Monday, December 11, 2017

GOP lawmakers excoriate FBI and special counsel

For five hours last week, Republican lawmakers delivered a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel, reported the Washington Post. They amplified President Trump’s claim that the FBI’s “reputation is in Tatters — worst in History” and that Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, which has already secured guilty pleas from two Trump campaign officials and the indictments of two more, is part of a system that is “rigged,” “phony,” “dishonest” and using a “double standard.”
Shamefully, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI — choosing to protect Trump at the cost of Americans’ faith in the justice system and the rule of law.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman, echoed Trump’s “tatters” claim and told FBI Director Christopher A. Wray that Mueller’s probe and the Clinton email probe have been tainted by “bias.”
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) repeatedly charged that the FBI and Mueller have a “shocking” anti-Trump bias.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he has a “hunch” that “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI was behind a secret “warrant to spy on Americans associated with the Trump campaign.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called former FBI director James B. Comey an “egomaniac rogue” and speculated that the FBI paid for the “dossier” on Trump’s activities in Russia.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) speculated that anti-Trump bias led the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and he threatened Wray: “I think you’re walking into a contempt of Congress.”
This is calumny. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. He was named special counsel by Rod J. Rosenstein, also a Republican, who was appointed by Trump himself to be deputy attorney general. Comey, a Republican who served in Bush’s Justice Department, made political contributions to John McCain, Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Wray, a Republican who also gave to GOP candidates, was appointed by Trump.
To read more CLICK HERE


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Racist court decision may be key to Moore victory in Alabama

If Roy Moore narrowly defeats Doug Jones in this week’s Senate race, he may have an obscure 1903 Supreme Court case to thank, reported Newsweek.
The case, Giles v. Harris , upheld Alabama’s successful campaign to prevent African Americans from casting ballots despite the constitutional guarantee of the right for black people to vote.
Its ramifications can be felt to this day: about 15 percent of otherwise qualified African American residents of Alabama have been barred from voting in recent elections.
In a state where 90 percent of eligible blacks vote Democratic, that can make the difference in this week’s closely watched Senate election.
Alabama’s unequal approach to voting can be traced to its 1901 constitution, drawn up to prevent black citizens from voting.
The president of the convention that drafted the constitution, John B. Knox, declared at the beginning of the meeting: “And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, December 9, 2017

GateHouse: Waning respect for the rule of law

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 7, 2017
Following a recent terrorist attack in Manhattan that killed eight and injured 12 President Donald Trump attacked the criminal justice system. He suggested that the criminal justice system was partially at fault for terrorist acts.
“We need quick justice, and we need strong justice -- much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock,” said Trump.
Last weekend President Trump tweeted, “After years of [F.B.I. Director] Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History! . . .”
Not to mention the president’s recent attacks against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators as “very bad and conflicted people” and his characterization of the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.”
Those comments from the president of the United States should alarm anyone who believes in the rule of law.
Bob Bauer, White House Counsel to President Obama, wrote recently on LawFare, “the president is successfully bringing the legal process into the discredited conspiratorial ranks of the ‘deep state.’ He is specifically stirring up suspicion of Robert Mueller, but his broadsides have a far wider focus. He has upbraided the whole system--DOJ, the FBI and the courts.”
The foundation of American democracy rests on the rule of law. Freedom endures with the notion that all men and women are on equal footing before the courts, and that our government of checks and balances protects us from corrupt institutions.
The faith that we invest in our leaders is always subject to legitimate scrutiny. However, baseless attacks on our institutions shake our faith in democracy.
In 2016, Gallup released a poll that showed only 23 percent of Americans have either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the criminal justice system. Such lack of confidence is unfortunate and concerning. The poll predates the current attacks on justice-related institutions.
Jason Brennan a professor at Georgetown University wrote in Time, ”[M]ost voters have no incentive to be well-informed about politics, or to correct their misinformed opinions. They have no incentive to think rationally about politics or to process information in a reasonable way. They have every incentive to indulge their biases and prejudices.”
The recipe of demagogic attacks on political institutions, and failure of voters to correct misinformation, is dangerous. Don’t take it from me. This week, former President Barack Obama warned against staying complacent in the face of rising nativism--citing the rise of Hitler as an example of what can happen if democracy is not defended--reports Crain’s Chicago Business.
“We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly,” Obama told an audience at the Economic Club of Chicago. “That’s what happened in Germany in the 1930s, which despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolf Hitler rose to dominate.”
Obama continued, “Sixty million people died...So, you’ve got to pay attention. And vote.”
Whether it was attacking U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel for his ethnicity or the “so-called judges’ that overruled his travel ban or his comments after the sanctuary cities decision, “This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge,” President Trump has displayed little respect for the rule of law.
In 1947, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, “There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.”
Judges, prosecutors and investigators should be free from pressure imposed by a political party, a powerful person, a private interest, or popular opinion.
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, December 8, 2017

South Carolina police officer who gunned down Walter Scott gets 20 years

Two and a half years after millions saw a cellphone video of Michael Slager gunning down Walter Scott, the 20-year prison sentence imposed will be etched into history as one of the most significant for an American police officer involved in a fatal shooting, reported the Post and Courier.
Slager was patrolling one of North Charleston’s most hardened communities on April 4, 2015 when he stopped Scott’s car for a broken brake light. The police had long used minor traffic stops to check on residents and look for greater crimes afoot.
This stop was ordinary until Scott, 50, jumped out and ran. Slager gave chase and tried to stop him with a Taser.
But the officer said Scott fought him and grabbed the stun gun, turning the weapon against him. As they rose from the ground, Slager said he feared what Scott might do. He pulled his pistol and fired.
But bystander Feidin Santana’s video showed the Taser bouncing behind the officer, though it offered no clear view of who had been holding it. Scott is running away at the first gunshot and is still running at the eighth, which brought him down. Five of the bullets had hit him from behind.
Officers are rarely arrested in shootings, a product of how much leeway the law gives them in justifying deadly force. Even more seldom are they convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, which was apparent when Slager's state murder trial last year ended with a hung jury.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Homicides continue to fall in NYC even without 'stop-and-frisk'

