Sunday, September 30, 2012

NJ seeks closed circuit testimony in DV cases

A New Jersey Assembly panel unanimously approved a measure that would permit domestic violence vitim's to testify against their abusers via closed circuit television if a judge decides victims “would suffer severe emotional or mental distress if required to testify in open court,” reported

Currently, only child sex abuse victims can testify in that fashion in New Jersey.

The measure drew concern from Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale, who said the bill is “potentially problematic” and could infringe on defendants’ constitutional rights to confront witnesses against them in court.

Another Assemblyman, agreed, saying “it would be an interesting case to argue” in court.

But Sandy Clark of the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women said the bill was important to “ease the trauma” of domestic violence victims and encourage them to speak out against their abusers.

To read more:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

PA complies with Adam Walsh Act

The U.S. Justice Department  recently announced that Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands are the latest jurisdictions to implement the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

Since the passage of SORNA, which establishes a comprehensive national system for the registration of sex offenders, a total of 16 states, three territories and 36 tribes have met the requirements for implementation. The Act is named in memory of Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old boy, who was abducted from a mall in Hollywood, Fla. on July 27, 1981.

In addition to Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the states of Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming, and the United States territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, have also substantially implemented SORNA.

States and territories had until July 27, 2011, to substantially implement SORNA. Beginning in 2012, 34 states not in compliance were subject to a 10-percent reduction in their Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Byrne (JAG) award. The penalty will continue to be applied on an annual basis until a state or territory substantially implements SORNA.

Man stands his ground to protect neighbor, kills own son

The idea and premise of "Stand Your Ground" self defense legisaltion took yet another strange twist this time in Connecticut.   A man shot and killed his 15-year-old son during what he apparently thought was the attempted robbery of a neighbor's house, according CNN.

"Something like this is a tragedy, a loss of human life," State Police Lt. Paul Vance said.

The Castle Doctrine is incorporated into Connecticut law governing the use of physical force in defense of premises. This law states that a person who possesses or controls a premises, or is licensed or privileged to be on such premises, is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes it to be necessary to prevent or stop someone from criminally trespassing.

Deadly force is reasonable only (1) to defend oneself or another; (2) when one reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent an attempt by the trespasser to commit arson or any violent crime; or (3) to the extent the person reasonably believes it is necessary and only to prevent or terminate an unlawful entry by force into his or her dwelling or place of work (CGS § 53a-20).

The incident occurred in New Fairfield about 1 a.m. Thursday when a woman called her neighbor, Jeffrey Giuliano, and said she thought there was a robber in front of her house.

Police say the woman, whom they declined to identify, said the robber was dressed in black, wearing a ski mask and holding a shiny object. CNN affiliate WFSB reported the woman is Jeffrey Giuliano's sister.

Giuliano confronted the person, whom he apparently didn't realize was his adopted son, Tyler, and shot the boy when he "came toward him in a threatening manner," according to police.

Tyler Giuliano was pronounced dead at the scene. His father has not been charged with a crime.

"We're all waiting for that million-dollar answer: What was going through (Tyler's) mind that night?" said New Fairfield resident and politician John Hodge. "Something like this really hit us hard. We do want to get the real answers here."

Hodge added that New Fairfield is "close-knit community" where "certainly nothing of this nature" has occurred in recent memory.

Tyler Giuliano was a sophomore at New Fairfield High School.

Police say they are continuing to investigate the incident.

To read more:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Terrance Williams' October 3 execution postponed

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge M. Theresa Sarmina today issued a stay of execution of condemned killer Terrance Williams, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Williams, 46, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on October 3.

Judge Sarmina's decision came a day after the state Board of Pardons agreed to hear for a second time Williams' plea for clemency, but put off any action in apparent deference to the court in Philadelphia.

The board's action to rehear William's clemency plea reversed a Sept. 17 vote in which the panel failed to recommend that Gov. Corbett commute the killer's death sentence to life in prison without parole.

Williams was set to be the first Pennsylvania prisoner put to death since 1999.

To read more:

The Cautionary Instruction: Legislature tackles only part of the JLWOP problem

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 28, 2012

In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole imposed upon a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendment ban against "cruel and unusual punishment."

The decision, however, did not outlaw life sentences for juveniles. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania and across the country can still pursue life sentences for juvenile killers. The court ruled that state lawmakers cannot force a judge to impose a life sentence on a juvenile.

The eyes of the nation are on Pennsylvania and how the Commonwealth deals with its nation-leading 470 offenders serving life without parole for offenses committed as juveniles. There are 28 states with mandatory sentencing laws that will have to take some action to address those who may be subject to future sentencing and those already serving life sentences.

On September 12, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard expedited oral arguments in the cases of two inmates who appealed life sentences they received for murders they committed as juveniles. 

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania General Assembly took an initial step toward addressing at least part of the problem. Senate Bill 850 was amended to include language addressing sentences for juveniles convicted of first and second degree murder. The bill needs to be voted on by the full House and then returned to the Senate.

Under the amendment, judges can continue to sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. The proposed legislation now provides another option. A juvenile age 15 or older convicted of first degree murder may be sentenced to a minimum of 35 years to life. For a juvenile younger than 15 the options include a minimum of 25 years to life.

Life without parole would no longer be an option for a juvenile convicted of second degree murder. A juvenile convicted of second degree murder age 15 or older shall be sentenced to a minimum of 30 years to life; under age 15 the minimum is 20 years to life.

The legislation also mandates that a sentencing judge who opts to sentence a juvenile to life without parole must make specific findings on the record that include the impact of the crime on the victim and community, the threat posed by the defendant, the degree of the juvenile defendant’s culpability as well as age, mental capacity and maturity.

The legislation has the support of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association. The legislation "represents a good balance between an appropriate punishment for juveniles convicted with murder and the Miller decision," said Greg Rowe, the legislative liaison for the association.

The legislation will resolve the sentencing conundrum for all juveniles currently awaiting homicide trials in Pennsylvania. In Allegheny County there are about 10 such juveniles.

The legislation fails to provide redress for those offenders already serving life without parole. In Pennsylvania, those offenders represent a significant number of the nation’s juvenile lifers and cannot be ignored.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Case of Terrance Williams: ‘Arbitrary’ Capital Punishment?

The Crime Report
September 25, 2012

Terrance Williams was a few months over the age of 18 when he killed a man with a tire iron in 1984. It was not his first murder.  He killed a man a few months earlier as a juvenile.

On October 3, he stands to be the first man executed against his will in Pennsylvania in more than half a century. That execution should be delayed.

With his execution looming, one harkens back to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s admonition when striking down the death penalty 40 years ago.

“These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual,” Stewart wrote in 1972.

This time, instead of comparing death sentences to lightning strikes, a justice could easily compare executions to lightning strikes. In 2012, are executions arbitrary in the same way that death sentences were arbitrary in 1972?

The last non-voluntary execution in Pennsylvania was in 1962, when Elmo Smith of Norristown died in the electric chair for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl. Three death row inmates between 1995 and 1999 waived their appeal rights and volunteered to be executed. The last person executed in the state was Gary Heidnik in 1999.

