Sunday, June 25, 2017

Police vehicle pursuits have killed nearly a person a day for 20 years

Between 1996 and 2015, police vehicle pursuits resulted in more than 6,000 fatal crashes, says the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics (BJS) reported The Crime Report.
These crashes resulted in more than 7,000 deaths, an average of 355 per year (about one per day). Fatalities peaked in 2006 and 2007, with more than 400 deaths each year. USA Today, also drawing from federal highway data over a much longer period, has reported that at least 11,506 people, including 6,300 fleeing suspects, were killed in police chases from 1979 through 2013. 
The newspaper said those figures likely understate the actual death toll because federal officials use police reports to determine if a crash was chase-related, and some reports do not disclose that a chase occurred.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GateHouse: Convictions in police shootings rare

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
June 23, 2017
Last month, former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights by shooting him with no justification.
Last month, former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights by shooting him with no justification.
Slager pulled over Scott in 2015, due to a broken taillight. Scott ran from the traffic stop. He was videotaped being shot five times in the back.
Slager’s case is unusual. First, he was prosecuted and second he was convicted.
“Most police shootings are found to be legally justified,” Philip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, told the New York Times.
“Under the relevant Supreme Court case law,” Stinson said, “if an officer has a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or deadly force being imposed against the officer or somebody else, then they’re justified in using deadly force.”
The Supreme Court case is Graham v. Connor. In 1989, the high court ruled the “use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” The court gave deference to the police who are forced to make split-second decisions in “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving” situations.
Maybe that’s why a jury last week acquitted a Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, whose girlfriend livestreamed the moments after the shooting on Facebook.
This week, jurors acquitted a black police officer of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of a black Milwaukee man who threw away the gun he was carrying during a brief foot chase after a traffic stop.
In Cincinnati, a jury is scheduled to deliberate today for the fifth day in the second trial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. He shot Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man, during a 2015 traffic stop. The first trial in November ended with a hung jury.
In most instances, a homicide conviction requires prosecutors to establish the suspect’s intent. When that suspect is a police officer, the issue of intent becomes murky. Police officers are often confronted in a flash with difficult life threatening decisions.
In Tensing’s trials, both sides called use-of-force experts and other witnesses to testify about police training, reported CBS News. The prosecution said Tensing could have de-escalated the situation and did not need to shoot. Defense witnesses said officers are trained to “stop the threat” if they believe they are in danger.
Tensing testified in both trials, “I didn’t shoot to kill him. I didn’t shoot to wound him. I shot to stop his actions.”
According to the Washington Post, 963 men and women were shot and killed by police in 2016. So far in 2017, the number is 460. Few of those officer-involved shootings result in arrest and only about one in five officers arrested are ever convicted.
Professor Stinson told The Associated Press, “Juries and judges seem reluctant to second-guess the split-second life or death decisions of police officers in violent street encounters in the course of their job ... and will give the benefit of every doubt to an officer on trial in these cases. That is not so for other types of crimes by police officers, but it certainly is the case in these shooting cases.”
While there is a recent surge in officers charged with murder or manslaughter for shooting suspects, it’s too early to tell if the upswing is the beginning of a trend. Stinson believes newer technology like cell phone video and police body cameras have produced a “tipping point,” leading the public to take a more critical view of the police’s version of events.
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE


Friday, June 23, 2017

PA looks to make animal cruelty a felony

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed an overhaul of the state’s animal abuse statutes restricting tethering and strengthen abuse penalties.
The bill by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, makes five major changes to current Pennsylvania animal abuse laws, Humane Society Pennsylvania director Kristen Tullo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The bill is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.
Under current state law, Tullo said there are no mandatory forfeiture laws for those who are convicted of abuse. There are also currently no statewide tethering regulations. Horses are not awarded the same protections as dogs and cats, and extreme animal abuse is not a felony charge. And vets and humane society officers can currently be sued for reporting cases of animal abuse.
This would all change under House Bill 1238: Convicted abusers would have to forfeit their animals; tethers would need to be triple the length of a dog’s body and dogs could only be tethered for nine hours before a mandatory 30-minute break; horse abuse convictions would result in a misdemeanor charge; heinous animal abuse would result in felony charges; and vets and humane society officers would be granted civil immunity, granting them the freedom to report cases of abuse without fearing legal ramifications.
“We really are thankful for the Pennsylvania General Assembly for their action to see this through to law,” Tullo said.
The law protects not only animals, but also citizens, Stephens wrote in his memo on the bill, citing a 2014 study from the National District Attorneys Association, which shows links between animal abuse and future abuse of humans.
“I am proud to be a long-time supporter of Libre’s Law and eager to sign the bipartisan, comprehensive House Bill 1238 into law,” Wolf said in a statement. “I applaud the sponsors and advocates who have fought for too long to improve Pennsylvania’s protections for animals.”
He continued, “Pennsyl­vania is only one of three states that does not have a felony statute for severe animal abuse. We are long overdue to join the rest of the country in having higher standards of care for our pets and other animals.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can malicious speech constitute violence? A Massachusetts court says yes

