Saturday, April 30, 2016

GateHouse: President Obama takes on criminal justice reform

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 29, 2016
This week is National Reentry Week. Reentry is a correctional term of art that encompasses the release of prisoners in federal, state and local lock-ups who are making the transition from prison to the community.
President Barack Obama chose this week to unveil a series of federal initiatives designed to model a new framework for prisoner reentry in the United States. The initiatives are being touted as important steps to alleviate the devastating consequences of mass incarceration.
The Obama administration, believes using evidence-based practices can reduce crime by 16 percent and reduce criminal justice spending by a whopping $10 billion.
A new report from the Council of Economic Advisers offers criminal justice reforms that center on the economic gains to be had from reducing the prison population, increasing the number of police on the street, providing for expanded reentry opportunities and investing in cutting-edge policing tactics.
President Obama’s plan has some similarities to Justice Reinvestment Initiatives enacted in 27 states. Justice Reinvestment is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, examine corrections and related criminal justice spending; manage and allocate criminal justice populations in a more cost-effective manner; and reinvest savings in strategies that can hold offenders accountable and decrease crime.
According to the Georgetown Public Policy Review, the reviews are mixed on state Justice Reinvestment. The Policy Review found “significant costs savings have yet to materialize for justice reinvestment programs on the whole. Justice Reinvestment states were slightly less likely to reduce annual costs as compared to non-justice reinvestment states.”
The Policy Review found that from 2006-2013 justice reinvestment states were only .125 times more likely to reduce prison expenditures than increase expenditures while non-justice reinvestment states were .136 times as likely to reduce expenditures.
“The (Obama) Administration is committed to a holistic approach to criminal justice reform that creates a fairer and smarter system in the community, the cell block and the courtroom,” the report suggested.
America incarcerates more people for longer periods of time than any other country in the world and though incarceration played a role in reducing violent crime to near record lows, it has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
According to the report, “A large body of economic research shows that incarceration has only a small impact on crime reduction, and that this impact diminishes as the incarcerated population grows. Instead, the surge in incarceration has been driven by changes in criminal justice policies.”
Beginning in the 1960s crime became a political prop. As the Republican Party effectively used crime to elect local, state and national candidates, politicians of all persuasions wanted the label “tough on crime.” Even Senator Bernie Sanders, a so called Democratic-Socialist running a competitive campaign for president, voted for President Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill that has been blamed, in part, for soaring prison populations.
Politicians ignored the effects of their proposed policies in the 1980s and 1990s. Today the result of those policies is the enormous personal and financial cost of mass incarceration.
The report suggests some innovative ways of reducing crime. The authors forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, according to the Washington Post, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent.
The incarceration trends of the last decade cannot be sustained. If President Obama’s legacy is to include some success in dealing with an overcrowded and racially disproportionate correction system he and his advisers need to work fast.

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.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Georgia carries out its fifth execution of the year

The 13th Execution of 2016
Daniel Anthony Lucas, a man described by a prosecutor as "pure damn evil", was put to death by lethal injection on April 27, 2016 at 9:54 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, according Reuters.
Lucas confessed to fatally shooting Bryan Moss, 11, near Macon on April 23, 1998, after the boy arrived home from school and found Lucas and Brandon Rhode burglarizing the house, according to court records.
Rhode next shot Bryan's sister, Kristin Moss, 15, and their father, Steven Moss, 37, when they arrived home, and Lucas then "shot all three victims again to make sure they were dead," Lucas' attorneys wrote in court papers.
Georgia executed Rhode for the murders in 2010.
Lucas was the fifth person executed this year in Georgia and the 13th in the United States, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.
Lucas' lawyers described him as a changed man in a petition asking the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life with parole, but the board denied the request late Tuesday. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lucas' request for a stay of the execution on Wednesday.
"For the past 18 years he has devoted himself to learning and self improvement," the petition said. "He has been a model inmate. He has found faith."
After enduring an abusive childhood, Lucas became a "desperate alcoholic and addict, and he committed a horrible crime," his lawyers said, but is "not beyond redemption."
Lucas requested a last meal of meat pizza, steak and cheese calzone, stuffed Portobello mushroom, chef salad with ranch dressing and honey mustard dressing, and orange juice, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Police shootings: The reverse racism effect

A new study has found  white officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects, according to the Washington Post.
The results come from a laboratory project at Washington State University using highly realistic police simulators, in which actors in various scenarios approach and respond to officers on large, high-definition video screens in an attempt to recreate critical situations on the street. The officers are equipped with real guns, modified to fire infrared beams rather than bullets, and the scenarios can branch into conflict or cooperation, depending on the officers’ words and actions.
It’s the third time researchers at Washington State — Lois James, Stephen M. James and Bryan J. Vila — have set up simulations to monitor the differing reactions of police when confronted by white or black suspects. And all three times, they found that officers took significantly more time to fire their weapons if the subject was black, according to their latest report, “The Reverse Racism Effect,” to be published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

North Carolina's death row is shrinking, it's not what you think

Nine death row inmates in North Carolina have died of natural causes since 2006, when the state’s last execution took place, according to The News Observer.
With executions essentially on hold in North Carolina, the state’s death row population is aging. Of the 152 inmates on death row, 66 are age 50 or older. The oldest, Blanche Moore, who was convicted in Forsyth County in 1990 of murdering her longtime boyfriend with arsenic, is 83.
The prison population overall is getting older. At the end of 2015, there were 1,963 prisoners age 60 or older, more than three times as many as in 2005, according to the state Division of Prisons. Nearly 1 in 5 of the state’s 37,000 prisoners is now age 50 or older.
The graying of the prison population is a long-standing national trend. In 2006, the state commissioned a study to document its aging prison population and to help plan for it. The study noted that longer prison sentences combined with the overall aging of the U.S. population had made the elderly the fastest-growing portion of prison inmates.
The report also noted that the National Institute of Corrections defines elderly inmates as those age 50 or older, because as a group they show the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and poor health care.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Obama Administration: Mass incarceration is failing to prevent crime

