentence Guidelines were at one time binding on federal judges. A federal judge had discretion to sentence a defendant, but only within the narrow sentencing range provided by the guidelines, according to the Congressional Research Service. In United States v. Booker (2005), the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the guidelines must be considered advisory rather than mandatory, in order to comply with the Constitution. Instead of being bound by the guidelines, sentencing courts must treat the federal guidelines as just one of a number of sentencing factors. After Booker , some judges imposed lower sentences on crack cocaine offenders than the sentences recommended by the guidelines. In 2007, the Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States , ruled that a court may impose a below-the-guidelines sentence based on its conclusion that the 100:1 crack/powder cocaine ratio created an unnecessary disparity.

A U.S. Sentencing Commission press release estimated, based on Fiscal Year 2010 sentencing data, that approximately 12,000 offenders may be eligible to seek a sentence reduction. The average sentence reduction for eligible offenders will be approximately 37 months, and the overall impact on the eligible offender population will occur incrementally over decades. The average sentence for these offenders, even after reduction, will remain about 10 years. The Bureau of Prisons estimates that retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 amendment could result in a savings of more than $200 million within the first five years after retroactivity takes effect.

The chairwoman of the commission, Federal District Court Judge Patti B. Saris acknowledged that early release "may negatively impact public safety." She said that "careful thought given to the offender's potential risk to public safety" would be part of the judicial review called for in the new policy, reported The New York Times .

Federal judges will make the final determination of whether an offender is eligible for a lower sentence and by how much that sentence should be lowered in accordance with instruction provided by the Sentencing Commission. Those instructions will include specific consideration of whether reducing an offender's sentence would pose a risk to public safety.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Texas Executes Man for 9-11 Revenge Killings

The 28th Execution of 2011

Texas executed Mark Stroman by lethal injection on July 20, 2010. He claimed the shooting spree that killed two men and injured a third targeted people of Middle Eastern descent, though all three victims were from South Asia. The killings were in revenge for the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, according to the Associated Press.

In an unusual step, surviving victim Rais Bhuiyan asked the courts to halt Stroman's execution. Bhuiyan, a native of Bangladesh and a former convenience store worker, lost the sight in one of his eyes when Stroman shot him in the face.

In a lawsuit, he argued his religious beliefs as a Muslim told him to forgive Stroman. He also said he wanted to spend time with the convict to learn more about why the shootings occurred.

"Killing him is not the solution," Bhuiyan told the Associated Press. "He's learning from his mistake. If he's given a chance, he's able to reach out to others and spread that message to others."

A federal judge in Austin rejected the suit and Bhuiyan's request for an injunction on Wednesday. His lawyers appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Antonin Scalia turned it down, before the state court rejected another appeal on Bhuiyan's behalf.

“Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace,” Stroman said in his final statement, according to the Huntsville Item. “May the Lord Jesus Christ be with me. Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain.”

For his final meal request, Stroman received battered chicken fried steak with gravy, 12 crispy pieces of bacon, a ham and cheese omelet, fried potatoes, squash and okra. He also received three large Dr. Pepper’s and a pint of vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Arizona Executes Man for 1987 Killing

The 27th Execution of 2011

Arizona executed Thomas Paul West by lethal injection at the state prison in Florence on July 19, 2011 according Reuters. He is the fourth inmate executed this year in Arizona.

Authorities said West was a recent transplant from Illinois when he went to Don Bortle's home with friends in June 1987, looking to buy some merchandise up for sale.

West returned two weeks later, bursting into the home, binding Bortle's hands and feet with a vacuum cleaner cord and lamp wire and gagging him, according to court records. West beat Bortle and left with his car, electronic equipment and other items and leaving Bortle to Bleed to death.

West did not have any last words, and declined a last meal, a corrections department spokesman said, according to Reuters.