Robby Soave an associate editor at Reason magazine asked in the New York Times, can malicious speech constitute violence? No, but a recent court decision which found Michelle Carter guilty of sending lethal text messages — is bound to confuse the issue.
Judge Lawrence Moniz, of Bristol County Juvenile Court in southeastern Massachusetts, ruled that Ms. Carter, 17 at the time of her crime, had committed involuntary manslaughter by urging her depressed 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself. Mr. Roy had flirted with the idea for weeks, and Ms. Carter — after initially telling him to seek counseling — seemed to warm to the idea, consistently egging him on via text: “The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it! You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe.”
On July 12, 2014, Mr. Roy drove to a Kmart parking lot and connected his truck to a water pump that released carbon monoxide. At one point, sick from the fumes, he got out of the truck. Ms. Carter told him to “get back in.” His body was found on July 13.
Ms. Carter also struggled with mental illness. Her lawyers claimed antidepressant drugs influenced her behavior; though the prosecution preferred to cast her as a callous narcissist who craved the sympathy of her peers and believed a suicidal boyfriend would earn her a popularity boost.
In either case, Ms. Carter’s conduct was morally reprehensible. But — at least until today’s ruling — it was clearly legal. While some states criminalize the act of convincing people to commit suicide, Massachusetts has no such law. Moreover, speech that is reckless, hateful and ill-willed nevertheless enjoys First Amendment protection. While the Supreme Court has carved out narrowly tailored exceptions for literal threats of violence and incitement to lawless action, telling someone they should kill themselves is not the same as holding a gun to their head and pulling the trigger. Nor is it akin to threatening to kill the president, which is specifically prohibited by law — and in any case, only considered a felony if done ”knowingly and willfully.” (Merely expressing hope that the president dies isn’t enough.)
Judge Moniz’s verdict is a stunning act of defiance against this general principle. By finding Ms. Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter — rather than some lesser misdeed, such as bullying or harassment — the court has dealt a blow to the constitutionally enshrined idea that speech is not, itself, violence. That’s cause for concern.
“Mr. Roy’s death is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution,” wrote Matthew Segel, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement. “The implications of this conviction go far beyond the tragic circumstances of Mr. Roy’s death. If allowed to stand, Ms. Carter’s conviction could chill important and worthwhile end-of-life discussions between loved ones across the Commonwealth.”
This one-off decision in juvenile court may not sway legal precedent. But it will undoubtedly draw the attention of school officials and police officers in the state of Massachusetts and negatively affect an area of the law already suffering from authoritarian governmental overreach: teen discipline.
For decades, efforts have been underway to criminalize every obnoxious or problematic social interaction between K-12 kids in American schools. Hardly a week passes without a national news story about teenagers who were arrested on child pornography charges — and face unfathomably long prison sentences — because they had inappropriate pictures of classmates (or even themselves) on their phones. In Iowa, in June 2016, authorities tried to brand a 14-year-old girl as a sex offender for Snapchatting while wearing a sports bra and boy shorts. The following month, Minnesota police officers busted a 17-year-old for swapping consensual sexts with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Such matters should be handled by parents and teachers, not the cops. The same is true for the various issues that plagued Ms. Carter and Mr. Roy.
By all means, let’s empower teachers to confront harassment and refer troubled teenagers to mental health professionals. But we don’t need to broadly criminalize teen cruelty to do that. Nor should we continue down the path of pretending that the First Amendment’s ironclad protection of hateful expression is voided whenever someone says (or texts) something that makes us squirm.
What Ms. Carter said to Mr. Roy was outrageous. Sending her to prison on a possible 20-year sentence is both outrageous and unjust.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

PA Supreme Court permits access to police videos

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled the public should have access to dash camera video footage unless the police agency can prove it amounts to criminal investigative material and may be redacted, reported the Associated Press.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in favor of a lower-court decision granting access to video shot by the dash cameras of two state troopers’ vehicles as they responded to a 2014 crash near State College. The majority says police vehicle recordings, as a general rule, are not exempt from public disclosure.
The state police had argued the recordings always contain criminal investigative material, but Justice Kevin Dougherty wrote that such determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis.
In the dispute before the court, he said, the video showed troopers investigating the crash scene and talking to the drivers and bystanders.
The decision said the only part of the recordings that is potentially investigative was the audio from witness interviews — portions that had been ordered redacted by a lower court.
“PSP simply does not explain how the video portion of the (recordings) captured any criminal investigation,” Dougherty wrote.
State police had argued the videos should be exempt under the Right-to-Know Law and a state law limiting access to criminal records. An agency spokesman said the case was under review.
The state associations of county commissioners and township supervisors had supported the state police’s position, arguing the response to a traffic crash made the recordings investigative in nature.
The requester, Michelle Grove, wanted videos taken after a crash in Potters Mills, about 15 miles east of State College. One driver was cited for not wearing a seatbelt and the other for failing to yield.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Police Chief: Open-carry law makes our job harder

Columbia, SC Police Chief Skip Holbrook writes in the Columbia State, Violent crime is on the rise in many large cities. Columbia is not immune. Targeted attacks on law enforcement (Dallas, Baton Rouge) and a rise in line-of-duty deaths have further complicated an incredibly stressful and dangerous job.
It’s against this backdrop that the S.C. House passed a bill to make it legal for people to openly carry handguns in the state, with certain location exceptions. The bill won’t become law this year, but it will be front and center when lawmakers return to Columbia in January, and we need to understand its implications.
The right to bear arms is fundamental to our democracy, but the sale, purchase, ownership and carrying of guns comes with great responsibility and use of common sense, and I firmly believe an open-carry law will significantly complicate police interactions with citizens, resulting in many unintended consequences. Open-carry law or not, when citizens see someone with a gun, they will call the police. When responding to “person with a gun” calls, officers have few details to help them quickly determine an armed individual’s intent and whether that person poses a threat to public safety or the individual.
No doubt, we would encounter many innocent, law-abiding people who were armed in compliance with an open carry law. But some will be violent criminals, perhaps even gang members, who don’t yet have a felony on their record that prohibits them from possessing weapons. Also let’s not forget the numerous and frequent protests, demonstrations and marches in our city.
Open carry could make it extraordinarily difficult for police to protect those exercising their right to assemble and protest peacefully. There is no denying that easily accessible firearms add fuel to already emotionally charged situations, which too often results in tragedy.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 19, 2017

Should Bill Cosby be tried again?

Pennsylvania judge declared a mistrial Saturday in the case against Bill Cosby after a jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision, an inconclusive finale to one of the most high-profile sexual assault cases in years.
Cosby was charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault in an incident involving former Temple University basketball staffer Andrea Constand at his home in suburban Philadelphia in 2004.
Over the last 10 days, jurors heard the entertainer's defense that the encounter was consensual, while Constand, taking the stand and facing Cosby for the first time, testified that Cosby drugged her and robbed her of the ability to consent.
The split of the jurors remains unknown. Jurors were not polled on the reason for their deadlock or the split among them, and their names remain sealed.
Before dismissing the jurors, O’Neill encouraged them not to speak to reporters about the details of their deliberations, which he said could impact any retrial.
Had he been found guilty, Cosby, 79, would have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison on each count.
Prosecutors said immediately they would retry the case, and Judge Steve T. O’Neill said he would try to schedule a new trial within 120 days.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mangino talks obstruction of justice on WFMJ-TV21

Watch my interview regarding the Trump obstruction of justice investigation and the Bill Cosby mistrial on Weekend Today on WFMJ-TV21.  To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GateHouse: The irony of an expanding obstruction probe