Mass incarceration is failing to prevent crime, reported the Portland Press Herald, The Obama administration is looking in a few unconventional places for new ideas on public safety.
For example, raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour could prevent as many as half a million crimes annually, according to a new report from the White House’s Council of Economic (CEA) Advisers, a group of economists and researchers charged with providing the president with analysis and advice on economic questions.
Spending an additional $10 billion to expand police forces could reduce crime by as much as 16 percent, they project, preventing 1.5 million crimes a year.
In the report, the CEA argues for a broader analysis of the problems of crime and incarceration, touching on subjects that seem unrelated to criminal justice, such as early childhood education and health care. The authors of the report contend that by helping people get by legally, those other elements of the president’s agenda would be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration.
The authors of the report review research on the costs of incarceration as well as the benefits in terms of reducing crime. An inmate in a prison can’t commit a crime on the street, and the risk of being imprisoned might deter some from breaking the law.
Criminologists have found, however, that criminals aren’t deterred by the prospect of incarceration if they think they won’t be caught. The likelihood of being punished is more important to criminals than the punishment’s severity. And plenty of inmates aren’t habitual criminals. Imprisoning offenders who aren’t likely to commit more crimes in the future anyway is an expensive way to keep the public safe.
For these reasons, the authors of the White House’s report conclude that mass incarceration just isn’t worth the money. Hiring more police officers or investing in public education would do more to reduce crime and create greater monetary benefits for society as a whole, they say.
The authors consider a few ways of reducing crime. They forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration – a massive increase – would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent, according to the report.
The most effective way to reduce crime would be to spend more money on policing, the report projects. Research consistently shows that departments with more manpower and technology do a better job of protecting the public, and the United States has 35 percent fewer officers relative to the population than do other countries on average.
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Monday, April 25, 2016

Race and the death penalty: The Supreme Court may take another look

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear the Texas case of Duane Buck, who was sentenced to die in 1997 for shooting his ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner and her friend Kenneth Butler, reported the The Marshall Project.
His small army of advocates don’t dispute his guilt but argue he is facing the harshest possible punishment primarily “because he is black.”
At his trial, Walter Quijano, a psychologist called by the defense, told jurors that Buck was more likely to commit a violent crime again because of his race. (Death sentences in Texas require that a defendant be judged a “continuing threat to society.”) Quijano later told The Texas Tribune he was describing a statistical relationship, and not a causal connection between race and violence, but Buck’s lawyers say his comments tainted the jury’s decision.
Many historians (including David Oshinsky last week in the Wall Street Journal) see the contemporary death penalty as the latest stage in a history that stretches back to lynchings, pointing out that most executions continue to take place in the states of the former Confederacy. “We’ve used the death penalty to sustain racial hierarchy by making it primarily a tool to reinforce the victimization of white people,” the lawyer Bryan Stevenson told The Marshall Project last year. Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker story on the Louisiana case of Rodricus Crawford made prominent mention of the Confederate flag inscribed on a stone slab outside the courthouse during his trial.
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

NYT: The economic argument against mass incarceration

The growth in the nation’s prison population has been nothing short of staggering. The United States’ incarceration rate is now more than four times the world average, with about 2.2 million people in prisons and jails. Of those, roughly 200,000 are federal inmates, double the number from 20 years ago. This substantial increase occurred even as violent crime was falling sharply.
Now Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to loosen tough sentencing laws. The bill faces resistance from some lawmakers, wrote Jason Furman and Douglas Holtz-Eakin in the New York Times.
As economists who differ on many issues, we both agree that cost-benefit analysis provides a useful framework for analyzing complicated questions. And in this case, we agree that the verdict of such analysis is clear: Our sentencing rules are failing and need to be changed.
A general rule in economics — the law of diminishing marginal benefits — applies to incarcerating additional people or adding years to sentences. Research finds that more incarceration has, at best, only a small effect on crime because our incarceration rate is already so high. As the prison population gets larger, the additional prisoner is more likely to be a less risky, nonviolent offender, and the value of incarcerating him (or, less likely, her) is low.
The same general principle applies to the length of prison sentences, which in many cases have gotten longer as a result of sentence enhancements, repeat-offender laws, “three strikes” laws and “truth-in-sentencing” laws. Longer sentences do not appear to have a deterrent effect; one study finds, for example, that the threat of longer sentences has little impact on juvenile arrest rates. Other studies have found that sentencing enhancements have only modest effects on crime. They are unlikely to meaningfully affect the overall crime rate or generate meaningful gains in public safety.
Moreover, in many cases the analysis suggests that adding prisoners or years to sentences can be harmful. A growing body of research shows that incarceration and longer sentences could increase recidivism. Individuals may build criminal ties while incarcerated, lose their labor-market skills and confront substantial obstacles to re-entry after release. A new study finds that each additional year of incarceration increases the likelihood of re-offending by four to seven percentage points after release.
The bottom line: The putative benefits of more incarceration or longer sentences are actually costs.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 23, 2016

GateHouse: Courtroom integrity and the jailhouse informant

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 22, 2016
The Orange County, California district attorney convened a committee of legal experts to respond to a jailhouse informant scandal that rocked the office. Men and women were being sent to prison, some for life, based on the unreliable testimony of self-serving prison informants.
Earlier this year the committee issued a scathing report. According to the Los Angeles Times, the committee cited a failure in leadership that compared the office to “a ship without a rudder.”
The committee traced those failures to a “win-at-all cost mentality.”
The win-at-all costs mentality goes well beyond Orange County. The Northwestern Law School’s Center on wrongful convictions found in 2005 that false testimony from informants is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases in the modern era of the death penalty.
Jailhouse informants are nothing new. In 1819, Vermont authorities could not solve an alleged homicide. The victim was missing, and the authorities sought the help of a jailhouse informant who received a “confession” from a suspect, who was ultimately sentenced to death. Only days before the scheduled execution, the “murder victim” strolled back into town very much alive.
A jailhouse informant is an inmate who contacts law enforcement authorities with information about another defendant facing trial. In exchange for helpful information the government provides a benefit to the informant such as a sentence reduction, reduction in charges or some special privilege.
The incentive to come forward with information has been codified on a federal level. Federal Sentence Guidelines permit a judge to impose a sentence significantly below the sentence required by the guidelines if the offender being sentenced has provided “substantial assistance” in the prosecution of some other defendant.
While prosecutors say jailhouse informants can provide important — and truthful — testimony, informants have little to lose by lying on the witness stand. Rarely are they charged with perjury, according to the Chicago Tribune. It is not difficult for an informant to piece together the details of a crime from newspapers or legal documents and fabricate a cellmate’s “confession.”
Some jailhouse informants provide useful information that is, at times, essential in the search for truth. However, what are policymakers doing to insure fairness and to prohibit unscrupulous inmates from benefiting by their continuing misdeeds?
Connecticut has adopted a specific informant jury instruction that includes the following language, “You must look with particular care at the testimony of an informant and scrutinize it very carefully before you accept it.” Jury instructions are the rules that juries are bound by as they make a decision. The instructions are provided to the jury by a judge immediately before they begin to deliberate.
In 2011, California took it a step further. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting convictions based solely on the testimony of jailhouse informants. The law blocks convictions in cases without corroborating testimony of witnesses or forensic evidence.
Many states are lagging behind in this area of the law. For instance in Pennsylvania and Ohio there are general jury instructions regarding the credibility of a witness, whether the witness is an eyewitness or an informant.
In Pennsylvania, there is a specific instruction available when a witness has a penal interest in providing testimony, such as a witness who has been promised a more lenient sentence in exchange for testifying. In Ohio, there is an instruction for uncorroborated accomplice testimony, “use it with great caution and view it with grave suspicion.” Ohio does not have a similar instruction for informant testimony.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Innovative prosecutor seeks to prevent wrongful convictions

