Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee Examines Sentencing

Determinate vs. indeterminate sentencing isn't a topic that comes up in everyday conversation - until a convict's jail term or release boils over into a public controversy.

The state's sentencing system was examined last week during a Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on possible changes, the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We'll be looking at some changes," said Republican Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, the committee chairman, who represents parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. "Whether we have support for determinate sentencing, I'm not so sure. We'll have to look."

A determinate sentence, sometimes called a flat sentence, carries a specific jail term - say 10 years - depending on the crime. There is no parole.

Pennsylvania uses indeterminate sentences, which provide a minimum and maximum range. The system includes a mandatory minimum term for some crimes. The state Board of Probation and Parole determines when to release an inmate who has served at least the minimum sentence.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner testified that the system lacks transparency and truth in sentencing. He said he is often asked at sentencing how long a defendant will serve. It is one question "I can't answer," he said, reported the Inquirer.

The sentencing judge, having heard all sides of a case, is in a better position than the parole board to determine sentence length, he said. The secrecy of the parole board process, Lerner said, also discourages participation by all parties and reaching the fairest result.

Michael C. Potteiger, chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, said he had worked closely with legislators and the state's victim advocate to give victims and their families a direct voice in the parole process. Allowing the board to investigate and make a decision is better for public safety, he said. "Discretionary parole individualizes the release decision based on each offender's progress, reduced risk, and reentry preparation," he said, reported the Inquirer.

To read more: http://articles.philly.com/2013-04-26/news/38845713_1_parole-board-ellen-gregory-robb-sentencing-system

Monday, April 29, 2013

Federal Judges Association decries effects of sequestration

The Federal Judges Association (FJA), a volunteer organization of about 1,000 members focused on the independence of the judiciary, has named Judge Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as its new president, reported The National Law Journal.

The FJA recently warned that sequestration—mandated U.S. government budget cuts that became effective on March 1—has put the federal courts at risk, with courtroom operations, public information, public defenders and probation services staff affected.

"The FJA recognizes that these are difficult times for the judiciary," McKeown said in a prepared statement. "Budget cuts, confirmation delays and judges leaving the bench for financial reasons—all of these strain our judicial system."

To read more: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202597597587&kw=New%20Federal%20Judges%20Association%20Chief%20Decries%20Budget%20Cuts&et=editorial&bu=National%20Law%20Journal&cn=20130426&src=EMC-Email&pt=Daily%20Headlines&slreturn=20130326080421

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Texas lawmakers push to keep unneeded prisons open

A group of fiscally conservative Republican House members in Texas are pushing to keep open two prisons the state might not need, and they want to buy another one for which there are no convicts, reported the Austin American-Statesman.

Leading the charge against the plan are Democratic legislators who are loudly complaining about pork-barrel spending.

At issue is whether the state, with 12,000 empty prison beds and a prisoner population that’s continuing to decline, should close lockups in Mineral Wells and Dallas to save money. And, separately, should the state buy an 1,100-bed lockup it encouraged Jones County to build before the prison population began declining?

Supporters of those moves cite extenuating circumstances: jobs, economic development, contingency planning, state contractual obligations and not wishing to micromanage a state agency.

Critics say none of that trumps the bottom line for taxpayers.

“This is the ultimate earmark, no different than what people rebelled about with Washington,”  Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee told The Statesman. "It makes no sense.”

House and Senate budget negotiators will have to wrestle with the prison closures, recommended by the Senate but not by the House. And on Friday, the House is scheduled to vote on a supplemental budget bill that would spend $19.5 million to buy the Jones County lockup located north of Abilene.

State Rep. Susan King, an Abilene Republican who represents Jones County, has pushed for the purchase. “This was an agreement the state made, and it was broken,” she told The Statesman. “It’s unprecedented. … Now we’re looking at a county that has made no payments on this building; they’re in financial distress over it.”

To read more: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/legislators-spar-over-downsizing-prisons/nXXDx/

Saturday, April 27, 2013

GateHouse: Pretrial detention costs taxpayers billions

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 26, 2013

 Fifty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that having a lawyer in a criminal case was a necessity, not a luxury. When that “necessity” is imposed continues to be the subject of debate.

Every day in this country thousands of men and women accused of a crime go before the court without the assistance of counsel. The initial bail hearing, probably the most crucial liberty proceeding in a criminal case, is often conducted without legal counsel.

Last year, Jake Schaller a law student at the University of Maryland wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “I didn't need to go to law school to learn that a person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty and entitled to the assistance of a lawyer. …Heck, it's America 101.”

The major obstacle to full and complete representation is money. State and local lawmakers don’t want to expand funding for indigent defense.

However, the failure to afford legal counsel for the initial bail hearing is not only fundamentally unfair; it also imposes an enormous, and needless, burden on taxpayers.

A significant amount of local revenue goes toward corrections — the local county jail — and half of those costs can be attributed to inmates in pretrial detention. Those are individuals who have been arrested, accused of a crime — not convicted — who remain in jail awaiting trial.

Pretrial detention increased at the same time “get tough” policies drove prison populations through the roof. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2006, the number of people held in pretrial detention in local jails increased by more than 20 percent.

In most states, everyone charged with a crime other than first-degree murder is entitled to bail. The criteria considered by courts include the nature of the offense and the likelihood of conviction; employment status; family ties; length of residence in the community; prior bail history; criminal record and among other criteria, the defendant’s risk of flight.

The primary purpose of bail is to insure that the defendant appears for all future court proceedings. Bail is not punitive, its purpose is administrative.

Failure to grant pretrial release may come in the form of setting bail that is beyond the defendant’s ability to post. Bail need not be a million dollars to be excessive. For some defendants a $2,500 bond, that may require a $250 payment to a surety company, is beyond reach. What does that mean for taxpayers? If a defendant with a $2,500 bond can pay $250 he is out and on the street. If not, taxpayers are on the hook.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at midyear 2011 about 61 percent of inmates in local jails were not convicted, they were awaiting court action on a pending charge.

Some defendants being held pretrial belong in jail. Some are not eligible for bail, some are a legitimate flight risk and others a danger to society. However, some just can’t afford a monetary bond. Timothy Murray, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, says as many as 65 percent of those detained pretrial are there because they cannot afford the bond.

These inmates can sit in jail for a year, or longer, before going to trial or pleading guilty.

While these people are in jail, taxpayers provide them with food, clothing, healthcare, and security. According to the American Bar Association the United States spends about $9 billion a year on pretrial detention.

Judge Truman Morrison, a Senior Judge with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, told The Crime Report the system is unscientific and that most judges "guess" in setting bail figures. "It's utterly random," he said.

About two-thirds of the nation's counties lack organized pretrial programs. The lack of services makes it virtually impossible for counties to determine who is low risk and eligible for release pending trial. Comprehensive pretrial services not only save money, but also promote justice and fairness.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: Massive manhunts and the Fourth Amendment

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 26, 2013

Last Friday, in Watertown, Massachusetts armored vehicles, humvees and literally hundreds of heavily armed law enforcement officers went door-to-door looking for the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

Some residents answered the door with their hands above their heads as agents rushed into their homes with heavy weapons, tactical gear and an unprecedented showing of domestic para-military force. The search, initially lauded, has some questioning its legality from a civil liberties standpoint.

Did some civil liberties get trampled upon in the manhunt of the century?

Let’s start with the path some “political leaders,” if left to their own devices, would have set upon. A New York state senator was advocating torture to extract information from the suspect. Never mind that the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is a U.S. citizen.

Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted last Friday, “If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.” He and several fellow Republicans criticized the civilian justice system in a statement, insisting that the freedom to interrogate Tsarnaev for information about possible future attacks “should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete.”

Tsarvaev was originally questioned by the FBI without being warned of his Miranda rights. The Justice department cited the “public safety exception” first established in 1980 by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York v. Quarles.

Back to the manhunt. The Fourth Amendment provides in part, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Did law enforcement authorities have sufficient probable cause to search an entire neighborhood simply because they believed a suspect was somewhere in that neighborhood?