In August 1952, The New York Times published the following dire statement in an editorial: The public now had evidence in statistics “solemnly guaranteed as accurate and complete by the Police Department, that there is definite reason for concern about the trend violence is taking in New York.”
Over the years, things got bloodier, more or less steadily, until 1990. The city had 2,245 murders that year, WROTE Jim Dwyer in The New York Times.
This week, the police department released statistics that showed murders have declined so much in New York City that killings are likely to be fewer than 300 for 2017. That is less than most years in the 1950s, when there were fewer people living in the city.
A mere number, the homicide statistic is of the utmost importance for what it counts, death by violence. But it is also a historic milestone for what it does not count: lives not lost. It marks a long change, one whose importance would be unmistakable for anyone familiar with the city.
Well, not everyone. You can, of course, always manage to find one New Yorker who sees things upside down. In this case, the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump managed that trick during a campaign debate last year.
“Murders are up, all right,” Mr. Trump said. “You check it.”
Wrong then, wrong now. That may not qualify as startling news, but it is welcome. As the city has grown, it has become safer and safer.
The cause of the (nonexistent) crime increase, Mr. Trump had said, was that “a judge, who was a very-against-police judge,” acting in concert with Mayor Bill de Blasio, had ended the use of stop-and-frisk.
Candidate Trump got the murder trend completely wrong, but sometimes people stumble on facts when rushing to get to a larger truth.
In this case, Mr. Trump was trying to get at an even bigger untruth.
More than 4 million innocent people were stopped and frisked between 2002 and 2012. Most were under the age of 25. The vast majority were black or Latino. Under pressure from a lawsuit, the practice was scaled back beginning in 2012 — not by the order of a judge, not by Mayor de Blasio, but by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Today, the police still stop and search people, but the number of such encounters has dropped by more than 98 percent since its peak in 2011 — down to 12,404 in 2016, and about the same pace this year. Six years ago, 685,724 were stopped and searched — 605,328 of whom had done nothing wrong, and many thousands who had done nothing worse than carry marijuana.
Along the way, a federal judge did say that the city’s wholesale stop-and-frisk practices violated the Constitution. But contrary to the cries of Mr. Bloomberg, the police commissioner and some editorial writers, further curtailing this approach did not make the city more dangerous. In fact, the opposite happened. That is unambiguously great news.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Malcolm Jenkins writes about JLWOP for NBC News

NFL player Malcolm Jenkins wrote recently for NBCNews about juvenile life without parole.  Here are excerpts: In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without parole should only be given to juveniles in the rarest of circumstances. Last year, it ruled that those individuals currently serving life sentences without parole should have their cases reviewed. Currently, more than 2,100 people who were sentenced as children are eligible to have their sentences reviewed and earn a second chance. Approximately 300 of these people are from the city of Philadelphia alone.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said that juvenile life without parole, where kids are sentenced to literally die in prison, should only be given to teens found to be “irreparably corrupt.” But in reality, according to the Fair Punishment Project, the “irreparably corrupt” child is a myth. We have to stop locking up kids and throwing away the key. According to human rights groups, America is the only country that sentences kids to life without parole.
The infuriating irony here is that the kids who have received life without parole sentences are, in many ways, the young people who needed our help the most. According to study conducted by the Sentencing Project, 79% of this population witnessed violence in their homes growing up, 40% were enrolled in special education classes, nearly half experienced physical abuse, and three-quarters of the girls had experienced sexual abuse.
America failed them once. Today, these kids deserve a second chance. Contrary to the super-predator rhetoric utilized by politicians in the past to justify locking up kids for life, adolescents really are different from adults — in almost every way. Their brains are underdeveloped, they struggle with judgment, they are susceptible to peer pressure.
For too long, we have depicted our youth, especially our black youth, as fully developed adults who are a lost cause. But they can change. These are not the soulless “super-predators” the media scared its readers with in the 70s and 80s. These are children. Studies show that even those accused of the most serious crimes age out of crime.
To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How times have changed: 'President unable to obstruct of justice'

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer is arguing that, as the nominal head of federal law enforcement, the president is legally unable to obstruct justice. However, it wasn’t long ago that another senior Trump lawyer: Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued the exact opposite, reports Politico.
In 1999, Sessions – then an Alabama senator – laid out an impassioned case for President Bill Clinton to be removed from office based on the argument that Clinton obstructed justice amid the investigation into his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President's intent to obstruct justice,” he said, according to remarks in the congressional record.
Sessions isn’t alone. More than 40 current GOP members of Congress voted for the impeachment or removalof Clinton from office for obstruction of justice. They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who mounted his own passionate appeal to remove Clinton from office for obstruction of justice – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who was a House member at the time.
In all, 17 sitting senators supported the obstruction of justice charge against Clinton in 1998 and 1999.
“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen,” Sessions said during Clinton’s trial in the Senate, two months after he was impeached by the House. “Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office.”
Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd argued in an interview with Axios on Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, December 4, 2017

What are the odds?: Today SCOTUS hears case to make illegal gambling legal

This blog usually deals with crime and punishment. Today, we’ll focus on an effort to do away with a law that has landed a lot of people in jail over the years. It is strange, sports betting is illegal with a few exceptions (Nevada), yet newspapers around the country, television sports show and websites talk about “the line.”  How much a given team must win or lose by to win a bet.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gambled big-time five years ago when he signed a law authorizing sports betting at casinos and racetracks and dared anyone to "try to stop us," reported the USA Today.
That's exactly what college and professional sports leagues and the federal government have done, thanks to a succession of court rulings upholding a 25-year-old federal law that prohibits gambling on sports outside Nevada and three other states with small sports lotteries.
But Christie has one last shot before leaving office next month. Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in his case and could decide, as many court-watchers predict, that the ban violates states' rights. Such a ruling could open the floodgates to sports betting in any state willing to regulate it.
According to the new National Law Journal Supreme Court Brief, the American Gaming Association estimates that Americans bet $150 billion on sports annually, and only 3 percent of those bets are legal. If the Supreme Court strikes down the federal law that prohibits sports betting in most places, the industry will only grow, with sports betting spreading fast among revenue-thirsty states.
The dynamics of the case make for interesting bedfellows, as Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr notes: “All it took to bring Donald Trump and the National Football League together was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his Supreme Court bid to legalize sports gambling. The NFL, a target of the president’s Twitter ire over national anthem protests, is banding together with the administration to fight the outgoing governor.”
Oh, if you'd like to bet on which justice asks the first question you can find the odds here.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Louisiana public defenders broke, defendants temporarily unrepresented