In St Clair County, Illinois, the local prosecutor is trying a radical new experiment: admitting his office has charged innocent people with crimes and clearing their names before they spend a day in prison, reported The BBC. It's a unique reform effort as prosecutors around the country face increased scrutiny and diminishing public trust.
The new program created by St Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly: the Actual Innocence Claim Policy and Protocol. It is a unique, pre-conviction intervention which attempts to prevent the "actually innocent" from going through a trial, taking a plea deal, or ending up in prison.
Actual innocence is a legal concept which means, simply, that a defendant did not commit the crime of which he or she is accused. It is usually invoked when a prison inmate is attempting to appeal his sentence, but Kelly wanted to bring the spirit of the concept to the pre-conviction level.
"That's distinct from 'I didn't get treated fairly'," says Kelly, a Navy veteran who became the county's top law enforcement officer in 2010 when he was only 34 years old. "It's not, 'Some of the evidence was obtained unlawfully, there was an incorrect ruling by the court, on the trial level some error by the defense' - no, you actually have the wrong person here...they're actually innocent."
Since Kelly implemented the policy two years ago, nine defendants have had their charges dropped before trial. Those cases include a reckless homicide by vehicle, four armed robberies and one murder.
To the best of his knowledge, no other prosecutor in the country is attempting anything quite like it. Even the US Department of Justice has taken an interest in what is happening in St Clair County.
"I think it is a nightmare scenario for any prosecutor or any police officer to have investigated and prosecuted and convicted the wrong person," says Kelly. "That strikes at our very sense of what our job is all about, which is to seek justice."
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Crime in 30 biggest cities virtually unchanged between 2014 and 2015

Overall crime rates in America’s 30 largest cities were nearly identical from 2014 to 2015, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Crime declined over that time period by 0.1 percent. The data show that crime rates remain at historic lows nationally, despite recent upticks in a handful of cities.

The authors of this report looked at changes in crime and murder from 2014 to 2015, using data through Dec. 31, 2015, and examined economic factors in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., that could explain why murder rates are up in those cities. Of the 30 cities studied, the three areas accounted for more than half of the increase in murders last year.

Among the updated findings:
Crime overall in the 30 largest cities in 2015 remained the same as in 2014, decreasing by 0.1 percent. Two-thirds of cities saw drops in crime, which were offset mostly by an increase in Los Angeles (12.7 percent). Nationally, crime remains at all-time lows.
Violent crime rose slightly, by 3.1 percent. This result was primarily caused by increasing violence in Los Angeles (25.2 percent), Baltimore (19.2 percent), and Charlotte (15.9 percent). Notably, aggravated assaults in Los Angeles account for more than half of the national rise in violent crime.
The 2015 murder rate rose by 13.3 percent in the 30 largest cities, with 19 cities seeing increases and 6 decreases. However, in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change.

Final data confirm that three cities (Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) account for more than half (244) of the national increase in murders. While this suggests cause for concern in some cities, murder rates vary widely from year to year, and there is little evidence of a national coming wave in violent crime. These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor. Notably, these three cities all seem to have falling populations, higher poverty rates, and higher unemployment than the national average. This implies that economic deterioration of these cities could be a contributor to murder increases.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pennsylvania legislature considers sealing low-level criminal records

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is backing new proposals to give a person's low-level criminal offenses a limited shelf life in Pennsylvania, reported WHYY.
Plans in the House and Senate would automatically seal low-level criminal records in Pennsylvania after an individual has had no criminal activity for five to 10 years. The legislation builds on a plan enacted into law this year to let people with minor offenses ask a judge to seal their criminal records.
"This is taking it one step further," said Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin. "I think Pennsylvania is finally realizing the barriers that people have. This is not an urban issue, a rural issue, or a suburban issue. This is a real person issue, and it's really hindering people from moving forward."
A criminal record can be a barrier in going to college, finding housing, or landing a job. Having a low-level offense in your past shouldn't be a deal-breaker, said Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia.
"I was handicapped as an executive at PepsiCo in terms of who I could hire even though I managed people who really just drove trucks," said Williams. "And, as a state senator, I've hired people with records, and there's not been one person I've hired with a record that has not worked out to serve the commonwealth effectively."
Under this "clean slate" bill, nonviolent misdemeanors would be obscured from public view automatically after the individual is crime-free for 10 years, and summary offenses would be hidden after five years without criminal activity. Law enforcement officials would still have access to full criminal records.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rights of victims are limited in plea negotiations in Ohio

Matthew T. Mangino
The Youngstown Vindicator
April 17, 2016

There are no two words associated with the criminal justice system that are more maligned and misunderstood than “plea bargain.”
Crime victims despise those two words; defense attorneys thrive on them; and prosecutors can’t survive without them. Politicians deride the system because of the underhanded “deals” made with vicious criminals. Even frontline police officers challenge prosecutors when they perceive that the terms of a plea bargain are too lenient.
Much needed tool
The plea bargain, however unpopular or unseemly, is a much-needed tool in the administration of justice. The truth is that 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of state cases end in plea bargains. As the system currently operates, it would be impossible to provide a constitutionally mandated trial-by-jury for every criminal defendant.
Setting aside the fact that trying every criminal case is beyond the capacity of the courts, there are other compelling reasons to plea bargain. Prosecutors are intimately familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of every case. There are circumstances where a plea to a lesser offense is better than a not-guilty verdict. A reluctant witness or a poor witness may also influence plea negotiations.
Many crimes are committed in rough neighborhoods that are inhabited by tough people. Witnesses often have to deal with their own demons, such as criminal records and substance abuse – such witnesses do not impress juries. In those cases, a plea bargain may not be palatable, but is better than the alternative.
Crime victims, people who have been physically and emotionally harmed, often do not want to hear about the strength or weakness of a case. They want justice, and that is often equated with a lengthy prison term. Victims want to be heard, and they have that right in Ohio. What victims don’t have is veto power over plea bargains.
“The Ohio Revised Code guarantees victims the right to confer with a prosecutor prior to a plea. If the prosecutor fails to do that, the judge can note that on the record,” Elizabeth Well, legal director for the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, told the Toledo Blade.
No teeth
“The issue with the crime victims’ rights law in Ohio is it doesn’t really have teeth,” Well said. “In some states, if the prosecutor doesn’t confer with the victim prior to accepting a plea and the court finds out, they can set the plea aside, basically undo it, but that’s rare.”
The final word on a plea rests with the district attorney, creating some concern in the criminal justice system. “We now have an incredible concentration of power in the hands of prosecutors,” Richard E. Myers II, a former assistant U.S. attorney and a professor at the University of North Carolina told the New York Times. He warned that with so much influence “in the wrong hands, the criminal justice system can be held hostage.”
This is not to suggest that all of that power is necessarily in the wrong hands. The vast majority of prosecutors are ethical and fair and no other individual in the criminal justice system is better positioned to understand the nuances of a case than a prosecutor. The prosecutor knows better than anyone that proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a daunting task, under any circumstance.
Disappointing outcome
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County, Ohio, Prosecutor’s Office told the Blade, “If the victim thinks they’re disappointed with a resolution on the case, they may be even more disappointed if a jury can’t reach a conclusion and a person walks out of the court with no punishment.”
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
To visit The Vindicator CLICK HERE