If any of those homeowners in Watertown would have refused to answer the door, permit access to their respective homes or answer police questions, police would have needed a warrant to gain access. Could the police have established probable cause for a warrant for a particular house?

The constitutional question would seem to depend on whether the search was reasonably limited in scope, the dangerousness of the suspect, and the strength of the government’s case that the suspect may be in the area and cannot be caught any other way.

In Illinois v. Lidster, the U.S. Supreme Court determined reasonableness in the context of the Fourth Amendment as “we look to the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.”

The gravity of public concern and the advancement of public interest are obvious. The unanswered question -- was the severity and extent of the wide-scale interference with liberty warranted?

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Texas executes "future danger to society"

The 9th Execution of 2013

Texas has executed Richard Cobb at the state prison in Huntsville on April 25, 2013 for abducting and killing a customer during a robbery at a convenience store when he was 18, reported UPI.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay Cobb's execution, the fourth this year in Texas.

Elmer Beckworth, who was Cherokee County district attorney when Adams and Cobb were tried, said the "system is working."

"I feel for the victims in having to wait so long for closure, but the jury made the correct decision," Beckworth said. "The evidence clearly showed they were guilty of capital murder. The evidence showed they were both of future danger to society."

Adams and Cobb were arrested a few hours after two masked men robbed a convenience store in Rusk. The robbers kidnapped two female clerks and Kenneth Vandever, 37, of Rusk, drove them to a pea patch and sexually assaulted one of the women.

All three were shot but the two women survived. Beckworth said Vandever, who had suffered a brain injury in a car crash, liked to hang out at the convenience store to socialize, KWTX-TV, Waco, reported.

Adams and Cobb met in a boot camp several years before the robbery. Investigators said they became partners in crime, first committing burglaries and then moving on to armed robberies.

To read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/04/26/Man-executed-in-Texas-for-murder-during-convenience-store-robbery/UPI-97511366948860/#ixzz2RZSIafYO

Thursday, April 25, 2013

GateHouse: Surviving a gunbattle with police

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 24, 2013

Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded during two gunbattles with police — suffering gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand.

Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau told The Boston Globe, "Quickly we had six Watertown police officers and two bad guys in a gunfight." Deveau estimated 200 to 300 shots fired.

The older suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot during a close-range exchange of gunfire. Wounded, he came toward police and was physically subdued. According to the police, Dzhokhar then ran over his brother during his escape.

How can suspects survive a close-range shoot-out with trained police officers?

According to Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Michael E. Conti in his book, "Police Pistolcraft: The Reality-Based New Paradigm of Police Firearms Training," “the vast majority, 85 percent, of police involved shootings occur at distances of 20 feet and less.” While most police departments believe that training can enhance police officers’ real-world shooting accuracy, field hit rates are about 20 percent. Police hit their targets one in five times.

Last summer, two New York City police officers opened fire 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.

As the fog of the NYC gunbattle lifted, it became clear that the nine people wounded were shot by the police. “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.

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 was comparable to Conti’s findings. Fairburn 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. The police wounded nine bystanders and missed their target, the gunman, about 40 percent of the time from less than 10 feet.

According to the New York Times, NYC Police statistics show that simply hitting a target, let alone hitting it in a specific spot, is a difficult challenge.

In 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired at a suspect, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent, according to department records. In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate.

When annual record keeping began in 1971, officers shot and mortally wounded 93 people, and another 221 people were injured by police gunfire. In 2011, NYC Police shot and mortally wounded nine people and injured 19.

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, New York City Police closely tracks each police shooting through its Firearms Discharge Report. The information is used for training purposes and by all accounts has been effective. According to author and former FBI agent Jim Fisher, there is no national database dedicated to collecting data on police involved shootings.

Police officers rarely use their firearms. When they do it is under very stressful conditions and a matter of life or death for the officer and her target. Accuracy pales in comparison to the willingness to stand strong in harm’s way.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Defenders representing alleged Boston bomber face layoffs

As the federal public defender office in Boston prepares to defend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old charged in the Boston Marathon bombings, the lawyers involved face an added challenge: managing the case in the midst of furloughs, reported The National Law Journal.

Federally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration could force Tsarnaev's lawyers to take up to 15 days of unpaid leave before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Lawyers familiar with the office said it is feeling the pinch in other ways, including leaving vacant positions unfilled.

The Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference approved a sequestration plan last week that included up to 15 furlough days for federal public defender offices nationwide. The plan slightly lowered the maximum furlough days facing the Boston office, which was planning for up to 16.5 days, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Prosecutors face furloughs under sequestration as well. Still, Tamar Birckhead, a former assistant federal public defender in Boston and professor at University of North Carolina School of Law, described the situation as "David and Goliath" because the U.S. attorney's office in Boston was backed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"People will pitch in and do what they can, but it is an unfortunate circumstance," Birckhead said. "It could result in a delay of a possible resolution of the case, which I'm sure is not what the public wants to see."

On Monday, a federal magistrate judge unsealed a criminal complaint accusing Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, of planting bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded scores more. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death; his brother died on April 19 in a shoot-out with police.

Tsarnaev is represented by federal public defender Miriam Conrad and two other lawyers from the Boston office, William Fick and Timothy Watkins.

To read more: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202597271380&kw=Public%20Defenders%20for%20Boston%20Suspect%20Facing%20Furloughs&et=editorial&bu=National%20Law%20Journal&cn=20130424&src=EMC-Email&pt=Daily%20Headlines&slreturn=20130324081411

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

GateHouse: The cost of fighting terror

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 22, 2013

Where do we go from here? Boston just successfully ended, arguably, the most massive and far-reaching manhunt in U.S. history. But at what cost?

No one appears to quarrel with the fact the action taken by federal, state and local law enforcement was unprecedented. As the police pursued two young, unsophisticated, homegrown terrorists an entire major city and surrounding communities were shut down. Mass transit was halted, cab service was stopped, businesses were closed and citizens — about a million and a half — were told to “shelter in place.”

From this point forward what crimes are going to merit such massive interference with civil liberties? The bombings and shoot-out were crimes and the surviving suspect is an American citizen, so what is the standard for the next horrific crime?

Last year there were six murders in Boston in the week and a half following the Boston Marathon, 52 for the entire year. The city solved only 23 of those murders. That means there are as many as 29 killers walking the streets of Boston just for killings that occurred in 2012. How many Boston Police, Massachusetts State Police and FBI agents are working on those cases?

As residents of Watertown, Cambridge and Boston cheered the police after the arrest — the investigation was amazing — did those residents really pause to think what’s at stake.

Americans have surrendered fundamental rights to the threat of crime from within and terrorism from abroad.

Slowly, but assuredly, the fear of crime and the lengths that citizens will go to avoid being victimized has had a profound impact on our lives. According to Gallup, nearly 4 in 10 Americans say they are afraid to walk alone at night within a mile of their home.

Ironically, the unrealistic fear of crime has had an enormous impact on crime. Experts may not say it and the average American may not admit it, but decreasing crime rates have come at a precious cost — the sacrifice of personal liberty.

Homes and businesses across the country have taken measures to become more secure.

What was once considered extreme is now commonplace — security systems, spotlights, motion detectors, metal gates over front doors, video surveillance, car alarms, mace, pepper spray, stun guns, hand guns, personal self-defense training, even architectural design with crime prevention in mind.

Driving around rather than through some neighborhoods, avoiding a dimly lit parking lot or spacious parking garage may be accepted as prudent. But it has nonetheless altered the freedom to live and travel as one chooses. A stroll through the park, window shopping or a trip to the ballpark involve not only the thought of being entertained but also being safe.

Most citizens are not even aware that some fundamental constitutional rights have begun to erode in the name of crime fighting. The U.S. Supreme Court has chiseled away at the Sixth Amendment guarantee of “effective” counsel, limited the application of Miranda, restricted the use of the exclusionary rule and expanded the use of warrantless searches.

In fact, the FBI made it clear that they invoked the “public safety exception” to providing Miranda warnings to captured bomber suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He is being interrogated without the aid of legal counsel.

