Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Georgia executes woman who conspired with lover to kill husband

The 21st Execution of 2015
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was executed by the state of Georgia on September 30, 2015 at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.
She was the first woman executed in Georgia in more than 70 years.
Gissendaner, 47, sobbed as she said she loved her children and apologized to Douglas Gissendaner's family, saying she hopes they can find some peace and happiness. She also addressed her lawyer, Susan Casey, who was among the witnesses.
"I just want to say God bless you all and I love you, Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing 'Amazing Grace,'" Gissendaner said.
Prison Warden Bruce Chatman left the execution chamber at 12:11 a.m. Records from previous executions indicate that the lethal drug is administered within about a minute of the warden leaving the room.
Gissendaner sang "Amazing Grace" and also appeared to sing another song before taking several deep breaths and then becoming still.
More than 100 people gathered in rainy conditions outside the prison to support Gissendaner. Among them was Rev. Della Bacote, who said she is a chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville and who spent several hours with Gissendaner on Tuesday afternoon, talking and praying.
"She was at peace with whatever was to come," Bacote said.
Gissendaner's three children visited with her Monday but weren't able to see her Tuesday because they were testifying before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, Bacote said. The parole board is the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence in Georgia.
"Kelly embraced that the children were going to talk to the Board of Pardons and Paroles," Bacote said, adding that Gissendaner was able to speak to her children by phone Tuesday.
Two of Gissendaner's three children had previously addressed the board and also put out a video earlier this month pleading for their mother's life and talking about their own difficult path to forgiveness. Her oldest son had not previously addressed the board.
Various courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court denied multiple last-ditch efforts to stop her execution Tuesday, and the parole board stood by its February decision to deny clemency. The board didn't give a reason for the denial, but said it had carefully considered her request for reconsideration.
Gissendaner was previously scheduled for execution Feb. 25, but that was delayed because of a threat of winter weather. Her execution was reset for March 2, but corrections officials postponed that execution "out of an abundance of caution" because the execution drug appeared "cloudy."
Pope Francis' diplomatic representative in the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, on Tuesday sent a letter to the parole board on behalf of the pontiff asking for a commutation of Gissendaner's sentence "to one that would better express both justice and mercy." He cited an address the pope made to a joint session of Congress last week in which he called for the abolition of the death penalty.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Elected appellate judges less likely to reverse death penalty verdicts

Justices chosen by voters reverse death penalties at less than half the rate of those who are appointed, a Reuters analysis finds, suggesting that politics play a part in appeals. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to decide whether to take up the issue in the case of a Ohio cop killer, according to an investigation Reuters.
Ohio is one of the states where high court judges are directly elected – and that makes a big difference in death penalty appeals.
A review of 2,102 state supreme court rulings on death penalty appeals from the 37 states that heard such cases over the past 15 years found a strong correlation between the results in those cases and the way each state chooses its justices. In the 15 states where high court judges are directly elected, justices rejected the death sentence in 11 percent of appeals, less than half the 26 percent reversal rate in the seven states where justices are appointed.
Justices who are initially appointed but then must appear on the ballot in “retention” elections fell in the middle, reversing 15 percent of death penalty decisions in those 15 states, according to opinions retrieved from online legal research service Westlaw, a unit of Thomson Reuters.
Some academic studies over the past 20 years have mirrored the Reuters analysis, showing a relationship between the result in death penalty appeals and how state supreme courts are selected. The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed these findings in its rulings.
Now, however, at least three current justices are sympathetic to the idea that political pressure on judges is a factor that leads to arbitrary, and perhaps unconstitutional, application of the death penalty.
The findings, several legal experts said, support the argument that the death penalty is arbitrary and unconstitutional because politics – in addition to the facts – influence the outcome of an appeal.
Courts have a responsibility to protect a defendant’s constitutional rights without political pressure, especially when the person’s life is at stake, said Stephen Bright, a Yale Law School lecturer who has worked on hundreds of death defenses. “It’s the difference between the rule of law and the rule of the mob,” Bright said.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 28, 2015

Predictive policing: Forecasting crime through data mining

The use of computer models by local law enforcement agencies to forecast crime is part of a larger trend by governments and corporations that are increasingly turning to predictive analytics and data mining in looking at behaviors. Typically financed by the federal government, the strategy is being used by dozens of police departments — including Los Angeles, Miami and Nashville — and district attorneys’ offices in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
But researchers working with the police to develop the predictive algorithms say that they can come closer than traditional detective work to figuring out who is most apt to break the law. They say criminals commit violent crimes in fairly distinctive patterns and often have similar attributes. Those include previous arrests; unemployment; an unstable home life; friends and relatives who have been killed, are in prison or have gang ties; and problems with drugs or alcohol.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Justice Scalia: The end of the death penalty may be near

In a recent speech at Rhodes College, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that four of his colleagues think that the death penalty is unconstitutional, The Commercial Appeal reported.  Here is the full context:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told attendees of a speech given Tuesday that four of his colleagues believe the death penalty is unconstitutional and that “he wouldn’t be surprised” if the court ends the penalty, according to reports from the event.
Speaking at Rhodes College, the conservative justice bristled at the concept, believing the penalty to be constitutional and telling attendees that death penalty opponents should go to the states if they want to end it, Jennifer Pignolet of The Commercial Appeal tweeted.
According to Pignolet’s report, Scalia said that “he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if his court ruled it unconstitutional, despite his belief that the Constitution allows for it with the establishment of protections like a fair trial.”  Specifically, Scalia said that “he now has 4 colleagues who believe it’s unconstitutional,” Pignolet tweeted.
The statements provide new insight into the court’s internal discussions — or at least Scalia’s take on his colleagues — as his comments go further than Scalia’s colleagues have gone themselves.
After the Glossip ruling in June, Douglas A. Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy was somewhat dismissive of claims by abolitionists that Justice Breyer's dissent suggested that it might only be a matter of time before there could be a majority of Justices ready to decalre the death penalty categorically unconstitutional. But Justice Scalia's comments now suggest that hopes for coming judicial abolition of capital punishment throughout the United States may not be just wishful thinking.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 26, 2015