It has become an annual ritual in Louisiana: Nearly every winter, the state’s public defenders run out of money, reported The Marshall Project. Last year, 33 of the state’s 42 local indigent defense offices cut staff or placed thousands of poor defendants on a wait list. The New Orleans public defender’s office began refusing clients, leaving hundreds to sit in jail without representation.
This year, there is another wait list. At least 11 Louisiana defendants facing the death penalty — including five who have already been indicted — have no defense team and may not have one until new money becomes available in July. The list is likely to grow. In Louisiana, all first-degree murder defendants face execution unless a prosecutor explicitly decides otherwise.
The latest crunch in Louisiana emerged from a law passed last year to try to patch up the system. The legislation, signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in June 2016, required Louisiana’s state-level indigent defense agency to spend more on the overloaded local defenders — the ones who handle regular felony and misdemeanor cases — by spending less on lawyers in death penalty cases. The law successfully delivered about $5 million in additional cash to indigent defense offices around the state, including a $1.5 million boost for New Orleans, which has since ended its hiring freeze and reduced its wait list to essentially zero.
But funding for capital defenders was cut to $5.5 million from $8.5 million in just a year.
“They robbed Peter to pay Paul,” said Jay Dixon, chief defender for the Louisiana Public Defender Board, which is scheduled to hold a statewide meeting Thursday to discuss the waitlisted capital defendants. “We’re still in crisis; it’s just a different crisis. And now they can’t shift any more money around, so we could be facing an even greater crisis next year.”
Louisiana is the only state in the nation whose public defenders are funded primarily by traffic tickets, supplemented by a modest state contribution. In part because of changes in police practices, ticket revenue has declined since 2010, causing the annual budget gap

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, December 2, 2017

GateHouse: SCOTUS hears blockbuster 4th Amendment cellphone case

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 1, 2017
Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the issue in this week’s blockbuster Fourth Amendment argument before the U.S. Supreme Court with this simple comment, “The whole question is whether the information is accessible to the government” without a warrant.
The Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a search warrant pursuant to a standard known as “probable cause” before obtaining an individual’s private information.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of people to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Where does electronic data fall when considering “houses, papers and effects?” Do the police have to get a search warrant in order to obtain cellphone location information that is routinely collected and stored by wireless providers?
The case before the Supreme Court this week, Carpenter v. United States, involved a series of armed robberies at Radio Shacks in Michigan and Ohio to, ironically, get cellphones.
The police arrested several men, one of whom confessed that he was part of a group that had robbed nine stores within the previous year. The suspect identified Timothy Carpenter. At Carpenter’s trial, prosecutors used data from his cellphone provider to put him at or near the scene of each of the robberies.
The Supreme Court has, in recent years, ruled in favor of the defense on major cases concerning how criminal law applies to new technology. In 2012, the court held that a warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. In 2014, the court ruled that police need a warrant to search a cellphone that is seized during an arrest.
In Carpenter’s case, the police obtained an order of court under the Stored Communications Act, which does not require a showing of probable cause. The law authorizes release of records when there are “specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe” the records are “are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”
A search warrant would have required probable cause, a more stringent standard than provided under the Stored Communications Act.
During this week’s argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that cell phones have become an “appendage” for people in the modern era, reported CNN. “Most Americans, I still think, want to avoid Big Brother,” she said. “They want to avoid the concept that government will be able to see and locate you anywhere you are at any point in time.”
The concern does not stop with the collection of location data. The capacity to store an enormous amount of data has long term implications for individual privacy. Data is routinely collected on web-surfing, shopping, dating, dining, social-interests and travel -- documenting nearly every act of a cellphone user. This new era of technology demands new protections against search and seizure of personal digital property.
Are the courts best suited to make policy on the protection of digital privacy? Courts address issues on a case-by-case basis, it may take years for the Courts to develop a coherent body of law on the protection of digital privacy, suggests David Von Drehle in the Washington Post.
Legislative bodies are best equipped to develop policy on this issue. If done properly, and not as a knee-jerk reaction, Congress or individual state legislatures can methodically study the issue and come up with a comprehensive policy for dealing with privacy in this new age.
Some of the legislative work is already underway. A bipartisan group of senators recently introduced the USA Rights Act to overhaul aspects of the National Security Agency warrantless internet surveillance program.
The bill, led by Senators Ron Wyden (D) and Rand Paul (R), would end the warrantless “back door” searches of American calls, emails, texts and other communications. This is a start, but it only scratches the surface when it comes to delineating the protections that should be afforded digital privacy in the 21st century.
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, December 1, 2017

Former Trump security adviser Flynn to be charged with lying to the FBI

U.S. President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, the U.S. special counsel's office charged in a court filing made public on Friday, according to Reuters
The Office of the Special Counsel, which is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and potential collusion by Trump's campaign, said a plea hearing for Flynn had been set for 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) on Friday.
Flynn is expected to plead guilty. 
Flynn, a retired Army general who was fired from his White House post in February after revelations he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, is a central figure in the federal investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The charge against him is another escalation in an investigation that has cast a cloud over the Trump administration since the Republican president took office on Jan. 20.
To read more CLICK HERE


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

SCOTUS takes up important 4th Amendment issue in digital age

Criminal courts routinely struggle with the definition of what a Fourth Amendment “reasonable expectation of privacy” means in the digital age. Yet, legislators at the local level remain silent, refusing to strengthen privacy protections from growing government surveillance, according to Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, Law Professor, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. 
The highest profile example of this puzzle will reach the U.S. Supreme Court today, when a lawyer for Timothy Carpenter — a convicted armed robber — will argue to protect the Fourth Amendment for all Americans. The constitutional issue is whether police need a probable cause warrant to request historic cell-site data from cell phone companies to prove that Mr. Carpenter robbed (ironically enough) a series of cell phone stores
Mr. Carpenter argued that the demand for 127 days of cell location data was a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The government, in opposition, argued that Mr. Carpenter had no expectation of privacy in the data shared with third parties, and thus no Fourth Amendment protection in the records that connected him to the robberies.
To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mangino interviewed on WKBN-TV regarding Safe Haven Law

“Even if you don’t know you’re pregnant and you give birth to a child, you have a responsibility for that child’s care and safety,” said Attorney Matt Mangino. “If you don’t do that, ultimately, you’re gonna be held criminally liable for it.”
Mangino was the district attorney for Lawrence County when Pennsylvania adopted so-called “Safe Haven” laws, which allow parents to leave their newborns with hospital workers or police if they can’t care for the baby on their own.
He said parents can drop off children at hospitals or police stations with no questions asked, as long as they’re under 28 days old.
“There’s no effort to try to trace who the parents of the child are,” he said.
Mangino said even if Robinson’s baby died of natural causes, she should have called for help.
To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Monday, November 27, 2017