Monday, April 18, 2016

Watch my interview with WFMJ-TV

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV with Christa Lamendola regarding Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signing the medical marijuana bill into law.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 17, 2016

'Pay, Work or Jail'

Community service in lieu of incarceration not a cure-all
Debtors' prisons are back, according to UCLA Professor Noah Zatz in a Los Angeles Time op-ed. The criminal justice system creates debt with tickets for quality-of-life offenses, proliferating court fees and criminal fines. Justice will not be satisfied, however, if we simply replace debtors' prisons with debt peonage.
From the American Civil Liberties Union to the Department of Justice to the New York Times editorial page, would-be reformers are embracing the idea that mandatory “community service” could provide an alternative to debtors' prison. The basic idea is intuitive enough. Rather than jail someone who cannot pay a fine, why not allow him to “work off” the debt? Under this system, an unemployed or underemployed person works at a nonprofit or government agency in exchange for debt relief, not cash.
So what's the problem? The crucial point is that incarceration remains the consequence for not working to the court's satisfaction. That puts tremendous pressure on workers. And when “pay or jail” becomes “work or jail,” that choice arguably violates the Constitution's 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. Several early 20th century Supreme Court decisions struck down practices in the Jim Crow South that used the criminal justice system to impose a similar three-way choice of “pay, work or jail.”
The 1914 case United States vs. Reynolds comes closest to today's problems. Alabama selectively prosecuted and convicted African Americans for minor crimes, imposed fines they could not afford, threatened incarceration if they did not pay, and then offered a way out. A private employer would cover the fine if the defendant agreed to repay the employer through labor. If the worker later dared to quit, he could be prosecuted and convicted again. The court struck down this system that kept a defendant “chained to an ever-turning wheel of servitude to discharge the obligation.”
The dangers of abuse should be obvious when, as Reynolds noted, “[t]his labor is performed under the constant coercion and threat of another possible arrest and prosecution.” Employers gain tremendous power and no reason not to exploit it. Confining this power dynamic to the nonprofit or public sectors — as modern reformers typically propose — hardly eliminates the risk.
Beyond the right to quit, labor and employment laws ordinarily protect workers from exploitation, unsafe conditions or abuse. But by styling this work as “community service,” these programs attempt to bypass labor protections. In Los Angeles, upward of 100,000 workers each year perform court-ordered community service, often for hundreds of hours and in lieu of paying a fine. They must sign standard “contracts” declaring that they are volunteers, not employees, and therefore have no employment rights, including workers' compensation for on-the-job injuries.
A federal judge in New York ruled last year that workers in a related court-supervised work program had no claim to the minimum wage. There, too, unpaid work was offered as an “alternative to incarceration” for minor violations and to ensure that “[d]efendants who do not have money to make restitution should, when practical, pay for their offense through community service.”
 Even if community service workers received debt reductions based on the minimum wage, this still would be tantamount to seizing 100% of their earnings. That is contrary to federal standards that cap wage garnishment to preserve for workers some gain from their labor and some basis for their subsistence. Yet in Los Angeles and elsewhere, workers even have to pay a fee out of pocket for the privilege of working for free to stay out of jail. These fees go to the courthouse referral agency that assigns defendants to specific work sites.
One final problem: When the criminal justice system supplies agencies with free labor, they have every incentive to use it instead of hiring regular employees. New York's experiment with large-scale “workfare” in the 1990s — unpaid labor to maintain welfare benefits — is instructive. Not only did that effort subject workers to unsafe conditions and harassment, but it also allowed Rudolph Giuliani's administration to cut thousands of unionized public sector jobs by subbing in workfare workers.
Debt peonage may indeed be the lesser evil relative to debtors' prison. But why accept those choices? At issue are government-manufactured debts born in part of racial profiling and “broken windows” policing. Why not change the criminal justice practices that produce these debts? Moreover, debtors' inability to pay is born of unemployment and the degradation of jobs. Only by ignoring a failing labor market can we celebrate coerced, unpaid, unprotected work just because human caging is even worse.
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

GateHouse: Pennsylvania lawmakers target sex offenders, again

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 15, 2016

Pennsylvania has had an agonizing and embarrassing series of scandals involving sexual exploitation of children. The Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia; Penn State; and the indictment of Franciscan friars in western Pennsylvania have whipped the state legislature into a frenzy.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1947 is a byproduct of those frenzied lawmakers. The bill would treat future child sex-abuse crimes like murder, which can be prosecuted any time, by eliminating a recently expanded 32-year statute of limitation.

Traditionally, the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal prosecution of child sexual assault was five years after the victim’s 18th birthday. In 2002, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse was extended to 12 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. In 2007, the statute of limitations was extended again as part of a comprehensive package of statutes related to child abuse. As a result, Pennsylvania prosecutors have until the victim’s 50th birthday to file criminal charges for abuse that occurred before the victim turned 18. That would change, yet again, under the pending legislation.

The bill would also add 20 years to the 12-year civil statute of limitations for future cases. Such a change would allow child victims to file a civil suit until their 50th birthdays, up from their 30th under current law.

Therein lies the rub. If a lawmaker genuinely believes that sexual abuse of a child is equally heinous and akin to murder, then the families of murder victims should have an equal opportunity to file a civil lawsuit against the killer.

In Pennsylvania, the family of a murder victim has two years to pursue a wrongful death action. In the case of child sexual assault the victim would have — under the new legislation — 32 years to file suit after the victim’s 18th birthday.

That disparity is indicative of a knee-jerk response to a high profile series of cases and not a deliberative process to address evolving standards in the criminal justice system.