GateHouse: Preserving the fundamental right to counsel

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 25, 2015

Is the right to counsel in America’s courtrooms merely lip service today? Court appointed counsel and public defenders are underpaid and overworked. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice published several years ago, court appointed attorneys often spend less than six minutes per case when their clients plead guilty.
More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. In Gideon, a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required to provide legal counsel for those defendants accused of a crime who cannot afford a lawyer.
The decision is recognized as one of the most important of the 20th century. However, did the decision really alter the legal landscape a half-century ago?
The Sixth Amendment provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
In 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Powell v. Alabama. The Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires defendants in capital cases be given access to counsel upon request.
Ten years later in Betts v. Brady the court refused to extend the right to counsel to criminal charges other than capital murder. In Betts, it was held that a refusal to appoint counsel for an indigent defendant charged with a felony did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
Then came Clarence Earl Gideon, a 51-year-old drifter and petty-thief. He was charged with breaking and entering in Florida. The charge was a felony and when Gideon first appeared before the court he was without funds, without counsel and he asked the court to appoint him a lawyer.
The judge apologized to Gideon and said that Florida law only provides for counsel in capital cases. Gideon replied, “The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel.”
Gideon represented himself, was convicted and appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. His appeal was denied and his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court appointed a very capable attorney, Abe Fortas to represent Gideon. Fortas would one day take a seat on the Supreme Court.
Fortas pointed out that 37 states provided for the appointment of counsel by statute, administrative rule or court decision. Eight states provided counsel as a matter of practice. In an unprecedented act of support for the rights of those accused of a crime, 22 state attorneys general joined Gideon in urging the Court to establish an absolute constitutional right to counsel in criminal cases.
Only five states—Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina—did not provide counsel for indigent defendants.
Justice George Sutherland wrote in Powell some 30 years before Gideon, “Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law.” Fortas argued in Gideon, “You cannot have a fair trial without counsel.”
The Gideon decision was reason for celebration, but as Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “years later there is also much to mourn about Gideon and the Supreme Court standards that followed it.”
There is clearly a distinction between the defense of poor litigants and litigants with resources. The quality of legal counsel is not the problem - the disparity in access to investigators, experts and other litigation related resources is enormous.
Will Gideon’s promise of fairness and justice continue to fade away or will state and local governments step up to insure that the rights of the accused are adequately protected?

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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Friday, September 25, 2015

Five counties are responsible for a quarter of all JLWOP sentences nationwide

Just five counties are responsible for a quarter of all the juvenile life-without-parole sentences nationwide, according to a new report, reported The Marshall Project. The leader is Philadelphia, with 9 percent of all juvenile lifers. The report arrives just weeks before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case that could decide the fate of juvenile lifers around the country.
“Prior reports showed that a handful of states were responsible for many of the life without parole sentences. We were able to show this was driven by a handful of counties within those states,” says John Mills, one of the authors.
The report counted 2,341 people serving juvenile life-without-parole sentences nationwide. The counties responsible for imposing a quarter of all such sentences are: Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Orleans, in Louisiana; Cook, in Illinois, and St. Louis. Michigan, which has one of the country’s biggest populations of juvenile lifers, declined to provide information.
The concentration of juvenile life-without-parole sentences follows a pattern familiar to one found in studies of the death penalty. A 2013 study by the Death Penalty Information Center found that just two percent of counties impose the majority of death sentences.
In Philadelphia, in particular, “there have been over the years a lot of aggressive prosecutors, which has led to a lot of sentences being resolved by life-without-parole sentences,” says Brad Bridge, a lawyer with the Philadelphia public defender’s office. “We’ll seek death against you, or you can opt for life imprisonment.”
In Philadelphia County, Mills found 214 people serving life without parole for crimes they committed as teenagers.
Bradley Bridge a Philadelphia public defender, disputes that as too low. “If that’s his number, he needs to go back and do a better job,” Bridge says. He and the state corrections department have been working together to come up with a tally of those serving juvenile life-without-parole sentences from Philadelphia; his number, he says, is 291.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jeff Smith back on the stump, this time lamenting his contact with the prison industrial complex

Just a decade ago, Jeff Smith had one of the brightest futures of any Democratic politician in Missouri, reported the Washington Post. He was a progressive state senator with a budding national profile, whose narrow defeat in an election for Congress was chronicled in a well-received 2006 documentary, “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?”
His political career a faded memory and a year in prison for campaign fraud behind him, Smith has penned a book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison,” and launched a tour to get his voice heard in a larger debate about a prison industrial complex that has run amok.
The American criminal justice system has been built on a business model that profits from recidivism and is operated in a brutal way that keeps inmates from rehabilitating themselves into useful, law-abiding citizens.
Smith is not the only person making this point. It’s a conversation that has moved beyond think tanks and into the larger culture, fueled by the popularity of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” which similarly tells the story of an “unlikely” person (read: white, upper-middle class) whose eyes were opened by a (relatively brief) stint behind bars — and if there’s some discomfort about these protagonists being the heroes, well, at least they’re drawing some attention to an overlooked world in crisis.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SCOTUS will take on retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory JLWOP

In the coming term the Supreme Court, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, will decide whether its 2012 rulingoutlawing mandatory life without parole for juveniles must apply retroactively to those already serving the sentence, reported The Marshall Project. In their Eighth Amendment rulings, the justices are often guided by “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Whether a particular punishment is rare or widespread is one of their yardsticks for measuring contemporary standards.
Those standards are changing quickly in the wake of of the earlier case, Miller v. Alabama. Mills found that, since 2012, nine states have abolished juvenile life without parole entirely. Seventeen have chosen to apply Miller retroactively. All these changes have led to resentencing hearings and parole eligibility for as many as a thousand people previously sentenced to life without parole. (Whether they’re sentenced to life without parole a second time at their resentencing hearings is an open question. Only mandatory sentences were outlawed; the sentence is allowed if the judge has discretion to choose.)
Accounting for these changes, “the true number of persons subject to [life without parole] is likely closer to 1,300,” Mills writes. Just as John DiIulio recanted his superpredator theory when ranks of homicidal teenagers failed to materialize, so a generation later the law may be catching up.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ohio judge fights back against plea bargains