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
June 16, 2017
A grim pall hangs over the White House. As the Russian investigation evolves into a probe of obstruction of justice by the president of the United States the irony seems lost on Donald Trump.
A grim pall hangs over the White House. As the Russian investigation evolves into a probe of obstruction of justice by the president of the United States the irony seems lost on Donald Trump.
This week the Washington Post and New York Times, both reported that the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking interviews with current, and recently resigned intelligence officials.
Questions have been raised about whether Trump sought the help of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, to derail the FBI investigation led by former FBI Director James Comey.
To date, the penultimate White House scandal is Watergate. Then President Richard Nixon had incriminating audio recordings that he refused to turn over to the independent counsel Archibald Cox. He fired Cox in an effort to curtail the investigation. The tapes led in part to Nixon’s resignation.
President Trump has talked of tapes that could refute the allegation that he tried to influence Comey before he fired him. In fact, Trump used the threat of tapes to try and muzzle Comey. However, instead of providing those tapes to congress or the public they remain unheard, unseen, unverified. The lack of tapes could lead to a host of unfortunate scenarios for the president.
Nixon was the poster child for the adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Now 43 years later, Trump -- and America -- may have to learn that lesson all over again.
Unfortunately, the irony and significance of history seems to hold little sway with President Trump. This is a president that thinks the Civil War could have been avoided if the country would have listened to President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the war began. He also spoke of Frederick Douglass as though he were still alive, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Douglas has been dead for 123 years.
The evidence of a cover-up continues to mount. Trump has admitted the Russia investigation motivated him to fire Comey; Trump asked Comey to end the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; Trump’s not-so-veiled threat to Comey about possible tapes of their conversations; Trump demanded that Comey pledge loyalty to him; and now the revelations that Trump may have enlisted other administration officials to influence Comey.
Consider Dana Milbank’s commentary in the Washington Post summing up Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey’s account of why he wrote extensive, real-time notes of his conversations with President Trump. “The nature of the person,” Comey explained, “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”
Here is the real irony as Milbank continued:
Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, “that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States.”
Hamilton, a man who lived in turbulent political times -- he was killed in a duel with the sitting vice-president -- could not fathom America in its current predicament.
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, June 16, 2017

Can students be searched?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees people’s right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and a series of court decisions has laid the groundwork for interpreting what “unreasonable” means when it comes to minors on school grounds, reported the New York Times.
A key question is whether school administrators have more leeway than law enforcement in deciding whether to search students, said Richard S. Vacca, a senior fellow with the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“School folks can’t be deliberately indifferent to something that could be harmful, dangerous or disruptive. They’ve got to do something,” he said. “But how far can they go?”
One influential decision on the subject came from the Supreme Court more than three decades ago. In 1980, a high school student’s purse was searched by a vice principal after she had been accused of smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. The administrator found evidence that she was selling marijuana.
The student took issue with the search, and her case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which decided in 1985 that the search was “not unreasonable.” Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote in an opinion that “students within the school environment have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the population generally.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mueller probe now includes investigation of president for obstruction of justice

President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey to squelch the investigation of Russian interference has made Trump a target of Mueller investigations, reported the Washington Post.
What started as a probe of Russian interference of the 2016 election turned into a special counsel-led investigation of whether Trump associates colluded with Russia. Now the inquiry is reportedly examining whether Trump himself tried to obstruct justice — a development that became public on the night of Trump's 71st birthday, according to Politico.
The Washington Post and New York Times, citing sources, both reported on Wednesday night that the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking interviews with current and recently resigned top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers.
Questions have been raised about whether Trump sought their help in squelching the FBI investigation led by Comey, who was fired by Trump last month. Coats and Rogers declined to answer questions about their interactions with the president on the Russia subject during a Senate hearing last week.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Parole board member resigns over disturbing conduct at parole interviews

Donald Ruzicka, who recently faced scrutiny for playing games involving inmates at parole hearings, submitted his resignation from the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Board Chairman Kenneth C. Jones accepted the resignation, according to a news release.
“The parole board plays an important role in the public safety of Missouri communities by having the authority to grant parole or conditional release to offenders incarcerated in Missouri prisons,” Jones said in the statement.
“Members of the board must be held to a higher standard in order to do the work that is requested of them to ensure that all parties involved are equally heard during the hearing process before a final decision is made.”
Last week, a human rights law firm called on Republican Gov. Eric Greitens to remove Ruzicka from the board for toying with inmates during hearings.
A previously undisclosed state investigation found that Ruzicka and an unidentified Department of Corrections employee entertained themselves at some parole hearings by trying to get inmates to say words and song titles such as “platypus” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.”
They even kept score, according to corrections department Inspector General Amy Roderick’s report. Her report concluded that Ruzicka and the employee who attended parole hearings violated a governor’s executive order and other procedures by failing to conduct state government in a manner that “inspires confidence and trust.”
“The reports of Mr. Ruzicka’s actions were disturbing,” Greitens said in a prepared statement. “Playing games at parole board hearings is unacceptable behavior. I’m grateful to Board Chairman Kenny Jones and Director Anne Precythe for their leadership. Our criminal justice system must keep people safe and protect the dignity of all Missourians.”
Precythe, the new director of the corrections department, wouldn’t comment last week about when she first heard of the inspector general report.
The Nov. 1 report wasn’t publicized until Thursday, when the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis released it.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sessions to testify before Senate Intelligence Committee today at 2:30 p.m

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is likely to step into a legal minefield today when he answers questions under oath before the Senate intelligence committee about his contacts with Russian officials and his role in the firing of the FBI director, James Comey, reports The Guardian.
What Sessions tells the committee could in turn affect the legal jeopardy of Donald Trump, who has also said he is willing to speak about his interactions with Comey under oath, although he did not indicate in what forum.
The attorney general - who failed to inform the Senate about his meetings with Russian officials in his confirmation hearings - will face particularly tough questioning from the senators over his apparent role in Comey’s dismissal.
One White House version of events said that Trump fired the FBI director on 9 May after concerns over his performance were raised by Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. But Sessions had previously recused himself from matters connected to the Russia investigation, and Comey was overseeing that investigation.
Furthermore, Trump said in a television interview and in an Oval Office conversation with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador the day after Comey’s dismissal that the decision to fire him was linked to that investigation.
“Recommending Director Comey’s firing would seem to be a violation of his recusal, and Attorney General Sessions needs to answer for that,” the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement after Sessions’ Senate appearance was confirmed on Monday.
Sessions will be appearing before the intelligence committee five days after Comey’s testimony raised new questions about the attorney general’s role. After Comey’s appearance on Thursday, the justice department put out a statement contradicting the ousted FBI director’s account of an appeal he made to Sessions to make sure he was not left alone with the Trump, who Comey believed was pressuring him to curb the scope of the investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin representatives.
Comey said Sessions did not respond to that appeal. The justice department described the conversation very differently. “Mr Comey said, following a morning threat briefing, that he wanted to ensure he and his FBI staff were following proper communications protocol with the White House,” the statement said.
It insisted that the “attorney general was not silent; he responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and department of justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House."
To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, June 12, 2017

