Sunday, May 31, 2015

Forensic evidence under the microscope, changing the way we look at expert analysis

High-profile examples of forensic evidence being less clear-cut than is typically portrayed on “C.S.I.” have littered the headlines in recent years, reported The Christian Science Monitor. Perhaps the most significant is last month’s admission by the FBI that, after reviewing 500 cases that employed microscopic hair analysis, examiners’ testimony contained erroneous statements in at least 90 percent of the cases.
Defendants in at least 32 of those cases received the death penalty, according to the FBI. Nine of those defendants already have been executed, and five died of other causes while on death row.
The review is part of an ongoing, long-term investigation of decades of FBI microscopic hair analysis the agency is conducting in partnership with the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The project launched in July 2013, and last month’s announcement covered the first 500 cases of an estimated 3,000 spanning from the 1970s up to 2000.
Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said that forensic disciplines like microscopic hair analysis are, at the most, useful “as a tool to exclude” suspects, not a tool to specifically identify them. But they are rarely treated that way by forensic scientists.
“Analysts often seem to do something more ambitious – identify particular people – and that is more than many of these techniques can currently accomplish,” wrote Professor Garrett in an e-mail.
The subjective nature of forensic science has been public knowledge for some time. A report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 found that microscopic hair analysis – along with other juror-trusted forensic techniques like bite-mark, ballistics, and even fingerprint analysis – were unscientific in their methodology.
The trust juries put in forensic evidence is part of the problem, experts say.
Garrett published a study in 2009, which studied the trial transcripts of 156 innocent people convicted of serious crimes who were later exonerated by DNA evidence. The study found that 60 percent of the forensic analysts called by the prosecution provided invalid testimony, “with conclusions misstating empirical data or wholly unsupported by empirical data.”
The study noted “the adversarial [judicial] process largely failed to police this invalid testimony.” Defense attorneys rarely cross-examined these analysts, the study added, and rarely obtained experts of their own. Judges seldom provided relief.
Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, says that it shouldn’t be the judge’s responsibility to provide the relief.
“The courts are the wrong place, the wrong venue to get it right,” says Mr. Neufeld, who was a co-author on Garrett’s 2009 study. “Defense lawyers, prosecutors, and even juries by and large, are scientifically illiterate.”
While many lawyers, judges, and juries may not be able to distinguish credible forensic testimony from the erroneous, the weight it can have over the ultimate verdict is immense.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 30, 2015

GateHouse:The promise of legal representation often not fulfilled

Matthew T. Mangino
Gatehouse Media 
May 29, 2015 
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, convened a hearing on “Protecting the Constitutional Right to Counsel for Indigents Charged with Misdemeanors.” The hearing revealed that courts nationwide routinely violate the constitutional rights of millions of Americans by not providing legal counsel to them when criminally accused of a misdemeanor. 
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall ... have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Counsel was guaranteed for criminal defendants facing felony charges in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Gideon v. Wainwright. In Gideon, the high court unanimously ruled that state courts are required to provide legal counsel for those defendants accused of a felony who could not afford a lawyer.
The decision is recognized as one of the most important of the 20th century. The decision brought into the national lexicon a line known by anyone who has ever watched a television crime drama, “[Y]ou have the right to an attorney if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. …”
Nearly a decade later, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Supreme Court extended the constitutional right to counsel to indigent misdemeanor defendants.
More recent court decisions have interpreted the Sixth Amendment to require court-appointed counsel for indigent misdemeanor defendants unless the accused can only be sentenced to a fine or other punishment that cannot be ultimately enforced through jail time.
The Argersinger decision mandating counsel for misdemeanor defendants affected many more people than Gideon did in 1963. “The overwhelming majority of people who face criminal charges are prosecuted for misdemeanors,” said Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In Iowa, he said misdemeanors represent 80 percent of the state’s criminal prosecutions.
“Many states are not providing counsel as the Constitution requires,” said Chairman Grassley. “The Supreme Court’s Sixth Amendment decisions are violated thousands of times every day. No Supreme Court decisions have been violated so widely, so frequently, and for so long,” said Grassley. 
While misdemeanors in some states do not, by themselves, carry prison sentences, they can lead to prison for probation violations or repeat offenses. For instance, a first degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a woman’s third misdemeanor theft conviction, which carried a potential prison sentence, because she had not been represented by a lawyer during her second theft conviction, reported the Epoch Times.
As a result of that ruling, defendants in all Iowa misdemeanor cases must be provided a lawyer, either their own or one provided by the government, unless they waive that right. 
Unfortunately, the promise of legal representation is often not fulfilled because of a lack of state and local resources to pay for experienced lawyers. “Indigent defense delivery systems in every state are underfunded, in many states severely underfunded,” Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady told the Judiciary Committee. Misdemeanors are handled “in almost assembly line fashion” by judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers laboring under excessive caseload, reported the Des Moines Register.
The extent of the problem is murky, because there is no nationwide tracking of the number of state and local governments’ misdemeanor cases. According to the Times, an estimate based on data gathered from 12 states puts the number at 10 million per year, which is more than double the number of misdemeanor defendants prosecuted in 1972, testified Professor Erica Hashimoto from the University of Georgia School of Law.
The lack of representation in many misdemeanor criminal cases continues to place a burden on the system as the number of misdemeanor cases expands exponentially.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Former House Speaker indicted for scheme to pay blackmailer