Ohio Judge Michael P. Donnelly is disgusted with plea bargains and he is fighting back, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
“It’s sidestepping the truth. It’s legal fiction, nothing more than a lie,” said Donnelly, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge. “No one can defend this process. There is no ethical defense.”
With Donnelly leading the charge for change, the Ohio Supreme Court — unless legislators object — could amend court rules to require charges in felony plea deals to be factually based — to reflect what actually occurred.
“Ending the charade” would promote transparency and foster public accountability in the justice system, Donnelly said. “We can't be allowing pleas to something that everyone knows didn’t happen.”
The court’s rules commission has advanced the proposal by moving to seek public comment on the changes in Criminal Rule 11 as part of the early steps of a lengthy process leading to approval or rejection.
The Ohio Judicial Conference, which represents the state’s judges, is on board with the change, calling “often convenient” plea agreements “contrary to the objectives of the justice system.”
Advocates for sexual-assault victims also support the change, saying pleas to lesser, unrelated offenses leave victims’ trauma unacknowledged and victims feeling “like the justice system let them down.”
Donnelly calls plea deals not based in fact a “serious public-safety issue” that allow some offenders to escape prison and sex-offender registration and hide the seriousness of their crimes.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 21, 2015

What next for PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane?

The Commonwealth Attorneys Act says only a licensed member of the bar can be attorney general, according to Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law with expertise in the Pennsylvania Constitution and court rules, reported the Allentown Morning Call.
A suspension is not a disbarment. Suspension would mean Kane at least temporarily could not practice law, but she would remain a lawyer, Ledewitz has said. Still, a suspension could be fatal to Kane's career because it could lead to one of three ways the state constitution says an elected official can be removed from office.
The first is legislative impeachment. The process, which is long and cumbersome, starts in the House and, following a quasi-trial, two-thirds of the 50-member Senate must vote to impeach.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has not seemed enthusiastic about getting involved in Kane's legal wranglings except to call for her to resign.
The third removal option involves the governor and Senate. It is called "direct address" — and it has never been used in Pennsylvania.
The amendment says all elected civil officers, with the exception of the governor, lieutenant governor, lawmakers and judges, "shall be removed by the governor for reasonable cause" after they are given due process notice and the Senate affirms the governor's wishes on a two-thirds majority vote.
There is legal debate in the state about whether the "direct address" starts first with the governor or the Senate. The administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Senate believe the removal process starts in the Senate. However, other law experts think Wolf would have to initiate the process.
To read more CLICK HERE

Silver Falchion™ Readers Choice Award: Vote for The Executioner's Toll, 2010

Vote for my book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 for the Silver Falchion™ Readers Choice Award for the best nonfiction book of 2015. 
To vote: CLICK HERE. Then click on my book in the middle of the pack.
Thank you.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Missouri executes 6th inmate of 2015, 20th nationwide

The 20th Execution of 2015

A man who spent nearly 25 years on Missouri’s death row was executed September 1, 2015 for the kidnapping, rape and stabbing death of a 15-year-old Kansas City girl.
Roderick Nunley, 50, became the sixth inmate to be put to death in Missouri this year. During the execution, his breathing became labored for a few seconds. He briefly opened his mouth before becoming still.
He was pronounced dead at 9:09 p.m.
“Despite openly admitting his guilt to the court, it has taken 25 years to get him to the execution chamber,” Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement. “Nunley’s case offers a textbook example showing why society is so frustrated with a system that has become too cumbersome.”
Ann Harrison’s disappearance and death haunted the Kansas City area in March 1989. She was waiting for a school bus on her driveway, 20 yards from her front door, when Nunley and Michael Taylor drove by in a stolen car and made the spur-of-the-moment decision to abduct her.
Her body was found in the trunk of the abandoned car three days later.
Both men were sentenced to death in 1991. Taylor was executed last year.
To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, September 19, 2015

GateHouse: The long shadow of a criminal conviction

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 18, 2015

Loyola Law School professor Kevin Lapp recently published an article titled “American Criminal Record Exceptionalism.” He examined the onerous lifelong burden of having a criminal record through the lens of criminal justice scholar James B. Jacobs’s new book “The Eternal Criminal Record.”

Lapp praised Jacobs’s book as documenting the broad scope of criminal record keeping. Criminal records have found their way to employers, schools, landlords, licensing agencies, the media and more.
Easy access to such information has increased the stigma of crime, created formal disabilities — disenfranchisement, deportation, housing restrictions, government entitlement eligibility and statutory employment prohibitions.
A 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 92 percent of their members, which are mostly large employers, perform criminal background checks on some or all job candidates.
One prominent researcher has found that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback, or offer, by nearly 50 percent.
An estimated 65 million U.S. adults have criminal records and they often confront barriers that prevent even the most qualified from securing employment, according to the National Employment Law Project.
A single criminal conviction should not tarnish a life otherwise spent abiding the law. A criminal record should disappear over time and there is research to support that proposition.
If an offender has a history of criminal conduct that stretches over time then the record should be preserved and used to enhance penalties and warn employers, the public, and law enforcement that this individual is potentially dangerous and definitely a criminal nuisance.
On the other hand an offender who has gone crime-free for a period of time should have his criminal record removed.
In 2009, Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura of Carnegie Mellon University wrote in Redemption in the Presence of Widespread Criminal Background Checks that there comes a time after a period of crime-free behavior that an ex-offender is no more likely to commit a crime than the general population.
Their analysis was based on a statistical concept called the “hazard rate.” The hazard rate is the probability, over time, that someone who has stayed clean will be rearrested. For a person who has been arrested in the past, the hazard rate declines the longer the former offender remains arrest free.
The study examined the hazard rate for 18-year-olds when they were arrested for a first offense of one of three crimes — robbery, burglary and aggravated assault. For robbery, the hazard rate declined to the same arrest rate for the general population of same aged individuals at age 25.7 or 7.7 years after the robbery arrest. After that point, the probability that the convicted individual would commit another crime was less than the probability of other same aged individuals in the general population.
The study also examined the effect of the arrestee’s age at the time of his first arrest. The researchers examined the hazard rates for three ages of people in the study group — 16, 18 and 20-years-olds — who were arrested for robbery.
The analysis showed that the younger an offender was when he committed robbery, the longer he had to stay arrest free to reach the same arrest rate as people his same age in the general population. The researchers found similar results for first offense burglary and aggravated assault.
Only those ex-offenders who have been crime free for an extended period of time would be eligible to have their criminal records purged. A repeat violent offender would not enjoy the benefit of having her record eliminated. Providing opportunity to law abiding citizens is good for the individual and good for society.
Shouldn’t an ex-offender, crime-free for 10 years, have the opportunity to succeed — it’s the American way.
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, September 18, 2015