Pennsylvania reinstated capital punishment in 1978, after the state legislature, in light of the Supreme Court decision, sought to narrow those who would be eligible for the death penalty by enumerating aggravating circumstances or factors that would necessitate the application of the death penalty.

It also sought to individualize sentences by permitting convicted killers to present mitigating factors to obviate the imposition of death.

The “new” death penalty statute in Pennsylvania mandated that proceedings move to the penalty phase following a First Degree murder conviction, in which the defendant is found to have committed a “willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.”  The prosecution and defense would then present evidence on aggravating and mitigating factors.

The statute lists 18 aggravating factors and an infinite number of mitigating factors, including age, absence of criminal history or emotional distress.

If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the jury is directed to impose a sentence of death.
Last fall, the Joint State Government Commission established an Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. The Advisory Committee is charged with studying capital punishment and reporting its findings and recommendations.  I am a member of the advisory committee.

Over the last decade, the Supreme Court has chipped away at capital punishment.  Initially, the High Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Soon after, the court banned the execution of juveniles.  The court later ruled that the rape of a child was not an executable offense.
Terrance Williams, now 46, is one of 219 inmates on death row.  Why is he a better candidate for execution than any of the other 218 death row inmates?

Williams’ attorneys and supporters cite mitigating factors that were not presented at trial.  Jurors from his 1990 trial have come forward to say they would not have sentenced Williams to death had they been aware of that mitigation evidence, which included the allegations that he was sexually abused from an early age, and that both of his victims had abused him.

None of this mitigation evidence was raised during his direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court nor was the issue raised in post-conviction appeals.

But he has exhausted his appeal and post-conviction rights.

He filed a last minute lawsuit to stop his execution with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. At a hearing earlier this month,   the Board of Pardons voted 3-2 in favor of commuting his sentence to life without parole, but state law requires a unanimous vote to issue a “nonbinding” recommendation to the governor to halt executions.

The question remains: why Terrance Williams?

Pennsylvania has been, for all intents and purposes, out of the execution business for 50 years.  Is Williams the best candidate to usher in a new era of non-voluntary executions?

The answer is no.

Let the advisory committee study the death penalty and provide findings and recommendations to the legislature before carrying out an execution.

The Crime Report

Matthew T. Mangino, former district attorney of Lawrence County,  is a member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and serves on the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission's Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. He welcomes comments from readers, and can be contacted at Follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Texas executes man after three stays over 21 months

The 30th Execution of 2012

Texas executed Cleve Foster on September 25.  He had received three stays of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court because of questions about how forcefully his lawyers defended him, reported Reuters.

Foster was convicted with an accomplice in the 2002 murder and rape of Nyanuer "Mary" Pal, whose naked body was found in a ditch, according to a report by the Texas Attorney General's office.

He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m. local time at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, according to a Texas criminal justice spokesman.

The Supreme Court a year ago granted a temporary stay of execution just 2 1/2 hours before Foster was to be put to death by injection. It was the third stay from the high court for Foster, who also was granted delays in January and April 2011.

Tuesday's request for a fourth stay was referred by Justice Antonin Scalia to the full court but just three of the nine justices -- Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- said they would favor another stay.

Foster's accomplice in the murder, Shelton Ward, died of brain cancer on death row in 2010. Foster maintained in his trial that Ward acted alone and that contact between him and the victim was consensual.

In his last statement, Foster sent his love to his family and friends. "I love you, I pray one day we will all meet in heaven ...," Foster said. "Ready to go home to meet my maker."

Foster is the 9th person executed in Texas this year. Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

To read more:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Texas killer to be executed today, postponed three times

Three times over the past year and a half, Cleve Foster has come within moments of being executed in the state of Texas, only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment, reported the Associated Press.

Today, Foster is scheduled for yet another trip to the death house for participating in the abduction and slaying of a 30-year-old Sudanese woman, Nyaneur Pal, a decade ago near Fort Worth.

The first time, in January 2011, he'd even been served a final meal, receiving a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before his execution. The second time, in April 2011, he received news of the stay just as he was about to have dinner.

"You can't take your eyes off that door," he told the Associated Press, referring to the steel door through which condemned prisoners must pass.

The third time Foster was scheduled to be executed, in September of that year, his reprieve came on the day of his scheduled execution, but he'd not yet been transported to the unit housing the execution chambers.

It takes just under an hour to drive west from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit, where the state's male death-row inmates are housed, to the Huntsville Unit, where condemned Texas prisoners have been put to death for nearly a century. The last 485 have been by lethal injection; the first 361, from 1924 through 1964, from the electric chair.

On execution day, the condemned inmate waits, usually for about four hours, in a tiny cell a few steps from the steel door to the death chamber.

Foster is not repentant, in fact he denies he committed the offense. "I did not do it," Foster insisted recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

"I don't want to sound vain, but I have confidence in my attorney and confidence in my God," he told AP. "I can win either way."

Inmates no longer get to make a final meal request. Procedures were changed after a state lawmaker complained that condemned inmates were taking advantage of the opportunity and that murder victims never get that chance.

Foster was looking forward to nachos and chicken, the same food served to other inmates the day last year that he made his second trip to the death house, but he never received it. Instead, his attorney tearfully brought him news of another Supreme Court reprieve just before dinner time.

"I've already told the chaplain: Take the phone off the hook before 4 o'clock," he said, anticipating his trip today. "I want to get that last meal."

To read more:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chief justice wants to end judicial elections in Pennsylvania

Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in an recent interview he's favors reducing political influence on the judiciary by ending the election of judges in the state, reported WHYY-FM in Philadelphia.

Castille stunned Pennsylvania lawmakers in January by breaking with his fellow Republicans on the court and casting the deciding vote to overturn a redistricting plan challenged by Democrats. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission has returned with a new map, and it's again under challenge by citizen activists and Senate Democrats.

Castille, who says he has long believed in merit selection of judges, said it was a plank in his platform when he ran for the court in 1993.  Common pleas and appellate judges are elected in Pennsylvania and subject to retention every 10 years.  Magistrate judges are elected every six years.

"Even back then I was saying, 'Wow, you know, this is an odd way to elect individuals who are going to have significant control over situations in your lives or business disputes, government disputes,'" he told WHYY.

Castille hasn't actively crusaded for merit selection, since it's an issue for the Legislature to consider. But he said he still believes in the idea.

Activists have tried and, so far, fallen short on trying to create courts with appointed jurists.

To read more:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

National database of collateral consequences underway

A new online database allows users to search for state and federal laws and rules that hinder people with a criminal record from finding work, securing licenses or housing, obtaining an education, or keeping their families together, according to The Crime Report.

The site, National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, was launched yesterday by the American Bar Association Section of Criminal Justice. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said, "To promote successful reentry, it is important that prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges understand the full consequences of convictions, so they can make the best possible decisions."  Leahy added, " More to the point, it is crucial that policy makers understand the full set of collateral consequences already in the law, so that they know whether new sanctions are truly necessary or appropriate and so they can think about removing sanctions that undermine the ability to reenter society without making the public safer."

The ABA noted that people with conviction records face barriers that extend beyond their sentences. State and federal laws and rules restrict their access to many government benefits and opportunities, making it difficult for them to return to society successfully.