No one would advocate that a sexual predator should escape responsibility by way of a fortuitous passage of time. However, the statute of limitations plays an important and long-standing role in criminal and civil jurisprudence. The statute of limitations has been around since antiquity. As time passes, memory fades, witnesses die and evidence disappears. The statute of limitations protects individuals from facing charges under those hopeless circumstances. An extended period of time to seek civil redress is certainly appropriate. Young victims of sex abuse are often reluctant to come forward. A victim’s conduct after an assault often conflicts with what one would expect. Statistically, one in eight males is a victim of abuse and a child has to tell seven adults of suspected abuse before he or she is taken seriously.

Jerome Elam, a victim of child sexual abuse, suggested in The Washington Times that rates of suicide among male victims of childhood sexual abuse are 14 times higher than the norm and child victims are 38 times more likely to die from a drug overdose.

No analysis of this issue would be complete without also considering that sex offenders as a group have one of the lowest rates of recidivism of all crimes. According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012, “the observed sexual recidivism rates of sex offenders range from about 5 percent after three years to about 24 percent after 15 years.”

The proposed bill passed the state house by a vote of 180-15. This legislation may well be needed, but it deserves serious debate and it appears the fear of being labeled soft on sex offenders may have influenced the strong bipartisan support.

The bill now heads to the state senate with the hope that it will be given sober and deliberate consideration.

— 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.

To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, April 15, 2016

High Court to hear Fourth Amendment DUI refusal case

On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court, will hear the case of Bernard v. Minnesota, in which the man in question, William Bernard claims that the law in Minnesota that makes it a crime to refuse to take a chemical sobriety test — even if there’s no search warrant — violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unlawful search and seizure, reported the MinnPost.
That law has been on Minnesota’s books for 23 years. In considering whether to uphold it or strike it down, the high court could significantly impact roadside law enforcement procedure nationwide, and potentially set an important precedent about how broadly — or narrowly — Fourth Amendment protection may be cast.
At the center of Bernard’s case is a civil liberties defense: His team argues that a ruling in the state’s favor will further narrow the Fourth Amendment, favoring law enforcement at the expense of individuals.
In its petition, Bernard’s counsel argues that “a person’s body is entitled to the highest level of protection under the Fourth Amendment, not the lowest,” and disputes the state’s interpretation of post-arrest lawful searches as inclusive of breath, blood, or urine samples.

In a friend of the court brief filed in support of Bernard, the American Civil Liberties Union outlines the essence of the civil liberties defense. It argues that the Minnesota statute doesn’t criminalize drunk driving, but criminalizes “the assertion of a constitutional right.” Fundamentally, the ACLU argues, the government cannot make it a crime for an individual to assert protection under the Fourth Amendment.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Executions getting more and more difficult to carry out

In thirty-one American states, those convicted of especially heinous crimes can still face the death penalty, but it is getting harder to carry out the sentence, reported The Economist. Practicing states generally prefer to execute convicts by lethal injection—using one or several drugs to ensure a “humane” end to life. Drug manufacturers, however, would prefer their products not be used in judicial killing.
In 2011 Hospira, the sole US manufacturer of sodium thiopental (a barbiturate anaesthetic used almost universally by states for lethal injections) ceased production to prevent its use in executions. So began a series of efforts on the part of state governments to find alternative sources or new drugs before their supplies became exhausted. 
Several states have attempted to obtain drugs from abroad; in 2015, shipments to Nebraska, Arizona, and Texas were intercepted by the FDA, which maintains the imports are illegal. Other states have turned to compounding pharmacies: chemists who tailor-make drugs to fit individual patient's needs, but whose concoctions are not as consistent as manufactured drugs. Sixteen states have made it illegal to reveal the source of their drugs (to protect suppliers, among other reasons). The shortages are even encouraging some states to consider older, largely obsolete execution methods such as electrocution, the gas chamber, and firing squad as a backup. Utah passed the use of the latter back into law in 2015, having abolished it in 2004.
Virginia is the latest state to wrestle with the issue.  On March 28th its legislature passed a law allowing executions to proceed using the electric chair in the event of a drug shortage. . For those enforcing capital punishment, the search for a practical killing method continues.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Georgia executes man for killing neighbor

The 12th Execution of 2016
Georgia executed 47-year-old Kenneth Fults for the 1996 murder of his neighbor.
Fults was killed by lethal injection on April 12, 2016 at 7:37 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
There was no one in the execution chamber for Fults, so he had no final words for witnesses from the media and the state who had gathered. But he ended the prayer offered by the chaplain with, “Amen.”
A few minutes after the execution drugs had begun to flow, he twice looked at the IV inserted into his right arm. Moments later, his entire body shook for a few seconds. Then he was still. Fifteen minutes later he was pronounced dead.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Fults’ appeal for mercy nearly four hours before the scheduled execution hour of 7 p.m.
The rejection came even before Fults was given his last meal of steak, brown rice, baked potato and apple juice. Usually it is well past the scheduled execution hour when the Supreme Court decides last-minute appeals.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles turned downhis petition for clemency Monday night.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Fults’ asks the justices to stop his execution at least until after they have heard arguments in a non-capital Colorado case in which there were similar issues — jurors who allegedly held racist attitudes that went against the defendant. 
The Supreme Court agreed to hear in the fall an appeal by Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, who was convicted of attempted sexual assault on a child younger than 15. It was later learned that some of the jurors who convicted Pena-Rodriguez made derogatory comments about Mexicans.
In Fults’ case, a juror who voted for death used a racial slur in an affidavit he gave eight years after Fults’ trial.
Fults, a black man, pleaded guilty to murdering his white neighbor, 19-year-old Cathy Bounds, on Jan. 30, 1996, at the end of a weeklong crime spree in Griffin. Fults admitted he broke into several houses to steal guns so he could kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend.
Faced with the evidence, Fults pleaded guilty with the hope the jury would show mercy if he admitted to the crime and showed remorse.
Each prospective juror was asked if the differences in Fults’ and Bounds’ race would matter, and all those seated, including Thomas Buffington, said it would not.
But when an investigator working on Fults’ appeal interviewed Buffington eight years later, he gave a different answer, and confirmed it by repeating the racial slur in a written sworn statement.
“I don’t know if he (Fults) ever killed anybody, but that (slur) got just what should have happened,” Buffington, now dead, wrote. “Once he pled guilty, I knew I would vote for the death penalty because that’s what that (slur) deserved.”
The courts declined to hear that issue in Fults’ appeals, writing that it was too late and “procedurally barred.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cosby: Prosecutor bound by predecessor's promise not to prosecute