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been indicted.  He was being blackmailed and allegedly violated federal banking laws in the process.
According to the Washington Post, Blackmail is a bizarre crime of relatively recent vintage. When blackmailers are successful — unlike, say, bank robbers — no one but their victims know; when blackmailers fail, their intended victims, whose dirty laundry is aired, are humiliated anyway.
“Blackmail, a wonderfully curious offense, is the favorite of clever criminal law theorists,” according to a 2009 academic paper, “Competing Theories of Blackmail: An Empirical Research Critique of Criminal Law Theory.” “It criminalizes the threat to do something that would not be criminal if one did it.” That is, it would be perfectly legal for Individual A to stand up and accuse Hastert of misconduct, but it’s illegal to demand hush money as a condition of keeping quiet.
Blackmail couldn’t really exist until the rise of capitalism and modern social mores. A king was always a king, whether or not he behaved badly, but a businessman or politician who lost his reputation could face ruin — as Josh Duggar is finding out.
“It was a crime that only emerged in the 19th century,” Angus McLaren, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Victoria and the author of “Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History,” told the New York Times in 2009 after David Letterman was blackmailed for his extramarital affairs. “If one was an aristocrat, say, you couldn’t lose your position because of trifling with the housemaids.”
How to respond to a blackmailer is always a conundrum. Pay and cover up — and maybe pay again later — or admit misdeeds and face the music? Letterman’s response was, arguably, masterful: He called the authorities, foiled the $2 million plot, confessed on national television and played the incident for laughs.
Had Letterman had sex with women who worked for him? “My response to that is: ‘Yes, I have,'” the host said to laughter and applause. ” … Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would, perhaps it would — especially for the women.” Cue more laughter and applause.
Letterman added: “But that’s a decision for them to make, if they want to go public … What you don’t want is a guy saying, ‘Well, I know you had sex with women, so I would like $2 million or I’m going to make trouble for you.'”
Depending on what Hastert’s alleged misconduct was, he may not have had the option of ‘fessing up, Letterman-style. An affair between consenting adults? No big deal — society’s changing attitudes toward sex permitted Letterman to bare all. America would not have chuckled had, say, Johnny Carson made a similiar mea culpa in the 1960s. And gay public figures, long considered targets for blackmail, couldn’t simply walk out of the closet in the decades before Stonewall. Many feel they still can’t.
When it comes to sex, blackmail is sometimes a crime with an expiration date. “After a spike during the moralistic years between the world wars, sexual blackmail has lost some of its zing and sting,” the New York Times wrote.
If Hastert committed a crime, however, the zing and sting of publicly revealing what he was blackmailed for may be as painful as federal charges. Whatever his next move is, it will demand legal creativity to keep alleged misconduct from becoming public. If Hastert chooses to go to trial, the government will presumably have to explain who Individual A is. If Hastert negotiates a deal and a plea, the information could still come out in the criminal information document that usually accompanies a plea, or in a sentencing memorandum later.
As Daniel Ellsberg — he of the Pentagon Papers — explained in a 1959 paper on the crime while an economist at Harvard University: “The answer to successful blackmail is not within the scope of logic: it is an art.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nebraska abolishes death penalty overriding governor's veto

Nebraska lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty, overriding a veto from the governor and making that state the 19th in the country to ban capital punishment, reported the Washington Post.
The narrow vote made Nebraska the first state in two years to formally abandon the death penalty, a decision that comes amid a decline in executions and roiling uncertainty regarding how to carry out lethal injections.
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) had been a vocal critic of the bill before he vetoed it on, calling it “cruel” to the relatives of the victims of people sentenced to death in a letter to the legislature.
In the unicameral Nebraska legislature, it takes 30 of the 49 senators to override the veto. Last week, 32 senators voted to repeal the death penalty. A spokesman for Ricketts said that he had been traveling the state to visit senators in an effort to sustain his veto.
The override’s single-vote margin follows a recent trend of razor-thin votes on the death penalty: New Hampshire the last state in New England with the death penalty, almost abolished it last year, but the bill failed by a single vote. Earlier this year, Montana’s legislature deadlocked on a bill that would have banned the death penalty there.
Maryland was the last state to formally abolish the death penalty, abandoning it in 2013 and emptying its death row earlier this year.
More than a third of the states without the death penalty have banned it since 2007. And while 31 states and the federal government still have the death penalty, in reality only a small handful of states actually carry out executions. Last year, seven states carried out executions, about a third the number of states that executed inmates 15 years earlier, while the number of death sentences and executions have also dropped.
“What we’re seeing is a continuation of the trend in the United States, in which states, one by one, abolish the use of the death penalty,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Wednesday. “And one by one, it comes into disuse.”
Dunham said that Nebraska’s decision offers a “road map that other states may follow.”
Some states have also halted the practice without formally abolishing it. Washington state announced a moratorium last year, while Pennsylvania’s governor suspended the death penalty there in February. Oregon’s new governor said this year she will keep that state’s moratorium in place.
[Another execution gone awry. Now what?]
Other states dealing with legal challenges or an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs have imposed their own delays, creating de facto moratoriums in some places. After Ohio adopted a new lethal injection policy this year, it pushed back its executions scheduled through January 2016. As a result, Ohio — among the most active modern death-penalty states — will go at least two years without any executions.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baltimore murders surge in wake of riot

May was Baltimore's deadliest month since 1999, the Baltimore Sun reports. There have been 108 homicides across the city this year, with 35 in the month of May alone.
According to CNN, council member Mary Pat Clarke believes this month's violence is a legacy of the riots and unrest over the death of Freddie Gray after being in police custody in April.
The riots triggered fires and looting in April, and at least 20 officers were injured in the melee. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and dispatched the National Guard to address the unrest. "It's deplorable," City Councilman William "Pete" Welch told The Sun. "The shootings and killings are all over the city. I don't think any part of the city is immune to this. I've never seen anything like it." Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is "disheartened and frustrated by this continuing violence, particularly when you think about the progress that the city has made," said her spokesman, Howard Libit.
The mayor met for nearly two hours Sunday with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and members of his command staff about adjustments police are making. "She is confident that the steps being taken by the Police Department will quell this latest uptick in violence," Libit said. Batts wrote a letter to community leaders and elected officials yesterday, telling them he has reassigned "several veteran leaders" to the city's Western District. Batts said the city is "in the midst of a challenging time. ... Please be assured that the Baltimore Police Department is moving aggressively to both address the increase in violence, as well [as] to modernize and better equip ourselves for the future."
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

U.S. Senate: Sixth Amendment widely violated by courts nationwide

Recently the United States Senate Judiciary Committee held a first-of-its-kind hearing to shine much-needed light on pervasive — and largely unexamined — problems in the largest segment of our criminal justice system, reported the Washington Times. Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa heard expert testimony describing widespread violations around the country of the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel for Americans charged with misdemeanors.Our nation prosecutes an estimated 10 million misdemeanors each year. Although some misdemeanor offenses criminalize dangerous conduct — such as assault or driving under the influence — most are for far less dangerous, nonviolent conduct, often involving no harm to another person. These include loitering, minor drug possession offenses, and even boating and fishing license violations.
Troubling recent research shows that many state, county and municipal court systems routinely undermine and often directly violate the constitutional right to counsel in misdemeanor cases. In characterizing this evidence, Mr. Grassley stated, “The Supreme Court’s Sixth Amendment decisions regarding misdemeanor defendants are violated thousands of times every day.” No other Supreme Court decisions “have been violated so widely, so frequently, and for so long,” he added.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, May 25, 2015

FBI: Patriot Act didn't help solve any big terror cases

In a report released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) admits that the mass surveillance capabilities authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act have not helped solveany big terrorism cases, reported The Week. "The agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders," said DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
The report also reveals that the FBI expanded the scope of surveillance it deemed acceptable under Section 215, investigating "groups comprised of unknown members and [obtaining] information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation."
This news comes as the Senate considers whether to renew, modify, or nix Section 215, which along with a few other provisions of the Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1. 
To visit The Week CLICK HERE

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Firefighters on the frontline of heroin epidemic