NYC looks to eliminated short jail sentences

New York City wants to reduce its jail population to do that the city has a bold idea that could be modeled nationwide: Do away with all jail sentences of less than a month, according to Governing.
That's the idea behind newSTART, a jail diversion program launched in New York last month. It keeps defendants who have committed low-level misdemeanors -- things like petty larceny or possession of small amounts of illegal drugs -- from entering jail. It would also apply to people convicted of thefts of service, such as jumping a subway turnstile or exiting a taxi without paying.
Instead, in exchange for a guilty plea, misdemeanor defendants can opt for one or more social service programs, including drug treatment, job training and mental health counseling.
 “We are hopeful that the program will stop the return to jail and [create] a virtuous circle,” says Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
Right now, the program is limited to defendants who have been sentenced to up to 10 days in jail. If it's successful, it will be expanded to those convicted of crimes carrying sentences up to 30 days.
But not all defendants who fit that time frame will be eligible.
The program specifically targets defendants in need of social services and those who have been repeatedly arrested for similar crimes. Almost three-quarters of those facing short-term sentences are unemployed, and more than 40 percent are homeless, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
NewSTART is seen as an improvement from previous jail diversion programs. In the past, defendants who opted for jail diversion ran the risk of serving more time than their initial sentence if they failed to complete the diversion program. For example, a person could escape a five-day jail sentence by opting for a diversion program -- but then end up sentenced to 30 days in jail if they failed to complete that diversion program.
That undermined the point of the diversion program, says Jennifer Scaife, executive director of Prevention, Diversion, & Reintegration for the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. “People were opting for jail instead of services, which didn’t stop the cycle of going to jail repeatedly.”
Under the new plan, the city will recommend that those who fail to complete the program be sentenced to no longer than 15 days in jail. Final discretion for sentencing, however, remains with judges.
Proponents of sentencing reform have pointed to the economic and social disruptions that even a short stay in jail can impose on poor and at-risk populations.
To read more CLICK HERE


Friday, November 24, 2017

GateHouse: A slow death for capital punishment

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 24, 2017
For the second time in recent years, a condemned killer emerged alive from the Ohio death house, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
The scheduled execution of twice-convicted killer Alva Campbell was called off when a medical team with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction could not find two viable sites for a lethal injection. Afterward, Governor John Kasich issued a temporary reprieve and rescheduled Campbell’s execution for 2019.
One of Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmates, 66-year-old Vernon Madison was cleared for execution by the United State Supreme Court. He was convicted in 1985 of killing a Mobile, Alabama police officer, according to the Birmingham News.
In May 2016, Madison was set to die by lethal injection, but hours after the scheduled execution the Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding a lower court’s stay of execution.
This month, the High Court unanimously reversed that decision even though medical staff and prison officials agree that, as of the result of two strokes, Madison cannot remember his crime or why he is on death row.
On the other hand, a Nevada death row inmate whose execution was postponed on Nov. 14 is complaining to a judge that he’s suffering what he calls “an open-ended and unnecessary delay.”
Scott Raymond Dozier is a volunteer. Unlike Campbell and Madison he wants to die. He was returned to suicide watch — Nevada doesn’t want him to kill himself before they get a chance to kill him. Dozier would become the first person executed in Nevada since 2006.
Court documents show that Dozier sent a Nov. 13 letter asking the judge to lift a stay of execution that was issued over concerns about the three-drug lethal injection protocol that prison officials intended to use, reported the Omaha World-Herald.
These three cases — each unique — are playing out in an era of declining interest in the death penalty.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment. According to the New York Times, four more states have imposed moratoriums on executions. Not only are executions down, death sentences are down as well. There are 31 states with the death penalty. Only 14 states handed down any death sentences last year, for a total of 50 across the country — less than half the number six years ago. California, which issued more than one-quarter of last year’s death sentences, hasn’t executed anyone since 2006.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Glossip v. Gross, a case examining lethal injection. Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a dissent that the decline of the death penalty county by county could one day persuade the court to end it everywhere. Breyer’s argument was anchored in the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment banning punishment that is “cruel and unusual.”
There are signs that the end is near for the death penalty.
Before Roper v. Simmons, the 2005 decision that abolished the death penalty for juveniles, carrying out a juvenile execution had become an unusual occurrence — not unlike today’s “adult” death penalty.
Prior to 2005, 21 states still had the death penalty for juvenile offenders, but only one used it with any regularity. Texas executed 13 people who committed murder as juveniles between 1976 and 2005. Virginia and Oklahoma followed with three and two executions, respectively. Those three states had carried out 82 percent of all executions of juvenile offenders in the United States in the prior 25 years, according to the American Bar Association.
A closer look at the current status of capital punishment is revealing. Just 10 states are responsible for about 83 percent of the 1,465 executions since 1976.
Evolving standards of decency in a “mature society” have made the carrying out of executions increasingly rare nationwide. Last year, there were 20 executions carried out in the United States. All 20 were carried out in five of the 31 states with capital punishment.
So far in 2017 there have been 23 executions nationwide, with one additional execution scheduled before the end of the year
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ohio Supreme Court justice apologizes for Facebook post boasting of sexual prowess

An Ohio Supreme Court justice who is running as a Democrat for governor has created a firestorm in a Facebook post asserting he was “sooooo disappointed by this national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago,” reported the ABA Journal.
Justice Bill O’Neill wrote the post Friday, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News report. “Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken, I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males,” he said.
He went on to say he has been “sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females” during the last 50 years. One woman was “a gorgeous blonde” with whom he made love in the hayloft of her parents’ barn, and another was a “drop dead gorgeous red head,” he said.
O’Neill confirmed that he wrote the post. It was shortened from a previous version with more identifying information about two women he mentioned.
Then on Saturday, O’Neill offered this apology: “If I offended anyone, particularly the wonderful women in my life, I apologize. But if I have helped elevate the discussion on the serious issues of sexual assault, as opposed to personal indiscretions, to a new level … I make no apologies.”
He later deleted the Saturday apology and apologized a second time on Sunday. He wrote: “There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to admit you were wrong. It is Sunday morning and I am preparing to go to church and get right with God. But first I have to get right with my family, my friends, and the thousands of strangers who have been hurt by my insensitive remarks. I am sorry. I have damaged the national debate on the very real subject of sexual harassment, abuse and unfortunately rape. It is not a laughing matter. It wasn’t when I prosecuted sexual misconduct for the state of Ohio, and it is not now.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Today marks the anniversary of the most infamous crime of the 20th Century

Today marks the 54th anniversary of the greatest murder mystery of the 20th Century, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
The nation's 35th president was born in Brookline, Mass., a Boston suburb on May 29, 1917. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth.  He was the first president born in the 20th Century.
Today, national park rangers will lay a wreath outside Kennedy's childhood home, and a 21-gun salute will follow. The observances are being held at what is now known as the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site.
The murder of Kennedy’s alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, only hours after Kennedy’s death has left the investigation unresolved. On the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, a clear majority of Americans (61%) believe others besides Oswald were involved in Kennedy’s assassination according to a Gallup Poll at the time.
Earlier this fall, President Trump agreed to the much ballyhooed release of documents regarding Kennedy’s assassination. In the end, according to CNN, what was supposed to be the final release of government secrets about the 1963 killing of President John F. Kennedy wasn't quite the blockbuster splash that the President had been promising.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The 'good guy with a gun' theory is a myth