In a brief filed with the Pennsylvania Superior Court this week, Bill Cosby's attorneys said former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. had the authority to promise that Cosby would never be prosecuted for sexual assault allegations brought by Andrea Constand in 2005, reported The Legal Intelligencer. 
In addition, they argued that the District Attorney's Office had no valid reason for its 10-year delay in bringing charges against Cosby.
The brief said Cosby relied on Castor's promise when he testified in a civil case against him, which ended in a confidential settlement in 2006.
"As Mr. Castor testified, making such commitments is a common part of a district attorney's job," Cosby's appellate brief said. "A change in the person occupying the position of district attorney is of no moment."
After a two-day hearing surrounding the alleged nonprosecution promise, Judge Stephen T. O'Neill decided in February that the criminal case against Cosby could proceed. Cosby appealed O'Neill's decision, and the case was stayed while the appeal is pending.
Cosby's appellate brief said Castor's testimony "left no room for any conclusion other than that the commonwealth bound itself not to prosecute" Cosby.
Attorneys for Constand also testified at the hearing, as did a lawyer for who has represented Cosby for a number of years, but is not representing him in the criminal case.
O'Neill wrote in his one-page order that a credibility determination was inherent in the court's ruling.
Cosby's brief acknowledged that Castor testified that his promise not to prosecute was not a formal agreement in a contractual way. But that is not determinative, it said, because the elements of promissory estoppel are met.
"Even if the district attorney had failed to follow proper procedures in making his nonprosecution commitment or in granting immunity, the commonwealth cannot use its own errors to renege on its commitment," it said.
Cosby also argued that if there were any dispute over Castor's promise, the delay in bringing charges materially prejudiced Cosby. Castor told Walter Phillips, an attorney for Cosby in 2005, about his promise, it said, but Phillips is now deceased and cannot testify to the existence of that commitment.
When Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele announced the charges against Cosby in December, he noted that additional evidence that came about in July 2015 had played a role. At that time, information from Cosby's civil suit with Constand became available to the public, including portions of his deposition testimony in which he admitted obtaining prescription drugs in order to have sex with a woman.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, April 11, 2016

Jury nullification and prosecutorial discretion 'one and the same'

Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote in the Washington Post last week:
About the the need for a little more activism among jurors to counter the ever increasing authority of prosecutors. “Prosecutorial discretion,” is where a prosecutor decides not to bring or pursue charges against you because doing so would be unfair, even though the evidence is strong. Or it can happen through “jury nullification,” where a jury thinks that the evidence supports conviction but then decides to issue a “not guilty” verdict because it feels that a conviction would be unjust.
Strangely, the former is much less controversial than the latter. Prosecutorial discretion is regularly applied and generally regarded as a standard part of criminal justice. Its application may, on rare occasions, create controversy — such as when TV host David Gregory got a pass for what even the prosecutor called a “clear violation” of D.C. gun law when he displayed a high-capacity ammunition magazine on “Meet the Press” or when U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch invoked prosecutorial discretion as a reason for not pursuing charges against disgraced IRS employee Lois Lerner. But the concept of prosecutorial discretion is generally regarded as sound.
So-called jury nullification, on the other hand, gets far less respect. Though it is clearly within the power of juries to refuse to convict whenever they choose, judges and prosecutors tend to view this practice with hostility. They may not be able to stop juries from exercising their power, but they do their best to keep people from telling them that they have this option: Periodically, we see stories of people prosecuted for handing out jury nullification leaflets outside courthouses. Prosecutors in the District have even complained aboutbillboards telling potential jurors about jury nullification.
That may change, however, with New Hampshire’s new legislation requiring that juries be informed by the court that they may refuse to convict if they feel a conviction would yield an “unjust result.” The New Hampshire legislation is good, but in my opinion it doesn’t go far enough. Juries should be empowered to punish the prosecution when they feel the prosecution is abusive or malicious.
In today’s system, prosecutors hold almost all the cards. The prosecutor’s unreviewable decision whether to charge someone with a crime is, for all practical purposes, the most important part of the criminal justice system, yet it is a decision to which no due process attaches.
In a recent Columbia Law Review essay, titled “Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything Is A Crime,” I noted that “prosecutors count on the fact that when a defendant faces a hundred felony charges, the prospect that a jury might go along with even one of them will be enough to make a plea deal look attractive. Then, of course, there are the reputational damages involved, which may be of greatest importance precisely in cases where political motivations might be in play. Worse, prosecutors have no countervailing incentives not to overcharge. A defendant who makes the wrong choice will wind up in jail; a prosecutor who charges improperly will suffer little, if any, adverse consequence beyond a poor win/loss record. Prosecutors are even absolutely immune from lawsuits over misconduct in their prosecutorial capacity.”
So I think we should give prosecutors some skin in the game. Let juries be informed that they may refuse to convict if they think a conviction is unjust — and, if that happens, let the defendants’ attorney fees and other costs be billed to the government. Also, let juries be informed that, if they believe the prosecution itself was malicious or unfair, they can make that finding — in which case the defendants’ costs should come out of the prosecutor’s budget. (If you want to get even tougher, you could provide that the prosecutors involved should be disqualified from law practice for a year or stripped of their immunity from civil suit. But I’m not sure we need to go that far).
Over the past several decades there has been a massive shift of power toward prosecutors, the result of politics, over-criminalization, institutional leverage and judges’ failure to provide supervision. It’s time to redress the balance. Although it doesn’t go far enough, New Hampshire’s proposed legislation is an excellent start.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 10, 2016

FISA warrants increasingly being used in domestic criminal prosecutions

Over the past 15 years or so, the wall between U.S. intelligence officials and criminal prosecutors has fallen, making it easier for them to share information, especially to fight terrorism, reported the Washington Post. And under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), defendants are generally unable to effectively challenge the warrants that authorized the search or surveillance because they are not permitted to see them or the underlying application on national security grounds.
“There has, over the last decade-plus, been an erosion of the formerly bright line between foreign intelligence surveillance and investigation for criminal prosecution,” said Jennifer Daskal, a former official in the Justice Department’s national security division who teaches law at American University. 
In criminal ­cases, by contrast, a defendant and his attorneys are generally entitled to see an affidavit for a warrant and challenge the grounds for its issuance before a judge. Defendants wants to see warrants in their case so they can challenge warrants as based on false information and therefore invalid.
“The government is increasingly using national security tools to investigate domestic criminal ­cases, bypassing key constitutional protections,” said Patrick Toomey, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. “This problem is only compounded in the digital age, where the FBI is collecting vast amounts of our data for intelligence pur­poses but then goes sifting through all that information in unrelated criminal investigations.”
In a case in Philadelphia last year, for instance, the government used a FISA order to obtain evidence on a Temple University professor who they apparently suspected was sharing technology with China, but they indicted him on garden-variety wire fraud charges­ before eventually dropping the case. In an Iowa case, the government used a FISA order to gather information about a Chinese businessman suspected of stealing patented corn seeds from farm fields. In 2013, he was indicted on charges of theft of trade secrets. He pleaded guilty this year to one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets.
“The issue of the FISA warrant was the subject of an extensive pre­trial briefing and an order from the judge finding that the orders were lawfully issued and did not violate the defendant’s due process rights,” said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Justice Department officials added that Congress has always intended that information obtained through intelligence authorities could be used in criminal prosecutions. “It would be irresponsible for the government to ignore evidence of criminal wrongdoing when such evidence is lawfully collected,” said Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi.
“We’ve always cherished the right to confront and cross-examine our accusers and examine the evidence that’s used as the basis for a search of our homes,” said Mark J. Werksman. “And to be told, ‘We went in. We had good reasons. We’re not going to tell you why. Trust us,’ is alarming. Especially when the case becomes a run-of-the-mill criminal case.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 9, 2016