The website is designed to make lawyers, lawmakers and policy advocates aware of the the scope and impact of such laws and disqualifications, and also help affected individuals understand their rights and responsibilities. The database currently hosts information on federal statutes and regulations, as well as similar research from nine states: Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and New York. Data from other states will be coming online over the next 18 months.

Visit the website:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

West Virginia leads nation in prison growth

West Virginia ranks 32nd among states for its rate of putting adults behind bars, but it is leading the nation in prison population growth, reported the West Virginia Gazette

The state's Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) reported that West Virginia has done a poor job matching offenders to the right kind of supervision or services when placing them on probation, on parole or into a community-based corrections program. This improper "sorting" plays a role in the growth the state's prison population when that supervised release is revoked.

Carl Reynolds of JRI said the state also is seeing a rise in violent crime and arrests for such offenses. The study showed that the number of inmates sent back to prison because their release was revoked had increased 47 percent between 2005 and last year. The nearly 5,500 revocation cases tracked by the study cost the state $168 million. Reynolds said this route to prison is starting to outpace regular commitments.

"That's a real driver of what's happening in the system," Reynolds told the Gazette. He added, "We're not saying that all of these revocations should not have happened."

Reynolds also cited the lack of supervision for offenders who "max out" their sentences. Of the 896 such offenders released last year, only about one-fourth had earlier been out on parole that was later revoked. Of the remaining 657 released offenders who were never paroled, nearly two-thirds served terms for property, drug or nonviolent offenses. Without the programs or services that can accompany parole, these people leave prison more likely to commit new crimes, Reynolds told the Gazette.

To read more:

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: The lawyer’s duty to zealously defend

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 21, 2012

The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is grounded in John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged with murder during the Boston massacre. In Adam’s trial summation he set the standard for law and order. He said of justice, “On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamours of the populace.”

Today, more than ever, the clamor of the populace -- through news media and social media -- can almost instantly accuse, try and convict a person in the court of public opinion.

As a result, this rush to judgment when it comes to certain types of crimes, causes lawyers no longer to be perceived as only representing the accused, but of siding with the reprehensible “monsters.”

A lawyer faced with the decision to take on a controversial client must legitimately ask herself, “Will I ever get any more law business in my community if I take this case?”

Timothy McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, shortly after accepting the case was asked by a CNN reporter why he took the case. He replied, “I have, throughout my professional career, believed it was a lawyer’s duty to defend unpopular cases.”

Attorneys are advocates for others. Many people understand that representing the person or issue does not equate with accepting or endorsing what a particular client does. In practice, however, many people have difficulty accepting that a pedophile, terrorist, mass killer or racist hate group is entitled to legal representation.

When Liz Cheney, the daughter of former V.P. Dick Cheney, publicly disclosed Obama Administration attorneys at the Department of Justice who represented Gitmo detainees, even her most conservative colleagues with law degrees lambasted her. Such a public listing– -- as if there was something wrong with providing a defense to detainees -- under minds the fundamental protections of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “to have the assistance of counsel.”

The principles embodied in the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct as stated in the Rule’s preamble “include the lawyer’s obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests.”

Yet, every criminal defense attorney is asked this question, “How can you defend someone you know is guilty?”

Scott Greenfield, a New York attorney and blogger, put it this way. “The fundamental duty of a criminal defense lawyer is to zealously represent his client…Our function is to defend our client, no matter how horrific the crime or evil the defendant…Factual guilt plays no role whatsoever in our duty to zealously defend our client. There is never a moral dilemma once a lawyer assumes the duty to defend. Our function is not to judge, or impose our sensibilities or morality, but to defend.”

John Adams would be proud.

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Texas executes killer of five

The 29th Execution of 2012

Robert Wayne Harris, who confessed to killing five people at a Dallas-area car wash a week after he was fired, was executed on September 20, 2012 less than two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused his appeal to halt the execution.

“I’m going home. I’m going home,” Harris said, reported the Associated Press. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright. God bless, and the Texas Rangers, Texas Rangers.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m., 25 minutes after the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, making him the eighth Texas inmate executed in the nation’s most active capital punishment state.
Harris was convicted of two of the five slayings in March 2000 at the Mi-T-Fine Car Wash in Irving. He also was charged with abducting and killing a woman months before the killing spree and led police to her remains.

Harris didn’t deny the slayings, but his lawyer contended in appeals he was mentally impaired and should be spared because of a Supreme Court ban on execution of mentally impaired people.

Harris had been working at the car wash for about 10 months when he was fired and arrested after exposing himself to a female customer. The following Monday he showed up before the business was to open, demanded the safe be opened and then shot the manager, the assistant who had fired Harris and a cashier.

Three more employees reporting to work also were shot, two of them fatally. When another worker arrived, Harris explained he just had stumbled upon the bloody scene. But when Harris pulled a knife, the worker said he was feeling uneasy and left. The worker called 911, and Harris was arrested the next day.

Greg Davis, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who was the lead trial prosecutor, said this week. “I remember just the vicious nature of the offense and the fact it was very well thought-out and conceived by Robert Harris. Guilt is just crystal clear.”

One of Harris’ trial lawyers acknowledged that.

“No question at all,” Brad Lollar said. “Our whole aim was to get him a life sentence. ... I keep hoping. I’m hoping something will come through for Robert.”

To read more:

Ohio carries out execution after 5 week nationwide lull

The 28th Execution of 2012

Donald Palmer, an Ohio death-row inmate, used his last words to apologize to the families of the two victims he killed 23 years ago, before he was executed by lethal injection on September 20, 2012.

"I want you to know I've carried you in my heart for years and years," Palmer told six women in the room who are the widows, daughters and a niece of the men he killed, reported the Associated Press. "I'm so sorry for what I took from you ... I hope your pain and hurt die with me today."

Palmer also told the women that he wished his execution could bring their loved ones back, and that he knows the pain of losing a parent, sibling and child.

"I know it can't," he said. "I pray that you have good lives now. I'm sorry."

Palmer, who was executed at a state prison in Lucasville in southern Ohio, was convicted of aggravated murder on May 8, 1989 for shooting and killing two strangers, Charles Sponhaltz and Steven Vargo, along a country road in Ohio, according to AP.

Palmer and a friend had been staking out the home of a man who once dated his ex-wife when Sponhaltz rear-ended his truck and was shot, court records read. Vargo was a passing driver who witnessed Sponhaltz's killing and was also shot.

Daughters and widows of the victims spoke with reporters after the execution.

"When you murder somebody, what good is an apology?" Tiffany Nameth, Sponhaltz's widow told AP. "You don't go out and murder two people and expect to get sympathy. In my eyes, he didn't deserve any sympathy."

Palmer's lawyer, David Stebbins, who also witnessed the execution, said that the state followed its execution procedure to the letter and that Palmer truly was remorseful for the pain he had caused and thought that it was time that his execution move forward.

Also present was Palmer's grown daughter and son, his ex-wife, and spiritual advisers. The prison warden declared his time of death as 10:35 a.m. Palmer was the first person executed in the U.S. in more than five weeks.