Attorneys for West had argued his life should be spared because he was physically and sexually abused while growing up. According to Reuters, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson also sought to block the execution. West's attorneys maintained the state's lethal injection statute was unconstitutional and lacked needed "standards and procedural safeguards."

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Study: Drug Courts Work

The National Institute of Justice's Multi-site Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE) tested whether drug courts reduce drug use,change attitudes and save money.

According to the Urban Institute, drug courts emerged spontaneously during the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to burgeoning drug offender arrests and prosecutions that overwhelmed the capacity of numerous courts to expeditiously process such cases. In 2002, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) commissioned the first adult drug court evaluation that would select multiple sites from across the country.

The most recent evaluation found that drug courts prevent crime and substance use and work equally well for most participant subgroups. Effects are greatest among participants whose judges who spend time with them, support them, and treat them with respect.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Arizona's Gun Selling Frenzy Continues

Arizona will put more than 200,000 new weapons in buyers' hands after background checks this year. That figure doesn not include firearms purchased at gun shows and through private transactions. Such non-tracked sales are thought to account for 40 percent of all sales, adding about 150,000 guns purchased annually. The estimated sales total: about 350,000 guns per year, according to the Arizona Republic.

The FBI reports that 123,043 people submitted themselves to background checks to purchase guns in Arizona through June. That puts the state on track to break the record of 215,379 background checks in 2009, the year President Barack Obama took office.

According to the Republic, in June, the ATF reported there were 1,629 licensed dealers, manufacturers and collectors of firearms and ammunition in Arizona. That compares with 1,589 in January 2011 and 1,566 in June 2010.

In Massachusetts and Washington, two states with populations similar to Arizona's, there were, respectively, 492 and 1,155 licensed dealers, manufacturers and collectors of firearms and ammunition, reported the Republic.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Black Men: Longer Life Expectancy in Prison than on the Street

The new study involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005. Sixty percent of those men were black,the findings were published in Annals of Epidemiology.

Researchers linked prison and state health records to determine which of the inmates died, and of what causes, during their prison stay. Then they compared those figures with expected deaths in men of the same age and race in the general population,reported Rueters.

Less than one percent of men died during incarceration, and there was no difference between black and white inmates. But outside prison walls, blacks have a higher rate of death at any given age than whites.

As in the general population, cancer and heart and blood vessel diseases were the most common cause of death among inmates -- accounting for more than half of deaths. According to Rueters, white prisoners died of cardiovascular diseases as often as expected and died of cancer slightly more often than non-prisoners.

Black inmates, by contrast, were between 30 and 40 percent less likely to die of those causes than those who weren't incarcerated. They were also less likely to die of diabetes, alcohol- and drug-related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide and murder than black men not in prison.

"For some populations, being in prison likely provides benefits in regards to access to healthcare and life expectancy," the study's author Dr. David Rosen, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told Rueters.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: The post-Casey Anthony verdict fallout

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 15, 2011

Today is day number 10 in the post-Casey Anthony era of crime and punishment. But wait . . . before you reach for your computer’s mouse, this is not another blog about the inadequacies of Florida’s criminal justice system.

Whatever your opinion of the verdict, some have suggested the jury’s decision is sound and exemplifies all that’s good and proper about a system that requires a person accused of a crime be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Some, like Michelle Crowder, an Oklahoma mother, think the verdict, and the system for that matter, stinks.

Crowder created a petition on calling for legislation to make it a felony for parents or caretakers not to report a child's death within one hour or failing to report a child's disappearance within 24 hours. The petition has over one million signatures. There is movement in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, to enact “Caylee’s Law.”

Pennsylvania State Senator Larry Farnese said he will introduce such a bill to toughen penalties against those who conceal a child's death. The law would also create a new offense of "neglecting to report a missing child." The Anthony case "riveted the nation and prompted me to take steps to protect Pennsylvania children from similar injustices," Farnese said.