Prisons shrink a bit, 18 states still above capacity

New statistics show small but consistent decreases in prison populations on both the state and federal level, but there are still over 1.5 million citizens locked up in prisons (and hundreds of thousands more in jails). Nearly 20 percent of all federal prisoners are housed in private facilities, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Eighteen states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons operated their prison facilities at more than 100 percent capacity at the end of 2014, reported the Huffington Post.
In Illinois, prison facilities were originally designed to hold 28,200 inmates, but were housing 48,300 as of Dec. 31, 2014. The Bureau of Prisons, which mostly houses drug offenders, was 128 percent over maximum capacity, according to the report.
The states listed as operating at more than 100 percent capacity are: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Oklahoma grants reprieve hours before execution

An Oklahoma appellate court granted a two-week stay of execution for Richard Glossip just hours before he was scheduled to die within hours, meaning that a man whose lawyers say is innocent has at least a temporary reprieve, reported CNN.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued the order about three hours before Glossip's scheduled afternoon execution for the 1977 death of motel owner Barry Van Treese.
Only months ago, Glossip's challenge to lethal injection was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The move came amid concerns, expressed by Glossip's supporters and attorneys, about his trial and the way the state planned to execute him. The appellate court said it needed time to consider several motions that Glossip's attorneys made less than 24 hours before the scheduled execution, including one asking for an evidentiary hearing.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Insurance companies pay prosecutors for fraud prosecutions

Funding deals between insurance companies and prosecutors to finance the costs of fraud investigations have blossomed around the nation in recent decades as lawmakers look for ways to help cash-strapped prosecutors pursue complex crimes that ultimately cause premiums to rise for everyone, reported the Texas Tribune.
But typically those financing schemes rely on pooled or industrywide assessments — with multiple insurance companies paying taxes or fees into a government fund. A public agency then disburses the money to state or local prosecutors.
However, a single county in Texas, Travis County, and Texas Mutual Insurance have an agreement that Texas Mutual will pay for all costs related to insurance fraud investigations and prosecutions.
Such arrangements in Massachusetts, California and other states have drawn criticism from defense lawyers and legal scholars who say the prosecutions lean too heavily in favor of insurer interests while offering too few protections for defendants.
Colorado’s government-run workers’ compensation provider once had a similar arrangement with the state attorney general’s office, but it was replaced in 2012 with pooled funding from all insurers, officials say.
None of the myriad public-private partnerships examined by the Tribune and the Statesman are as direct and intimate as the one in the Texas capital. In Travis County, the arrangement is singularly focused on one company: Texas Mutual makes the referrals, provides the investigators and directly pays all the bills. At one time the company even provided office space for the lead prosecutor. The Travis County DA has statewide authority over such cases because Texas Mutual is headquartered in Austin.
Prosecutors say Texas Mutual gets special treatment because of its history as a state-created entity, but the Legislature turned it into a regulated mutual insurance company — owned by policyholders — in 2001, and it’s no longer a state entity “for any purpose.”
Still, in exchange for guaranteed payments from Texas Mutual of more than $400,000 a year, the Travis County district attorney’s office prosecutes alleged “crimes committed against the company,” according to their contract.
“He who pays the fiddler sets the tune,” said Aviva Abramovsky, a law professor at Syracuse University and former chair of the Association of American Law Schools’ insurance law section. “What makes it problematic, particularly in an insurance case like this, is it’s only for this company. They’re the only ones who get private justice. And that’s unfair.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ferguson Commission issues report on police reforms

A Ferguson, Missouri, reform panel released a report calling for the consolidation of police departments and municipal courts, reported Jurist. The 16-member Ferguson Commission, established by the governor of Missouri issued a 198-page report, titled "Forward through Ferguson, a Path toward Racial Equity." The report makes a number of recommendations, including criminal justice, housing, education and economics.
Its proposals include establishing a statewide, publicly available use-of-force database to track police shootings, ending predatory lending and establishing healing centers to address behavioral and health issues in schools.
After a grand jury did not indict the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown there was a large uproar from the Ferguson community that led to mass protests and violence in some instances. The case had reached international news when a federal judge ruled that the police tactics used on protesters was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 14, 2015

Stronger economy, more affordable fuel blamed for increase in deadly crashes

Deadly automobile crashes have surged dramatically in the first half of 2015 as Americans hit the roads in record numbers, in part due to a stronger economy and more affordable fuel, reports the Los Angeles Times. The nonprofit National Safety Council says traffic deaths had jumped 14% compared with the same period in 2014, a year in which an estimated 32,675 people died.

The increase bucks a longer-term decline in traffic deaths over the last half-century, even as the number of drivers on the road has doubled, as reported on The Crime Report. Cars have become safer and traffic laws stricter. But Americans drove a record 1.54 trillion miles in the first half of 2015, according to the Federal Highway Administration, beating the previous mark set in 2007. Gas prices this year also hit their lowest Labor Day price in more than a decade, with the average price per gallon more than $1 cheaper than last year, according to AAA.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mangino on WFMJ-TV Weekend Today

Watch my Sunday, September 13, 2015 interview on Weekend Today on WFMJ-TV.  To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 12, 2015

GateHouse: Prison officials: Solitary confinement a ‘grave problem’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 11, 2015

A report issued last week by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Yale Law School titled “Time-in-Cell” found that prison officials have characterized inmate isolation as a “grave problem” and are searching for alternatives for most inmates.