Responding to overdose calls is part of the job for first responders–but they say it’s also impacting the services they provide, reported WKBN-TV.
At Ohio’s fire training academy in Reyonldsburg, Akron Firefighters Association Local 330 President Russ Brode said heroin isn’t a new epidemic–it’s been going on for years. Brode said Akron firefighters go on six to ten heroin overdose calls everyday.
As of May  15, 131 days into 2015, Lane EMS has been on 123 drug overdose calls on the year for its service area.
Officials with Lane couldn’t confirm if all of those calls were for heroin. It did research the ages for the calls. Randall Pugh with Lane said that the calls included people as young as 14 and as old as 82.
First Responders in Akron and Cincinnati say they’re going on multiple heroin overdose calls every day.
“My area that i have is through a major thoroughfare, where we see a lot of people who can’t wait to get to their home to take their heroin,” Doug Stern with the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters said. “They’re stopping at drug store bathrooms, gas station bathrooms, restaurant bathrooms, in the parking lots.”
Firefighters say educating people about how destructive heroin is is key. Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor says it’s an effort everyone needs to be involved in.
“You can’t do just the law enforcement side,” Taylor said. “You have to get the community involved, the faith-based groups involved, parents, teachers, coaches.”
Taylor said Ohio is making some progress in fighting the heroin problem, but there’s a lot more to do.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 23, 2015

GateHouse:Is Nebraska a death penalty game-changer?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 22, 2015
While a majority of our nation’s 50 states still have the death penalty on their books, that number has begun to shift in recent years. Prior to 2007, 12 states had outlawed executions; between 2007 and 2013, six states banned the procedure.
Now, Nebraska is on the verge of outlawing executions. But what is happening in Nebraska is different.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. That wasn’t unexpected. Maryland’s then-Gov. Martin O’Malley worked hard to get the death penalty off the books in his state.
Three other left-leaning states have abolished the death penalty in recent years — New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut in 2012.
Nebraska is not like any of those states. Nebraska is a red state, a conservative state with a Republican governor.
Thirty-two states and the federal government allow capital punishment. Nebraska may soon make it 31. Lawmakers in Nebraska agreed this week to abolish the death penalty. Nebraska would be the first conservative state in more than 40 years to ban capital punishment, reported The Associated Press.
Nebraska’s vote marks a shift in the national debate because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, argue that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars and question whether the government can be trusted to efficiently administer the ultimate punishment.
Conservative lawmakers who voted for repeal also suggested that the penalty is pointless because it is so rarely carried out.
This stands in stark contrast to traditional law-and-order conservatives who have long stood among the strongest supporters of capital punishment.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican supporter of Nebraska’s capital punishment law, has vowed to veto the measure. However, the vote margin in the unicameral Legislature is more than enough to override the veto.
“It’s looking like it could be a very dark day for public safety,” Ricketts told the Omaha World-Journal. “The Nebraska Legislature is completely out of touch with the overwhelming number of people I talk to.”
On the other side of the issue, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent and opponent of the death penalty, told The Associated Press, “Nebraska has a chance to step into history — the right side of history — to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society,”
Nebraska hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was the preferred method of execution. The state has never imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law. Some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from carrying out executions anytime soon.
The legislation would not apply retroactively to the 11 men on Nebraska’s death row. However, it would leave the state with no way to carry out their executions.
The state’s last execution was carried out during an era when Democrat President Bill Clinton was using the federal death penalty to secure his standing with the tough-on-crime constituency.
It’s a different time. As Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues her presidential bid, three of her Democratic rivals — former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Maryland’s former Gov. O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — are death-penalty opponents.
As Bruce Shapiro recently wrote in The Nation, “It should be clear by now that the federal death penalty, far from reflecting social consensus or meaningful deterrence, is entirely political in nature.” He suggested that the federal death penalty was “designed to sell the capital punishment back to states that clearly rejected it,” and the number of rejections continues to grow.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Practitioners seek to address mass incarceration and overcriminalization

The Aspen Institute's Forum for Community Solutions is the latest to take up the challenge of mass incarceration in the U.S., reported The Crime Report.  The Aspen Institute hosted a forum on the issue recently in Washington, D.C., with three other organizations, the Center for Community Change, My Brother's Keeper Alliance, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
Vera President Nick Turner called the current interest in the issue of prisons and jails a "remarkable moment," noting that presidential candidates ranging from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton already are discussing it. Turner highlighted the high incarceration rate among African Americans and the fact that the U.S. is by far the leader among world democracies in its incarceration rate.
Aspen invited several organizations that are dealing with various aspects of the incarceration problem, from the conservative group Right on Crime, to Take Action Minnesota, which is campaigning to "ban the box," requiring or encouraging employers not to ask about job applicants' criminal histories. One speaker, Danielle Sered of the Vera Institute's Common Justice Program, urged more emphasis on getting crime victims involved in endorsing non-prison alternatives for offenders.
Paul Wright of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center argued that there is "not a one-size-fits-all solution" to reducing the nation's high incarceration totals. He urged more attention to the "overcriminalization of American life" such as imprisoning sex offenders merely for failing to register. Wright suggested that reforms may take some time, noting that it has taken several decades to reach the level of 2.2 million behind bars. So far, he said, rhetoric about reform has outpaced actual policy changes.

To visit The Crime Report CLICK HERE

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nebraska moves closer to abolishing the death penalty

Nebraska lawmakers agreed this week to abolish the death penalty.  Nebraska would be the first conservative state to do so since 1973 if the measure becomes law, reported The Associated Press.
The vote margin in the unicameral Legislature was more than enough to override a promised veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts, a supporter of capital punishment. Ricketts, a Republican, said the vote represented a "dark day" for public safety.
"Nebraska has a chance to step into history — the right side of history — to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society," said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent who has fought for four decades to end the death penalty.
The Nebraska vote marks a shift in the national debate because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, cast it as a waste of taxpayer money and question whether government can be trusted to manage it. Law-and-order conservatives in the United States have traditionally stood among the strongest supporters of the ultimate punishment.
Nebraska hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was used. The state has never imposed the punishment under the lethal injection process now required by state law. Some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from executing anyone in the future.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate-to-liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011, Connecticut in 2012. But the last conservative state to do so was North Dakota in 1973. Thirty-two states and the federal government allow capital punishment.

Parolees in the same neighborhood with other parolees increases recidivism

Within three years of their release, two-thirds of ex-prisoners in America are arrested again, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, reports CityLab from The Atlantic. Many complex and interconnected factors explain these alarmingly high rates of recidivism. One of the most significant, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is whether or not the released prisoners lives in the same neighborhood as others parolees.
Here’s how David Kirk, sociology professor at the University of Oxford and author of the study, sums up his findings:
Put simply, the alarming rates of recidivism in the United States are partly a consequence of the fact that many individuals being released from prison ultimately reside in the same neighborhoods as other former felons.
In America, the prison system releases 650,000 people back into society each year. A significant share of the released tend to cluster in a few, extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods. It’s hard to test what would happen if these reentry patterns were different, but living conditions in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina gave Kirk that unique chance.