Caylee's Law is a knee-jerk reaction to an unfortunate case. In Pennsylvania, failing to report a child's death is already against the law, albeit without a time limit, and is graded as a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years in prison. [] The proposed law would make it a felony.

How many parents are not reporting the death of their children? How does increasing the penalty for failing to report the death of a child protect children?

The failure to report a child’s death is an extremely rare event. The anguish that parents feel upon the death of a child makes reporting the event to the police an afterthought, but also under the proposed law a felony.

The component of the proposed law that requires prompt reporting of a missing child seems misguided as well. A parent who has harmed or killed their child is unlikely to report the child missing even with the threat of a “felony” hanging over their head. A parent facing the mysterious disappearance of a child needs no incentive to contact police.

What is the law’s intent? It appears the sole purpose is to more effectively prosecute parents who get away with killing their children -- not preventing familial murder. Dr. Mary Carrasco, director of A Child's Place at Mercy told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "To write a law based on that (prompt reporting) is almost offensive. It's silly. It's not how kids are dying every day."

(Photo: Casey Anthony before her sentencing hearing on July 7, 2011. Anthony was acquitted of killing her daughter, Caylee, but was convicted of four counts of lying to detectives trying to find her daughter. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced Anthony to four years for lying to investigators but says she can go free in late July or early August because she has already served nearly three years in jail and has had good behavior. Joe Burbank/Associated Press)

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Victim Fights to Stop Execution

Rais Bhuiyan, a naturalized American citizen filed a lawsuit claiming that Texas would violate his rights as a victim by proceeding with the scheduled execution of Mark Stroman on July 20.

On Sept. 21, 2001 Stroman, a methamphetamine addict suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, walked into a Dallas convenience store and went on a rampage after his half-sister was killed in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, according to the Texas Tribune.

“Out of pure anger and stupidity I did some things to some men from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia — and now I sit on Death Row awaiting execution,” Stroman wrote on his blog as reported by the Tribune, “And by no means am I proud of what I have done.“

Bhuiyan believes that Stroman is reformed. He hopes by pursuing his rights as a victim he can help save Stroman's life. Stroman shot four people, and only Bhuiyan survived.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Castle Doctine May Get First Application in 'Lover's Triangle' Case

The new Castle Doctrine may get its first application in Pennsylvania as the result of a "love triangle" shooting in Washington, Pa. Police confirmed the fatal shooting of a New Mexico man who reportedly entered a southwestern Pennsylvania home by force was over a woman, reported the Associated Press.

Police chief James Blyth reported the Jeremy Pando of New Mexico had dated a woman who lived at the Washington home, and that the woman, her current boyfriend and her two children where there when Pando allegedly kicked in the door hours after police had been called to remove him from the residence. Pando was shot and killed at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning, according to the Associated Press.

The police know who the shooter is, but says Washington County prosecutors are trying to determine whether the shooting was justified under the state's so-called "castle-doctrine" law.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Congress Looks to Slash Juvenile Justice Programs

Fifteen years ago as violent crime soared law makers warned America about young super predators. Juvenile offenders who where so violent that they needed to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Apparently, juveniles are no longer a threat to the peace and well being of America's towns and neighborhoods. Congress is on the cusp of eliminating most federal funding for juvenile justice programs.

A bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee reduces spending by $3 billion from 2011 fiscal year levels, reported Youth Today. Juvenile justice demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants and Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants received no funding in the bill. In 2010, the last year Congress actually passed an appropriations package, those three funding streams totaled $231 million.

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), made it clear that his subcommittee did not rate funds related to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act among the most effective uses of dollars at the Office of Justice Programs, according to Youth Today.

How about the declining crime rates among youth and adults alike? America is as safe today as it has been in half-a-century. Turning ones back on that progress or taking it for granted sets up many communities for an onslaught of crime.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Camden “Paying” for Cost Savings from Police Lay-Offs

In January Camden, New Jersey furloughed one-half of its police force due to a growing budget crisis. At the time, Camden was the nation's second-most dangerous city, according to CQ Press. Camden ranked first the previous two years. In 2009, the city had 2,380 violent crimes per 100,000 residents — more than five times the national average according to the FBI.