The report analyzed data from 34 jurisdictions, housing about 73 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million prisoners. The report identified more than 66,000 prisoners in some form of restricted housing — whether termed “administrative segregation,” “disciplinary segregation” or “protective segregation,” reported the National Law Journal. Disciplinary segregation is the “prison within a prison.” Inmates who violate prison rules are sent to isolation. Administrative segregation might include an inmate with mental illness who is disruptive or a gang member who is a threat to security. Protective segregation might include inmates who are at risk for abuse within the prison or may have cooperated with prison officials in an investigation.

If the numbers above are illustrative of the whole prison system, in 2014 about 80,000 to 100,000 inmates were in some form of isolation. The numbers do not include people in local jails, juvenile facilities, or in military and immigration detention.

To corrections officials, solitary confinement is needed to contain disruptive prisoners who may harm other inmates or staff. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, some inmate rights advocates believe that solitary confinement is a violation of human rights--defensible only for limited times with clear rules for a return to general population.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rarely mentioned solitary confinement, and it has never ruled whether the practice violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. However, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy recently wrote about solitary confinement concluding that “near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.”

According to the New York Times, Kennedy tried to bolster his position by quoting Dostoevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Later he wrote in an opinion about the plight of inmate (he) “has been held for all or most of the past 20 years or more in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day; and in the one hour when he leaves it, he likely is allowed little or no opportunity for conversation or interaction with anyone.”

Stuart Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, has conducted a number of studies interviewing hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of inmates in solitary confinement were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” According to PBS Frontline, Grassian has since concluded that solitary confinement can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory.

In California, the Department of Corrections recently settled a lawsuit that will limit how long inmates can spend in isolation, while creating restrictive custody units for inmates who refuse to participate in rehabilitation programs or violate prison rules.

California has a history of keeping inmates isolated for longer than any other state, at times up to a decade or more, reported The Christian Science Monitor. The California settlement will limit segregation to inmates who commit new crimes behind bars. The state will no longer lock gang members in soundproofed, windowless cells solely to keep them from directing illegal activities by fellow gang members.

Solitary confinement will continue to be controversial. Corrections departments across the country need to find a balance between the safe and efficient management of correctional facilities and the inmates’ constitutional rights.

As California Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard told The Associated Press the settlement will “move California more into the mainstream of what other states are doing while still allowing us the ability to deal with people who are presenting problems within our system.”

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, September 11, 2015

PA death penalty gets its day in court

Gov. Tom Wolf's death-penalty "moratorium" has stirred a lively discussion at a Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing in Philadelphia, reported The Associated Press.
A top lawyer in the Philadelphia district attorney's office argued Thursday that Wolf's use of a reprieve to block the execution of a convicted killer who has run out of options violates the state constitution.
Hugh Burns said Wolf's vow to use reprieves to block executions pending completion of a legislative study on the death penalty is too vague.
Justices Debra Todd and Michael Eakin questioned whether Wolf's strategy is a moratorium or merely a series of individual reprieves.
Geoffrey Moulton, the lead attorney for Wolf's legal team, acknowledged that Wolf cannot suspend the death penalty but said he clearly has authority to grant temporary reprieves without having to explain why.
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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Summer 2015: 3,702 people killed by guns in America

Between the start of Memorial Day Weekend and August 28 an estimated 3,702 people were killed by guns in America, according to Another 8,153 were wounded. That’s according to preliminary data from the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents of gun violence through media reports and police blotters. And it amounts to 81 more shooting deaths and 959 more gun injuries than during the same period in 2014.
Statistically, then, this summer’s increase in firearms casualties has not been huge. What has seemed potentially significant is the effect on perceptions. David Chipman, a former ATF agent, believes that “people have been blown out of their detachment and denial.” If there is a lasting shift (and time will certainly test his assertion), it will owe in part to the way the summer of 2015 mixed together horrors too-familiar and new: Innocent churchgoers standing in for innocent school kids, a Tennessee Naval Reserve facility instead of a Texas army base, a movie theater shooting sequel, a workplace rampage that in a depraved twist was documented with not one but two cameras. Americans may have come to expect an Aurora or Newtown or Fort Hood on a semi-annual basis, but there yet remain varieties of brutality for which we aren’t prepared, have not already pre-processed.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PLW:Errors in DNA Testing Occur Regularly