The disaster destroyed a lot of property, and in doing so, geographically redistributed the former-prisoner population. Instead of concentrating in the same places as they had before Katrina, ex-prisoners released after the storm spread out across new neighborhoods. Kirk compared the re-incarceration rates in neighborhoods that had seen a change in parolee concentration to ones that hadn’t, both before and after the hurricane. Here’s what he found:
The results of my analyses suggest the greater the concentration of ex-prisoners in a neighborhood, the greater the rate of subsequent recidivism. I find that concentrating former prisoners in the same neighborhoods leads to significantly higher recidivism rates than if ex-prisoners were more dispersed across neighborhoods.
Dispersing parolees across neighborhoods means that, to some extent, incarceration and recidivism rates will also rise in neighborhoods that gain ex-prisoners. The graph below illustrates this point: for each additional parolee per 1,000 residents in a neighborhood, the rate of re-incarceration rises about 11 percent. But after controlling for other factors that come into play across neighborhoods, Kirk found that net recidivism still came down.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

North Carolina looks to resume executions

North Carolina lawmakers approved a measure aimed at resuming executions in the state after a nine-year break by removing the requirement that a doctor be present at all lethal injections, according to Reuters.
The state has not executed any inmates since 2006, in part due to conflicts with the state’s medical board, which has threatened to punish physicians who participate in a prisoner's death.
The state's House of Representatives passed legislation in an 84-33 vote recently that would also allow nurses, physician assistants or paramedics to oversee lethal injections.
Supporters hope the measure will pave the way for prison officials to resume carrying out death sentences. There are 149 inmates on death row in North Carolina, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DA: 'I think we need to kill more people'

More than 10,000 homicides last year--only 72 death sentences

“I think we need to kill more people,” said Dale Cox, a prosecutor in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, according to  Robert J. Smith an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in column in Slate.
Cox was responding to questions about the release of Glenn Ford, a man with Stage 4 lung cancer who spent nearly three decades on death row for a crime he did not commit. Cox acknowledged that the execution of an innocent person would be a “horrible injustice.” Still, he maintained of the death penalty: “We need it more now than ever.”
Cox means what he says. He has personally secured half of the death sentences in Louisiana since 2010. Cox recently secured a death sentence against a father convicted of killing his infant son, despite the medical examiner’s uncertainty that the death was a homicide. Rather than exercising caution in the face of doubt, Cox told the jury that, when it comes to a person who harms a child, Jesus demands his disciples kill the abuser by placing a millstone around his neck and throwing him into the sea.
The nation suffered more than 10,000 homicides last year, yet only 72 people received death sentences—the lowest number in the modern era of capital punishment. The numbers have been steadily declining for the better part of a decade. Most states are abandoning the practice in droves. Even in states that continue its use, capital prosecutions are being pursued in only a few isolated counties.
Cox is one of them. Jeannette Gallagher of Maricopa County, Arizona, is another. She and two colleagues are responsible for more than one-third of the capital cases—20 of 59—that the Arizona Supreme Court reviewed statewide between 2007 and 2013. Gallagher recently sent a 19-year-old with depression to death row even though he had tried to commit suicide the day before the murder, sought treatment, and was turned away. She also obtained a death sentence against a 21-year-old man with a low IQ who was sexually abused as a child, addicted to drugs and alcohol from a young age, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She then sent a U.S. military veteran with paranoid schizophrenia to death row. Her response to these harrowing mitigating circumstances has not been to exercise restraint, but rather to accuse each of these defendants of simply faking his symptoms.
Meanwhile, in Duval County, Florida, Bernie de la Rionda has personally obtained 10 death sentences since 2008.
Not surprisingly, death sentences drop precipitously after these prosecutors leave office. Bob Macy sent 54 people to Oklahoma’s death row before retiring in 2001. Over the past five years, Oklahoma County has had only one death sentence. Lynne Abraham secured 45 death sentences as the Philadelphia district attorney. Since she retired in 2010, the new district attorney has obtained only three death sentences.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, May 18, 2015

Report: Corrections officers use "unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force"

Correctional officers across America have used "unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force" on prisoners, according to a report  recently released by Human Rights Watch, according to
The report – which the organization says involved interviews with 125 jail officials, mental health professionals, lawyers, academics, prisoners, and other experts – sharply criticized an array of incidents which it argues has systematically traumatized mentally ill inmates.
Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections, which handles the state prison system, has also taken fire in recent years for its treatment of mentally ill inmates. In January, the department settled pledged to make sweeping changes after settling with the Disability Rights Network over a lawsuit that alleged that inmates with serious mental illness were being isolated for at least 23 hours a day, severely aggravating their symptoms.
The lawsuit was accompanied by an independent investigation into Pennsylvania's state prison system by the U.S. Department of Justice. In its report, Human Rights Watch draws from several observations about Pennsylvania's prison system that were highlighted by federal investigators, including:
  • Mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania are twice as likely to be placed in solitary confinement compared to non-mentally ill prisoners.
  • In one Pennsylvania prison, there was a "disturbing tendency" by many prison clinicians to describe almost all disruptive conduct as purely willful and not connected with a prison's mental instability.
  • A mentally ill person was subjected to five months solitary confinement. When he attempted to hang himself, he was removed from solitary confinement for one day and then returned for another five months. He told investigators that he became extremely depressed and experienced visual hallucinations: including seeing his dead brother encourage him to cut himself.

"The misuse of force is more likely in facilities that are overcrowded, have abysmal physical conditions, and lack educational, rehabilitative, and vocational programs for inmate," the report read. "Force is also more likely where custody staff are too few in number relative to the number of prisoners, are poorly paid, are poorly trained in inter-personal skills and conflict resolution, or are poorly supervised."
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Vindicator: State of Ohio has growing problem with aging prisoners