Not surprisingly, following the deep cuts things have gotten worse in Camden. An analysis of crime data by The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill finds violent crime was up 13 percent from January 1 through June 20 compared with the same period a year ago.

The rates were also higher than in the first half of 2008 and 2009. Assaults with guns have been particularly high, up 60 percent from last year. That’s a 60 percent increase for what was already the second most dangerous city in America.

The Courier-Post also found nonviolent crime up by 21 percent so far in 2011.

The governor has made it clear there will be no new taxes in New Jersey. Maybe the savings realized by taxpayers can help defer the costs of bullet proof vests. Every family in Camden will soon need a couple.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Caylee's Law: A Solution in Search of a Problem

"Caylee's Law," a follow-up to Florida's Casey Anthony case, is an effort to make it a felony if parents fail to report the death of a child within an hour, or fail to report a missing child within a day. Legislators in at least five states are working on similar bills, according to Time.

The idea is misguided, a knee-jerk reaction to a unfortunate case. How many parents are not reporting the death of their children? How does reporting the death of a child protect children?

I see the failure to report a death as an extremely rare event. The anguish that parents feel upon the death of a child makes reporting the event to the police an afterthought, but also under the proposed law a felony.

Prosecuting a grieving parent for not reporting the death of their child in a timely manner is morbid and absurd. Caylee's law is a solution in search of a problem. Why not have a law that says anyone who flies in outer space must report it to the transportation department within and hour? It probably happens as much as parents not reporting a child's death, unless of course the child was murdered by the parent--then reporting the murder is the least of the parent's concern.

Making the non-reporting of a child's death a felony is a joke. What is the purpose? It appears the sole purpose is to more effectively prosecute parents who kill their children--not prevent familial murder--but to more effectively prosecute it. A case gone bad (depending on how you look at it), and a lot of them do, and state lawmakers want to create a law to correct it.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Judge: Ohio’s Execution Procedure Haphazard

Federal District Judge Gregory L. Frost ruled, in staying an Ohio execution, that, "Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramifications and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions,” reported the Columbus Dispatch.

Kenneth Smith was scheduled to be executed on July 19 for the killings of a husband and wife in their Hamilton, Ohio, home during a 1995 robbery. His lawyers argued, "when administering the ultimate punishment to an individual as a consequence for breaking society's laws, the State (Ohio) be required to follow the law as well.”

According to the Dispatch, Judge Frost called four areas in which the state strayed from its policies an embarrassment and creating what he called "haphazard application" of its death-penalty protocols. Smith’s execution has been postponed.

Some think the decision could have national implications if Smith’s case proceeds to trial.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Death Row Inmate Fights Attorneys: He Wants to Die

Gary Haugen, an Oregon death row inmate, is a twice-convicted murderer who has been in prison for almost 30 years. He has been on death row since 2007 after he was convicted of killing another inmate in 2003, according to the Salem Statesman Journal.

"It is my right to waive all appeals and die with dignity," Haugen said in the new letters, the latest in a series of writings to the Oregon Supreme Court, expressing his desire to be executed.

Haugen's execution indefinitely was put on hold Wednesday, when a Marion County judge agreed to follow the direction of the state Supreme Court to evaluate Haugen's mental competence before deciding whether to grant his request to be put to death.

Haugen leveled his complaints against attorneys Andy Simrin and Keith Goody in two letters delivered this week to the Oregon Supreme Court. The recently Statesman Journal obtained the documents. Because he is at odds with his attorneys, Haugen wrote, he is left to fend for himself on legal matters connected to his case.