Americans have slowly reinvented their way of life to protect themselves from the threat of violence. Americans do not seem to resist the usurpation of liberty — they seem to celebrate it.

On Friday night as Bostonians chanted “USA” after learning of the arrest of Tsarnaev they were only moments removed from looking out the windows of their homes, homes they were advised not to leave, and seeing a military presence in the streets — Humvees filled with national guardsmen scurrying about in search of an alleged terrorist.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Cincinnati police officers fall to lowest number in 60 years

If 149 Cincinnati police officers get laid off this summer, as the city currently plans, the department will be smaller than it has been in almost 60 years, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer.

For people who live, work and visit Cincinnati, that could mean the city focuses only on the basic service police officers provide – responding to 911 calls. That’s the one thing officers can’t stop doing.

The rest, like organizing prostitution stings and special targeted drug busts, experts caution, could disappear. Investigations could take longer if detectives move back to the street.

Just three years ago, the force had 1,135 officers; since then attrition – no new recruit classes and positions’ going unfilled – has cut the force to 969. The latest proposed cuts would reduce it another 15 percent, to 820.

That’s the equivalent of closing one of the city’s five police districts. District 3, for example, which covers the West Side, has 160 officers and is the city’s busiest.

After the cut, Cincinnati would employ 2.8 police officers for every 1,000 residents, about the same as similar-sized Pittsburgh, where the ratio is 2.9 officers to 1,000 residents. Now, with 969 officers, Cincinnati’s number is 3.3.

Cincinnati’s ratio would still be higher than in these other cities: Columbus and Dayton, both at 2.3; Akron, 2. Cleveland’s is higher, at 3.9.

City budget experts are trying to whittle down the layoff number. But they can’t go so far as to have the saved salaries outweighed by the payout of accrued vacation and other time saved. The accrual payout for the 149 is estimated at $10 million.

It’s a situation brought on by years of structurally imbalanced budgets and City Council decisions to spare police and fire personnel while most other things were cut. The two public safety departments use roughly two-thirds of the city’s operating budget, which faces a $35 million deficit for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

To read more: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20130421/NEWS0108/304210045/?gcheck=1&nclick_check=1

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What is the 'public safety exception' to Miranda?

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing remains hospitalized. However, the FBI has begun to question the19-year-old, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, without reading him his Miranda warnings.

The warnings come from a U.S. Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), in which the Court held that, to protect against involuntary self-incrimination, if prosecutors want to use statements at a trial that a defendant made in custody, the police must first have advised a suspect of his rights.

Federal officials said an elite interrogation team is questioning Tsarnaev. Questioning a suspect without reading him his Miranda rights is something allowed on a limited basis when the public may be in immediate danger, such as when bombs are planted and ready to go off.

The public safety exception to Miranda, comes from New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984). In 1980, the state of New York charged Benjamin Quarles with possession of a weapon. He was a suspect in a rape, took refuge in a grocery store where he attempted to hide his gun.

When he was apprehended, before being mirandized, the police asked where he hid the gun.

The state court suppressed Quarles’ statement. Prosecutors argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that Miranda need not be strictly followed in situations "in which police officers ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety."

The court ruled that there is an exception when the following framework exist—the presence of a public safety concern, limited questioning, and voluntariness.

The court made clear that only those questions necessary for the police "to secure their own safety or the safety of the public" were permitted under the public safety exception. The exception did not authorize police officers to compel a statement from a suspect.

Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times it would be acceptable for the FBI to ask Tsarnaev about “imminent” threats, like whether other bombs are hidden around Boston. But he said that for broader questioning, the F.B.I. must not “cut corners.”

“The public safety exception to Miranda should be a narrow and limited one, and it would be wholly inappropriate and unconstitutional to use it to create the case against the suspect,” Mr. Romero said. “The public safety exception would be meaningless if interrogations are given an open-ended time horizon.”

In 2010, the FBI issued a memorandum that encouraged agents to use a broad interpretation of the public safety exception. It said that the “magnitude and complexity” of the terrorist threat justified “a significantly more extensive public safety interrogation without Miranda warnings than would be permissible in an ordinary criminal case.”

Texas executes man for fatal 2001 shooting

The 8th Execution of 2013

Ronnie Threadgill was executed on April 16, 2013 in Texas for fatally shooting a teenager during a carjacking outside a nightclub 12 years ago, reported The Associated Press.

Threadgill received lethal injection in Huntsville less than two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-day appeal.

“To my loved ones and my dear friends, I love y’all and appreciate y’all for being there,” Threadgill said. “I am going to a better place. To all the guys back on the row, keep your heads up, keep fighting. I’m ready. Let’s go.”

He nodded to a female friend standing a few feet away behind a window, then smiled broadly, showing off a mouthful of gold teeth. As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began taking effect, he took several deep breaths, then began snoring loudly. Within a few seconds, the sounds stopped.

He was pronounced dead 25 minutes later, at 6:39 p.m. CDT.

No friends or relatives of the murder victim in the case attended Threadgill’s execution, the third in Texas this year.

Attorneys for Threadgill unsuccessfully argued his case deserved court review because he had deficient legal help during his 2002 capital murder trial when he was sentenced to die for the killing of 17-year-old Dexter McDonald. The appeal argued he would not have received a death sentence if he had better legal representation, and asked that his case be returned to a lower court.

In 2001 he murdered Dexter McDonald who was sitting in the back seat of a friend’s idling car near Corsicana, about 60 miles south of Dallas. Threadgill started shooting then jumped inside the vehicle and drove off. He threw McDonald from the car; the teenager died of a gunshot wound to the chest. Threadgill, who already had a long criminal record, led officers on a chase along Interstate 45 through Navarro County. He lost control of the stolen car and slid into a ditch, then ran away. Police found him hiding at a truck stop, clinging to an axle under a parked semitrailer.

A bandana that witnesses said the carjacker was wearing was found stuffed under the truck trailer. Blood on Threadgill’s clothing matched McDonald’s blood. Threadgill’s fingerprints were found on the stolen car.

At least 10 other Texas prisoners have executions scheduled in the coming months, including another inmate set to die next week.

To read more: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-16/national/38586258_1_stolen-car-fatal-carjacking-north-texas

Saturday, April 20, 2013

GateHouse: Mayhem and murder on America’s highways

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 19, 2013

Ever hear of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer? Of course, their names linger in infamy. How about John Fautenberry, Keith Hunter Jasper or Robert Ben Rhoades?

Probably not — they are not so well-known, but they too are serial killers.

The latter three serial killers also share a second common trait — they each worked as long-haul truck drivers. Their common occupation is not a coincidence.

In the early 1990s Fautenberry killed five people in four states. He was executed in Ohio in 2009. Jasper killed eight people in Nebraska, California, Florida, Washington, Oregon and New York. He is still alive serving three life sentences in an Oregon prison. Then there is Rhoades. Last year the 67-year-old pleaded guilty to the killing of a young married couple in Texas. He was already serving life in prison in Illinois for the murder of a 14-year-old girl and is a suspect in a Mississippi murder.

Several years ago the FBI revealed a project known as the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. The Initiative links murder victims that have some connection to highways and suspects who are involved in long-haul trucking. The FBI suspects that long-haul truck drivers are responsible for the murder of hundreds of women whose bodies have been dumped near highways across the country.

According to the FBI, the victims in these cases are primarily women who are living high-risk, transient lifestyles, often involving substance abuse and prostitution. They’re picked up at truck stops or service stations, sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped along highways.

What is the correlation between long-haul trucking and serial murder? Long-haul trucking lends itself to predators who want to circulate among strangers in strange places with the maniacal intent to kill and with ample opportunity to evade detection.

In 2009, an investigator told the Los Angeles Times, “You’ve got a mobile crime scene ... you can pick a girl up on the East Coast, kill her two states away and then dump her three states after that.” FBI special agent Ann Todd told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “The mobile nature of the offenders, the high-risk lifestyle of the victims, the significant distances and involvement of multiple jurisdictions, the lack of witnesses and forensic evidence combine to make these cases almost impossible to solve using conventional investigative techniques.”