Matthew T. Mangino
The Youngstown Vindicator
May 17, 2015
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction defines elderly inmates as those age 50 and older. Offenders over 50 make up about 14 percent of Ohio’s more than 50,000 inmates, according to the (Cleveland)Plain Dealer.
Research indicates that a prisoner’s physiological age is, on average, seven to 10 years older than their chronological age. Therefore, a 50-year old inmate may likely experience the age-related health problems of a 60-year old on the outside, according The Council of State Governments.
As a result, the Federal Bureau of Prisons saw healthcare expenses increase by 55 percent from 2006 to 2013, when it spent more than $1 billion, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general. The inspector general is conducting a review of the impact of the aging inmate population on prison activities, housing and costs.
Cost of care
There are about 2.3 million adults in state and federal prisons. According to the National Institute of Corrections, about 246,000 are 50 or older. The U.S. currently spends more than $16 billion annually caring for these aging inmates, and their numbers are projected to grow dramatically in the next 15 years.
The Wall Street Journal recently asked – why is America’s prison population getting old? The conventional wisdom says it’s because of harsher sentencing policies and antidrug laws adopted in the 1980s. New research, however, suggests another factor may be behind the graying of inmates – the growth of offenders entering or re-entering prison in middle age.
More middle aged prisoners can be traced in part to long accepted sentence guidelines. The prisoners in state prison are thought to be the worst of the worst. That threshold is often determined by looking at the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history of the offender.
The system has long acknowledged that offenders often age out of crime—the most dangerous segment of the population is young people. However, young people haven’t been around long enough to rack-up a significant prior record so their sentences don’t often reflect their level of dangerousness.
Prior record score
After aging offenders have had enough time to crank up their prior record score, they are less likely to commit crime but when they do they get clobbered. A felony at age 45 with a significant prior record might land that offender in prison for 20 years, whereas that same offense by a 19-year-old might mean 18 months.
A study on aging prisoners, funded by Bureau of Justice Assistance, concluded that “rising admission age is the primary force driving the increase in the elderly group.”
“Our federal prisons are starting to resemble nursing homes surrounded with razor wire,” Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums told The Washington Post.
In the last five years, several states have contracted with private nursing homes to care for some of their elderly and disabled inmates under so-called “medical parole” programs that allow prisoners to receive care outside of a prison while remaining in state custody.
In 2013, Connecticut asked the commercial nursing home industry to provide a facility that would accept a steady stream of prison inmates and patients from the state mental hospital who required long-term nursing care.
Other states
According to Kaiser Health News, a handful of states is interested in following Connecticut’s lead; Michigan is seeking industry proposals for a similar arrangement, and Kentucky and Wisconsin are considering doing the same.
Will Ohio fall in line?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

GateHouse: Reagan’s would-be assassin may soon be a free man

On March 30, 1981, Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan, with the intent to assassinate him. Hinckley’s defense team never denied that he shot the president. Instead, they argued that he was laboring under a severe mental defect and was, in fact, insane.
Hinckley would have the jury believe that he acted involuntarily; essentially his life was controlled by his pathological obsession with the movie “Taxi Driver” and its star Jodie Foster. Hinckley's attorneys said he saw the movie 15 times, and was seeking to reenact the events of the movie in his own life.
Hinckley's attorneys argued that he was schizophrenic and that the movie, and Foster, were the controlling force behind his attempted assassination. The judge allowed the defense to introduce evidence, according to The New York Times, that Hinckley's brain showed signs of shrunken brain tissue, one of the common symptoms of schizophrenia. The jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity.
The jury's decision caused a public outcry. Congress, and a number of states, got to work rewriting the law to make it more difficult for a defendant to win a case using the insanity defense.
Congress adopted a number of provisions that dramatically changed the law. For instance, before Hinckley, the burden of proof in federal cases was on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was sane. The post-Hinckley reform legislation shifted the burden to the defendant to prove with clear and convincing evidence that he was legally insane at the time of the crime.
Following Congress' lead, more than 30 states made changes to their insanity defense. Over the 1980s and 1990s, many states shifted the burden and standard of proof in ways to make it more difficult to sustain an insanity defense.
In addition to raising more hurdles for a successful insanity defense, many states enacted laws providing for more restrictive confinement options for those acquitted by reason of insanity. Three states — Utah, Montana and Idaho — abolished the defense altogether, according to PBS’s “Frontline.”
The use of the insanity defense is rare. One study, cited by The Times, of eight states published in the 1990s found the insanity defense is used in about 1 percent of all felony cases, with only a quarter of those being successful.
Is it really that shocking that a man who shot the president might someday soon be walking free?
Hinckley already spends more than half of every month a free man. In fact, neither the government nor the judge believes it will be long before Hinckley is free.
Every month, Hinckley spends 17 days away from the hospital at his mother's home in Williamsburg, Virginia. The question for Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman is whether to take the next step and grant him full release from the Hospital.
"Every witness agrees that he's ready and every witness agrees that the risk of danger is decidedly low," Hinckley’s lawyer Barry William Levine recently argued to the court.
According to National Public Radio, Levine said that depression and psychosis fueled Hinckley's drive to shoot President Reagan. He further offered that those conditions are "in full, stable, sustained remission" and have been for more than 20 years.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Tsarnaev jury deliberating the ultimate question: Life or death

Jurors in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev completed their first full day of deliberations Thursday without answering the toughest question any jury can face: whether the defendant should be sentenced to death.
The panel of seven women and five men was released for the day by US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. They are due back at US District Court in Boston on Friday to resume their closed-door talks, according to The Boston Globe.
Jurors, who are working through a complex 24-page verdict slip meant to guide their decisionmaking, twice asked for clarification from O’Toole on legal issues.
The jury had already spent 45 minutes deliberating Wednesday after receiving instructions from the judge and hearing closing arguments from both sides.
There are 61 people on federal death row.  The federal government has not carried out an execution in about 12 years.  There have been only three federal executions in the modern era of the death penalty, including the 2001 execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Morning Call: Attention turns to obscure state committee studying death penalty