Army veteran Charles Clymer wrote for NBC that the 'good guy with a gun' theory is a myth.  Here is an excerpt:
 Our nation’s love of firearms, combined with our history of arrogance and hyper-masculinity, has produced a culture in which millions of (particularly younger) white men now believe they could, at any time, be the only thing standing between good and evil. A quick search on YouTube will provide countless videos of these would-be superheroes strolling down city streets with powerful rifles on display, begging for law enforcement to challenge their constitutional rights.
This is not simply an issue of Second Amendment rights, however. The world is a dangerous place, and these would-be crime stoppers claim that a good guy with a gun must be ready and willing to stop a bad guy with a gun. As evidence, they point to high-profile stories like the recent Texas shooting at First Baptist Church, in which a good Samaritan with a gun chased and ultimately wounded the shooter as he left the church. He did not prevent the massacre, but maybe he could have, if he had only gotten there earlier — at least, that’s what these people argue.
The problem with this narrative (besides a lack of research or data suggesting more guns does indeed prevent violence broadly) is that killing another human being, even a “bad” one, is not easy. This is not “Call of Duty”: Despite the damage that modern weaponry can inflict, there is a reason that soldiers and law enforcement officers receive thousands of hours of training in firearms and tactics. This training is physical, mechanical and, most importantly, psychological, because in order to efficiently and effectively kill other human beings in high-stress situations, one must be conditioned to negotiate that stress.
I should know, because I went through it. As an U.S. Army infantryman, I spent thousands of hours, beginning in basic training and continuing throughout my service, becoming comfortable with killing and learning how to do so in a responsible manner. The psychological strength required to act quickly and effectively in a mass shooting comes from the kind of monotonous training that over several years builds up muscle memory. It is tedious and often boring, and that’s the point: it enables soldiers to respond in stressful situations as though it’s second nature.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 20, 2017

Drug company wants lethal injection drugs back

A major pharmaceutical company demanded in a letter a month ago that the State of Nebraska return any lethal injection drugs it might have that were manufactured by the company or its affiliate, reported the Omaha World-Herald.
Pfizer adopted a policy in 2016 banning the use of its products in an execution as a “misuse” of drugs intended to save lives.
“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment,” stated the Oct. 4 letter, signed by Robert Jones, a public relations director at Pfizer.
Officials with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts declined to say Thursday if the state had obtained any Pfizer drugs.
“We are not disclosing the identity of the supplier at this time,” said Corrections spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith.
But Smith said the state spent $10,500 on the four lethal injection drugs purchased last month.
This comes two years after Nebraska spent $54,000 on similar drugs that it never received.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why would an innocent person plead guilty?

Professor Jenia I. Turner of SMU Law School wrote for the National Academy of Justice that the most recent data reported by the National Registry of Exonerations show that roughly 18 percent of recorded exonerations (343 out of 1,956) were the product of guilty pleas. Why do innocent people plead guilty? 
The NRE identified large plea discounts as a key factor driving false guilty pleas. Other analyses of plea based exonerations have similarly found that innocent defendants plead guilty to avoid the risk of harsher punishment after trial.
For instance in Pennsylvania the sentence guidelines consider two factors--the seriousness of the offense and the accused's prior record. A person with a criminal record and accused of a serious crime can expect a lengthy sentence.  A plea offer of a fraction of the expected guideline sentence could result in a plea--guilty or not.
Turner points out a plea offer of time served for detained defendants has also been found to lead innocent defendants to plead guilty. Misdemeanor defendants are frequently detained for the simple reason that they cannot afford to post bail, and they are commonly offered plea deals to “time served.” 
They are then subject to significant economic and familial pressures to plead guilty in order to be released from jail. A recent empirical study found that misdemeanor detainees “plead guilty at a 25 percent higher rate than similarly situated releasees.” The authors concluded that “[m]isdemeanor pretrial detention … seems especially likely to induce guilty pleas, including wrongful ones.” 
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 18, 2017

GateHouse: Word of the demise of ‘the great American crime decline’ premature

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 17, 2017
The National Institute of Justice reported this week that homicides in America’s largest cities rose in 2015 and again in 2016, although not all cities experienced a significant increase and some cities even experienced a decline.
In 2016, the FBI Uniform Crime Report found that there were 17,250 homicides nationwide. That is an increase of 8.6 percent from 2015 on top of a 12.1 percent increase from 2014-2015.
That adds up to about a 21 percent increase in homicide over two years, which is the largest two-year increase in a quarter of a century.
The National Institute of Justice considered two explanations for the increase:
- The heroin and opioid epidemic
- The so-called “Ferguson effect,” named for the city outside of St. Louis where the police response to unrest has impacted policing nationwide.
The larger increases in drug-related homicides as compared to other types of homicide provided researchers with preliminary evidence that expansions in the illegal drug trade contributed to increase in homicide.
The current drug epidemic is disproportionately concentrated in the white population, and homicides have increased among whites as well as among African Americans and Hispanics. The report concluded that the drug epidemic may have had an especially strong influence on the rise in homicide rates among whites.
The second explanation put forth by researchers is the Ferguson effect, which resulted in “de-policing, compromised police legitimacy, or both.”
Surveys of police reveal widespread concerns about increased police-community tensions and reductions in proactive policing in the aftermath of widely publicized deadly encounters between the police and African Americans.
Increases in homicide followed decreases in arrests in Baltimore and Chicago, although it is not known whether the same was true in other cities.
Alienation from the police can result in a decreased willingness to call the police or to cooperate with them and, some studies suggest, an increase in criminal behavior.
The National Institute of Justice concedes that “current evidence that links de-policing to the homicide rise is mixed, at best,” and that it remains an “open research question.”
The homicide increase in the United States is relatively large, if not unprecedented, especially in several of the nation’s biggest cities. Because it arrived on the heels of a long-term crime drop, it is reasonable to ask whether the current homicide spike marks the end of what has been referred to by Professor Franklin E. Zimring of the UC Berkeley School of Law as the “the great American crime decline.”
Before we break into a panic, a review of the data seems to indicate the answer is no. The national homicide rate was more than 35 percent lower in 2016 than in 1995 and the homicide rate in big cities was about 46 percent lower. According to the National Institute of Justice, even at the elevated rates of increase in 2015 and 2016, it would take about five years for the national homicide rates to return to the levels of the early 1990s.
However, it is difficult to ignore the increase in homicides as well as the ongoing plight of minority members of our communities. For instance, the leading cause of death for young African American men is homicide, and it causes more deaths than the other top nine causes of death put together.
Professor David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice said recently, ”[W]e’re debating these small changes and the national homicide rate had come down to between four and five per 100,000 and is now edging back up toward five. There are communities all over the country where especially young men of color are experiencing persistent homicide rates of over 500 per 100,000 year after year after year after year.”
-- 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 @MatthewTMangino.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pittsburgh real estate interventions decreased crime and increased values