To read more:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philly court schedules hearing for condemned killer

The execution is scheduled for October 3 and has not been postponed

Terrance "Terry" Williams' execution is still set for Oct. 3, but a Philadelphia judge on Friday agreed to hear testimony on his lawyers' claim that the prosecutor at his 1986 trial withheld from the jury evidence of Williams' history of sexual abuse by his victim, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Although Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina questioned whether Williams' lawyers had met the legal standard for an emergency hearing, she added that "The fact is, death is different. . . . The penalty is serious enough, and it cannot be reversed."

Sarmina said the hearing today would involve two witnesses: Andrea Foulkes, the city prosecutor in Williams' trial in the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood; and Marc Draper, Williams' admitted accomplice, who in new sworn statements says detectives and Foulkes ordered him to testify that Williams killed Norwood in a robbery - not in a rage over years of sexual abuse by Norwood, reported the Inquirer.

Last Thursday, Williams was privately interviewed by the five-member Board of Pardons about his clemency petition to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison without parole.

The board will hold a public hearing Monday in Harrisburg. It must unanimously vote for clemency for Gov. Corbett to consider the nonbinding recommendation.

To read more:

Convicted rapist on the verge of release tied to crime by DNA

D.A. had agreed to release rapist without DNA testing

Convicted rapist Booker Diggins is serving a life sentence for a 1987 rape in a storage room a the New Orleans Riverwalk promenade.  Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro had agreed in early May to let Diggans plead guilty to lesser charges and go free for time served.

A 76-page report filed on this week by attorneys for Diggins leaves virtually no doubt of a positive match of his DNA with body fluid taken from the victim. The report concludes that the chances of Diggins not being the source of the sperm found in a rape exam kit are one in 26 quadrillion, according to Cannizzaro's office.

The link to Diggins is "unique in the human population," according to the report by Forensic Analytical Sciences, Inc.. It was even more conclusive than the results of recent DNA testing done by the state.

The rape kit, long thought to be destroyed, was discovered in May, two weeks after Diggins was set to go free under a deal between Cannizzaro's office and Diggins' attorneys with the New York-based Innocence Project.

The deal was based on blood test results that did not provide a match to Diggins. DNA testing was unavailable at the time of the rape.

But Criminal District Judge Frank Marullo refused to endorse the deal for Diggins' release and ordered a new trial instead, a ruling that Cannizzaro's office appealed. Cannizzaro's office filed a motion on Tuesday for Marullo to reconsider his call for a new trial.

Cannizzaro issued a statement on Tuesday touting the DNA results and noting how persuasive convicts can be in their claims of innocence.

"In court, I will fight hard to ensure that the guilty do not abuse the criminal justice system by falsely sowing seeds of mistrust under the guise of righteousness," Cannizzaro said in the statement.

Diggins had been fighting his conviction for nearly a decade.

To read moere:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

PA State Rep.looks to ban handheld cell phones while driving

Pennsylvania State Rep. Joe Markosek, from Allegheny County, plans to introduce legislation this fall that would ban drivers from talking on  handheld cell phones, reported the Morning Call. New drivers would be prohibited from using any handheld device while driving including GPS.

Markosek formerly served as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, where he spearhead at least three previous failed efforts to pass a handheld cell phone ban.

Thirty-nine states, along with Washington D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. An additional 5 states prohibit text messaging by new drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Just 10 states, along with Washington D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban drivers from using handheld cell phones while they’re behind the wheel. Except for Maryland and West Virginia (until July 2013) all laws are primary offenses, reported the Morning Call.

To read more:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Florida task force reviewing 'Stand Your Ground'

Nearly seven months after the death of Miami teenager Trayvon Martin, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Task Force, the panel appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to examine the controversial self defense law, is in the midst of a series of public meetings, reported the Miami Herald.

Florida’s 2005 law removed the duty to retreat if a person fears great bodily harm or death from an attacker. It stipulates that a person who kills someone in such a circumstance is immune from arrest and offers a person who is criminally charged a chance to get a hearing before a judge. That judge can offer immunity, which applies in civil court as well.

With four meetings held and three more to go, cracks in the controversial statute have begun to emerge, which followers of the task force’s work say are likely to result in recommendations to clarify a law critics say is so ambiguous that some people literally have gotten away with murder.

The 17-member task force has traveled the state since June gathering testimony from experts and the public.

Civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League and the League of United Latin American Citizens argue that studies indicate that laws like Stand Your Ground have a disproportionately negative effect on people of color, according to the Herald.

The law exploded in the national press because the Sanford Police cited it as the reason neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was not initially arrested after he shot Trayvon in a scuffle. Zimmerman said it was self defense, and because there was no immediate evidence to disprove that, he went home.

A national uproar led to a special prosecutor, criminal charges — and the task force to examine the law, reported the Herald.

“These laws distort the criminal justice system, allow aggressors to pick a fight and, if it doesn’t go their way, resort to deadly force,” said Allie Braswell, head of the Central Florida Urban League, who spoke on behalf of the Second Chance on Shoot First, a group that works to repeal such laws. “This law has so much ambiguity, it makes it hard for law enforcement to do its job.”

To read more:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shaken-baby syndrome questioned

A growing body of medical and legal experts, nationally and internationally, are casting doubt on what became known as shaken-baby syndrome, reported the Arizona Republic.

The idea that violent shaking of infants could cause brain injury was first proposed in a medical-journal article in 1971. Not only did it gain acceptance in the medical community over the next two decades, it also seeped into popular culture. Child-abuse prevention groups started awareness campaigns; the phrase "shaken-baby syndrome" entered the Random House dictionary in 1996.

By 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics produced a position paper on shaken-baby syndrome, saying that doctors should presume abuse in any baby under a year old who had head injuries absent obvious trauma, such as a car accident. The paper, published in the journal Pediatrics, said the "constellation" of injuries in a shaken baby could not result from an accidental trip or fall.

The article also offered a psychological profile of adults who shake a child. "Such shaking often results from tension and frustration generated by a baby's crying or irritability," the journal article said, "yet crying is not a legal justification for such violence." It went on to warn that shaken babies were often misdiagnosed, meaning doctors needed to be extremely vigilant to spot them.

New research indicates that the symptoms associated by shaken-baby syndrome can be caused by other maladies. The long-held triad of symptoms -- bleeding on the brain, swelling of the brain and bleeding in the eyes -- thought to indicate a baby was violently and intentionally shaken could also be caused by a host of diseases, including infections according to the Republic.

DePaul University law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer, who wrote a 2009 study on the use of shaken-baby syndrome in courtrooms, said the easily spotted symptoms became not only a medical diagnosis but also a legal tool adopted quickly and used convincingly in courtrooms nationwide.

Physicians would testify that a shaken child would become unresponsive or go limp almost immediately after the abuse. So the last adult with the child would be the primary suspect. And the shaken-baby diagnosis also provided a motive: a frustrated caregiver looking to quiet a crying child.

Some shaken-baby cases included other signs of violent abuse, such as broken bones, bruises or fractures. But others have no outward signs of injuries. Cases were built solely on the symptoms of shaken-baby syndrome.