California Supreme Court to review referendum to streamline death penalty

The California Supreme Court is considering whether a voter-approved initiative that seeks to streamline the death penalty process is unconstitutional, reported Capital Public Radio.
Ron Briggs, a former El Dorado County Supervisor and former death penalty proponent, is suing the state in hopes of blocking Proposition 66. He says capital punishment is not an effective crime deterrent, costs the state billions of dollars and is unconstitutional.
Justices spent a lot of time during oral arguments questioning a provision that requires death penalty appeals to be heard within five years. Right now appeals can take decades.
Plantiffs are arguing that mandate is simply not possible, while proponents counter the Supreme Court should give the measure a chance to work.
Elizabeth Semel, a UC Berkeley School of Law professor, directs the University's Death Penalty Clinic. She says there is a question of whether the proposition violates the state's separation of powers by taking away court authority.
She also says it's an important case to watch because it could affect the administration of justice.
"Because of the insistence under this initiative that cases be decided on what can only be called a rocket docket — that is at exponential speed — the court will have to crowd out decision making about many other important cases."
Prop 66 supporters say the lawsuit is frivolous and a slap in the face to the voters of California.
California’s capital punishment process has been mired in court challenges over lethal injection drugs and procedures. The state last executed a death row inmate in 2006.
The justices have 90 days to issue their ruling.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Comey on the president: 'The nature of the person'

Consider Dana Milbank’s commentary in the Washington Post summing up James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey’s account of why he wrote extensive, real-time notes of his conversations with President Trump. “The nature of the person,” Comey explained in part. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”

The nature of the person.

This was the essence of Comey’s testimony: that the president of the United States is at his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man. It was judgment on character, not a legal opinion, and even Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee made no real attempt to dispel it.
By itself, it’s neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor for a president to be dishonorable. But it’s a stain on the country, and it defines this moment. This is why Trump can’t get legislation through Congress and can’t get allies to cooperate, and why so many worry that he will disregard constitutional restraints. The president is not to be trusted.
The Founders did not anticipate this, a defect not just of private misconduct (which we’ve seen before) but of public character. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”
To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, June 10, 2017

GateHouse: The enormous cost of civil commitments

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
June 9, 2017
Earlier this year, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a Minnesota law that provided for the indefinite detention of sex offenders after completion of their prison sentences.
U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank wrote that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program violated the due process rights of the people it involuntarily detained in prison. The Eighth Circuit disagreed.
Pennsylvania currently has eight men locked-up who have served their complete sentence for a crime committed years ago. These men are sex offenders. They are sexually violent predators, as determined by a civil court, and are being detained indefinitely. Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that provide for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous offenders. There are more than 3,600 men, and some women, committed or detained across the country.
There are 231 sex offenders currently being held indefinitely in New York, who have also completed their criminal sentences. Civil commitment is not new. The procedure has been used for decades with regard to the mentally ill and those with highly contagious diseases. More recently it has been applied to sex offenders with a diagnosable mental abnormality with likelihood to re-offend.
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court found that civil commitments were an appropriate state action. In Kansas v. Hendricks, the high court upheld the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The court found that the statute violated neither the double jeopardy clause, punishing an offender for the same crime twice, or ex post facto, punishment through a law applied retroactively.
In 2006, the federal government entered into the civil commitment business. Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which gave the federal government authority to seek civil commitment of “sexually dangerous persons” already held in its custody. That authority, in turn, allowed the government to seek to have individuals who are either completing federal prison sentences, or incompetent to stand trial, remain in federal custody indefinitely as a result of their “sexually dangerous” status. In order to secure the continued detention of an individual completing his sentence, the government must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the individual “is a sexually dangerous person.” If the federal government can prove that, the individual is committed without a specific period of detention, possibly for life.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Comstock, held that the government has authority, under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the U.S. Constitution, to require the civil commitment of individuals already in federal custody who are deemed dangerous.
There are few advocates for sex offenders, particularly those offenders who have been classified as still dangerous. It’s easy and even comforting to take a “throw away the key” position. Under New York’s law, state mental-health officials evaluate sex offenders to determine if they have a mental abnormality that makes them likely to re-commit sex crimes, reported The Journal News. The state Attorney General’s Office prosecutes the offenders, who are represented by the state Mental Hygiene Legal Service and public defenders.
However, much of what happens is shrouded in mystery because of the the limited public information about who is confined.
In addition the cost is enormous, New York is spending $65 million per year, or $175,000 to confine each person. For that kind of money, there should be a more thorough vetting process and a transparent proceeding for committing and keeping an offender who has already served his time.
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE


Friday, June 9, 2017

Alabama carries out execution by lethal injection

The 13th Execution of 2017
Alabama put Robert Melson to death by lethal injection at 10:27 p.m. local time on June 8, 2017 at the death chamber in Atmore. It was the second execution in Alabama in 2017, reported Reuters.
Melson made no last statement and there were no complications with the execution, prison spokesman Bob Horton said.
Melson was convicted of murdering James Nathaniel Baker, 17, Darryl Collier, 23 and Tamika Collins, 18, during a robbery at a fried chicken fast food restaurant in Gadsden, about 115 miles northwest of Montgomery.
"It is my prayer that, with tonight’s events, the victims’ families can finally have closure," Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.
As the restaurant was closing at about midnight, Melson and another robber forced four employees to remove cash from the restaurant safe and then ordered them into a freezer, court documents said.
Melson fatally shot three of the workers while the fourth, Bryant Archer, was shot multiple times but survived, the documents said.
Archer identified one of the robbers as Cuhuatemoc Peraita, a former employee at the restaurant, but did not know the shooter, they said. Police later linked Melson to Peraita, who was 17 at the time of the killings and too young to be executed under U.S. law.
Peraita was sentenced to life without parole. While in prison, he killed another inmate and currently is on death row, according to court records.
Lawyers for Melson tried to halt his execution, arguing a drug in the state's lethal injection has been linked to troubled executions in Alabama, Arizona and Oklahoma, where inmates could be seen twisting on death chamber gurneys. They said its use violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ninety-one percent of cop-killers get life or death penalty, GOP wants law to be tougher