A Pittsburgh-based nonprofit development organization reduced crime by up to 49 percent through a hybrid strategy of combining hot-spot policing and real estate intervention, according to The Crime Report.
But as crime rates decreased, demand for properties in the neighborhood increased, translating into housing prices appreciating by more than 120 percent between 2008 and 2012.
Identification of problematic properties—ones which were typically vacant, abandoned or owned by slumlords—was based on input from residents and ELDI staff members who live in the neighborhood. ELDI then acquired more than 200 of these units over the four year period, representing approximately three percent of the rental apartment units in the neighborhood.
Many high-rise housing projects were replaced with low-rise, townhouse-style mixed-income housing. Other initiatives focused on bringing businesses, shops, and restaurants back to the area.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Man survives Ohio execution

For the second time in 70 years, a condemned killer emerged alive Wednesday from the Ohio death house, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
The scheduled execution of twice-convicted killer Alva Campbell was called off when a medical team with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction could not find two viable sites for a lethal intravenous injection, prisons Director Gary Mohr said. The state’s protocol requires two such sites, he said.
Afterward, Gov. John Kasich issued a temporary reprieve and rescheduled Campbell’s execution for June 5, 2019.
The ACLU almost immediately called for a halt to executions in Ohio.
“This marks the fifth botched execution for Ohio in recent years, and the second time the state could not complete an execution,” said ACLU of Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner. “This is not justice, and this is not humane. Campbell was poked and prodded for nearly two hours as prison officials and medical personnel attempted to find a usable vein.
To read more CLICK HERE


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

PA Corrections Sec. Wetzel leads '50-State Summit on Public Safety'

This week, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel headlined the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators’ “50-State Summit on Public Safety,” in Washington, D.C.
The Summit emphasized the fact that reform means much more than reining in abusive police officers or cutting prison populations, reported The Crime Report.
In opening remarks Wetzel called on fellow justice officials to abandon the “stovepipe approach” of handling issues in isolated silos of the justice system and seek cooperation with experts in other areas.
Wetzel’s remarks set the tone for the meeting, which was aimed at presenting officials in each state with a detailed analysis of their crime issues, including trends in arrests, recidivism and “behavioral health,” and help them come up with evidence-based solutions.
Summit attendees include all state prison directors, 41 state legislators, 35 state behavioral health directors, 15 police chiefs, and 12 sheriffs.
A major theme that surfaced early in the session is that issues often labelled as “criminal justice” problems, such as mental illness and addiction, can be handled just as well by public health authorities.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Police may mislead juveniles when seeking a confession

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently said that coercive interrogations may violate the constitutional rights of suspects and preclude their “involuntary” statements from being introduced at trial, reported The Marshall Project. The nation’s judges have consistently allowed the police to undertake aggressive questioning of suspects, to exercise the “craftship” of deception and intimidation of the sort made famous in countless movies and television shows where the suspect “breaks” during police interrogation.
And they have done so by narrowing the definition of what constitutes police coercion. So the police during questioning can lie and falsely tell a suspectthat his friend (and co-defendant) has confessed to the crime, incriminating both of them. The cops can lie and falsely tell a suspect that his fingerprints or his DNA were recovered from the scene of the crime. They can even lie and falsely tell a suspect that they have satellite images that incriminate him. No court has ever held, as far I can tell, that police have a duty to tell a suspect the truth about the evidence they may or may not have against him.
But many courts have identified legal distinctions between police lies about facts — i.e. “your buddy just ratted you out” — and police lies about legal rights. So the police are not supposed to tell a suspect during interrogation that any incriminating statement he says won’t be used against him. Or that what he says will determine the nature and degree of the charges. A cop cannot promise to get a suspect a reduced charge or sentence, decisions that are not in police hands. If it seems murky, it is. Like so much else about criminal law and the Constitution the courts generally resolve these cases based on the intricate facts they present.
Nor have the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, come up with a bright-line test for how long an interrogation may go before it is considered unduly “coercive” under the Constitution. An interrogation surely would be ruled unlawful had the police not permitted the 18-year-old suspect to sleep, or eat, or go to the bathroom. And it surely would have been unconstitutional had he been physically assaulted or threatened with physical injury.
When a teenager under the age of 18 is threatened by the police with the death penalty — “fucking give you the needle” is how the cop put it — surely that cop knew or should have known that threat was hollow. The folks at the Exoneration Registry, who help track false confession cases, say they have counted at least 27 false confession cases across the country where suspects were threatened with the imposition of the death penalty.
In at least five of the cases tracked by the Registry the suspect was a juvenile at the time of the alleged murder. But in only one of those cases was the threat made after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the execution of juvenile killers in March 2005 in a decision Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court has yet to hear a case in which these sorts of police threats, made to teenagers already susceptible to false confessions, helped convict a suspect of murder.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 13, 2017

The connection between domestic violence and mass shootings

It seems like there is no place in America that is immune to a mass shooting. Inside a darkened movie theater. At a nightclub throbbing with sweaty bodies. During Sunday services at church. At an outdoor country music concert.
These days, home seems like the safest bet. But the truth is, the most likely location for a mass shooting is precisely in that presumed refuge, reported the Huffington Post. The nightmarish reality is that most mass shootings in America are related to domestic violence. The overwhelming majority take place behind closed doors.
From 2015 to early November 2017, there were 46 mass shootings in the U.S., defined as an incident in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the gunman. According to data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, in 27 cases, or about 59 percent, the perpetrator killed an intimate partner or family member during the massacre or had a history of domestic violence.
Perpetrators of mass shootings, far from being strangers to their victims, are usually husbands or boyfriends. They kill their romantic partners and family members, as well as friends, neighbors, co-workers and innocent bystanders.
To be sure, the overwhelming majority of men who abuse their families do not go on to commit acts of mass violence. Domestic violence is prevalent in our society; mass shootings are not. But it’s worth noting the connection, as researchers have identified the key warning signs of abusers who are likely to kill in the future. They share remarkably similar traits: They have histories of strangling their partners, stalking and death threats. And, crucially, they have access to firearms.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What works and what doesn't in policing