"(The syndrome) did all of the work," Tuerkheimer told the Republic. Jurors would hear the experts testify with certainty and couple that with an "inclination to want to convict and hold someone responsible for such an awful outcome," she said

In 2009, Tuerkheimer published a paper, "The Next Innocence Project: Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Criminal Courts" in the Washington University Law Review.

"In its classic formulation, SBS comes as close as one could imagine to a medical diagnosis of murder," Tuerkheimer wrote. "Prosecutors use it to prove the mechanism of death, the intent to harm, and the identity of the killer."

Also in 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its position paper on shaken-baby syndrome. It urged physicians to stop using that term and instead describe injuries as "abusive head trauma." The group said it urged adoption of the "less mechanistic term" to stop the focus on shaking. Instead, the journal said, doctors should look at a wider range of possible causes, according to the Republic.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

New PA sex offender registration coming in December

Reporting requirements for Pennsylvania sex offenders will change in December. The changes will bring Pennsylvania's laws in line with the federal Adam Walsh Act and make more crimes subject to Megan's Law reporting, according to the Altoona Mirror.

Right now in Pennsylvania, if you're a 13-year-old girl and you get touched in an illegal way by a 40-year-old man, it's not a Megan's Law violation. That will change come Dec. 20 when the new state law takes effect.

Under the new law, offenses such as indecent assault, sexual corruption of minors and statutory sexual assault - which once didn't carry a sexual offender's registration requirement - now will.

Defense attorney Thomas Dickey said he anticipates clients in this predicament coming to him after they learn of the changes and admitted there would be few avenues to fight the law's retroactive component.

"You still have to be serving your sentence," Dickey told the Mirror. "Now these guys are going to have to register and they're like, 'Not only was I told by my lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge I wouldn't have to register, now you're saying I will after Dec. 20?'"

"I think there's going to be a significant increase in jury trials in Blair County," defense attorney Joel Peppetti told the Mirror.

He said because the new law has expanded the list of offenses, it diminishes the likelihood a deal can be brokered that avoids the registration requirement.

"I think when almost every offense is either a 15-year, 20-year or lifetime registration, then it takes a lot of discretion away from the DA's office," Peppetti said. For clients, he said, the registration requirement is a major sticking point to any plea deal.

"It's huge," Peppetti said. "It's always a major concern and it's a huge consideration. There are severe penalties for violating Megan's Law requirements."

Lt. Todd Harman, who heads the Pennsylvania State Police Megan's Law Unit, said the law will mean more work for the state police. He said 25 civilians and four state troopers have been added to the staff in anticipation of the changes. Most significantly, state police will see the biggest change in verifying addresses of those who are registered.

Harman said as of now, 90 percent of the roughly 12,000 registered sex offenders in the state come in only once a year to verify their addresses. With the new law, 80 percent of those who now come in once a year will have to check in four times a year, once every quarter.

A significant loophole closed by the change to the law focuses on transient and homeless sex offenders as well as out-of-state offenders, Harman said. Those changes took effect in February and now give the state the necessary legal authority to force homeless or transient sex offenders to register.

"They've labeled a new type of sex offender as transient," Harman told the Mirror. "They have to come in once every month to verify."

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Oregon governor fights execution of man who wants to die

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is appealing a judge's ruling that he has no authority to issue a reprieve from the death penalty for a condemned inmate who does not want clemency and insists on being executed.

The Governor issued a blanket reprieve to killers. However, Gary Haugen a convicted killer is, what has become known as, a execution volunteer.  He has waived his appeal rights and wants to be executed.

A Kitzhaber spokesman says the governor will file a notice of appeal and ask the Oregon Court of Appeals to pass it up to the state Supreme Court.  The governor will fight to keep alive a man condemned to death who wants to die.

A trial-court judge in Marion County ruled last month that Haugen must accept a reprieve for it to be valid. Haugen had been scheduled to die by lethal injection last December when Kitzhaber stepped in and blocked it.

Kitzhaber opposes capital punishment and said he won't allow any executions while he is governor

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Ohio execution to proceed on Sept. 20

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has denied mercy for a death row inmate set to be executed next week for shooting two men in the head in eastern Ohio in 1989.

Donald Palmer had not requested mercy from the Ohio Parole Board, which can recommend clemency for a condemned inmate to the governor.  He is scheduled for execution on September 20.

The board rejected clemency for Palmer last month, and Kasich denied it on September 11.

The 43-year-old Palmer is scheduled for execution for fatally shooting two men along a Belmont County road on May 8, 1989.

His attorney has not explained why Palmer didn't request mercy from the board or governor.

Ohio has 146 inmates on death row. Including Palmer, 10 inmates are scheduled for execution through March 2014.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Simpson prosecutor says ‘It did fit’

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 14, 2012

For about eight months in 1995, America was riveted to the televised trial of O.J. Simpson. The ‘trial of the century’ as it was known, sought to bring Simpson to justice for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Simpson was acquitted of both murders despite what prosecutors described as a "mountain of evidence" against him. The evidence included a blood-soaked glove found on Simpson's estate and a matching one found at the scene of the murders.

The mountain of evidence imploded when Los Angeles deputy district attorney Christopher Darden asked Simpson to try on the gloves in front of the jury -- in fact, in front of the entire nation. The gloves did not appear to fit Simpson’s hands.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said that allowing Simpson to try on the gloves in open court was "about the dumbest prosecutorial decision I've ever seen.

Now, 17 years later, Darden suggested that defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, who died in 2005, tampered with the gloves. Cochran was celebrated for breaking down Darden’s ill-fated decision into a snappy line that continues to resonate today, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Darden told an audience during a recent panel discussion at Pace University Law School that Cochran “manipulated” one of the black gloves that Simpson tried on during the trial.

I think Johnnie tore the lining,” Darden said. “There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.’s fingers couldn’t go all the way up into the glove.”

Simpson’s former lawyers were quick to respond. "We were under the watchful eye of a sheriff’s deputy and court staff every moment the glove was being examined," defense co-counsel Carl Douglas said. "The very first time Mr. Simpson placed his hand inside the murder glove was when all of America saw that it did not fit his massive hand.”

Did Darden have an obligation to report the alleged tampering to the court? A prosecutor is duty-bound to report unethical conduct by another member of the bar. The California Rules of Professional Conduct provide that a violation of the rules exists if one, “knowingly assist(s) in…any violation of these rules.”
Darden’s response to his apparent ethical lapse was that reporting it would have been a "whiny-little-snitch approach to life."

Darden, as a prosecutor, had a duty to seek justice. The alleged suspected unethical conduct had an impact on the trial’s outcome. Darden cannot argue that his failure to disclose the conduct was a trial tactic. Any complaint would have been heard out of earshot of the jury.

Is Darden suggesting that he failed in his ethical obligation to avoid appearing “whiny” in the court of public opinion?

Most likely, Darden is presenting a revisionist history of the trial ‘trying to exculpate himself from one of the biggest blunders in the history of jurisprudence.”

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

PA Supreme Court hears JLWOP arguments

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struggled Wednesday over the issue of  juvenile murderers serving mandatory life terms, given a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that their sentences are unconstitutional, reported the Allentown Morning Call.

Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to a mandatory life term for murder, as nearly 500 Pennsylvania prisoners were. The decision didn't bar life sentences for juveniles altogether, but said they cannot be imposed without a judge or a jury weighing the facts of defendants' lives, how their age affected their actions, and their ability to rehabilitate as they grow older.

"I get a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old murderer who could now be back on the street in his mid-30s? Is that what you're asking?" Justice Seamus McCaffery asked Marsha Levick, an attorney from the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia. She argued on Qu'eed Batts' behalf a juvenile serving life.

Batts was 14 in 2006 when he gunned down 16-year-old Clarence Edwards and wounded 18-year-old Cory Hilario in a gang-ordered attack in Easton's West Ward. In July, the state's highest court asked attorneys in his case to outline alternatives given the new ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for youths, according to The Morning Call.

Under state law, murders in the first and second degree must result in a life sentence, with no other punishment possible — the exact scenario the nation's top court deemed unconstitutional for those under 18. But what each of those prisoners can now expect is a question that Pennsylvania courts, and eventually the state Legislature, will have to answer.

Northampton County First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck, who prosecuted Batts, argued to the justices that life without parole should remain on the table.

Houck suggested two options at resentencing: a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or a life sentence with the possibility after a fixed number of years.

The federal ruling changed "one and only one thing: It has removed 'mandatory' from life in prison without parole," Houck said, reported The Morning Call.

Justice J. Michael Eakin floated one proposal not offered by either side: Leave it up to the state Board of Probation and Parole, without a judge setting a minimum.

If not, Eakin said, "How is it that we're going to say to the sentencing judge, 'You determine when there is eligibility for parole,' when all of the statutes are to the contrary?"

Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juveniles jailed for life, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which opposes that penalty. Pennsylvania has 444 such inmates, followed by Michigan at 346 and Louisiana at 332, the Washington, D.C.-based group says.

The Juvenile Law Center puts Pennsylvania's number closer to 480, including one inmate in Graterford State Prison who has spent 59 years behind bars, reported The Morning Call.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Peterson convicted by hearsay exception created for his trial

Last week, Drew Peterson was convicted of 1st degree murder in the death of his third wife Kathleen Savio.  The conviction was based primarily on the hearsay statements of his missing fourth wife. It was the first case in Illinois history to permit the use of hearsay evidence, based on a 2008 state law specifically adopted for Peterson’s case.

Some jurors acknowledged that comments by Mr. Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, made before her 2007 disappearance, played the decisive role in convincing them to convict Mr. Peterson, reported the New York Times. However, convicting on hearsay was troubling for at least one juror

According to the Times, the prosecution’s strategy grew largely from a lack of physical evidence collected in the case after investigators initially deemed Savio’s death an accident. Prosecutors claimed the hearsay would allow Ms. Savio and Stacy Peterson — who is presumed dead — “to speak from their graves” through family and friends

One juror Ron Supalo said he had difficulty coming to terms with convicting someone based on what others claimed someone else said. “I’m uncomfortable with the Illinois law that allowed hearsay,” Supalo, who briefly studied law, told the Times. “They made the law just for Drew Peterson — applied it to him retroactively. If there was no hearsay in his case — Drew Peterson goes free.”

Defense lawyers have said the presentation of hearsay undercut Mr. Peterson’s constitutional rights because he couldn’t directly confront his accusers — namely, his third and fourth wives.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tennessee has short prison sentences

Only three states have shorter sentences

Tennessee’s prisoners have had some of the shortest stays in prison over the past two decades when compared with other states, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States.

The report, which measured average length of stay for people sent to prison in 35 states, found that Tennessee had the fourth-lowest average prison stays in the nation in 2009, behind only South Dakota, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the National District Attorneys Association website.

Prison sentences are affected by the complicated interplay between legislators, who write the penalties and what the minimum percentage of time is that a prisoner has to serve before being eligible for parole; judges, who have discretion in sentencing offenders to prison; and the state’s parole officials, who determine whether an offender can leave prison early, reported the Tennessean.

‘The fact that we’re one of the lowest in the country doesn’t surprise me,’ Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson told the Tennessean. ‘The legislature has put into effect a lot of different alternative punishments and presumptions regarding people who should get probation — things that many states have been slow to adopt. Definitely one of the goals of that was to not only reduce but to better control prison populations.’

State officials point out that while offenders spend less time in prison today than 20 years ago for property and drug crimes, there was a 41 percent increase in prison time for violent crimes.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

A scratch sublime will get you time

A 60-year-old New Castle, Pennsylvania man had an itch while driving home after dropping his wife off at work.

We don't know exactly where the itch was on his body, or how expansive the area to be scratched. We do know that itch was acute.  How serious was the itch?  Serious enough that the man had to remove all of his clothing while trying to relieve himself...ah, scratch himself.

As Dennis Digia scratched his way through the streets of New Castle, a police officer saw him, and saw him, and saw him. It seems this itch interfered with Digia's sense of direction. He appeared to drive around his home for about an hour.  That is some serious chaffing.

Although it must have been pretty easy to get his clothes off while driving--apparently it is not as easy to put them back on while behind the wheel.

After his hour long romp--around the block--a police officer observed Digia dash "completely naked" from his car to his front porch, reported the New Castle News. When the officer approached the naked Digia he disclosed his "itch" problem and volunteered that "he was not looking for girls."

Obviously, circling the neighborhood for an hour without clothes "raised" a concern for Mr. Digia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prosecutor: O.J.'s gloves did fit, can't un-acquit

"Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century, Darden's trying to blame it on the dead man"

Last week, during a panel discussion about the O.J. Simpson trial at Pace Law School in New York City, one of the prosecutors, Christopher Darden, made the following statement, "I think Johnnie tore the lining. There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.'s fingers couldn't go all the way up into the glove," reported the Los Angeles Times.

During a pivotal moment in the trial, Simspon tried on a pair of gloves, one found at the crime scene and the other at his home, and they did not fit.  Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran would later argue, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." Several jurors cited the too-tight gloves as a key reason for voting to acquit Simpson.

Darden said in a follow-up interview he noticed that when Simpson was trying on a glove for the jury its structure appeared to have changed, reported The Times. "A bailiff told me the defense had it during the lunch hour." He said he wasn't specifically accusing anyone, adding: "It's been my suspicion for a long time that the lining has been manipulated."

Not everyone buys Darden's assertion. "Having made the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century," Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz told Reuters, "[Darden's] trying to blame it on the dead man."

"As members of the defense team, Carl Douglas and I were present in court on the day that Chris Darden asked O.J. Simpson to try on the glove,” attorney Shawn Holley said in a statement to The Times. “Mr. Darden's self-serving assertion that Johnnie Cochran tampered with the glove--or any piece of evidence--is false, malicious and slanderous.

“Almost 20 years later, it seems Mr. Darden is still trying to exculpate himself from one of the biggest blunders in the history of jurisprudence."

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

California prison guards out earning college professors

A recent study found that over the last 30 years prison guards in California are, on average, out earning college professors, according to NBC Bay Area.