Riley Yates
The Morning Call
The committee hasn't met since 2012 and is running at least two years behind schedule. Its 27 members haven't been publicly announced, but critics already charge they have leaped to conclusions.
The state Senate's Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment has until recently been little noticed, just the latest group to study flaws in Pennsylvania's death penalty, under which scores of inmates have seen their sentences reversed and no one has been executed against their will since John F. Kennedy was president.
Once obscure, the all-volunteer committee is now prominent, elevated in the debate by Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on executions. Wolf announced the moratorium in February when he called the death penalty "error prone, expensive and anything but infallible." He said he will issue a reprieve to any prisoner facing the death chamber until the committee's report is released and acted upon.
That means the panel could wield enormous power in determining the future of capital punishment in Pennsylvania, which houses the nation's fifth largest death row. And while previous investigations have suggested fixes to the process to make it fairer, some death penalty backers are bracing — and some opponents are hoping — for this committee to call for the law's outright repeal.
"That would not surprise me," said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, a committee member who supports the death penalty. "That is probably where this would end up."
"I suspect that they will support the abolition of the death penalty," said Carol Lavery, Pennsylvania's former victims advocate and another committee member.
The committee, approved by the Senate in 2011, is looking into 17 different aspects of capital punishment, including its cost, its impact on public safety, its potential for racial or economic bias, and whether there are sufficient safeguards against the innocent being executed.
Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission, the agency spearheading the effort, does not anticipate the report will be "the seminal document that starts rolling forward with repeal."Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican who proposed the study, echoed that, saying the committee has not been asked to weigh in on the larger question of whether the death penalty should be sustained. That's an issue, he maintained, for lawmakers and public opinion to decide.
"I don't think it does anyone any good to spend all this time and this effort on the data without giving anyone an opinion on what the data means," said Leach, a staunch critic of capital punishment.
Since Wolf announced the moratorium, conservative lawmakers and other death penalty supporters have bristled over the committee's makeup, charging it is weighed against their views.
According to a list provided by the Joint Commission, the panel includes judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, clergy members, college professors, a relative of a murder victim, victims advocates, officials from the ACLU and two other nonprofits, and police and corrections representatives.
"There's very few prosecutors or individuals who favor the death penalty on the committee as a whole," Marsico said, "so I don't expect a glowing review of the death penalty because of the makeup of it."
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a vocal death penalty supporter who is not on the panel, charged that further studies are unnecessary and are driven by opponents who want to poke holes in the law.
Morganelli said the best review that death sentences receive is through the courts, when a jury individually examines the facts of each case and appellate judges then scrutinize whether the decisions were justified.
"These studies are a bunch of nonsense in my opinion," said Morganelli, a Democrat. "They are motivated by a desire to end the death penalty. They don't want to improve the death penalty."
Greenleaf and Leach disputed that criticism, saying that no one should oppose efforts to better understand how the system is functioning.
"Anyone who is for or against [capital punishment] should not be afraid of facts," Greenleaf said. A fact "doesn't lie. Whatever it is, it is."
Said Leach: "At the end of the day, the death penalty is another government program, so let's evaluate it like any other government program."
The report was originally due in December 2013. But selecting the panel's 27 participants took six months alone, and work has proven time-consuming, given the need for data collectors to go from county courthouse to county courthouse gathering statistics about homicide cases, when the death penalty is sought and when it is imposed, Pasewicz said.
The hope is for the report to be completed by the end of the year, though it could stretch into 2016, Pasewicz said.
So far, the committee has met twice as a whole, in May and August 2012, according to the Joint Commission. The panel's subcommittees have held two meetings and 15 teleconferences, the most recent in April 2014.
For the report, the Joint Commission — a research wing of the Legislature — has been assisted by a state commission on fairness in the courts and by researchers from Penn State University.
The study has no individual budget and no dedicated staff members, with the Joint Commission's 11 employees also juggling other state initiatives, Pasewicz said. Though the Senate resolution authorized the panel to conduct public hearings, it has no plans to do so, since the Joint Commission is not set up to hold them and lacks the power to subpoena witnesses or take testimony under oath, he said.
Pasewicz said he anticipates hearings will be held in the Legislature after the recommendations are released.
Given the contentious topic, Pasewicz said he doesn't expect unanimity from the panel. But, he said, everyone on the committee will be heard, pro or con.
"It is a controversial issue. We want to make sure we have as many people at the meetings, at the conference calls, as we can," Pasewicz said. "We've been unusually sensitive to make sure that people were available and had a fair opportunity to participate."
That's the hope of Lavery, the former victims advocate. She said that while she believes the committee is weighed against the death penalty, she expects it will still offer detailed information that can be used on each side of the debate.
"The facts that will come out will be both in support and against," Lavery said.
Matthew Mangino, another committee member, called the study a "fresh look" and said the panel has yet to reach its conclusions.
"As in any aspect of the criminal justice system, there is always room for improvement in the process," said Mangino, a former Lawrence County district attorney who has written a book about the death penalty. "Can we improve the process, or should the process be halted? I think that those are legitimate questions for any task force that is examining the criminal justice system."
One of the four senators on the task force overseeing the committee is Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton. Several attempts to seek comment from her were unsuccessful.
'Riddled with flaws'
Pennsylvania has 185 prisoners on death row, but it rarely performs an execution. Just three men have been put to death in the modern era of capital punishment, and all were volunteers who abandoned legal challenges to their sentences. The last was Philadelphia "house of horrors" murderer Gary Heidnik, who was lethally injected in 1999.
The reasons for the logjam are the subject of heated discussion. Capital punishment supporters blame an arduous appeals process, activist judges and what they characterize as overzealous tactics by anti-death-penalty lawyers.
Former Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who retired at the end of last year, has been the most prominent voice. In a 2011 opinion, he accused federal public defenders of "obstructionist tactics" that try to sabotage Pennsylvania's law through abusive filings that clog the courts.
Whether opponents "like it or not," two-thirds of the states have the death penalty, Castille wrote. "The difference of death does not mean that any and all tactics in pursuit of the defeat of a capital judgment are legitimate."
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Texas executes man who killed three