New York City has more than 8.5 million people and fewer than 300 murders so far in 2017. That puts its body count lower than much-smaller jurisdictions including Baltimore, a city of fewer than 620,000 people where 303 people have been murdered this year, and Chicago, where the number has risen above 580 in a population of 2.7 million.
So what factors can really help drive down crime? Dina Fine Maron of National Scientific writes that writes that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a recent report that certain “proactive” policies aimed at preventing crime before it happens—including stop and frisk—show mixed results. Yet it is not enough to simply identify what policies appear to reduce crime, a panel convened by the National Academies cautions in the report. Authorities must also consider the real-world risks of applying these approaches in ways that are racist, biased or illegal, they wrote.
Historically, policing has focused largely on responding to calls and investigating crimes. But in the past few decades there has been a shift toward preventing crime by routinely sending officers into communities and identifying potential problem areas. Not all police departments are using these strategies, notes David Weisburd, chair of the expert panel and director of the center for evidence-based crime policy at George Mason University. But it is becoming relatively common and is a big departure from the standard model, in which police mostly respond to crimes that already occurred, Weisburd says.
WHAT WORKS
“For police chiefs who want to do something, increases in violent crime are often very localized and occur among specific people and on specific streets—and the evidence from the report is that when you focus on those, you can produce reductions in crime,” Weisburd says. “Hot-spotting,” for example—a practice in which police are disproportionately stationed in areas with higher crime rates—seems to help, and does not just displace crime into immediately surrounding areas, the committee says. And stop and frisk can be effective when it is highly focused on areas with high concentrations of crime or robberies, Weisburd adds. His committee also found that third-party policing—in which businesses or building owners partner with police or are pressured to work with them—can help. When police officers identify specific problems, try to understand them and make a tailored plan to solve them, it can reduce crime, too. Finally, focusing police resources on high-rate offenders (to either get them off the street or reduce crime) has good evidence behind it.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The report also identified police strategies that do not seem to work. “Broken windows” policing, in which officers crack down on even small instances of disorder before they overwhelm a neighborhood, does not typically lead to less crime, the panel says. But it adds that if such efforts are much more nuanced—focused on a small number of high-crime streets—they can sometimes make a positive difference.
Another topic under the panel’s scrutiny is community policing, which generally refers to police building relationships with local residents and involving them in their decision-making about problems. Politicians and others have pushed the concept hard, but the panel says it does not have strong evidence that community policing reduces crime. “If you can increase cooperation with the public, you would assume they report crime more often. But programs so far that encourage community policing—that use newsletters to involve the public, meet often with the public and spend a lot of time dealing with the public in a cooperative way—those projects, at least from the evidence we have now, don’t seem to have crime prevention effects,” Weisburd says. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 11, 2017

GateHouse: The constitutional rights of crime victims

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 10, 2017
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.
Victims typically do not have veto power over plea bargains. However, after Tuesday’s election in Ohio, crime victims in that state have some of the most expansive powers in the nation.
Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure which would amend the state constitution to include crime victim rights. The Ohio ballot issue, known as Marsy’s Law, won by a whopping 83 percent of the vote--one of the largest margins in Ohio history.
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.
Crime victims often do not want to hear about the strength or weakness of a case. They want justice. What does justice mean to a crime victim? Often it may be playing a meaningful role in the process. A victim who is being heard and participating in the process is empowered--and often that may be enough to restore a victim’s faith in the system.
Marsy’s Law was named for Marsy Nicholas, the sister of Henry Nicholas, the Co-Founder and former CEO of Broadcom Corporation. Marsy was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Henry used his considerable wealth to rally support for the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act in 2008 as well as the ballot issue in Ohio. Besides Ohio, Marsy’s law has gained traction in Georgia, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada and South Dakota.
All states and the federal government have passed laws to establish a set of victims’ rights. In general, these laws require that victims have certain information, protections, and a limited role in the criminal justice process.
Victims of crime in Ohio will have their rights included in the state constitution. Those rights include:
- Timely notification of all court proceedings
- Being present and heard in all court proceedings
- The right to refuse an interview or other requests made by the accused
- Notice when the accused is released or escapes from prison.
Most importantly crime victims will now have the right to a hearing before a judge if they feel their rights have been violated.
The measure drew token opposition from prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. Ohio Public Defender Tim Young told the Columbus Dispatch. “This was a mistake for us to put this in the constitution.”
“It makes a false comparison between a victim’s rights and a defendant’s rights,” Young said, explaining that defendants’ rights are in the U.S. Constitution.
Opposition to Marsy’s Law was politically difficult, Young said, because people are understandably sympathetic to victims’ rights. He said he’s concerned that Marsy’s Law could undercut protections for people accused of crimes.
Although constitutional protections for those accused of a crime are firmly entrenched in the Bill of Rights, trying to balance those rights with those of victims is an ongoing challenge for policymakers and practitioners.

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, November 10, 2017

In Oklahoma private company gets rich collecting court fees

Ira Wilkins should be a free man. Wilkins has served his time in an Oklahoma prison and is clear for release. But a private court fee collections agency is keeping him behind bars.
Wilkins is the lead plaintiff in a new racketeering lawsuit against the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, every sheriff’s department in the state, and the court fee collections firm Aberdeen Enterprizes II. When Oklahomans owe court fees, their case is assigned to Aberdeen, which charges them an additional 30 percent on top of what courts want. If they don’t pay, Aberdeen requests a warrant for the debtor’s arrest. It’s big business for Aberdeen and the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, which received more than $800,000 from Aberdeen in 2015.
Under Aberdeen’s watch, debtors wind up in jail. When an Oklahoman owes court fees, Aberdeen contacts the debtor by phone or mail, informing them of the arrest warrant. The message is clear: Pay or go to jail.
In 2016, “failure to pay” was the fourth most common cause of incarceration in the state, with 1,163 Oklahomans booked into jail, according to the lawsuit. (That’s almost as many as possession of controlled substance, the most common cause of incarceration, with 1,326 people book.) Currently, Oklahoma has approximately 45,000 open “failure to pay” warrants, Daniel Smolen, one of the attorneys representing Wilkins told The Daily Beast.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Texas executes Mexican national who raped and murdered his cousin