This is not to suggest that the truck driving profession is filled with diabolical killers.
Most truckers are hard working law-abiding citizens who do many more good deeds than bad as they navigate America’s highways.

The purpose of the initiative was to help local law enforcement agencies connect the dots between local slayings and similar murders across the country. Originally, the initiative’s work was only available to law enforcement entities. The FBI revealed the project with the hope that public disclosure might generate additional leads.

The initiative has had some success assisting in several arrests, most notable Bruce Mendenhall, a serial killer convicted in Tennessee and awaiting murder trials in Indiana, Alabama and another in Tennessee. It was reported that investigators found the DNA of as many as 10 women in a bag of bloody clothes they recovered from the cab of Mendenhall’s truck.

Nationwide, thousands of murders remain unsolved. The FBI recently disclosed that homicide clearance rates, the percentage of murder cases that are solved, has dropped from 91 percent in 1963 to 66 percent in 2010.

As the number of unsolved murders increases, hundreds of killers move anonymously about society. The Highway Serial Killings Initiative may not drive up the homicide clearance rate, but it appears to have at least shed some light on a dark, mysterious and dangerous world unknown to many, and unfathomable to most.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: Jodi Arias trial followers rebuke expert witness

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 19, 2013

An Arizona murder trial, turn media spectacle, has a sinister twist. An expert witness has been vilified on social media in the midst of being subjected to a grueling multi-day cross-examination.

Welcome to the Jodi Arias trial, where people line up every day hoping for a seat in the theatre of the absurd. Thousands of “Jodi-philes” that can’t visit the courtroom in person participate vicariously through their televisions, computers and smartphones. They tweet and text furiously, offering up crackpot conspiracies, rage, concern, often as if their own lives depend on whether Arias is sent to death row.

Arias is charged with killing Travis Alexander, her secret lover. In June of 2008, after hours of lovemaking, Arias killed Alexander. He had been shot in the head, stabbed nearly 30 times, and his throat slit. The question is not whether Arias committed murder, but why?

For three days last week, a domestic-violence expert witness for the defense named Alyce LaViolette held her own against prosecutor Juan Martinez’s cross-examination. In cyberspace LaViolette did not fare as well -- she was annihilated.

By midweek, more than 700 people had panned her book in scathing reviews calling LaViolette a fraud and a disgrace.

Outraged Jodi-philes called organizations that had booked LaViolette for speaking engagements, trying to persuade them to cancel her appearances.

“It’s the electronic version of a lynch mob,” retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields told the Arizona Republic.

Sree Sreenivasan, professor of journalism at Columbia University, said “This is a logical extension of witness intimidation, taken to an extreme conclusion.”

Is the Arias trial a glimpse into the future? Using social media to influence or intimidate witnesses. Well, the future is now.

Criminals have discovered that Facebook is a great tool for witness intimidation. There are a growing number of intimidation cases involving Facebook. Prosecutors have come down hard on those who turn to social media to discourage others from cooperating with police and prosecutors.

In two separate cases in Pennsylvania, prosecutors have brought charges of witness intimidation for threats posted on Facebook.

Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams recently wrote a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, insisting that the social media site take down a Philadelphia user’s postings which Williams says threaten a witness in a pending gun case.

Some of the posts were taken down, but images of gang members calling for all “rats” to be killed “point blank period” remain.

Can the general public, fans of a trial, collectively, and criminally, intimidate a witness? Judge Fields said, "If it's just the general public and there's no intention (by the prosecution), then there's nothing to be done about it."

The chilling effect of a community of Jodi-philes attacking the credibility of a professional who testifies at trial is not yet fully understood. The impact on future trials of the “slash and burn” media-mob needs rigorous analysis.

At a minimum, the Arias trial has done nothing to enhance the justification for cameras in the courtroom.

Visit Ipso Facto

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PA plans to tack $100 fee to all traffic tickets

Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty, chairman of the Transportation Committee, unveiled his proposal for $2.5 billion worth of transportation funding this week, according to the PA Independent.

Rafferty’s plan adds a $100 fee to all moving traffic violations, like running a red light or getting a speeding ticket, on top of whatever fine the ticket already carries. This would raise an estimate $75 million next year, and $100 million five years out.

“There’s a message there,” Rafferty said, when asked about the fee.

The proposal also would increase a citation fee from $25 to a range of $100 to $300 for drivers who negotiate fines for certain violations instead of losing points off their license. That would raise an estimated $25.5 million annually.

Rafferty’s proposal also would raise all other PennDOT fees to adjust for inflation. Some of those fees, Rafferty said, haven’t been addressed since the 1970s or 1980s and do not take into account inflation or PennDOT’s actual costs. Those increases would earn the state more than $219 million within five years.

License fees would increase from $29.50 every four years to $50.50 every six years. Registration fees would rise from $36 annually to $102 every two years. Right now, Pennsylvania has the 18th lowest license fees in the country, and 10th lowest registration fees, Rafferty said.

To read more: http://paindependent.com/2013/04/ran-a-red-light-100-please-pa-proposal-adds-traffic-fines-for-road-repairs/

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New York Times examines school-to-prison pipeline

As more and more school districts add police officers or armed security guards to their list of employees the number of students who are arrested as a form of discipline soars.  The New York Times recently examined the school-to-prison pipeline.

The most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.

“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence told the Times. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to recent reports from civil rights groups, including the Advancement Project, in Washington, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York.

Such criminal charges may be most prevalent in Texas, where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin, told the Times. The students seldom get legal aid, she noted, and they may face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service and, in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military.

While schools may bring in police officers to provide security, the officers often end up handling discipline and handing out charges of disorderly conduct or assault, said Michael Nash, the presiding judge of juvenile court in Los Angeles and the president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

“You have to differentiate the security issue and the discipline issue,” he told the Times. “Once the kids get involved in the court system, it’s a slippery slope downhill.”

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education/with-police-in-schools-more-children-in-court.html?hp&_r=1

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Supreme Court Sends Juvenile Lifer for New Sentencing

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
April 16, 2013

The legal landscape has changed significantly since 14-year-old Qu'eed Batts showed up on the front porch of an Easton, Pa., home, shot Clarence Edwards in the head and then shot a fleeing Cory Hilario in the back.

It was 2006, and just a year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005). Roper held that subjecting juveniles to the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision left the door open to life in prison for Batts and juveniles nationwide. In Pennsylvania, a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder is subject to mandatory life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

After Batts' conviction, his lawyers argued to the Pennsylvania Superior Court that in light of Roper, his life sentence should be struck down as a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Superior Court disagreed.

Batts was granted allowance to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, again raising the Eighth Amendment issue. In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Graham v. Florida, 129 S.Ct. 2157 (2009), dealing with the imposition of life in prison for non-homicide offenses.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the Batts case in abeyance until Graham was decided.

In Graham, the high court held that the imposition of a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Following oral arguments, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again reserved consideration of Batts, this time pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 548 (2011), and Jackson v. Hobbs, 132 S.Ct. 548 (2001) — each challenging life without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

In Miller and Hobbs, the high court banned mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles. The decision, however, did not outlaw life sentences for juveniles. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania and across the country could still pursue life sentences for juvenile killers. The court ruled that state lawmakers could not force a judge to impose a life sentence on a juvenile.

Mandatory sentences prevent judges from exercising discretion.

"It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional. It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

The high court in Miller found that the court's prior decisions in Graham and Roper "establish that children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing," given that children lack maturity and have "an underdeveloped sense of responsibility," can be more susceptible to "negative influences and outside pressures," and have "less fixed" character traits.

"We therefore hold that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders," Kagan wrote.

However, the decision does not categorically bar a penalty for a class of offenders or type of crime like the death penalty for juveniles in Roper, or non-homicide offenses in Graham. The Miller decision simply mandates that a judge follow a process and consider specific factors before imposing sentence.