"Their vision for me is my greatest enemy — for they only want to see me rot in prison for life," he wrote.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Congress Cuts Law Enforcement Funding

Police Face Less Funding Amid Layoffs

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Police Executive Research Forum are protesting the decision of U.S. House Republican appropriators to cut funding for federal COPS hiring grants and Byrne Justice Assistance grants program for the federal fiscal year starting October 1, reported The Crime Report. "At a time when cities are being forced to lay off police officers, these cuts to the federal government’s primary source of support for local police departments are unconscionable," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter of the mayors conference and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, both presidents of their respective organizations, in a letter to key appropriations committee members of both parties.

According to The Crime Report, in a plan released Wednesday, the House committee overseeing the Justice Department budget proposed to eliminate the COPS program and cut Byrne JAG funds about 16 percent. "It is ironic that these cuts are proposed at the same time that some cities are being forced to lay off police officers to balance their budgets," Nutter and Ramsey said. "COPS grants can be used to avoid having to layoff officers and to rehire those already laid off.

Byrne grants provide flexible funds to police departments which they can use to meet their greatest needs, reported The Crime Report. Public safety is the last thing we should be putting on the chopping block. The proposed cuts to the federal government’s primary source of support for local police departments are untimely and ill advised, and a threat to public safety."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Texas Executes Mexican National Despite White House Objection

The 26th Execution of 2011

Texas executed Humberto Leal. He was a Mexican citizen. His pending execution gained international notoriety because he was allegedly denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty. Even the White House called for a stay of execution.

In his last minutes, Humberto Leal repeatedly said he was sorry and accepted responsibility, reported the Associated Press.

"I have hurt a lot of people. ... I take full blame for everything. I am sorry for what I did," he said in the death chamber.

"One more thing," he said as the drugs began taking effect. Then he shouted twice, "Viva Mexico!"

"Ready warden," he said. "Let's get this show on the road."

He grunted, snored several times and appeared to go to sleep, then stopped all breathing movement, reported the Associated Press. He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal injection began.

After his execution, relatives of Leal who had gathered in Guadalupe, Mexico, burned a T-shirt with an image of the American flag in protest. Leal's uncle Alberto Rodriguez criticized the U.S. justice system and the Mexican government and said, "There is a God who makes us all pay."

Mexico, the Obama administration and others had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay Leal's execution so Congress could consider a law that would require court reviews in cases where condemned foreign nationals did not receive help from their consulates. They said the case could affect not only foreigners in the U.S. but Americans detained in other countries, according to the Associated Press.

The court rejected the request 5-4. Its five more conservative justices doubted that executing Leal would cause grave international consequences, and doubted "that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation."

"Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be," the majority said.

Leal's attorney Sandra L. Babcock said that with consular help her client could have shown that he was not guilty, reported the Associated Press. But she added, "This case was not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas. The execution of Mr. Leal violates the United States' treaty commitments, threatens the nation's foreign policy interests, and undermines the safety of all Americans abroad."

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Perp Walk: 'We Villify Them for the Benefit of Theatre"

Bloomberg Flip-Flops on Perp Walks

Perp walks have garnered national attention in the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest, according to the Wall Street Journal. Perp walks are staged by police to allow media outlets to photograph handcuffed criminal defendants as they walk from or to preliminary arraignments. Often the accused looks disheveled or attempts to cover his face while handcuffed. Some suggest that the walks are a humiliating violation of the presumption of innocence.

“We have done perp walks for the benefit of newspapers and television for a long time — I’ve always thought that the perp walks were outrageous,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the Wall Street Journal.

A defendant is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, said Bloomberg, “and yet we vilify them for the benefit of theater, for the circus. They did it in Roman times. There’s nothing new.”

The mayor’s recent remarks about perp walks seem curious in light of what he said in May when reporters first questioned him about Strauss-Kahn’s infamous walk. According to the Wall Street Journal, the mayor said at the time,“If you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime." He went on to say, “I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that.”