After a rise in the number of police officers murdered last year, the Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress are pushing for tougher punishments for those convicted of killing police, including the death penalty, reported the Wall Street Journal.
This seems like another instance where politicians can flex their “tough on crime” muscles and implement something that will be big news, but have little impact.
In Pennsylvania, as in most states, killing a police officer is a factor in seeking the death penalty.
The push to boost punishment for cop-killers ignores the fact that 91 percent of those defendants in the past five years already were sentenced to death or life in prison, for their crimes. Either that or they were killed in the incidents in which they took an officer’s life.
Those who kill police officers are not treated leniently, and rightfully so.  Don’t use their heroic deaths to gain some political points.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Americans are safer today than at anytime in the past 25 years

Concerns about a national crime wave are premature
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are safer today than they have been at almost any time in the past 25 years.
Based on new year-end data collected from police departments in the 30 largest cities, crime in 2016 remained at historic lows across the country. Although there are some troubling increases in murder in specific cities, these trends do not signal the start of a new national crime wave. What’s more startling, this analysis finds that the increase in murders is even more concentrated than initially expected. Chicago now accounts for more than 55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders — up from an earlier projection of 43.7 percent.
Final Year-End Findings:
The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2016 remained largely unchanged from last year. Specifically, overall crime rose by 0.9 percent, essentially remaining stable.
The murder rate rose in this group of cities last year by 13.1 percent.  
Alarmingly, Chicago accounted for 55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders — more than preliminary data suggested.
A similar phenomenon occurred in 2015, when three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for more than half (53.5 percent) of the increase in murders.
Some cities are experiencing an increase in murder while other forms of crime remain relatively low. Concerns about a national crime wave are premature, but these trends suggest a need to understand how and why murder is increasing in these cities.
Violent crime rates rose slightly. The 4.2 percent increase was driven by Chicago (16.5 percent) and Baltimore (18.6 percent). Violent crime still remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.
The Brennan Center’s previous analysis of crime in 2016 is available here, and a previous report studying crime trends from 1990 to 2016 is available here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Supreme Court: Does access to company stored cell phone records violate rights of customer?

There was enormously important Fourth Amendment news from the Supreme Court, according to Orin Kerr of the Washington Post. The justices agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit’s decision in Carpenter v. United States, one of the long-pending cases on whether the Fourth Amendment protects government access to historical cell-site records.
This is a momentous development, I think. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the future of surveillance law hinges on how the Supreme Court rules in the case. Let me say a bit about the case, the issues it will decide and why it matters.
Here is how counsel for the petitioner framed the “question presented”:
Whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment.
And here’s how the United States redrafted the question presented in its brief in opposition:
Whether the government’s acquisition, pursuant to a court order issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), of historical cell-site records created and maintained by a cellular-service provider violates the Fourth Amendment rights of the individual customer to whom the records pertain.
I gather, then, that the case will consider two distinct questions. First, is the collection of the records a Fourth Amendment search? And second, if it is a search, is it a search that requires a warrant?
Notably, neither side sought review of whether the good-faith exception applies if the answer to both of these questions is “yes.” The parties are asking only for a ruling on the merits, with any remedies decision bifurcated for review on remand if the Supreme Court reverses.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 5, 2017

Live stream crime: Kitty Genovese Syndrome on steroids

The rape itself was horrific enough. In March, half a dozen boys and young men lured a 15-year-old girl to a house in Chicago and sexually assaulted her there, brutally and repeatedly. But what made this episode singularly appalling was the attackers’ streaming their crime on Facebook Live. From a count posted with the video, investigators deduced that about 40 people watched in real time. Yet not one of the viewers bothered to summon the authorities.
What happened in Chicago may trigger a sense of déjà vu in older Americans who readily recognize the name Kitty Genovese, reported the New York Times. It is more than half a century — long before the advent of Facebook and other forms of social media — since Ms. Genovese was murdered in Kew Gardens, Queens. But as recalled in this final offering in the current series of Retro Report, she endures as a symbol of bystanders’ refusal to get involved, even as a terrible wrong is being committed in front of them and the victim’s desperation is evident.
Retro Report, a series of video documentaries examining major news stories of the past and their continued resonance, harks back to the March night in 1964 when a psychopath named Winston Moseley stalked Catherine Genovese, 28, as she headed home from her job as a bar manager. In two separate attacks, he stabbed her at least 14 times and raped her.
The number of people believed to have witnessed that nightmare was strikingly similar to that of the video-recorded rape in Chicago. A seminal New York Times article said that 38 of Ms. Genovese’s neighbors had watched as the killer went after her and had heard her cry for help. But not one of them called the police.
Later investigations showed that version to have been a gross exaggeration. True, some people ignored the mortally wounded woman’s pleas. But only a few, it turned out, had a clear sense of what was happening, or glimpsed the attacks as they occurred. Many thought the street screams had come from drunks or perhaps quarreling lovers. And two people did in fact phone the police, though not in time to save Ms. Genovese.
(Mr. Moseley, captured five days later during a burglary, confessed to that homicide and to killing two other Queens women. He died last year at 81, having spent his last 52 years in prison.)
But the story of 38 people coldly ignoring a murder beneath their windows had a life of its own. It became emblematic of big-city apathy. The terms “bystander effect” and “Kitty Genovese syndrome” entered the language.
As Retro Report notes, two social psychologists in New York, John M. Darley and Bibb Latané, conducted experiments that led them to posit that Ms. Genovese might have survived had there been fewer witnesses. Numbers can inhibit action, they concluded. “You think that if there are many people who are witness to something that other people certainly already have done something — why should it be me?” Dr. Latané said.
A 2015 article in The Wisconsin Law Review cited studies showing that most instances of school bullying are witnessed by other students and that in nearly one-third of reported sexual assaults, third parties are present.
But for some people it doesn’t take a crowd to do nothing. An infamous case was the 1997 murder of Sherrice Iverson, a 7-year-old girl who was dragged by a young man, Jeremy Strohmeyer, into a casino restroom in Nevada. There, he sexually assaulted and choked her and snapped her neck. A friend of his, David Cash Jr., was at the scene. He saw the evil in progress, but walked away – a moral barrenness reflected in his later comments to The Los Angeles Times: “I’m not going to get upset over somebody else’s life. I just worry about myself first. I’m not going to lose sleep over somebody else’s problems.”
In the age of social media and instant communication, the potential rises for a Kitty Genovese syndrome on steroids. Chicago again provides an example. On Dec. 31, the authorities there say, four young people kidnapped and tortured a mentally disabled teenager, streaming their brutality on Facebook Live. One assailant was so devoid of empathy for the victim that she whined on camera about not having much of a digital audience: “Ain’t nobody watching.”
There is an inherent ambiguity in some situations. As with the Genovese murder, people watching events unfold in a forum like Facebook Live may not be sure what they are seeing or hearing: Is that a real crime or a simulation?
Still, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the philosopher John Stuart Mill might have thought of all this.
“Bad men,” he said in 1867, “need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why America needs a death penalty . . .