In the meantime, between the Miller decision and the Batts decision, Governor Tom Corbett signed legislation that provided Pennsylvania judges options other than mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole when sentencing juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

Under the new statute, a person under 15 years of age at the time of the offense can receive "a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 25 years to life." A person at least 15 but under 18 years of age can receive "a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 35 years to life."

The implications of Batts must be considered in light of the fact that Pennsylvania leads the nation in offenders who are serving life terms for offenses committed as juveniles. It appears the decision will apply to only about 20 or more juvenile offenders on direct appeal.

Justice Thomas G. Saylor, writing for a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court, summarized the question facing the court: "This case concerns the appropriate remedy, on direct appeal, for the constitutional violation occurring when a mandatory life-without-parole sentence has been imposed on a defendant convicted of first-degree murder who was under the age of 18 at the time of his offense."

Attorneys for Batts argued that in light of the unconstitutional nature of Pennsylvania's sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, Batts' sentence should be based on the most severe lesser included offense, third-degree murder with a maximum sentence of 40 years.

Batts also raised a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 13, which prohibits "cruel punishments." Neither argument impressed the Supreme Court.

Saylor said, "It is our determination here that they [juvenile lifers on direct appeal] are subject to a mandatory maximum sentence of life imprisonment as required by Section 1102(a), accompanied by a minimum sentence determined by the common pleas court upon resentencing."

What that minimum sentence might be was left unanswered by the court, leaving open the possibility that minimum sentences could be crafted to be, essentially, life sentences.

"That could be anything," said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, to the Morning Call. "It appears that it also could be a minimum of life. There is absolutely nothing to guide [the sentencing judge's] discretion."

That concern seemed to be on the mind of Justice Max Baer in his concurring opinion. Baer said, "One court could immediately parole an 18-year-old offender, while another court could impose a 50-year minimum sentence on a 14-year-old offender."

Baer advocated for applying the new statutory scheme when resentencing Batts and similarly situated offenders. Baer's suggestion has merits and would provide a level of consistency and predictability for those few offenders affected by the decision.

Visit The Pennsylvania Law Weekly

Monday, April 15, 2013

Florida excutes child killer 32 years after murder

The 7th Execution of 2013

Florida executed one of the longest-serving inmates on its death row on April 13, 2013, thirty-two years after he kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old girl who was riding her bike to school after a dentist put on her braces.

According to The Associated Press, Larry Eugene Mann was put to death by lethal injection for kidnapping and murdering Elisa Vera Nelson on Nov. 4, 1980. Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office, said Mann was pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke. He was 59.

The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal. The condemned man answered "Uh, no sir," when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began. There were 28 witnesses to the execution, including media and corrections personnel, and a group of Elisa's relatives sat in the front row wearing buttons with her photo on them.

Afterward, Elisa's family was joined by a group of friends and family as her brother, Jeff Nelson, read a statement describing his sister as a "bright, funny, caring, beautiful little girl" who loved to play baseball and pretend to be a school teacher. He said she was a Girl Scout who would take in stray pets and donated money she earned to charity. She was a cheerleader who loved to dance and sing.

Then he described in horrifying detail how she died, saying Mann abducted her less than 100 yards from her school in Pinellas County. He said his sister fought hard, and Mann beat her, sending blood and hair throughout his pickup truck, as well as the note his mother wrote excusing Elisa from being late to school. He described how Mann pulled over into an abandoned orange grove, slit her throat twice, and then bludgeoned her head with a pipe with a cement base.

According to The Associated Press, Mann woke up at 6 a.m. and had his final meal at 10 a.m, including fried shrimp, fish and scallops, stuffed crabs, ice cream and a soda. His only visitors were his two lawyers and a spiritual adviser. His mood was calm and somber in the hours leading up to the execution time, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard.

While Mann didn't make a last statement in the death chamber, he did ask that "last words" be handed out after the execution. He chose a Bible verse.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," Mann wrote out by hand.

Elisa's brother said the family has had to hear over the years that Mann would kneel in prayer while in prison and express remorse for his crime.

"He just had his chance to say something and he didn't say anything," Nelson said. "We question whether he was really remorseful."

To read more: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_north_pinellas/palm_harbor/larry-eugene-mann-executed-for-1980-killing-of-girl#ixzz2QUHGZitA

Texas executed man who denied killing victim

The 6th Execution of 2013

Texas executed a convicted murderer on April 9, 2013 by lethal injection for killing a man then raping the victim's fiancée, even as he maintained to the end that he was 'not a killer,' according to the Daily Mail.
Rickey Lynn Lewis already had been in and out of prison five times in less than seven years when he was arrested three days after the killing of 45-year-old George Newman and attack on Newman's fiancée in 1990 at their home in a rural area of Smith County, about 90 miles east of Dallas.

The fiancée later climbed out of a bathroom window and drove to a store to call police, the department said.

In his last statement, Lewis said he was sorry for what happened to the woman, but then said, 'If I hadn't raped you then you wouldn't have lived,' reported the Daily Mail.

He maintained that he did not kill Newman and nor did he rob the house, but did admit to raping Connie Hilton, the fiance.

'When I saw you in the truck driving away, I could have killed you but I didn't,' said Lewis, according to a statement provided by prison officials.

"I was just there... I'm sorry for what you've gone through. It wasn't me that harmed and stole all of your stuff,' he said to Hilton, who stood behind a glass window a few feet away. The Associated Press normally does not name rape victims, but Hilton, 63, agreed to be identified.

DNA analysis showed that Lewis' blood and semen matched traces found at the scene, according to an account of the case from the state attorney general's office.

To read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2306690/Texas-executes-man-Final-words-Rickey-Lynn-Lewis-maintained-killer.html#ixzz2QUFGWfaw

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lucasville anniversary spotlights Ohio’s prison problems

The Youngstown Vindicator
April 14, 2013

In the fall of 2011, Ohio became the first, and remains the only, state to sell an existing state prison to a private prison company. A study by Policy Matters Ohio found that Ohio officials were not accurate with regard to their prison privatization savings projections.

A close look at the $72 million deal transferring a state owned prison to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) suggested that rather than saving up to $3 million a year as the state projected, it could cost taxpayers millions.

However, the disappearing savings is only one of a number of growing problems plaguing the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. A new report released last month about the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, the facility sold to CCA, described gang-related violence so commonplace and drug use so rampant that many guards looked the other way out of fear of reprisals. The resulting consequence was a mass exodus of experienced prison personnel.

Living conditions

According to the Dayton Daily News, a contract monitor assigned to the Lake Erie prison, reported in September that he “found unacceptable living conditions of inmates being housed inside recreation areas, with no immediate access to running water for hydration, showers or the use of a toilet.”

As a result, the state docked payments to CCA this year by more than $573,000 for violating terms of the contract.

Private prisons are not the only problem nagging Ohio corrections. According to the Columbus Dispatch, in the two years since Ohio’s newest prison in Toledo began putting two inmates in the same cell to deal with overcrowding, the number of assaults among prisoners has soared.

Injuries needing outside hospital treatment have quadrupled. Two inmates have been killed since September — the most recent several weeks ago, when a prisoner was strangled with a rope in his cell.

The increase in violence is raising concerns about overcrowding, understaffing and a general sense of neglect with regard to corrections funding.

The current circumstances remind some of the conditions that existed in Ohio prior to one of the nation’s most deadly prison riots. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution near Lucasville. The riot lasted 11 days and resulted in the death of a corrections officer and nine inmates. Twelve staff members were held hostage after inmates took over a unit of the prison.

Population increase

Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections’ records indicate that the current prison population is about 50,000. In 1994, there were about 41,500 inmates—the inmate population has jumped by more than 20 percent since the Lucasville riot.

Christopher Mabe, president of the corrections officers union, told the Dispatch, “Short staffing and overcrowding are the No. 1 issues today, just as they were before the riot.” The ratio of inmates to corrections officers, which rose to 8.8-to-1 in the 1990s, fell in the 2000s, but it is back up to about 7.3-to-1. That’s higher than the national average and “not acceptable,” Mabe said.

Overcrowding can create dangerous conditions for inmates and prison staff.