California spent $592 million on corrections in 1980. That spending has jumped to $9.2 billion in 2011. The state is is spending 1,370 percent more money on prisons today compared to to 30 years ago.
Meanwhile, higher education spending has decreased.  The study by California Common Sense (CACS) found that there is a trend to pay University of California and California State University faculty less money than in the past.

“What we found is faculty salaries have decreased about 10 percent since 1990,” researcher Mike Polyakov NBC.

At the same time, Polyakov said prison guard salaries reached a record high in 2006.

CACS researchers found that correctional officers are still making anywhere from 50 to 90 percent above market rate compared to the rest of the country, reported NBC.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Designing our way out of crime

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 7, 2012

Police in Washington D.C. are joining with developers in the belief that the way things are built can influence the behaviors of criminals and potential victims, reported the Washington Post.
Recently, police officers sat down with architects and contractors as projects were being designed.

The police reached out to developers of major initiatives to request a seat at the table. When developers agreed, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said, “Police can contribute while changes can still be made with the stroke of a pen instead of the rumble of a bulldozer.”

“For many, many years architects have never even considered the design of the facility for crime prevention,” said Police Chief Tom Carney of North Miami Beach. “And what we see is that the facility is designed a certain way and it looks really great, but six months later you have a major crime problem.”

The idea that architectural design can influence crime is not new. In the early 1970s, criminologist C. Ray Jeffrey coined the term Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

CPTED is a crime prevention strategy that focuses on the planning, design and structure of cities and neighborhoods. It reduces opportunities for crime by using blueprints, crime data and evidence-based management methods.

Crime reduction is achieved by creating environmental and social conditions that:
-- Increase the likelihood of detection, and apprehension;
-- Increase the time, energy and resources required to commit crime;
-- Minimize the actual and perceived benefits of crime; and
-- Minimize the opportunity to commit crime.

“We can target harden a building -- police and security are good at that -- but then you’ve got a fortress,” said Art Hushen, founder of the National Institute of Crime Prevention. “We try to soften it up using these design concepts where we blend them in and they appear to be inviting.”

There are four basic principles to CPTED. Initially, CPTED promotes natural surveillance, “see and be seen.” A potential offender is less likely to act if they think someone will see them. Lighting and landscaping are key components of visibility.

The second principle is natural control. Walkways, fences, signage help direct the flow of traffic while decreasing the opportunity for crime.

The third principle is territorial reinforcement. Through the art of physical design users develop a sense of ownership. Potential offenders are discouraged after they perceive the area is controlled.

The final principle is maintenance. This principle grew out of James Q. Wilson’s “Broken Window Theory.” Neglected and poorly maintained properties invite criminal activity. A Nuisance, unabated, will lead to neighborhood decline.

Pittsburgh neighborhoods are utilizing CPTED to protect their inhabitants and visitors. The Community Design Center of Pittsburgh commissioned a study to improve public safety and reduce vandalism near East Carson Street along the South Side’s Historic Main Street District.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Colorado judge: Solitary confinement violates 8th Amend.

A recent ruling by a federal judge in Denver struck down Colorado's use of solitary confinement and ordered prison officials to allow inmates "to exercise in a place with no roof where the rain can fall on him and the wind can blow at him," according to the Denver Post.

"The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons," U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in his ruling, "but it does forbid inhumane conditions."

Troy Anderson's treatment, Jackson wrote, was "a paradigm of inhumane treatment."

The ruling could have widespread impact, according to the Post.

The Colorado State Penitentiary, or CSP for short, is the most restrictive prison in the state system and is used to house the state's most dangerous inmates. Prisoners are kept in their cells for at least 23 hours a day. Meals come through a slot in the cell door. The only window in the cell is difficult to look through.

There are 756 inmates at the prison, according to the Department of Corrections. Anderson, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes that include a shootout with police, is one of nine inmates who have been housed in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, according to Jackson's ruling, reported the Post.

Jackson noted in his ruling that one prison expert who testified at trial in the case said CSP is the only prison in the nation that does not provide true outdoor exercise for inmates. Instead, across the country, prisons are rethinking the use of prolonged solitary confinement.

"CDOC officials," Jackson wrote, "know that CSP is out of step with the rest of the nation."

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Police: Architectural design with crime prevention in mind

Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is embedding police commanders with developers in the belief that the way things are built can influence the behaviors of criminals and potential victims, reported the Washington Post.

The concept of police working with developers is not unique to Washington, but experts say Lanier’s department is ahead of many of its peers. While some offer a stock list of design recommendations, D.C. police make specific suggestions about safety measures as blueprints are being drawn, well before the first buckets of concrete are poured.

Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said such efforts take “community policing to the next level.”

“It’s not going on everywhere, and it should,” Melekian, former police chief of Pasadena, California told the Post. “Once these projects are done, the police are purely reactionary.”

Police have long sought to promote public safety through design, encouraging such common-sense features as bright streetlights, discouraging secluded footpaths and laying out roads to make it difficult to circle a block.

Today, however, police across the country offer even more detailed ideas.

In Los Angeles, police encourage gardeners to plant blackberry bushes because the spiny branches are hard for burglars to crawl through. Seattle police urge bank managers to trim hedges so that the front door is visible from the street. And in San Diego, police warn against street planters that, while visually appealing, might clog sidewalks if used as stools.

The idea, Melekian says, is to merge the goals of developers, who want to know, for example, how many people can fit onto a sidewalk, and police, who want to know whether a building’s doors swing in or out and how that will affect the flow of pedestrians, reported the Post.

Washington D.C. goes a step further, putting officers at the table with developers as projects are being designed. The process is informal, with the department reaching out to developers of major initiatives to request a seat at the table. When developers agree, Lanier says, police can contribute while changes can still be made with the stroke of a pen instead of the rumble of a bulldozer.

“The meetings are critical,” Lanier told the Post in an e-mail. “Having discussions with those who are leading the development allows us to identify issues on both sides before they arise. That is our best chance for success.”

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NYT's Liptak takes a look at last minute death row appeals

According to Adam Liptak of the New York Times the U.S. Supreme Court goes to "extraordinary lengths" to consider last minute appeals on the eve of scheduled executions.  The point person for the court is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he told Liptak, “that’s where I come in.”

Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

According to Liptak, it starts with a weekly update.

“Every Monday morning,” Mr. Bickell said, “I put out a list to the court of all the executions that are scheduled in the country in the next six or seven weeks, and that gets distributed to all of the justices.”

The Supreme Court clerk’s office is famously helpful to lawyers who have questions about the court’s rules and procedures, but in capital cases it goes further.

“As the date approaches,” Mr. Bickell said, referring to impending executions, “I will be in touch with the attorney general’s office. I will be in touch with you, if you are representing the inmate, and with the lower courts, trying to figure out what is pending below and what is likely to make its way up to the Supreme Court.

“Once we make contact about 10 days or two weeks before the scheduled execution, I will start asking you to forward me everything that you file in the lower courts. Once you forward it to me, I forward it on to the law clerks and to the justices so that they can begin reviewing the case.”

By the time a stay application reached the court, then, the justices were up to speed on the issues presented in his case, which concerned how claims of incompetent legal work at a capital trial should be presented.