Now that the Strauss-Kahn case has begun to unravel so has Bloomberg's position on perp walks.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

As Strauss-Kahn Case Unravels: Impact on Victims

William Saletan wrote an interesting and detailed article for Slate on the unraveling of the sexual assault case against French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The article entitled Sex, Lies, and Audiotape appeared online on July 2.

The column goes into detail about the prosecutions revelation concerning the victims credibility problems. From lying on her immigration application to potential money laundering for her alleged boyfriends drug enterprise.

Saletan succinctly frames the issue in the following paragraph, "Already, there are cries of concern that if the case disintegrates, it will destroy the credibility of rape victims or immigrants, while powerful abusers will go free. That's the wrong conclusion. The unraveling of the Strauss-Kahn prosecution is a victory for justice, because investigators found ways to check the accuser's credibility. Other accusers will pass such tests. This one didn't. What the collapse of this case proves is that it's possible to distinguish true rape accusations from false ones—and that the government, having staked its reputation on an accuser's credibility, diligently investigated her and disclosed her lies. The system worked."

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

San Jose Furloughs Police Officers as Homicides Soar

San Jose has furloughed 66 police officers, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The lay-offs come amid a homicide surge in what once was dubbed "America's Safest Big City." San Jose had 20 homicides all of last year. With 27 homicides in the first half of 2011, San Jose is on track to have more than 50 homicides in 2011.

The lay-offs were actually less than had been feared weeks ago because nearly half of the 122 officers who were given layoff notices found jobs in other police departments, reported the Mercury News.

Only five years ago San Jose had 1,356 officers, and the chief urged city leaders to hire 478 more over five years. The recommended compliment of officers at the time was 1,834. Today, San Jose has 1,106 police officers 728 less than anticipated in 2006. That is fewer police officers than the city had two decades ago, when San Jose had 200,000 fewer people, reported the Mercury News.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

Adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is the Rule Obsolete?

The Youngstown Vindicator
July 3, 2011

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Mapp v. Ohio. The case originated out of Cleveland, where police were looking for a fugitive and forced their way into Dollree Mapp’s apartment without her consent. While in the apartment the police confiscated illegal material and arrested Mapp.

Forty-seven years before Mapp the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evidence collected in federal prosecutions that violated the Fourth Amendment ban against illegal search and seizures would be excluded from trial. The exclusionary rule, as it became known, was available to all defendants in federal court. However, the rule had not been recognized or applied by all states. Ohio was one of those states that did not recognize the exclusionary rule.

Mapp v. Ohio changed the nation’s jurisprudential landscape. Mapp explicitly held that the exclusionary rule applies to the states and as a result state prosecutors could not use evidence gained by illegal or improper means to obtain a conviction.

The rationale behind the exclusionary rule was to deter police misconduct. If the police intentionally circumvented their obligation to get a search warrant or if the police were just inept, the penalty would be significant — the inability to use the evidence illegally obtained.

Target of assault

Many Supreme Court observers suggested that the Mapp decision would be detrimental to law enforcement. The courts would be inundated with challenges and the guilty would go free in droves. The exclusionary rule has been the target of a 50-year assault by conservatives who contend the rule is a boondoggle for criminals.

What the exclusionary rule actually produced was improved police work. The law enforcement training that grew out of the Mapp decision has enhanced the quality of police investigations and protected the rights of individual citizens. In 2005, Justice Antonin Scalia cited “increasing professionalism of police” as a reason for the exclusionary rule’s obsolescence.

In 2009, the assault on the exclusionary rule continued. The Supreme Court found that evidence confiscated as the result of an arrest that was the product of an expired warrant was not subject to exclusion. The Court found that negligence by one police department in failing to remove a warrant did not contaminate evidence obtained by a different police department that was unaware the arrest warrant was invalid.