Cramped quarters and a lack of privacy can lead to a heightened level of tension in correction facilities. In turn, as tension grows the incidence of violence against staff and fellow inmates increase. With minimum staffing and growing supervision responsibilities, corrections officers and inmates are more vulnerable.

The inability to get into programming can adversely affect an inmate in several important ways. First, mental health issues, drug and alcohol or anger issues are not being addressed. Second, inmates who want and need the programming begin to get frustrated, and that can lead to acting out. Third, some inmates, without programming, head home without addressing their criminogenic needs.

Desensitized inmates

Overcrowding and understaffing is a recipe for disaster, not only inside the prison wall — but also on the street. When an angry, frustrated, desensitized inmate hits the street without treatment or vocational training, more victims are created and correction costs continue to soar.

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Ohio judge challenges sentence guidelines and wins

Madison County, Ohio Common Pleas Judge Robert D. Nichols is a vocal opponent of the "erosion" of judicial discretion in sentencing, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

Time and again over the past year, when defendants came before him whom he had to place on probation, he often mentioned from the bench that his ability to send them to prison had been taken away.

This demonstrates the conflict between using the courts as a means to save money and cut budgets and using the courts to dispense with justice.

Senate Bill 160, which took effect last month, came in response to judges’ concerns about limits placed on them in a sentencing overhaul approved three years ago. At that time, lawmakers had hoped to reduce prison populations by diverting nonviolent offenders to community-based probation and similar programs. Such crimes typically include drug and theft offenses.

Those opposed to the change suggest it diminishes the discretion of judges.  Forcing judges to use a cookie cutter approach to justice as opposed to looking at cases individually and making sentencing decisions.

Nichols appreciates these minor changes that are a result of that work group, saying that they restore options for judges in handing down punishments. But he said the recent changes don’t solve a larger problem: the consistent erosion of judges’ responsibility to sentence as they see fit.

In 2011, as part of the initial sentencing law, courts were required to use a uniform state system to evaluate defendants and assess, among other things, their risk of reoffending.

The use of evidenced based risk assessment analysis is coming to Pennsylvania as well.  The legislature has mandated the Sentencing Commission to formulate a risk assessment tool for the sentencing guidelines.

Nichols said that the new risk-assessment method conflicts with guidelines on the books that outline what judges must consider before deciding whether to send someone to prison, reported the Dispatch.

And these new, minor changes do nothing to reconcile that conflict, he said.

To read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/04/07/new-law-gives-judges-options-in-sentencing.html

Saturday, April 13, 2013

GateHouse: The trial penalty

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 12, 2013

The right to trial by jury is mentioned at least three times in the U.S. Constitution — Article III, Section II; the Sixth Amendment; and the Seventh Amendment. All three references attest to the precept that trial by jury is a bedrock principle of American governance.

Yet, in courtrooms nationwide, many practitioners warn of the “trial penalty.” The trial penalty is widely lamented as a tool for prosecutors. The idea is that sentences for people who go to trial are often greater than sentences for similarly situated defendants who plea bargain.

In some jurisdictions, including federal court, the gap between sentences has gotten so wide that defense attorneys have coined the phrase “plea bargaining coercion,” to portray clients who plead guilty to avoid draconian punishment for exercising their right to trial.

Ohio State University law professor Douglas A. Berman wrote recently that "if the Department of Justice was truly concerned about unwarranted sentencing disparity in financial fraud cases … (rather than with) … defendants who have the temerity to exercise their trial rights … then federal prosecutors ought to consider supporting Ms. Morgan's sentencing appeal.”

Marian Morgan and her husband, John, were arrested for a $28 million Ponzi scheme. John plea bargained for 10 years. Marian went to trial and received a 35-year sentence.

The issue of guilt or innocence seems to have become an afterthought. Defense attorneys complain that the trial penalty has forced defendants to look beyond a claim of innocence and weigh the risk of getting pounded after a guilty verdict.

“Legislators want to make it easy for prosecutors to get the conviction without having to go to trial,” said Rachel Barkow, a professor of law at New York University. “When you have that attitude,” she told the New York Times, “you penalize people who have the nerve to go to trial.”

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. Last year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said plea bargaining determines "who goes to jail and for how long. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system. It is the criminal justice system.”

Why shouldn’t there be a trial penalty? What reasonably prudent defendant, represented by a reasonably competent attorney, would plead guilty if she knew a conviction at trial would bring the same penalty as pleading guilty. A defendant would have nothing to lose by going to trial. The number of trials would increase as would the direct appeals and collateral challenges.

A system that is already overburdened would be pushed to the limit.

However, the efficiency of the system does not warrant the sacrifice of fundamental constitutional rights. Research conducted in 2005 by professor Candace McCoy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that sentences after trial were as much as nine times longer than sentences for similar offenders who pleaded guilty.

Not everyone agrees. University of Pennsylvania economist David S. Abrams’ empirical research found “longer expected sentences from plea bargains than from trial. This is in sharp contrast to the ‘trial penalty’ theory.” According to Abrams, defendants who reject pleas and go to trial “do substantially better.”

Few share Professor Abrams opinion. Some legal scholars have gone as far as comparing plea bargaining to torture. No judge or prosecutor is going to overtly deny an accused her right to trial. However, the tacit approval of a system that makes it prohibitive for those accused of a crime to exercise their right to trial is wrong and serious thought must be given to how to make it right.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: Going to prison? Buy an upgrade

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 12, 2013

A number of states across the country have tinkered with the idea of making inmates pay to stay in state prisons or county jails. Critics say the idea of expecting prisoners to pay is absurd. Some have suggested that extending prison stays because an inmate can’t pay is not only bizarre but creates essentially a “debtors prison.” Others have suggested that pay-to-stay is “a poor person’s tax.”

California has taken it a step further. An inmate in California, in any number of jails, can pay for an upgrade.

Some inmates at the Glendale City Jail, for $85 a day, sleep in separate quarters from other inmates, have access to phones, showers and day-room areas. It is not all fun and games, inmates must perform laundry and janitorial tasks inside the jail to get their two cold meals and one hot meal each day.

"I don't feel that burden should be placed on the taxpayers," Jail Administrator Juan Lopez said, adding that inmates "should pay their own way." And get better treatment if they have the money.

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world, reported The New York Times. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

For roughly $85 to $198 a day, these convicts -- who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” -- get a small cell behind a regular door, insulation from contact with violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring in an iPod or computer.

Contrast that with the nonpaying inmates at the jails of Los Angeles County. Regularly about 21,000 detainees are held in filthy overcrowded cells—four men in cells built for two and six men in cells built for four. In 2006, Federal Judge Dean D. Pregerson observed inmates must stay in their bunks at all times because there is not enough room for them to stand.

Most of the pay-to-stay programs -- which offer 10 to 30 beds -- stay full enough that marketing is not necessary, though that is not always the case. Here’s how California’s Fullerton City Jail advertises it pay-to-stay program on its website. “With the permission of the sentencing Court, men may select to serve their sentence [here] ... housed separate from all other inmates and will have minimal contact with non-sentenced inmates.”

Celebrities, including actor Kiefer Sutherland, and top movie executives have paid to stay in the Glendale jail.

Judges in other states, including Arizona, Nevada and Utah, have allowed some Los Angeles County residents who committed crimes in their states to serve their sentences in the Glendale jail.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Crime Report: Fulfilling Gideon’s Promise of Justice

Matthew T. Mangino
The Crime Report
April 11, 2013

Fifty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright established a promise of fairness and justice. In Pennsylvania (and many other states), that promise remains unfulfilled.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not provide funding for indigent defense, and many more states can—and must—assume a greater role in compensating indigent defense counsel.
In Argersinger v. Hamlin, The High Court extended the right to counsel to any crime, including misdemeanors and petty offenses.

As the right to counsel continued to expand, the Court recognized that an accused is entitled to a lawyer during custodial interrogations (Miranda v. Arizona); in direct appeals (Douglas v California); in juvenile proceedings resulting in possible confinement (In re Gault); and in certain probation and parole revocation hearings (Gagnon v. Scarpelli).