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
September 8, 2015
Kareem Johnson was on Pennsylvania's death row as the result of a 2007 Philadelphia murder conviction. When Johnson allegedly killed Walter Smith, prosecutors suggested that he shot him at such close range that Smith's blood splashed onto Johnson's red Air Jordan baseball cap, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In fact, assistant district attorney Michael Barry told jurors, "That hat that was left at the scene in the middle of the street has Kareem Johnson's sweat on it and has Walter Smith's blood on it. ... DNA is a witness. It is a silent, unflappable witness."
According to the Inquirer, prosecutors now concede that they misinterpreted the DNA. The blood was found on a black baseball cap that belonged to Smith—not on Johnson's red hat.
Organizations like The Innocence Project have touted the nearly infallible application of DNA in cases that have exonerated the innocent. The Innocence Project's website lists 330 DNA exonerations over the past 14 years. The website tells the stories of people like Joseph Abbitt, who spent 14 years in a North Carolina prison before DNA exonerated him; and Anthony Capozzi, who spent 20 years in prison in New York; and Paula Gray, who spent 24 years in an Illinois prison.
There are also cases in which DNA was successfully attacked at trial. The O.J. Simpson trial brought DNA collection and analysis into America's living rooms.
Attorney Barry Scheck, who later co-founded The Innocence Project, was one of Simpson's attorneys focusing on the DNA evidence. He told the Los Angeles Times on the 20th anniversary of the trial, "It was a watershed case, but not in ways that people suspect. We did not challenge the underlying reliability of DNA testing methods; we attacked the way that evidence was gathered and processed. We had a 21st century technology and 19th century evidence-collection methods."
In Italy, American student Amanda Knox, along with her boyfriend, was convicted—based in part on incriminating DNA evidence—of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Her body was found in a student house that she shared with Knox. She had been repeatedly stabbed and slashed.
After the first trial, Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and her boyfriend to 25. In 2011, their convictions were overturned.
Knox then returned to the United States, but an Italian appellate court overturned the acquittal and upheld the guilty verdicts. Knox was then sentenced in absentia to 28 years in prison.
DNA collection and analysis played a prominent role in Knox's conviction and appeal. That collection and analysis had come under scrutiny.
"There are some worrying features in this particular case, maybe because the individuals live in the apartment and their DNA will be everywhere. That's the issue in this case. There's no dispute that they were in the apartment, but for legitimate reasons," professor Peter Gill, a lecturer of forensic genetics at Oslo University in Norway, told the Daily Mail. "The evidence is weak. What I'm saying is there are possibilities of transfers, of contamination, which has to be seriously considered."
On March 27, seven-and-a-half years after their arrest, Italy's highest court exonerated Knox and her boyfriend.
There are, and have always been, problems with DNA analysis. There are occasions when a crime scene has an enormous amount of evidence to analyze for DNA markers. For instance, when an offender commits a burglary by breaking through a window and in the process cuts himself and subsequently bleeds throughout the structure.
Even small samples are reliable—a strand of hair, a mouth swab or a semen sample. They are the sorts of high-template-number DNA samples that have been effectively used in successful prosecutions and exonerations. In these cases, there's plenty of material to test, normally only one person's DNA and for the most part the testing procedures are standard. As a result, reliable, definitive results are expected and provided.
More often than not there is very little DNA at a crime scene, if any at all.
Trace DNA samples are defined as any sample that falls below recommended thresholds at any stage of the analysis, from sample detection all the way through profile identifications. According to McClatchy DC, trace DNA is saddled with complications, creating confusion in and out of courtrooms and prompting a new realization that "forensic science can't always lead to clear-cut results."
Also of concern is the use of touch DNA—a very insignificant amount of residue DNA that's left on an object. The sample can be as small as a few human cells, according to McClatchy. This DNA can be replicated and tested, but a conclusive match can be difficult, if not impossible.
Working with small or contaminated samples can result in false positives or just erroneous analysis, resulting in incorrect outcomes.
"DNA tests are not now and have never been infallible. Errors in DNA testing occur regularly. DNA evidence has caused false incriminations and false convictions, and will continue to do so," William C. Thompson wrote for the Council of Responsible Genetics.
Thompson wrote, "When DNA evidence was first introduced, a number of experts testified that false positives are impossible in forensic DNA testing. Whether such claims are sinister or not, they are misleading, because humans are necessarily involved in conducting DNA tests."
At least two of the first 200 people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing were convicted, in part, due to DNA testing errors. Thompson concluded in both cases a combination of technical problems in the laboratory and careless or mistaken interpretation of the test results produced inaccurate DNA matches.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts are trying to get a handle on how to properly present, defend and admit certain types of DNA evidence.
"This is something we are trying to figure out ourselves," Paul Cates, communications director for The Innocence Project, told McClatchy. "We realize that there's a lot of discussion about [low-template-number DNA] in the scientific community and we are doing our own research to figure out where we are on this."
The zeal to prosecute, or defend, has led to the use of DNA evidence that may not be as reliable as originally thought and is certainly not infallible, as some may have suggested in the past. 
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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Tuesday, September 8, 2015 has been Nominated for The Expert Institute's Best Legal Blog

(New Castle, PA) Our readers have spoken - has been selected to compete in The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition. Click on the nomination badge to your right to vote for
From a field of more than 2,000 potential nominees, has been nominated to join the 250 legal blogs participating in one of the largest competitions for legal blog writing online today.
Now that the blogs have been nominated and placed into their respective categories, it is up to their readers to select the very best. With an open voting format that allows participants one vote per blog, the competition will be a true test of the dedication of each blog’s existing readers, while also giving up-and-coming players in the legal blogging space exposure to a wider audience.
Each blog will compete for rank within its category, while the three blogs that receive the most votes in any category will be crowned overall winners.
The competition will run from August 27th until the close of voting at 12:00 AM on October 9th, at which point the votes will be tallied and the winners announced.
"I am extreme pleased to be nominated for the Expert Institute's top legal blog . . . I would strongly encourage my readers and followers to vote between now and October 9th," said Matt Mangino the Blog's author. Vote today by clicking on the on the nomination badge to your right or click on VOTE TODAY at the bottom of the page.

About The Expert Institute:
Founded in 2011, The Expert Institute is a technology-driven platform for connecting qualified experts in every field with lawyers, investment firms, and journalists looking for technical expertise and guidance. The Expert Institute combines a vast database of pre-screened experts with a talented case management team capable of custom recruiting experts to fit the specific needs of our clients. The Expert Institute also maintains one of the internet’s most visited blogs on expert witnesses, in addition to an extensive case study archive and expert witness resource center.