The 14th Execution of 2015
Texas executed Derrick Charles on May 12, 2015.  He was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, her mother and grandfather in their Houston home in 2002.  He was upset at the family for trying to cut off his relationship with the daughter, reported Reuters.
Charles was pronounced dead at 6:36 p.m. CDT after receiving a lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville, a prisons official said.
Charles, who strangled the three, was the 525th inmate executed in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, with the state accounting for 37 percent of all executions in the country during that time.
"I'm ready to go home," Charles said in his last statement, prisons officials said.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition seeking to halt the execution. Lawyers for Charles had argued he was mentally incompetent and could not legally be subject to capital punishment.
At the time of the crime, Charles was 19 and out on parole for burglary. Prosecutors said he sought revenge on Brenda Bennett, 44, because she was trying to stop her underage daughter Myiesha Bennett, 15, from having sex with him.
Charles hid in the family home and first beat Obie Bennett, 77, using a lamp and trophies. The grandfather was found in the kitchen with an electric cord around his neck, prosecutors and the Texas Attorney General's Office said.
He then waited for Brenda and Myiesha Bennett to come home. When they arrived, he bound and gagged them. According to prosecutors, Charles killed Myiesha and sexually assaulted and strangled her mother.
Charles pleaded guilty to the crime and was later sentenced to death.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PLW: The Fourth Amendment and the Role of Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
May 12, 2015
In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out a new legal standard of proof. "Reasonable suspicion" is a product of the landmark decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Reasonable suspicion is less than probable cause—the standard for arrest and obtaining a search warrant—but more than a seasoned police officer's "hunch," according to the opinion.
Reasonable suspicion must be based on "specific and articulable facts ... taken together with rational inferences from those facts." In other words, the police must believe that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, and a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and presently dangerous."
A Terry stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and seizure. Reasonable suspicion does not provide grounds for arrest; however, an arrest can be made if facts discovered during an investigatory stop provide probable cause to arrest the suspect for a crime.
Terry and its progeny bring context to the court's decision last month regarding the Fourth Amendment and drug-sniffing dogs.
Fifteen years after Terry, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983). Place held that a sniff by a trained police dog is not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. The court reasoned that the sniff of a dog is intended to reveal only the presence or absence of narcotics. Because a dog sniff is so limited, the court carved out an exception from the broad category of searches for which a warrant is generally required.
Nearly 20 years later, the court revisited the dog-sniffing issue. In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), the Supreme Court limited the power of the police to conduct a search without suspicion for purposes of drug interdiction. The court ruled that a vehicle checkpoint for drugs was itself an impermissible seizure. However, the court refused to say a dog sniff is a search. The court held, "The fact that officers walk a narcotics-detection dog around the exterior of each car at the Indianapolis checkpoints does not transform the seizure into a search."
Only about five years later, the court was again going to the dogs. In Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), the court held that the Fourth Amendment is not violated when the use of a drug dog during a routine traffic stop does not unreasonably prolong the length of the stop.
Just when it appeared that drug-sniffing dogs would have free reign, the Supreme Court tamed the dogs a bit in Florida v. Jardines, 560 U.S. ___ (2013). The court held that a sniff by a police-trained dog on the front porch of a private residence is a search under the Fourth Amendment and, absent consent, requires probable cause and a search warrant.
Last month, the court further restricted drug dogs in Rodriguez v. United States, 13-9972. In 2006, a Nebraska police officer saw a vehicle driven by Denny Rodriguez weaving on the highway just after midnight, according to the opinion. The officer performed a routine traffic stop, questioning Rodriguez and his passenger, and ran a record check. He then issued Rodriguez a written warning.
The officer then detained Rodriguez until a K-9 officer arrived to have the vehicle scanned by a drug-sniffing dog. Approximately 29 minutes into the stop, Rodriguez was arrested for having methamphetamine in his vehicle. He sought to suppress the search as a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court. During oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor raised concerns. She suggested that the Supreme Court's recent Fourth Amendment jurisprudence was "flying off the rails" due to its pro-police deference, according to Reason magazine.
"We can't keep bending the Fourth Amendment to the resources of law enforcement. Particularly when this stop is not ... incidental to the purpose of the stop. It's purely to help the police get more criminals, yes. But then the Fourth Amendment becomes a useless piece of paper."
Last month, the court ruled that police officers violated Rodriguez's constitutional rights when they extended a completed traffic stop to allow time for a drug dog. The 6-3 majority said police officers must let a driver leave unless they have reasonable suspicion that the car is carrying contraband.
"A police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.
Ginsburg, who wrote a dissent in Caballes, said that decision had merely "tolerated certain unrelated investigations that did not lengthen the roadside detention."
"An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop," she wrote. But, she added, "he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Thomas' dissent suggested that the stop's total duration of about 29 minutes was reasonable, so any delay regarding the dog did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Alito, in a separate dissenting opinion, suggested that the majority opinion could encourage officers to endanger themselves by conducting a dog-sniff search without waiting for backup.
However, he said, according to, the more likely result was that officers would intentionally sequence the activities involved in a traffic stop so that the license check and citation were not completed until a dog sniff was done.
"Most officers will learn the prescribed sequence of events even if they cannot fathom the reason for that requirement," Alito wrote, adding, "I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops." 
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. His book, "The Executioner's Toll, 2010," was released by McFarland & Co. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Monday, May 11, 2015

DOJ to investigate Baltimore police department for civil rights violations

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch plans to launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into use of force by Baltimore police officers, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.
The decision came as local officials pressed the Department of Justice to launch an inquiry similar to investigations into police departments in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland, examining whether officers engaged in patterns of excessive force. In both of those cities, unrest erupted after unarmed people were killed by police.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

FOP calls for congressional commission to study policing

The Crime Report reports that the Fraternal Order of Police would like to slow down the pace of federal reforms of policing by having a congressional commission study the issues first and come back with recommendations.
Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police is betting he can leverage his carefully-built relationships to take the most drastic remedies, like opening a string of “pattern and practices” investigations, off the table, according to Politico. It’s an approach reminiscent of the National Rifle Association response to urgent calls for new gun control measures after the Newtown Ct. school shooting. The group commissioned a private task force led by Asa Hutchinson, now the governor of Arkansas, which came back with a recommendation that schools arm staff members.
Pasco says he doesn’t want to stand in the way of good ideas that are ready to go, but that the task at hand needs time. “As much as we’d like to see a result tomorrow,” he says. “Every law enforcement problem does not require a solution tomorrow that’s going to have ramifications for 20 or 30 years.” Reformers in Congress, led by the Congressional Black Caucus and libertarian Republicans, want results now. “There are many throughout the country who’ve run out of patience with conversations and commissions,” says Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). “The Congressional Black Caucus is committed in my view to get something done with the fierce urgency of now.” They reject Pasco’s suggestion that much of the reform should be referred to a congressional commission like one proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and others.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 9, 2015

GateHouse: Aging prisoners: An American crisis

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 8, 2015
America’s prisons are facing a growing crisis. The number of elderly and infirm inmates are on the rise, as are related prison healthcare cost.
According to the Washington Post, prisoners age 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in federal correctional facilities. The number of AARP eligible inmates has swelled by 25 percent since 2009.
The Bureau of Prisons saw healthcare expenses increase by 55 percent from 2006 to 2013, when it spent more than $1 billion, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general. The inspector general is conducting a review of the impact of the aging inmate population on prison activities, housing and costs.
There are about 2.3 million adults in state and federal prisons. According to the National Institute of Corrections, about 246,000 are 50 or older. The U.S. currently spends more than $16 billion annually caring for these aging inmates, and their numbers are projected to grow dramatically in the next 15 years.
Donna Strugar-Fritsch, a consultant with Health Management Associates told Kaiser Health News, “In a couple of years this is the only thing people are going to be talking about. It’s getting worse by the minute.”
The Wall Street Journal recently asked, “Why is America’s prison population getting old?” The conventional wisdom says it’s because of harsher sentencing policies and antidrug laws adopted in the 1980s. New research, however, suggests another factor may be behind the graying of inmates — the growth of offenders entering or re-entering prison in middle age.
Shawn Bushway, a SUNY-Albany public policy professor who co-wrote a study on the aging of those incarcerated, told the WSJ, “People are getting arrested and sentenced to prison at a higher rate in their 30s, 40s and 50s than they used to.”
The reason can be traced in part to sentencing guidelines. The prisoners in state prison are thought to be the worst of the worst. That threshold is often determined by looking at the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history of the offender.
The system has long acknowledged that offenders often age out of crime — the most dangerous segment of the population are young people. However, young people haven’t been around long enough to rack-up a significant prior record so their sentences don’t often reflect their level of dangerousness.
After aging offenders have had enough time to crank up their prior record score, they are less likely to commit crime but when they do they get clobbered. A felony at age 45 with a significant prior record might land that offender in prison for 20 years, whereas that same offense by a 19-year-old might mean 18 months.
A study on aging prisoners, funded by Bureau of Justice Assistance, concluded that “rising admission age is the primary force driving the increase in the elderly group.”
“Our federal prisons are starting to resemble nursing homes surrounded with razor wire,” Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums told The Post.
In the last five years, a handful of states have tried to contract with private nursing homes to care for some of their elderly and disabled inmates under so-called “medical parole” programs that allow prisoners to receive care outside of a prison while remaining in state custody.
Two years ago, Connecticut asked the commercial nursing home industry to provide a facility that would accept a steady stream of prison inmates and patients from the state mental hospital who required long-term nursing care.
According to Kaiser Health News, a handful of states are interested in following Connecticut’s lead; Michigan is seeking industry proposals for a similar arrangement, and Kentucky and Wisconsin are considering doing the same.
What is your state doing?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, May 8, 2015