But the mere right to counsel was not enough.

Those accused of a crime must be afforded effective assistance of counsel (Strickland v. Washington). Last spring, the Court extended that right one step further. In Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, the Court found that it was not a sufficient guarantee of a fair trial: counsel must also be “effective” when negotiating a plea.

Yet as the responsibility of indigent defense counsel—public defenders as they became known— increased, compensation sputtered.

In Pennsylvania, the Public Defender Act of 1968 provides for the establishment of a Public Defender in each county in Pennsylvania. It has remained an unfunded mandate for 45 years.

The Public Defender is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners and is funded exclusively with local funds. In fiscal year 2008, total indigent defense expenditure statewide was approximately $95.5 million.

According to a Justice Policy Institute report, Justice Overload: The cost of under-resourcing public defense, there are five primary ways in which inadequate public defense systems can increase costs: Needless pretrial detention; increased pressure to plea; wrongful convictions; excessive sentences; and increased barriers to successful reentry.

Sixty-one percent of people in local jails around the country are being held pretrial, and 40 percent simply cannot afford bail. In Pennsylvania, only Philadelphia insures counsel at the preliminary arraignment, one of the most important liberty proceedings in a case.

A significant majority of people accused of a crime in Pennsylvania appear at initial bail hearings unrepresented.

The pressure to plead guilty or the fear of wrongful conviction is palpable in some places. About 20 years ago, Justice Harry Blackmun estimated that a properly conducted capital trial can require hundreds of hours of investigation, preparation and lengthy trial proceedings.

Yet, according to a recent report by the Joint State Government Commission, A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania, with seemingly inadequate funding, the Philadelphia Defenders Association out-performs court appointed counsel in Philadelphia homicide cases.

Why? Court-appointed lawyers in Philadelphia homicide cases get $2,000 for trial preparation and $200 to $400 a day during trial. Using Justice Blackmun’s figures, court-appointed capital defense counsel earn about $10 an hour.

In December 2011, the Joint State Government Commission Task Force on Service to Indigent Defendants issued their report. Each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties organizes its own indigent defense delivery system.

The task force found: “The lack of state financial support and oversight has led to a service deficiency syndrome.”

The report describes a service deficiency syndrome in the following way:

“[T]he sparse resources available for support services, coupled with exploding and unmanageable caseloads, allow indigent defense counsel little time, training, or assistance for conferring with clients in a meaningful manner, researching relevant case law, reviewing client files, conducting necessary pre-trial investigations, securing expert assistance or testimony, or otherwise preparing adequately for hearings and trials.”

In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly needs to act now, especially in these challenging economic times, and fund the mandate of public defense made 45 years ago.

A failure to adequately fund indigent defense, be it in Pennsylvania or any other state across the county, undermines the quality of representation and in turn the fundamental protections provided by Gideon and it progeny over the last half century.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. He is the former district attorney for Lawrence County and former member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. He welcomes comments from readers. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

Mandatory minimum sentencing at its worst

Here is an interesting example from Think Progress of how out-of-line some sentences can be with mandatory minimum drug laws.

Nicole Flatow wrote about John Horner.  He had no record of drug-dealing when he was sentenced to a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term for selling some of his own pain pills to an undercover informant.  Horner, a fast-food restaurant worker and a father, had been prescribed the pain medication because of an injury in which he lost an eye, he told the informant he could not afford both his rent and his prescription medication.

If, as expected, he serves all 25 years, Horner will be 72 when he is released, and he will have spent more time in prison than the former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling who was convicted in one of the largest corporate fraud schemes in modern history. Last week, the Department of Justice said it is considering a deal to shorten Skilling’s sentence, reported Flatow. But even if he serves every year, Skilling will still have fared better than Horner with a sentence of 24 years.

In 2006, when Skilling was first sentenced, his legal defense was deemed one of the most expensive in history at $65 million, and in the years since has taken his case to the Supreme Court and back on appeal after appeal. According to Flatow, the Justice Department is likely to shorten his sentence to put an end to the continued costly litigation by his arsenal of lawyers. Horner, on the other hand, had a court-appointed public defender and was persuaded to forgo trial entirely in favor of a plea deal.

To read more:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FBI loses delay request for cellphone surveillance data

The Federal Bureau of Investigation lost an appeal last week to delay a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group that's suing the agency for information related to its StingRay cellphone surveillance technology, reported the USA Today.

StingRay technology first began to attract attention when it was revealed to have been used to apprehend David Rigmaiden, a suspect in an electronic tax fraud ring indicted in 2008. Rigmaiden’s requests to provide details of how the FBI was able to locate him revealed the use of StingRay, a technology which fools cell phones within a certain range into linking with the technology, as though it was a real cell tower. By harvesting the data provided by a mass of cellphones, StingRay can physically locate a designated device.

In February of 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for an extensive number of documents and specifications on StingRay and similar “simulator technologies.” EPIC is requesting information regarding the bureau’s procedural requirements and guidelines for the use of StingRay, as well as the legal basis for the use of such technologies.

In response to the request, the FBI attempted to ask for a two-year delay in releasing the records. A federal judge rejected that request, saying the bureau’s justification that it was already overwhelmed by FOIA requests did not meet the criteria for an“exceptional circumstance.”

As the appeal was rejected, the FBI must now produce any non-exempt documents by August 1. In addition it has until the end of May to say how many of the documents in question will be subject to a classification-declassification review.

To read more: http://rt.com/usa/stingray-surveillance-appeal-court-182/

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Former Texas Warden: 'The Convicts Eat Them Alive'

In February prosecutors handed down a rare federal indictment accusing 13 Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison guards of racketeering, reported the Business Insider. The feds said they were cracking down on a Beeville, Texas facility's "culture of corruption" that involved smuggling phones in to members of the Aryan Circle--a rival of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas implicated in the death of two Texas DAs and the Colorado director of corrections.

One of the former corrections officers, 38-year-old Jaime Jorge Garza, pleaded guilty after getting caught at a checkpoint with four cellphones, pot, and tobacco, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported earlier this month. In court, Garza said he got pushed around a lot when he was a corrections officer.

“When I got caught at the checkpoint I was relieved," he said, according to the Caller-Times. "I was glad it was over.”

Former Texas prison warden Terry Pelz told Business Insider that prison gangsters rely on the very people guarding them to facilitate their criminal activities.

Not only is it tempting for low-paid guards to accept bribes in the first place, but it's hard for them to stop doing so because prison gang members might threaten them, says Pelz, who was a warden in an Angleton, Texas prison in the 1980s when the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas started to proliferate.

"Our standards aren't very high for hiring officers," Pelz says. "These youngsters come to work for the penitentiary and the convicts eat them alive."

To read more: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ex-warden-texas-prison-gangs-192315713.html

Monday, April 8, 2013

Philadelphia's Homicide Rate Plummets

Philadelphia's homicide rate is down in a big way. From the start of the year through April 3, 54 homicides were recorded, a 39 percent drop from the same period a year ago, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Shootings were down 20 percent, from 274 to 218, and overall violent crime fell 9 percent through March 31, the last date for which those figures were available.

"It is a little early. We haven't hit the warm weather yet, but we're moving in the right direction," Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey the Inquirer.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of notable decreases or increases in crime, but Ramsey said the current lower numbers could be attributed in part to a handful of recent law-enforcement efforts.

Ramsey said the Police Department had a "significant" shake-up of district captains and other commanders several months ago, and placed an even greater emphasis on Smart Policing strategies that have been developed during the last few years with the help of Temple University criminologist Jerry Ratcliffe and others.

Ratcliffe said his team has helped to train police officers to better analyze crime data and craft long-term solutions for violent hot spots.

"I think a lot of district captains are learning to think more strategically," Ratcliffe told the Inquirer. "If you really focus on crime hot spots, the causes are often different - sometimes subtly, sometimes hugely. You can't have a one-size-fits-all approach."

Ramsey said investigators have focused on trying to interrupt the cycle of retaliatory shootings that play out in some neighborhoods by determining whether shooting victims have ties to gangs.