Colorado questions future of the death penalty

The life sentences that jurors recently handed down to two of the Colorado's most heinous mass murderers have jump-started debate on the death penalty's future in a state that rarely uses it, reported The Denver Post.
Prosecutors in both cases said death was the only appropriate sentence for the two men — and two-thirds of Coloradans polled in a survey during the Aurora theater trial agreed.
But the eventual actions of the 24 jurors in the two cases — although the precise breakdown for each remains unclear — re-energized the discussion over a punishment gathering resistance nationally.
By any measure, the crimes, three months apart in 2012, were devastating in their scope: 12 shot dead and 70 wounded inside a movie theater; five stabbed to death in a Denver bar later set ablaze.
The ongoing conversation about the death penalty in Colorado could touch on one element that raised concerns locally — and has appeared on the national radar.
The decision for a life sentence over death, in both cases, may have revolved around the vote of a single juror.
While the judge in the Aurora theater trial squashed any claims that there was a "plant" on the jury, the potential for one juror to nullify 11 other votes for death has drawn criticism.
But unanimity in pronouncing a death sentence remains the rule in most states. Colorado briefly abandoned that rule in 1995 after prosecutors — who became frustrated by juries declining to impose a death sentence — backed a controversial law that allowed a three-judge panel to sentence a defendant to death instead of a unanimous jury.
The state returned to juries in 2003.
Still, three states do not require jurors to be unanimous in handing down a death sentence. Alabama, Delaware and Florida allow a jury to recommend a death sentence without unanimity, and judges in each of those states have the power to override a jury's decision.
The law in Alabama allows for a 10-2 majority vote. Florida requires a simple majority when deciding whether aggravating circumstances exist or a defendant should live or die.
The American Bar Association, which does not take a position on the death penalty, released a resolution in February urging all jurisdictions with the death penalty to require unanimity among jurors in finding aggravating factors and in imposing death.
"This deliberative function is crucial in order to ensure that the death sentence is not being unfairly or arbitrarily imposed," the resolution reads.
While it's unclear what persuaded any individual jurors to spare the defendants in the Colorado cases, defense attorneys sought to establish mental health issues and child abuse as mitigators.
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Monday, September 7, 2015

Risk of future crime will soon be part of Pennsylvania sentencing scheme

Pennsylvania will introduce risk assessment into sentencing by next year.  It was part of a 2009 package of reforms for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, reported the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
"To me, this is a no-brainer," said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. "This is inserting science and data into decision-making."
However, there are concerns about basing prison sentences on crimes that haven't been committed yet. Some compare it to the film 'Minority Report,' in which the police arrest people for crimes that haven't occurred yet.
Wetzel, on the other hand, compares it to setting car insurance rates. Insurance companies use factors -- like age and gender -- to determine someone's risk of getting into a collision and then set rates.
Risk assessment, he said, is similar.
"I'm kinda baffled by the controversy," Wetzel said.
Bret Bucklen, director of planning, research, statistics and grants for the department, said judges currently use two "scores" to determine someone's jail sentence.
The first is the offense gravity score, which weighs the severity of the crime. And the second is the prior record score, which takes into account past crimes. Those two scores, Bucklen said, are put into a grid and they help a judge determine a jail sentence.
Risk assessment is a new way of approaching criminal sentencing. Risk assessment uses certain factors -- including age, prior arrests and types of prior crimes -- to inform a judge of a person's likelihood that they will commit another crime.
Commission Executive Director Mark H. Bergstrom said a judge would have the option to use a person's risk assessment in sentencing but would not be required to.
Someone found to have a low risk of recidivism might get a lesser sentence while others with a higher risk could get a longer sentence. A risk assessment, Bergstrom said, might also help a judge determine a specific program or alternative to incarceration for a convicted criminal.
"We recognized that this is not only about increasing or decreasing the duration of the sentence, it's more about how to affect the sentence, what should be a part of that sentence," he said.
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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Private conflict stronger predictor of crime than broken window theory

In a recently published study, Northeastern University assistant professor Daniel T. O’Brien offered a new model for advancing the study of neighborhood dynamics, reported He leveraged Big Data to shed new light on what factors predict crime in urban neighborhoods, finding that private conflict—not public disorder—is a strong indicator.
The traditional "broken windows theory" goes that acts of public disorder in neighborhoods—such as graffiti, litter, and abandoned homes—can encourage future crime there. But now research led by O'Brien has shed new light on the factors that predict crime in urban neighborhoods. The researchers found that, in fact, private conflict may be a stronger predictor of in a community.
"Our research suggests that the 'broken windows model' doesn't effectively capture the origins of crime in a neighborhood," O'Brien said. "What's happening is that violent crime is bubbling out from the social dynamics of the community, out from these private conflicts that already exist, and then is escalating and spilling into public spaces."

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

GateHouse: Supreme Court perpetuates sex offender myths

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 4, 2015 
Onerous sex offender registration laws have pulled together unlikely alliances. Victim advocates have begun standing up for sex offenders in litigation and legislative battles across the country.

Chris Dornin, a former New Hampshire State House reporter, wrote in an article for Corrections Magazine detailing the efforts of Cleveland and Texas rape crisis centers toward dismantling Ohio’s residency restriction law. The crisis centers intervened on the side of the plaintiff, a sex offender challenging the law before the Ohio Supreme Court, as an ex post facto punishment.

The centers argued, “More onerous sex offender registration and community notification laws threaten to harm the very people they are intended to protect and to undermine goals of community safety and treatment of offenders. These laws perpetuate myths and create a false sense of security.”

How does a myth take hold? When it comes to the law, there is no better place to perpetuate a myth than the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2002 and 2003, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion in two cases that dealt with sex offender restrictions. In one case, McKune v. Lile, Kennedy wrote the recidivism rate “of untreated (sex) offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80%.” The following year he wrote in Smith v. Doe, the risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is “frightening and high.”

The problem is, according to a paper recently released by Ira Mark Ellman and Tara Ellman, those statistics cited by Justice Kennedy and repeated over and over again by judges and legislators across the country are not true.

In McKune, the solicitor general provided a single citation to support its statement “that the recidivism rate of untreated offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80%.” The authority for that assertion was the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, A Practitioner’s Guide to Treating the Incarcerated Male Sex Offender released in 1988.

According to the Ellmans, the Practitioner’s Guide itself provides only one source for the claim, a 1986 article published in the magazine Psychology Today. The article suggests, “Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses–indeed, as many as 80% do.” The sentence is a bare assertion by the author--the article contains no supporting reference for it.

A growing body of research calls into question the wisdom of the “tough on crime” campaign to crush sex offenders. According to Dornin, the Canadian Department of Public Safety sponsored numerous studies of sex offender recidivism, including several that followed large groups of offenders over many years. One study found a little more than one in ten sex offenders recidivated within five years, much lower than the national recidivism rate.