Individual justices almost never rule by themselves on requests to halt executions. “I would say 99.9 percent of the time the circuit justice is going to refer the application to the full court, and all nine justices are going to act on the application,” Mr. Bickell said.

He added that the court always makes sure it can rule on such applications in time for its decision to matter, even in states not inclined to wait for word from the justices.

“The court won’t always act on it by 7 o’clock,” he said. That hour is important because it is when Texas executes people, Eastern time. The state has executed seven inmates this year.

“If we’re getting to the point where we’re short on time — it’s 6:30 or 6:15 for a scheduled 7 o’clock execution — I will call my contact” at the state attorney general’s office to see “whether they’re going to go forward with the execution while the case is pending or if they’re going to hold off and wait,” Mr. Bickell said.

If the state will not wait, the court will give itself time to think and to vote. That responsibility again falls to the justice in charge of the judicial circuit.

“If we’re told they’re going to go forward with it and they’re not going to wait,” Mr. Bickell said, “the practice of the court recently — this has happened with Justice Thomas a few times last term — is the justice will issue a temporary interim stay.”

To read more:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Inmates set to challenge Connecticut death penalty

An unusual trial is set to begin next week in Connecticut.  Seven of 11 men on death row will be brought into a makeshift courtroom at a prison in Somers to challenge the fairness of the death penalty, according to the Associated Press.

The inmates are suing the state, alleging racial and geographic biases in how prosecutors seek the death penalty and seeking to have their death sentences overturned. After seven years of legal wrangling, the trial is scheduled to start on September 3.
The key evidence for the inmates is a study by Stanford University professor John Donahue, a former Yale University professor who reviewed the nearly 4,700 murders in Connecticut from 1973 to 2007. Among those, Donahue said 205 were death penalty-eligible cases that resulted in a homicide conviction, and defendants in 138 of the 205 murders were charged with capital felony, reported the AP.

The end results of those murder prosecutions were 66 capital felony convictions, nine death sentences and the execution of serial killer Michael Ross in 2005.

Donahue said he found that minority defendants who murder white victims are three times as likely to receive a death sentence as white defendants who murder white victims. He also found that minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of white victims are six times as likely to receive a death sentence as minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of minority victims.

The study, which was commissioned by the chief public defender's office, also concluded that Connecticut's capital punishment system was arbitrary and includes geographic biases, reported the AP.

Donahue said that although the death penalty is usually reserved for the "worst of the worst" cases, eight of the nine death sentences affirmed between 1973 and 2007 were not among the 15 most egregious cases. He said death penalty-eligible defendants in Waterbury were sentenced to death at much higher rates than such defendants elsewhere in the state.
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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Controversial police shootings not new to New York City

The Youngstown Vindicator
September 2, 2012

Two New York City police officers opened fire Aug. 24 on a man armed with a .45 caliber handgun who just gunned down a former co-worker near the Empire State Building. In the wake of the fusillade 10 people were shot, one of whom lay dead on a Manhattan street.

The shooting, during morning rush-hour, immediately evoked visions of a series of massacres this summer. In May, a man opened fire in a Seattle cafe killing five and shooting himself. The “Batman” movie theater massacre in Colorado claimed 12 lives, and six worshipers were slain at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

As the fog of the NYC gun battle lifted it became clear that the nine people wounded were shot by the police. Two were dead, the gunman and his initial target, a former co-worker. “It appears that all nine of the victims were struck either by fragments or by bullets fired by police,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the Washington Post.

Two NYC police officers fired 16 shots at the gunman — his body had 10 bullet wounds in the chest, arms and legs.

Police shootings

Controversial police shootings are not new to NYC. In 1999, police unloaded 41 shots at Amadou Diallo hitting him 19 times — after Diallo reached into his pocket for his wallet. Police thought he was reaching for a weapon.

Since then, New York has seen fewer killings involving suspects. Although in 2006, Sean Bell, an unarmed bridegroom-to-be was hit by four of 50 shots aimed by police at his vehicle. He was killed.

In April of this year, a man who allegedly killed his 13-year-old half-sister survived a barrage of gunfire from NYC police officers, after pointing his pistol at them. Two police officers fired a total of 84 shots at the suspect hitting him 14 times. According to the New York Daily News, “The police were shooting at the guy from 10 or 15 feet away.”

A few weeks ago, NYC police shot and killed a man they say lunged at them with a knife in a confrontation that began near Times Square and started police officers on a slow-paced foot pursuit that ended with police shooting 12 times near a crowded tourist area.

Should the Empire State Building shooting be cause for alarm? After all the police wounded nine bystanders and missed their target, the gunman, about 40 percent of the time from less than 10 feet away.

Statistics suggest that not only is it not necessarily alarming but actually better than average.

Gunfire hit rate

According to Dick Fairburn author of “Building a Better Gunfighter,” data on the gunfight hit rate of officers from the New York City and Los Angeles Police Departments found that about 25 percent of shots fired by officers hit their intended target.

The shooting outside the Empire State Building was better than average and far better than other noteworthy New York City police shootings.

New York law allows an officer to use physical force only when he or she “reasonably believes such to be necessary” to affect arrest, prevent escape or defend a person or property from harm.

Although not mandated by the FBI, the NYPD closely tracks each police shooting pursuant to Department Order SOP 9. The information is used for training purposes and by all accounts has been effective.

When annual record keeping began in 1971, officers shot and mortally wounded 93 people and another 221 people were injured by police gunfire. In 2009, New York police shot and mortally wounded 12 people and injured 20.

Rare use

In a city of eight million people, NYPD officers rarely use their firearms. Although the wounding of nine innocent bystanders is embarrassing and the spate of recent police shootings in crowded public spaces are disconcerting, as Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor at John Jay College, told CNN, “New York’s 35,000-officer force remains a worldwide model of firearms restraint and veneration for human life.”

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Alleged serial killer 'Grim Sleeper' challenging charges

Pre-trial hearings have begun for Lonnie Franklin, the man accused of being the South Los Angeles "Grim Sleeper" serial killer.  The defense attorneys reported they're hiring an independent analyst to look at ballistic evidence in the case, according to KPCC-FM.

The defendant appeared relaxed as he sat with attorneys in an orange jail jumpsuit at the high security courtroom in downtown Los Angeles.  Franklin is accused of murdering seven women between 1985 and 1988 and an additional three women between 2002 and 2007. The apparent 14-year hiatus between the murder sprees prompted the name "Grim Sleeper." Franklin was arrested in July 2010 and was accused of the murders.

Attorney Seymour Amster said defense attorneys are meticulously sifting through the evidence that'll be presented against their client in trial. Amster said DNA evidence may, at some point, also be looked at by an independent expert, but couldn't say for sure at this time.

Amster said the delays weren't a product of strategy or apathy, merely a desire to get things right.
"Do it once, do it right, do it thoroughly," Amster told KPCC-FM. "We want to save the taxpayers the issue of coming back to this after 20 years."

He also said, should a ballot intitiative that would eliminate the death penalty in California pass in November, things might change in the speed of the case.Franklin potentially faces the death penalty if convicted.

Franklin next appears in court October 24 for another pretrial hearing.

Meanwhile, police are still searching for additional victims, based on photographs and identification cards found in Franklin's home.

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