He also noted that the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office have partnered for the last year on GunStat, an initiative that identifies and targets violent offenders in the 22nd, 24th and 25th Police Districts. The agencies have also worked to get higher bail for repeat offenders.

The department will soon kick off Operation Pressure Point, the annual April-to-October law-enforcement initiative that targets criminals in the city's most violent districts.

"People look at me like I'm crazy, but I honestly do believe a city like Philadelphia should have under 200 murders a year," Ramsey told the Inquirer. "I'm not saying we'll do that this year, but you got to have a goal and keep pushing for it.

To read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/201555691.html?google_editors_picks=true

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A close look at Pennsylvania's gun laws

Monroe County, Pennsylvania Sheriff Todd Martin offers the following insights and explanations about Pennsylvania's gun licensing/permitting rules in a recent Interview with The Pocono Record.

Q: Do you need a permit (or a license) to purchase a gun in Pennsylvania?

A: No, though it does assist the process that the licensed firearms dealer must go through under the guidelines set by the Pennsylvania State Police.

The state police run a program called PICS (Pennsylvania Instant Check System) for background checks to determine if the individual is eligible to acquire/purchase a firearm or still be considered eligible to possess a "License to Carry a Concealed Firearm."
Q: Do you need a permit or a license to own a gun?
A: No, a License to Carry a Concealed Firearm is not required to own a firearm. Those residents wishing to own a long gun or handgun may do so and store them within their residence or place of abode. Only those wishing to carry a handgun concealed would be required to attain and possess a current License to Carry a Firearm.

To name a few exceptions by law under Pennsylvania Title 18 Section 61 are as follows: Law enforcement officers, members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard Reserves while on duty. Any person engaged in target shooting while traveling directly to and from the range as long as the firearm is secured and not loaded. Any person licensed to hunt or fish as long as they are actually hunting or fishing.

Other than those listed by law, any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or on or about their person, except in their residence or place of abode or fixed business, without a valid and lawfully issued license under PA Title 18 Section 6106 commits a felony of the third degree.

Even with a License to Carry a Firearm, places that licensees are not permitted to carry a firearm are: schools and school properties, court facilities, state and federal buildings or properties, bars and taverns or any public or private property properly posted conspicuously prohibiting the same.

Q: When and where and what can you carry without a concealed-carry permit?

A: Though Pennsylvania has a specific law that requires a License to Carry Firearms for the concealed carry of a firearm, and the carry of firearms in vehicles, the law has been somewhat silent on the legality of openly carrying a firearm in other situations, making it de-facto legal.

To summarize, open carry is legal in Pennsylvania except in "cities of the first class" (Philadelphia) and vehicles where a License to Carry a Concealed Firearm is required.

There has been much debate over recent years from firearm owners about whether openly carrying firearms is truly a good idea. While the choice is up to the individual, in the past it has drawn much concern and unwanted attention from the general public and law enforcement alike.

Q: When, where and what can you carry with a carry permit?

A: You may carry a concealed firearm with a license in all areas and places unless prohibited by law as explained above.

Q: What happens when a person applies for a concealed-carry permit? Do they need references? Undergo a background check? If so, is it through a state or federal database?
A: Any Monroe County resident, 21 years of age or older, may apply in the Sheriff's Office for a License to Carry a Concealed Firearm on or about their person or in a vehicle within the commonwealth.

If the applicant is a bonafide resident of this county, he or she is required to make application only with the sheriff of the county in which he or she resides.

Upon acceptance of the application, the applicant is photographed and required to sign their name depicting that all of the information provided is true and correct.
The Sheriff's Office is then required to run a PICS check on the applicant in order to attain a PICS number authorizing an approval from the Pennsylvania State Police to move forward with the process. If the applicant is denied by the Pennsylvania State Police he/she must then contact PSP directly to challenge that denial.
If the applicant is approved via PICS, the Sheriff's Office is then required to conduct an investigation into the applicant's past and present background to determine if they meet all the requirements to attain a license.
Some of those requirements are as follows: It must be determined that the applicant has never been convicted of any crime under the Controlled Substance, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1972; is not an individual addicted to or is an unlawful user of marijuana or stimulant, depressants or narcotic drug or is a habitual drunkard; if they are of sound mind or has ever been committed to a mental institution; is an individual who is currently charged with or has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term of one year; an alien who is illegally in the United States; a person who has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces; or a person who is otherwise prohibited from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, purchasing, selling or transferring a firearm by law.

The Sheriff's Office has 45 days to complete the investigation and either issue, extend the 45 days for "just cause" or deny the applicant.

The Sheriff's Office also contacts local, regional, county and state law enforcement agencies to provide any pertinent background information or records they may have as a record of any reportable incidents the applicant may have been involved in.

Search all court records to determine if the applicant has in the present or past been involved in any incident involving Domestic Violence or Protection From Abuse Orders or other court related matters. The applicant also provides the Sheriff's Office with references (non-related) to also contact for confirmation of their character and reputation within the county or other state they may have lived in.

Q: Does Pennsylvania have reciprocity with adjoining states? That is, if I have a license in New York, does that count for anything in Pennsylvania?

A: Pennsylvania has reciprocity agreements with the following states for Licenses to Carry a Concealed Firearm: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Q: What's the difference between an illegal straw purchase vs. buying a gun and selling it to someone else at some time in the future?

A: "A straw gun purchase is any purchase wherein someone agrees to acquire a good (firearm) or service for someone who is unable (by law) or unwilling to purchase the good or service himself. Straw service purchases are legal except in cases where the ultimate receiver of goods (firearm) or service uses those goods or services in the commission of a crime with prior knowledge that the straw purchaser is prohibited to purchase or possess the goods (gun) or services."

Straw purchase can be illegal when made at a federally licensed firearms dealer. If the straw purchaser of the firearm lies about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the gun, he can be charged with making false statements on a Federal Firearms Transaction Record.

If a firearm is purchased as a gift, the purchaser must indicate the intended recipient on the transaction record. Straw purchases of used guns are not illegal, again, unless the gun is used in a crime with prior knowledge of the straw purchase.

Q: Background checks: Are they required at gun shows?

A: Presently 17 states regulate private firearms sales at gun shows. Seven states require background checks on all guns at gun shows (California, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oregon, New York, Illinois and Colorado).

Four states require background checks on all handgun sales, but not long guns (Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania); 33 states have no such regulations.

Q: Does the state have any rules or prohibitions against ownership of an "assault weapon"?

A: These rules guidelines are defined and enforced by ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms).

Q: What defines an assault weapon?

A: The term "assault weapon," when used in the context of assault weapon laws, refers primarily (but not exclusively) to semi-automatic firearms that possess the cosmetic features of an assault rifle that is fully automatic.

Actually possessing the operational features, such as "full-auto," changes the classification from assault weapon to Title II weapons. Merely the cosmetic features are enough to warrant classification as an assault weapon. Semi-automatic firearms, when fired, automatically extract the spent cartridge casing and load the next cartridge into the chamber, ready to fire again. They do not fire automatically like a machine gun; rather, only one round is fired with each trigger pull.
Q: How old do you have to be to own a gun?

A: Under PA Title 18 Section 6110.1 a person under 18 years of age shall not possess or transport a firearm anywhere in this commonwealth. Once again, there are exceptions such as while they are under the direct supervision of a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or an adult acting with the expressed consent of the minor's custodial parent or legal guardian and the minor is engaged in lawful activity, including safety training, lawful target shooting, engaging in an organized competition involving the use of a firearm or the firearm is unloaded and the minor is transporting it for lawful purposes; or who is lawfully hunting or trapping under PA Title 34.
Q: Are there any kinds of weapons that one can own but not carry even with a conceal carry permit?

A: A License to Carry a Concealed Firearm is for the carrying of only a firearm by definition as follows under PA Title 18 Section 6102: "Any pistol or revolver with a barrel length of less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches. The barrel length of a firearm shall be determined by measuring from the muzzle of the barrel to the face of the closed action, bolt or cylinder, whichever is applicable."

To read more. http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130318/NEWS/303180326