Recent American studies suggest even lower rates. One by the Indiana Department of Corrections, entitled “Juvenile Recidivism, 2010,” suggested that only two of 71 juvenile sex offenders released in 2007 had committed new sex offenses within three years. That’s a 2.8 percent sex offense recidivism rate, reported Dornin. The comparable rate for hundreds of adult sex offenders in Indiana the same year was 1.05 percent three years after release.

No one condones the conduct of sex offenders, especially those who prey on children. The laudable goal of criminal sanctions should be to promote public safety and prevent future victims. Any appropriate civil restrictions should do the same. Legislation that is counter to that goal--legislation that actually puts people in danger--has no place whether or not sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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, September 4, 2015

Feds require warrant for StingRay cellphone surveillance

The Justice Department announced a policy that will require its law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to deploy a StingRay, a cellphone-tracking devices in criminal investigations and inform judges when they plan to use them, reported the Washington Post. The Justice Department policy does not apply to other departments or overseas investigations by the FBI and other agencies.
The new policy should increase transparency around the use of the controversial technology by the FBI and other Justice Department agencies. It imposes the highest legal standard for the device’s use and a uniform standard across the department.
The policy change is an acknowledgment by the Justice ­Department that the use of the devices — sometimes called StingRays, the name of one popular model — raises serious privacy concerns.
The devices are boxes about the size of a small suitcase that can help investigators locate suspects by identifying signals coming from their cellphones. But the machines, which simulate cell towers, also sweep up data from innocent bystanders in the suspect’s vicinity.
The data captured by the devices are serial numbers from cellphones, not GPS coordinates. The technology used by federal authorities does not capture ­e-mails, texts, contact lists, images or any other data from the phone, officials said.
Such devices have also been deployed on planes flown by the U.S. Marshals Service in pursuit of criminal suspects. Other federal agencies that have purchased the equipment include the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Murder rates on the rise nationwide

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as Milwaukee, reported the New York Times. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014.
More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.
Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing. Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

More Alabama death row inmates die of disease and suicide than lethal injection

Disease and suicide are claiming inmates on Alabama's death row faster than the executioner, reported The Associated Press.
With Alabama's capital punishment mechanism on hold for more than two years because of legal challenges and a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, five of the state's death row inmates have died without ever seeing the inside of the execution chamber.
John Milton Hardy, convicted of killing Clarence Nugene Terry during a robbery at a convenience store in Decatur in 1993, was the most recent death row inmate to die. Prison officials say he died of unspecified natural causes on June 15.
Convicted killer Benito Albarran, 41, hanged himself in the infirmary at Donaldson prison about two months earlier. A decade earlier, he was convicted of fatally shooting Huntsville police officer Daniel Golden outside a Mexican restaurant where he worked.
Golden's brother, David Golden, said family members wanted to witness Albarran's execution and felt cheated by his death.
"He took the coward's way out," Golden told reporters in Huntsville after Albarran killed himself.
Attorney Joseph Flood, who represented Albarran as he challenged his conviction in state court, said the inmate's mother died a week or two before he took his own life.
"He fell into a deep depression after that," said Flood.
In March, David Eugene Davis, 56, died of natural causes at Holman prison near Atmore after suffering from liver failure. He was convicted of killing Kenneth Douglas and John Fikes in St. Clair County in 1996.
Two more death row inmates died last year, Ricky Dale Adkins of cancer and Justin T. Hosch, who hanged himself at Holman prison. Hosch was convicted in Autauga County in the 2008 shooting death of Joey Willmore, and Adkins was condemned for killing real estate agent Billie Dean Hamilton in St. Clair County in 1988.
The last inmate put to death in Alabama was Andrew Reid Lackey, who died by lethal injection on July 25, 2013, for killing Charles Newman during a robbery in Limestone County in 2005. At the time, he was the first inmate put to death in the state since October 2011.
With 189 people currently on death row, the state is trying to resume executions, but legal challenges could be a roadblock.
The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who challenged the use of the sedative midazolam as inhumane during lethal injections. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of the drug in an Oklahoma case, but Arthur contends Alabama's execution protocol is different from the one used there.
The state switched to midazolam after it had to halt executions because it was out of other drugs needed for lethal injections.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Massachusetts Supreme Court strikes down sex offender residency restrictions

In Massachusetts, cities and towns cannot ban sex offenders from living near parks and schools, the state’s high court in ruled, according to the Boston Globe.  The sharply worded ruling could invalidate local laws in 49 municipalities across the state.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s unanimous decision likened the restrictions to two dark chapters in American history: the forcible removal of Indian tribes in the 19th century and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“Except for the incarceration of persons under the criminal law and the civil commitment of mentally ill or dangerous persons, the days are long since past when whole communities of persons, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans, may be lawfully banished from our midst,” Justice Geraldine S. Hines wrote.
Local officials who supported the restrictions decried the ruling and vowed to lobby Governor Charlie Baker and the state Legislature to pass statewide residency rules.
“It seems like the rights of children are taking a back seat to what is politically correct,” said Timothy Phelan, a former Lynn City Council president who sponsored the 2011 ordinance that the court struck down.
In recent years, state and local officials across the country have restricted where sex offenders can live, hoping to keep them away from children. The dominant view is that such rules, if applied statewide, are legal, said Daniel M. Filler, a Drexel University law professor. The problem, he said, has been with cities and towns passing a patchwork of local laws that simply force sex offenders to move to the next town.
“States have increasingly recognized that this is a problem that can only be solved at the state level because, if left to municipalities, it just becomes a game of one town after another putting up walls in their own jurisdiction,” Filler said.
In February, the New York State Court of Appeals threw out a Nassau County law that prevented sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, ruling that such local measures were preempted by a state law restricting residency for sex offenders.
In March, California’s Supreme Court struck down a portion of that state’s law that banned sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather. The court found that such restrictions would have to be imposed on a case-by-case basis, not as a blanket policy.
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