Clinton repudiates his 1994 crime bill as 2016 campaign looms

Former President Clinton wrote the following forward for a new publication from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out On Criminal Justice

Brennan Center for Justice
April 27, 2014
In this time of increased political polarization, there is one area where we have a genuine chance at bipartisan cooperation: the over-imprisonment of people who did not commit serious crimes.
The drop in violence and crime in America has been an extraordinary national achievement. But plainly, our nation has too many people in prison and for too long — we have overshot the mark. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we now have 25 percent of its prison population, and an emerging bipartisan consensus now understands the need to do better.
It has been two decades since there was sustained national attention to criminal justice. By 1994, violent crime had tripled in 30 years.2 Our communities were under assault. We acted to address a genuine national crisis. But much has changed since then. It’s time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn’t, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences.
So many of these laws worked well, especially those that put more police on the streets. But too many laws were overly broad instead of appropriately tailored. A very small number of people commit a large percentage of serious crimes — and society gains when that relatively small group is behind bars. But some are in prison who shouldn’t be, others are in for too long, and without a plan to educate, train, and reintegrate them into our communities, we all suffer.
The new approach has many roots and just as many advantages: a desire to save taxpayers money; the resolve to promote rehabilitation not recidivism; an obligation to honor religious values; the necessity to alleviate crushing racial imbalances. All of them strengthen this powerful new movement.
Now it’s time to focus on solutions and ask the right questions. Can we do a better job identifying the people who present a serious threat to society? If we shorten prison terms, could we take those savings and, for example, restore the prison education programs that practically eliminate recidivism? How can we reduce the number of prisoners while still keeping down crime?
As the presidential election approaches, national leaders across the political spectrum should weigh in on this challenge — and in this exciting book of essays from the Brennan Center, many of our nation’s political leaders step up and offer answers. This, in itself, is deeply encouraging. After decades in which fear of crime was wielded as a political weapon, so many now understand the need to think hard and offer real reforms, which, if implemented, can bring about this change in the right way. To address our prison problem, we need real answers, a real strategy, real leadership — and real action. We can show how change can happen when we work together across partisan and political divides. That is the great promise of America.
Click here to read the entire book, Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out On Criminal Justice.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

NYT: Police rethinking use of force

Today, crime is at historic lows and most cities are safer than they have been in generations, for residents and officers alike. This should be a moment of high confidence in the police, Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group, told the New York Times. Instead, he said, policing is in crisis.
“People aren’t buying our brand. If it was a product, we’d take it out of the marketplace and re-engineer it,” Mr. Wexler said. “We’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”
Mr. Wexler’s group will meet with hundreds of police leaders in Washington this week to call for a new era of training, one that replaces truisms such as the 21-foot rule with lessons on defusing tense situations and avoiding violent confrontations. While the Justice Department and chiefs of some major police departments are supportive, the effort has not been widely embraced, at least so far. Some police unions and others have expressed skepticism, saying officers are being unfairly criticized.
“All this chatter just increases the idea that these encounters are avoidable and law enforcement is at fault,” said Jeff Roorda of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, who said officers already thought about ways to avoid confrontations.
The typical police cadet receives about 58 hours of training on how to use a gun and 49 hours on defensive tactics, according to a recent survey by Mr. Wexler’s group. By comparison, cadets spend just eight hours learning to calm situations before force is needed, a technique called de-escalation.
“Everything now is: You get there, you see a guy with a knife, you resolve it,” said Mr. Wexler, a former senior Boston police official. In many situations, he said, officers who find themselves 21 feet from a suspect can simply take a step backward to buy themselves time and safety.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

NYPD on defensive about 'broken window' policing

The New York Police Department is on the defensive about its long-standing approach known as "broken windows" policing, reported NPR.
Simply put, broken windows is the idea that police should aggressively crack down on low-level offenses to stop bigger crimes from happening. It's been copied all over the country, but now critics in New York say broken windows needs fixing.
"Our goal is a simple one: Make the system more just," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito says. "Jumping a turnstile at 16 should not mark you for the rest of your life."
Detractors of the approach say far too many New Yorkers — mostly poor, and mostly people of color — are arrested or ticketed for so-called quality of life crimes. Such offenses include riding a bike on the sidewalk, drinking on the street, jumping a subway turnstile — or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Defenders of broken windows policing say the statistics are on their side. And so is the man who's largely responsible for making the approach famous in New York some 20 years ago: the city's police commissioner, William Bratton.
"I can assure you that quality-of-life policing will continue, and continue very assertively in this city," Bratton says. "It's what made this city safe in the first place."
Major crime of all kinds is down almost 80 percent in New York since the bad old days of the 1990s, during Bratton's first tour as police commissioner. Exactly why crime dropped so much is a matter of debate.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Did Baltimore state's attorney overreach?

The decision of Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby to file charges of murder and false imprisonment against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray  will be challenging to prove in court, reported the Baltimore Sun. "She has overcharged," said defense attorney Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor. As a result, Mosby could lose credibility with a jury, making it more difficult to obtain a conviction on any charge. Other attorneys disagreed, saying it was impossible to judge the strength of Mosby's case without seeing the evidence. Defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit said the prosecutor "is going to have a rough road to travel," but he believes the charges are reasonable. "At least the public will be able to see that battled out in the courtroom," he said. "For the first time, it is not swept under the rug." Mosby said police should not have arrested Gray. She said the 25-year-old man died of injuries he suffered during the van ride to a police station.
According to The Crime Report, the case could take more than a year to go to trial or for the sides to come to a plea agreement. Attorneys predicted the proceedings would be moved out of Baltimore, because it would be nearly impossible to find jurors who have not been affected by the death of Gray or by the protests and riots that have followed. Analysts said the filing of such serious charges against police in the performance of their duty is rare. In addition to the murder and false imprisonment charges, four of the officers are accused of manslaughter. Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University, said, "I can't think of any situation like this where six officers get indicted where there's these kinds of charges in one setting. It's kind of like the curtain has been pulled back with videos."
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