Narrowing the rule

Last month, almost 50 years to the day that Mapp was decided, the U.S. Supreme further narrowed the exclusionary rule. Police in Alabama arrested Willie Davis. After he was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of a police cruiser Davis’ car was searched. The police found a gun. The police were in conformity with the law as it existed at the time the warrantless search of Davis’ car was conducted.

Subsequently, the law changed and Davis sought to have the evidence excluded. The Supreme Court refused to exclude the evidence. Justice Samuel Alito concluded that suppression of evidence as the result of a change in the law, a change that came after a lawful search, “would do nothing to deter police misconduct.”

For those who believe that the exclusionary rule is an important tool for preserving some of the U.S. Constitution’s most fundamental rights, the Davis v. United States decision is alarming. The decision itself is narrow; the real concern lies in the fact that the Court’s newest members, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan joined with the conservative faction of the Court in finding the exclusionary rule did not apply in Davis.

If Davis is indicative of the direction the newly reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court is headed with regard to the exclusionary rule — the idea of penalizing police misconduct may soon be a thing of the past.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Report on Capital Punishment at Mid-Year

John Lynn Bible was executed on June 30, 2011. His execution marked the 25th execution of 2011 at the years exact midpoint. There were 46 executions in 2010.

At first blush, it would appear that 2011 is ahead of the pace of 2010 in terms of executions. At this pace there will be 50 executions in 2011. However, at midyear 2010 there were 29 executions, the pace fell off the second half of 2011.

So far in the first half of 2011, Texas once again leads all states with six executions. Ohio and Alabama have each carried out four executions. Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Missouri and Oklahoma have at least one execution.

All of the killers executed are men and 18 of those killers carried out their killings with a firearm.

The biggest story in executions this year has been the use of a new execution drug pentobarbital and the transition, in some states, from a three drug protocol to a single drug protocol.

The next scheduled execution is that of Humberto Leal a foreign national. Leal's scheduled execution by the state of Texas on July 7 has become controversial. Leal a native of Mexico claims he was not given the right to consult with his government while his case was pending.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: The Piety of the Castle Doctrine

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
July 1, 2011

This week Governor Tom Corbett signed into Pennsylvania law the Castle Doctrine. The new law, passed by the State Senate 45-5, provides the right to use a gun or other deadly force in self-defense in situations outside a person's home. The law enables citizens who are in a place where they have a right to be and are not committing a crime, to use deadly force in the face of a threat without the obligation to retreat.

Last fall, the legislature passed a similar bill but it was vetoed by then-Governor Edward Rendell. "The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality," said Rendell.

The state’s district attorneys association opposed last year’s bill. This time around the group dropped its opposition after the bill was amended to eliminate any loophole that would enable the bill to be used as a defense against criminal charges.

State Senator Richard Alloway II, the primary sponsor of the bill, said he believes self defense is a God-given right. However, the piety of similar statutes in other states is in question.

In Ohio, a man who was robbed by a drug dealer was later shot and killed after he broke a window in an attempt to enter the car of the thief. Defense attorneys contended that the man acted lawfully. A jury convicted the thief-turned-killer of reckless homicide rather than murder.

In Texas, a jury acquitted Jose Gonzalez of murder. According to the Associated Press, Gonzalez had endured several break-ins at his mobile home when four boys, ranging in age from 11 to 15, broke into his home. Gonzalez went into the trailer and confronted the boys with a 16-gauge shotgun.

Both sides agreed about what happened next. Gonzalez forced the boys, who were unarmed, to their knees. They were begging for forgiveness when Gonzalez hit them with the barrel of the shotgun and kicked them repeatedly. Then one boy was shot in the back at close range—two mashed Twinkies and some cookies were stuffed in the pockets of his shorts.

In Montana, prosecutors decided not to file charges in a case where two men got into an argument over an extended break while working at Wal-Mart. According to The Billings Gazette, Craig Schmidt was punched and shoved by Danny Lira. Schmidt apparently feared another blow could cause serious injury or kill him. He pulled out a pistol and shot Lira in the forehead.

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