An Florida inmate is a glowing example of why America needs a death penalty.  He is accused of violently killing his cellmate at Florida Correctional Institution.
Shawn Rogers, 36, already serving a life sentence, is accused of killing cellmate Ricky Dean Martin of North Naples in the pair's shared cell on March 30, 2012, reported the Pensacola News Journal.
Rogers tied Martin's hands and feet before cutting, raping and beating him until officers found Martin in a pool of blood in the cell, according to court documents. He died in the following days after being taken off life support at a local hospital.
The state filed first-degree murder charges against Rogers after Martin's death and sought the death penalty, but prosecutors dropped the case through a nolle prosequi filing in January when the state's death penalty laws were unclear. A nolle prosequi filing means the case is dismissed, but it doesn't prohibit the state from again seeking prosecution in the future.
State Attorney Bill Eddins said at the time that Rogers' case was unique because he was already serving a life sentence for armed robbery. Prosecutors could drop charges to wait out a law change because there was no chance of Rogers walking free in the interim, Eddins said.
In March, lawmakers ironed out the death penalty law, which now mandates jurors unanimously recommend imposing the death penalty as opposed to the previously required 10-2 decision.
How many inmates or staff members should Rogers be permitted kill before he surrenders his own life?
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 3, 2017

GateHouse: Local jails big part of America’s incarceration problem

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
June 2, 2017
Local jails are driving the steady flow of incarcerated people in this country. Much is made of non-violent offenders serving long sentences in federal prison, or how mandatory minimum sentences are clogging America’s prisons. The fact is, one-third of all inmates are held in local jails.
The difference between a jail and a prison is simple. Jails are run by local government bodies for short-sentences, often the result of minor offenses, and pre-trial detention. Prisons are for long sentences, for serious crimes and operated by states or the federal government.
According to a new study released by the Prison Policy Institute, the 11 million people who go to jail each year are there for brief, but life-altering, periods of time. Most are released in days, or hours, after their arrest, but others are held for months or more. Only one in three people in jails have been convicted.
I have used this column to lament the ridiculousness of detaining people who cannot afford minimal bail. Those people sit in jail for months only to have the charges dismissed or are released for time served -- often after serving much longer sentences than would have been meted out if a plea agreement had been negotiated sooner.
Beyond bail there are an increasing number of jails that run a side-business of renting jail cells to other government agencies. The jail is looked at in some communities as a money maker. For one, it employs local residents and that employment helps churn residual businesses in the community. In addition, county officials charge a fee for out-of-county or out-of-state inmates and even immigration detainees.
That money is used to balance local budgets. In more than half of U.S. states, about 10 percent of the people in jail are not “traditional jail inmates.” They are people being held under contract for federal or state agencies. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the systematic renting of jail cells to other jurisdictions has changed the priorities and the policies of jail officials. If the county is making money, an overcrowded jail is not a bad thing.
In Pennsylvania, state prisoners who violate their parole are not immediately returned to state prison. Due to some creative legislation, parole violators are housed in county jails for up to 6 months and then returned to the community. The state pays the county to house the parole violators and in turn the state can boast that they have less men and women in state prisons. Mind you, not less prisoners, but less prisoners in state facilities.
The problem goes beyond Pennsylvania. States like Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah are in the business of renting space to federal authorities.
Louisiana has mastered the “for profit public prison.” According to the Prison Policy Institute, Louisiana has largely outsourced the construction and operation of state prisons to individual parishes. Fifty-two percent of the state’s prison population is housed under contract with local jails; and as a result two out of three people held in Louisiana jails are not “traditional jail inmates.”
The federal government is gobbling up local jail cells as well. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. Marshals Service rents about 26,200 cells each year, mostly to hold federal pre-trial detainees in locations where there is no federal detention center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also rents about 15,700 cells each year for people facing deportation.
If filling local jails becomes a cash cow for local municipalities, the future is predictable and terrifying. Local government officials have a financial incentive to fill their jails -- regardless of the toll on communities, families and individuals.
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the Column CLICK HERE

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ohio A.G. sues five major drug manufacturers over opioid epidemic

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine  filed suit [complaint, PDF] against five major drug manufacturers for misleading marketing practices that led to a painkiller epidemic, reported Jurist. DeWine filed suit in the Ross County Court of Common Pleas [official website] against the manufacturers of drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Dilaudid and Percoda, alleging that the companies spent $168 million on sales representatives who downplayed the risks of the drugs while highlighting the benefits. DeWine stated :
These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids. ... They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway—and they continue to do it. Despite all evidence to the contrary about the addictive nature of these pain medications, they are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and to tell the public the truth.
The suit seeks an injunction against the companies' sales practices and damages to reimburse state spending in fighting the painkiller epidemic. Jessica Castles Smith, spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson a subsidiary of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., stated that the allegations are unfounded.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 1, 2017

About 11 million people funnel through local jails each year

One out of every three people behind bars is being held in a local jail, yet jails get almost none of the attention that prisons do. Jails are ostensibly locally controlled, but the people held there are generally accused of violating state law, and all too often state policymakers (and state reform advocates) ignore jails, says a report from the Prison Policy Initiative. In terms of raw numbers state prison reform is the larger prize, but embracing the myth that jails are only a local matter undermines current and future state-level reforms. Jails may be locally controlled, but jail practices reflect state priorities and change state-wide outcomes.
The 11 million people who go to jail each year are there generally for brief, but life-altering, periods of time. Most are released in days or hours after their arrest, but others are held for months or more, often because they are too poor to make bail. Only about a third of the 720,000 people in jails on a given day have been convicted and are serving short sentences, typically under a year and most often for misdemeanors. Jail policy is therefore in large part about how people — who are legally innocent, until proven guilty — are treated and about how policymakers think our criminal justice system should respond to low-level offenses. As this report will explain, jails impact our entire criminal justice system and millions of lives every year.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Incarceration: 'More is not always better'