GateHouse: Kitty Genovese’s killer dies in New York prison

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 8, 2016

One of New York’s longest serving inmates, Winston Moseley, died at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. He was 81 years old when he died on March 28 — he had spent 52 years in prison.

Mosely, a psychopathic serial killer, may not be a familiar name to most Americans but his victim — Kitty Genovese — has become an iconic figure in criminal justice lore.

Initially, Genovese’s murder in 1964 generated little notoriety. Two weeks after her death the New York Times wrote an article that ignited international indignation.

Written by Times reporter Martin Gansberg, the article began “For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens (Queens).” Genovese was stabbed 14 times, raped and murdered.

The public outrage hit a boiling point when an unidentified neighbor was quoted in the article saying she did not call the police during the attack because, “I didn’t want to get involved.” Many saw the story of Genovese’s murder as a sign of moral decline and callousness of life in big cities, particularly New York City.

Psychologists and criminologists called the reluctance of witnesses to involve themselves the “bystander effect,” or the “Kitty Genovese syndrome.” Study after study uncovered the theory of “diffusion of responsibility” — people in crowds are less likely to step forward and help a victim.

The prevailing sentiment was that Genovese had been failed by her neighbors and the institutions in place in her community, her death set in motion efforts by officials to create a unified emergency response protocol.

“The 911 system grows more or less directly from the outcry from Kitty Genovese’s death,” wrote author Kevin Cook in his book, “Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime that Changed America.”

The Times article made Kitty Genovese an iconic figure in the research of crime and violence, but much of what we heard about the event — as with most legends — is exaggerated or simply not true.

Moseley’s obituary in the New York Times described the 1964 article about Genovese’s murder in this way, “The article grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. None saw the attack in its entirety. Only a few had glimpsed parts of it, or recognized the cries for help.”
The truth behind the Kitty Genovese case and the bystander effect, a 2007 article in the American Psychologist, acknowledges that the Genovese case “inspired a rich, persuasive evidence base for the phenomenon whereby being in a group can dilute people’s sense of individual responsibility.”

The harrowing idea that 38 witnesses did nothing has been debunked. After Moseley’s trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death, Assistant District Attorney Charles Skoller said “we only found about half a dozen (witnesses) that saw what was going on, that we could use.”

Some of those witnesses were unsure about what they were really observing. One witness said Genovese and her killer were “standing close together, not fighting or anything.”

None of the witnesses reported actually seeing the stabbing. Some of the apartment residents did intervene, in fact the murderer abandoned his first attack after one of the witnesses shouted at him. This led to the actual murder taking place inside a nearby building where none of the trial witnesses could see. A woman did go into the building’s vestibule and hold Genovese in her arms until police arrived.

There were 636 murders in New York City in 1964, yet the words of one neighbor — “I didn’t want to get involved” — still haunts us today. Genovese’s abandonment on the streets of Queens by her friends and neighbors may not have been exactly as described, but it still resonates with Americans whether they live in big cities or small towns.

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.

To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, April 8, 2016

Texas executes man convicted of killing 12 year old boy

The 11th Execution of 2016
When asked if he had a final statement before his lethal injection, Pablo Vasquez, 38, looked at some of the victim’s relatives and apologized, the Associated Press reported. He was executed on April 6, 2016.
“This is the only way that I can be forgiven,” he said, according to the AP. “You got your justice right here.”
Vasquez was convicted in 1999 of murdering David Cardenas, a 12-year-old boy. According to court records, Vasquez told police he had hit Cardenas in the head with a pipe and cut his throat. Vasquez also told police that he had heard voices telling him to drink the boy’s blood, these filings state.
Cardenas’s body was “mutilated after death” before being buried in a field, judges with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit wrote last year. In addition, they wrote that Vasquez took a gold ring and chain from the boy.
Vasquez’s attorneys had said in the past that he had an intellectual disability. In a filing last month, an attorney argued that Vasquez had shown that he was mentally ill, writing that Vasquez had told a detective about hearing voices urging him to kill the boy and “drink, drink” the boy’s blood.
In arguing for a stay, his attorneys said that Vasquez was denied a fair jury during his trial because qualified jurors were excused because they may have had feelings “against the death penalty” or “against judging others.”
The office of Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, dismissed the claims about the jury, saying that Vasquez did not establish that the jurors were “improperly excluded from jury service.”
Vasquez is the 11th inmate put to death in the United States this year. More than half of these have taken place in Texas.
Executions have declined nationwide in recent years amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs and legal challenges. Texas remains a persistent outlier. Since 2010, it has carried out at least 10 executions in each of the past five years; only one other state during that window carried out 10 executions in a single year (Missouri in 2014).
Vasquez’s application to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution was referred to the full court by Justice Clarence Thomas. The court declined the appeal without explanation Wednesday afternoon and there were no recorded dissents.
To read more CLICK HERE