The 23rd Execution of 2017
Ruben Ramirez Cardenas was executed in Texas on November 8, 2017 for the fatal beating of his cousin Mayra Laguna in 1997, reported CBS News.
Asked by the warden to make a final statement, he replied, "No, sir."
As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, he took a couple of breaths and then began snoring. After less than a minute, all movement stopped.
Twenty-one minutes later, at 10:26 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead, making him the seventh convicted killer put to death this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.
Shortly after the execution, Mexican President Enrique Nieto tweeted, "I express my firm condemnation of the execution of the Mexican Rubén Cárdenas Ramírez in Texas, which violates the decision of the International Court of Justice. My deepest condolences to the mourners."
Cardenas' attorney, Maurie Levin, contended eyewitness testimony against Cardenas was shaky, that little physical evidence tied him to the killing and that a confession he gave was obtained after 22 hours of isolation and intense police questioning.
She also said that authorities acted improperly when not telling the Mexican-born Cardenas that he could get legal help from the Mexican consulate.
Being born in Mexico, which does not have capital punishment, made Cardenas eligible for legal help from the Mexican consulate when he was arrested, according to provisions of the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, which is a 1963 international agreement. The courts have allowed executions to move forward in several previous Texas death row cases in which the agreement was said to have been violated.
Laguna was snatched from a bedroom she shared with a younger sister at her family's public housing apartment in McAllen in South Texas. In a confession to police, Cardenas said he and a friend drove around with the high school student in his mother's car. He said he had sex with the teen and then punched her as she fought him after he unbound her arms to let her go.
"I didn't plan on doing this, but I was high on cocaine," he told authorities.
He said after he hit the teen in the neck, she began coughing up blood and having difficulty breathing. After trying unsuccessfully to revive her, he said he tied her up "and rolled her down a canal bank."
Her body was found in a canal near a lake in the Rio Grande Valley in far South Texas.
Laguna's sister, Roxana Jones, said she had waited 21 years for justice to be served.
"Words can't begin describe the relief it feels to know that there is true peace after so much pain and sorrow," she said in a statement released by prison officials. "Mayra can be remembered as loving, caring, funny and dimples when she smiled. She will continue to watch over family and friends."
The friend who was with Cardenas during the abduction, Jose Antonio Lopez Castillo, now 45, was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and is serving a 25-year prison term.
To read more CLICK HERE


Florida man executed for 1991 murder of two people

The 22nd Execution of 2017
Patrick Hannon, convicted of killing two people in 1991, was executed on November 8, 2017 at 8:50 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke, reported the New York Post.
Hannon was strapped to a gurney as witnesses watched on the other side of a glass window. While he expressed regret over the killings, he said it was two accomplices that killed the victims, Robert Carter and Brandon Snider. Carter was fatally shot and Snider had his throat slashed.
“I hope the execution gives the Carter family some peace. I wish I could have done more to save Robert. I didn’t kill anybody, but I was there,” he said.
As he spoke, one of the victim’s female family members cursed.
“Robby was a good man and a good friend, and I let him down when he needed me most,” Hannon continued. “As far as Brandon Snider, I think that everybody knows what he did to get this ball rolling. I’m sorry things worked out like this the way it did.”
The same woman, who authorities declined to identify later, cursed again in a whisper.
Then as the execution began at 8:38 p.m., the woman made eye contact with Hannon and raised her hand as if to wave “bye, bye.”
Hannon’s body moved during the execution procedure. His lips twitched, his chest heaved and his arms, legs and body appeared to convulse a bit. Then, 12 minutes after the execution began, he was pronounced dead.
Florida resumed executions in August after making changes to its death penalty sentencing law. The law now requires a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence.
The U.S. Supreme Court had previously found that Florida’s old sentencing law, which did not require unanimity, to be unconstitutional. However, the new sentencing law did not affect Hannon’s case because the state’s high court ruled that those decided before 2002 were not eligible for relief.
Hannon was convicted in 1991 of two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of Snider and Carter.
It was in January 1991 when Hannon and two other men went to Snider’s apartment in Tampa.
Hannon’s friend, Jim Acker, initially attacked Snider with a knife, according to authorities. Prosecutors said the attacks were motivated by Snider’s vandalizing of Acker’s sister’s apartment. Snider was “eviscerated” by the initial stabbing, according to court documents, and Hannon sliced his throat, nearly cutting off the victim’s head.
Carter, who was Snider’s roommate, also was home and fled the violence to an upstairs bedroom, where Hannon dragged him out from under a bed and shot him six times, the jury found.
Hannon’s jury recommended death unanimously after finding him guilty of both killings.
Hannon’s lawyers had earlier requested a halt to the execution plan before the Florida Supreme Court, but that was denied. Hannon had asked for a new sentencing phase, citing recent changes to Florida’s death sentencing system. Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who dissented from the rest of the court, wrote that the jury was not given enough information to make an informed decision in Hannon’s sentencing phase.
Without explanation Wednesday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court denied two last-hour requests by Hannon’s lawyers to block the execution.
To read more CLICK HERE



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The blind plea: Defendants expected to enter plea without Brady material

Prosecutors are required to turn over evidence that is favorable to the accused — called “Brady material” after a landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) — regardless of other discovery rules. But the high court never set deadlines, and lower courts have split over whether Brady material must be turned over before a plea, reported Beth Schwartzapfel of The Marshall Project.
What constitutes such evidence is left to prosecutors to determine, and the line is not always clear. In 35 percent of the cases in the National Registry of Exonerations — 711 in all — officials withheld exculpatory information.
The New York court system is expected to soon approve a rule change: Judges would issue an order in criminal cases reminding prosecutors of their Brady obligations. The order does not change what prosecutors must turn over, but it would for the first time allow judges to hold in contempt prosecutors who willfully violate the obligation.
But the deadline in the order is 30 days before trial — well after most plea negotiations have taken place.
The pressure to plead can be enormous, especially because offers tend to go up as time goes by. In some jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, Defendants are expected to agree to a plea at the Preliminary Hearing while having only the information that is in the criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause.
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Will Trump fire Mueller?--There is precedent for such an act

After Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox refused President Nixon’s offer of a “compromise” on the issue of the White House tapes, Nixon orders--through his chief of staff Alexander Haig--Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire Cox. Richardson refuses the presidential order, and resigns on the spot. Haig then orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refuses, and also resigns.
Haig finally finds a willing Justice Department official in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who is named acting attorney general and fires Cox.  Bork tells reporters, “All I will say is that I carried out the president’s directive.” White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler announces that the Office of the Special Prosecutor has been abolished. 
FBI agents are sent to prevent Cox’s staff from taking their files out of their offices. Ziegler justifies the firing by saying that Cox “defied” Nixon’s instructions “at a time of serious world crisis” and made it “necessary” for Nixon to discharge him. 
After his firing, Cox says, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.” 
The press dubs Cox’s firings and the abolishment of the OSP the “Saturday Night Massacre,” and the public reacts with a fury unprecedented in modern American political history. In a period of ten days, Congress receives more than a million letters and telegrams demanding Nixon’s impeachment. Soon after Congress launch an impeachment inquiry.
Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman writes in 1974 that Cox’s firing was not a result of impetuous presidential anger. Nixon had been more than reluctant to accept a special prosecutor for Watergate. Cox, named special prosecutor in the spring of 1973, had quickly earned the ire of White House officials and of Nixon himself, and by October 7, Nixon had announced privately that Cox would be fired. Sound familiar?