Barack Obama tried to reduce the number of absurdly long prison sentences in America, reported The Economist. His attorney-general, Eric Holder, told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking the maximum penalties for non-violent drug offenders. This reform caused a modest reduction in the number of federal prisoners (who are about 10% of the total). President Donald Trump’s attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, has just torn it up. This month he ordered prosecutors to aim for the harshest punishments the law allows, calling his new crusade against drug dealers “moral and just”. It is neither.
More is not always better
Prisons are an essential tool to keep society safe. A burglar who is locked up cannot break into your home. A mugger may leave you alone if he thinks that robbing you means jail. Without the threat of a cell to keep them in check, the strong and selfish would prey on the weak, as they do in countries where the state is too feeble to run a proper justice system.
But as with many good things, more is not always better (see article). The first people any rational society locks up are the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers and rapists. The more people a country imprisons, the less dangerous each additional prisoner is likely to be. At some point, the costs of incarceration start to outweigh the benefits. Prisons are expensive—cells must be built, guards hired, prisoners fed. The inmate, while confined, is unlikely to work, support his family or pay tax. Money spent on prisons cannot be spent on other things that might reduce crime more, such as hiring extra police or improving pre-school in rough neighborhoods. And—crucially—locking up minor offenders can make them more dangerous, since they learn felonious habits from the hard cases they meet inside.
America passed the point of negative returns long ago. Its incarceration rate rose fivefold between 1970 and 2008. Relative to its population, it now locks up seven times as many people as France, 11 times as many as the Netherlands and 15 times as many as Japan. It imprisons people for things that should not be crimes (drug possession, prostitution, unintentionally violating incomprehensible regulations) and imposes breathtakingly harsh penalties for minor offences. Under “three strikes” rules, petty thieves have been jailed for life.
A ten-year sentence costs ten times as much as a one-year sentence, but is nowhere near ten times as effective a deterrent. Criminals do not think ten years into the future. If they did, they would take up some other line of work. One study found that each extra year in prison raises the risk of reoffending by six percentage points. Also, because mass incarceration breaks up families and renders many ex-convicts unemployable, it has raised the American poverty rate by an estimated 20%. Many states, including Mr Sessions’s home, Alabama, have decided that enough is enough. Between 2010 and 2015 America’s incarceration rate fell by 8%. Far from leading to a surge in crime, this was accompanied by a 15% drop.
America is an outlier, but plenty of countries fail to use prison intelligently. There is ample evidence of what works. Reserve prison for the worst offenders. Divert the less scary ones to drug treatment, community service and other penalties that do not mean severing ties with work, family and normality. A good place to start would be with most of the 2.6m prisoners in the world—a quarter of the total—who are still awaiting trial. For a fraction of the cost of locking them up, they could be fitted with GPS-enabled ankle bracelets that monitor where they are and whether they are taking drugs.
Tagging can also be used as an alternative to locking up convicts—a “prison without walls”, to quote Mark Kleiman of New York University, who estimates that as many as half of America’s prisoners could usefully be released and tagged. A study in Argentina finds that low-risk prisoners who are tagged instead of being incarcerated are less likely to reoffend, probably because they remain among normal folk instead of sitting idly in a cage with sociopaths.
Justice systems could do far more to rehabilitate prisoners, too. Cognitive behavioural therapy—counselling prisoners on how to avoid the places, people and situations that prompt them to commit crimes—can reduce recidivism by 10-30%, and is especially useful in dealing with young offenders. It is also cheap—a rounding error in the $80 billion a year that America spends on incarceration and probation. Yet, by one estimate, only 5% of American prisoners have access to it.
The road to rehabilitation
Ex-convicts who find a job and a place to stay are less likely to return to crime. In Norway prisoners can start their new jobs 18 months before they are released. In America there are 27,000 state licensing rules keeping felons out of jobs such as barber and roofer. Norway has a lower recidivism rate than America, despite locking up only its worst criminals, who are more likely to reoffend. Some American states, meanwhile, do much better than others. Oregon, which insists that programmes to reform felons are measured for effectiveness, has a recidivism rate less than half as high as California’s. Appeals to make prisons more humane often fall on deaf ears; voters detest criminals. But they detest crime more, so politicians should not be afraid to embrace proven ways to make prison less of a school of crime and more of a path back to productive citizenship.

To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Prosecutor: The renewed drug war 'will target people wearing heavy gold and chains'

A federal prosecutor said that the Department of Justice’s efforts under Jeff Sessions to aggressively prosecute drug crimes will target people wearing “heavy gold and chains,” reported the Daily Caller.
The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys — an association representing federal prosecutors — held a conference call with reporters expressing their support for Sessions’ objective of going after drug crime offenders.
Larry Leiser, the president of the group and a current prosecutor, said that this will help “young people who see people in the community wearing heavy gold and chains and hot cars as a result of their participating in the distribution of these drugs, as opposed to going out and earning an honest living.”
A reporter interjected and said that these remarks could be construed as racist and Leiser denied that is the case. “It’s intended to be just the reality that unfortunately there are many people in the minority communities that are caught up in this terrible blight of drugs,” he replied.
He said that mandatory minimums help “alleviate the pain and suffering that these drug traffickers perpetrate on their own.”
Leiser added that the drug “plague” affects all communities and pointed to the opioid and heroin epidemic hitting white communities.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, May 29, 2017

'Johnny we hardly knew ye', today marks the 100th birthday of JFK

It has been 100 years since John F. Kennedy’s birth on May 29, 1917, at his parents’ home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston. Over the course of his life, Kennedy enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, the most famous being a Democratic fundraising bash at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when--according to the Washington Post--a sequined Marilyn Monroe breathily purred, Happy burrthday, Mr. President
Today, on the this Memorial Day, our memory of Kennedy is more solemn. Kennedy has been dead longer than he was alive and his brief 1,000 days as president ended tragically more than fifty years ago. 
Yet today, more than ever, we yearn for his style, eloquence and confidence. Kennedy was a student of history.  He understood the prestige and historical significance of his office and handled it with grace an dignity.
Kennedy made difficult decisions after careful deliberation.  He was respected abroad and revered at home.  When he spoke the world listened--whether it was on the steps of the capital on inauguration day or Berlin during his international travels--America was proud of its president.
President Kennedy never had to push his way to the front of stage--the way was always clear--world leaders knew where Kennedy belonged.
Kennedy once said, "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."  
Wouldn't that be great to put into practice today. Happy Birthday Mr. President!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Criminal justice policy based on anecdote, heavily filtered through a political lens