Georgia executes man for 1994 murder

The 10th Execution of 2016
Georgia has executed Joshua Daniel Bishop for the 1994  murder of Leverett Morrison, the office of the Georgia attorney general announced.
Bishop, 41, was put to death by lethal injection at 9:27 p.m. on March 31, 2016 at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Butts County, reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The sentence was carried out shortly after the United States Supreme Court denied Bishop’s request for a stay of execution.
A possible reprieve from the nation’s highest court was all Bishop had left after the Georgia Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon declined to halt his execution. TheState Board of Pardons and Paroles also denied his plea for clemency Thursday.
The original execution hour of 7 p.m. came and went, as is the norm in death penalty cases.
During his final evening of life, Bishop ate all of his last meal: a barbecue sandwich, Brunswick stew, potato chips, coleslaw, lemonade and purple candy. He also received 13 visitors — a mixture of friends, clergy and legal reps — and recorded a final statement.
Bishop is the third man Georgia has executed this year. There is another lethal injection scheduled for April 12 — Kenneth Fults for murdering his neighbor in 1996.
Bishop was 19 when he and 36-year-old Mark Braxley murdered Morrison because they wanted the keys to his Jeep.
The three men had spent much of June 25, 1994, drinking at a local bar before they moved their party to Braxley’s trailer where they smoked crack.
Morrison, 35, was asleep but woke up when Bishop tried to fish his keys out of his pocket. Bishop and Braxley hit Morrison with a car battery and then beat him with a curtain rod until he was dead. They left his body between two dumpsters, set fire to his Jeep, and returned to Braxley’s trailer to clean the murder scene.
Then they went back to the bar to drink.
While Bishop confessed to killing Morrison — as well as a second murder investigators did not yet know about — he still went to trial and was ultimately sentenced to die. Braxley, however, pleaded guilty and is serving a sentence of life with parole.
The two were never tried on charges of killing Ricky Lee Wills on June 9, 1994, but evidence of Wills’ murder was used to secure a death sentence for Bishop. Bishop and Braxley said they killed Wills because he he’d had sexual contact with Bishop’s mother, who was a prostitute and drug and alcohol addict.\
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Executions on the rise worldwide, 1,634 reported in 2015

Worldwide use of the death penalty rose sharply last year, with 2015 tallying the highest number of executions in 25 years, according to a report released by Amnesty International. 
At least 1,634 people were executed last year, according to available data as well as executions corroborated by the international human rights groups, reported The Huffington Post..
The number, which is more than double the 2014 total, is a conservative estimate: Countries currently in conflict, like Syria, were not included since their data could not be corroborated, nor were specific numbers from China, where such data is considered a state secret. China alone is believed to carry out executions that annually number in the thousands. 
“The rise in executions last year is profoundly disturbing,” Amnesty International’s Secretary Salil Shetty said in a statement. “Not for the last 25 years have so many people been put to death by states around the world.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CDC leadership quashed gun violence research

For nearly two decades, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has devoted scant resources to the study of gun violence, even as fatal shootings claim more than 30,000 lives each year, according to The Atlantic.
That lack of research is attributed to language in a 1996 appropriations bill that the CDC, lawmakers, and the media interpret as blocking the agency from research on firearms deaths and injuries. That conventional wisdom is under assault from a growing chorus of dissenters, including former high-ranking agency officials. They assert that while Congress put constraints on the CDC, it did not ban the study of gun violence. Instead, they say, senior CDC brass made the choice to restrict gun research, rather than risk political retribution.
“It was the leadership of CDC who stopped the agency from doing gun violence research,” Mark Rosenberg, a founder of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the division of the agency responsible for its work on the subject, told The Trace.
“Right now, there is nothing stopping them from addressing this life-and-death national problem.” The CDC stopped issuing funding grants for external gun studies, which left many of the nation’s most well-regarded gun researchers scrounging for funds from foundations, or financing studies out of pocket. Today, less than $5 millin is spent each year on gun studies. A single HIV or cancer study can cost twice as much. CDC official Debra Houry says the only way for the agency to conduct meaningful firearms research is with the express backing of Congress, which it has not received. 

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Memphis murder rate twice that of Chicago for 1st quarter of 2016

By at least one measure, the homicide rate in Memphis this year is nearly twice that of Chicago, a town that is generating unwanted notoriety for its soaring number of killings, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Through the end of March in Memphis, 60 people had been killed in the violent first three months of the year. As of the latest U.S. Census estimate, the Memphis population stands at 656,861, for a homicide rate of 9.13 victims per 100,000 population.
Through the same period in Chicago, 151 people had been killed. As of the latest U.S. Census estimate, the Chicago population stands at 2,722,389, for a homicide rate of 5.55 victims per 100,000 population.
If the Memphis numbers continue rising at that rate for the rest of the year, the city would record more than 240 homicides, a tally that would obliterate the record of 213 set in 1993.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, April 4, 2016

Today marks 48 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  was assassinated 48 years ago today. He was murdered by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. King's tragic killing resulted in riots in many major cities across the county.  One city that did not riot was Indianapolis, IN.

On the evening of King's murder presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy--who would be dead in two months at the hand of an assassin--delivered the following impromptu eulogy for Rev. King. One of the great speeches in American history:

Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968
Indianapolis, IN

Ladies and Gentlemen: I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much.

To watch the speech CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 3, 2016 rated one of the top fifty criminal justice blogs in America

Top 50 Criminal Law Blogs
Criminal Justice Degree Schools have organized the best criminal law blogs on the Internet and ordered them based on popularity according to third party sources.* These blogs provide excellent commentary and insights into criminal law from the point of view of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and professors. You can also follow these blog authors on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest news in criminal law.

RankBlogPage AuthorityLinking SitesMoz RankPage RankDomain RankTwitter Name
1Sentencing Law and Policy741,0485.73660@SLandP
2White Collar Crime Prof Blog802265.61666@whitecollarprof
3CrimProf Blog781435.29666
4Lawrence Taylor’s DUI Blog544185.86654@taylorduilaw
5The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog557475.25450
6A Public Defender543565.56555
7Defending People574505.70455@MarkWBennett
8Crim Law581205.28656
9Crime & Consequences522715.24553
10The Wrongful Convictions Blog492365.23551@WrongConvBlog
11Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog451505.99547@guntrustlawyer
12Pardon Power511325.03553@PardonPower
13Gamso – For the Defense551085.37456
15Koehler Law461325.38451@jamisonkoehler
16Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center50605.14451
17The Defense Rests50895.04449@PaulBKennedy
18Crime in the Suites45764.97453
19Probable Cause411215.33448@RickHorowitz
20Tempe Criminal Defense43585.30446@mattbrownaz
21Life Sentences Blog41284.77455@MichaelOHear
22Not Guilty40355.32446@mirriam71
23Birmingham Criminal Defense Blog40844.81448@lawyerinalabama
25Minnesota DWI Defense411044.77445@ChuckRamsay
26Idaho Criminal Defense Blog41814.63355
27Nashville Criminal Law Report40754.82443@robmckinney
28Pennsylvania DUI Blog40835.28348@JustinMcShane
29Prosecutor’s Discretion45134.92439@ProsDiscretion
30Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog40525.40346@AltmanandAltman
31New York Criminal Defense Attorney Blog35125.06445@msiesel
32Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog41814.94348@RobertSGuest
33California Criminal Lawyer Blog38454.46446
34DUI News Blog32404.66446
35Matt Mangino38673.91445@MatthewTMangino

*The order of this list of top criminal law blogs was determined based on website metrics including Page Authority, number of websites linking to the blog, MozRank, Google PageRank, and Domain Rank. The data is taken from third party sources including, Google, and

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