The enormity of the country’s criminal justice system — 15,000 state and local courts, 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, more than two million prisoners — looks even more daunting when you consider how little we know about what is actually going on in there.
Want to know who we prosecute and why? Good luck. Curious about how many people are charged with misdemeanors each year? Can’t tell you. How about how many people reoffend after prison? We don’t really know that, either. In an age when everything is measured — when data determines the television we watch, the clothes we buy and the posts we see on Facebook — the justice system is a disturbing exception. Agencies exist in silos, and their data stays with them. Instead, we make policy based on anecdote, heavily filtered through a political lens.
This week the nonprofit Measures for Justice is launching an online tool meant to shine a high beam into these dark corners, reported The Marshall Project.
The project, which has as its motto “you can’t change what you can’t see,” centers on 32 “core measures”: yardsticks to determine how well local criminal justice systems are working. How often do people plead guilty without a lawyer? How often do prosecutors dismiss charges? How long do people have to wait for a court hearing? Users can also slice the answers to these questions in different ways, using “companion measures” such as race and political affiliation.
It’s the kind of task you’d expect a federal agency like the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which has an average annual budget of $97 million, to take on. Instead, the 22 people at Measures for Justice’s Rochester, N.Y., offices are doing the work themselves on an annual budget of $4.6 million, donated mostly from foundations.
So far they’ve tackled six states: Washington, Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, gathering most of the numbers one county at a time. Together, these make up 10 percent of the nation’s counties. The team chose those six states for their geographical diversity and — to ease the data gathering in the project’s early phases — because they had unified statewide court databases.
The hope is to complete 15 more states by 2020, while updating the statistics from the first six states every two years.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 27, 2017

GateHouse Media: Ratcheting up the ‘war on drugs’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 26, 2017
The Trump administration’s first budget is big on public safety. The budget includes $27.7 billion for the Justice Department, including what the White House calls “critical law enforcement, public safety and immigration enforcement programs and activities.”
President Trump is asking Congress for an increase of $175 million for the Justice Department “to target the worst of the worst criminal organizations and drug traffickers in order to address violent crime, gun-related deaths, and the opioid epidemic.”
Trump’s “tough on crime” rhetoric has resulted in a budget proposal that leaves most criminal justice agencies and programs intact -- the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are stable or rising -- while spending reductions are proposed for a number of other federal agencies.
These increases come as both the FBI and Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since its peak in the early 1990s. Using the FBI numbers, according to Salon, the rate fell 50 percent between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available. Using the BJS data, the rate fell by 77 percent during that span.
In addition, the administration says it will save nearly $1 billion in federal prison construction because of a 14 percent decrease in the prison population since 2013, wrote Ted Gest at the The Crime Report.
Wait ... the proposed budget provides more resources for crime fighting and the attorney general pledges to lock-up more drug offenders for longer periods of time and the administration is counting on savings from prisoner reductions?
Counting on continued savings in federal prison spending due to declining inmate population seems a bit disingenuous. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that he wants federal prosecutors to take a tougher stance on drug cases, a move that will inevitably increase the number of federal prisoners.
Sessions wants federal prosecutors to reinitiate the “war on drugs” by charging suspects with the most serious offense that can be proved and imposing more mandatory minimum sentences.
“We know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand,” Sessions said in a speech on May 12. “Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.”
Sessions’ edict reverses a policy implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in August 2013, one that ordered prosecutors to refrain from pursuing drug charges if doing so would trigger lengthy mandatory minimum sentences -- and the defendant was not part of a gang, cartel, or other large-scale drug trafficking organization.
Sessions has always been on the draconian end of illegal drug policy. When he was Alabama’s attorney general, he pushed for a bill that would have provided for the death penalty for individuals convicted of a second drug trafficking offense.
Being tough on crime means filling prisons. According to the Washington Post, in the 1980s, the U.S. began incarcerating people at a higher rate than any other country -- jailing 25 percent of the world’s prisoners at a cost of $80 billion a year. The nation’s prison and jail population more than quadrupled from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million in 2015.
Former President Barack Obama began a clemency initiative late in his second term. He focused on the release of certain drug offenders from prison. He worked to address some obvious racial disparities in sentencing with progressive forward thinking initiatives. Obama and his attorney general were looking to the future.
Compare that with a recent speech by Sessions where he suggested, “Psychologically, politically, morally, we need to say -- as Nancy Reagan said -- ‘Just say no.’”
That’s a general fighting the last war.

-- 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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the Column CLICK HERE

Friday, May 26, 2017

Alabama executes man on eighth try, convicted when George Wallace was governor

The 12th Execution of 2017
Convicted murderer Thomas Arthur, 75, of Alabama narrowly dodged execution seven times. Dubbed the “Houdini of death row” he was put to death on May 25, 2017. He was strapped to a gurney at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala., and injected with a cocktail of lethal drugs about 11:45 p.m. local time. according to the Los Angeles Times.
With his final words, Arthur apologized to his children. “I’m sorry for failing you as a father,” he said. “I love you more than anything on Earth.”
Arthur had initially been scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m., but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, signed by Justice Clarence Thomas. The nation’s highest court then went on to lift the stay an hour and 15 minutes before Arthur’s death warrant expired at midnight.
In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the court’s decision, arguing that she continued to doubt that one of the state’s execution drugs, midazolam, was capable of rendering prisoners unable to feel the “excruciating pain” of lethal injection. Alabama officials, she argued, had only compounded the risks by denying Arthur’s attorneys access to a phone in the witness room to contact the courts if any aspect of the execution went wrong.
“When Thomas Arthur enters the execution chamber tonight, he will leave his constitutional rights at the door,” she wrote.
Arthur, who was first sentenced to death in 1983 when George Wallace was governor of Alabama, has spent more than 34 years on death row. In that time, 58 other Alabama inmates have been executed.
Arthur was convicted of the contract killing of Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals, Ala. Wicker's wife had claimed she hired Arthur, who at the time was serving at a Decatur work release center for a conviction in the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law in Marion County.
Arthur has been on death row since March 1983, making him the third longest serving inmate on Alabama's Death Row. He's also the second oldest inmate there.
Arthur's original conviction in Wicker's death and a second conviction were overturned. He was convicted a third time in 1991, and that conviction was upheld. Arthur admits he killed his sister-in-law, but maintains he did not kill Wicker.
When the Alabama Supreme Court set this latest execution date for Arthur, it was the eighth time he's been scheduled to be put to death. The Alabama Attorney General's Office stated in its request to the court that it be done "as soon as possible." Arthur's previous execution dates were in: 2001, twice in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2016. Several were stayed within one to two days of being carried out.
The Attorney General's office had sought Arthur's execution soon after he lost his federal court challenge on method of execution. Arthur, who claims the lethal injection method could be painful because of his health condition, appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Attorney General stated that Arthur's 2011 lawsuit over the execution method, as well as his current appeal, is an attempt to delay an execution. "His sentence is long overdue," the Attorney General's Office stated in 2016.
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