Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nevada governor pushes for more paroles to ease prison crowding

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is pursuing creative solutions to a potential prison overcrowding problem that could push the system beyond capacity by the end of the next budget, reported the Las Vegas Review Journal.
“Our goal is to not construct a new prison,” Mike Willden, chief of staff to Sandoval, said in a budget briefing last week.
Sandoval’s solution rests primarily with the Division of Parole and Probation and the Parole Commission, which will be given new resources to speed up parole for eligible inmates. 
“We are counting on parole to do that,” Willden said.
Accountability measures will be established to ensure the goal can be met, he said.
Sandoval’s budget expects to see the state’s inmate population increase by 902 over the next two years, serving an average inmate population of 14,006 in fiscal year 2018 and 14,247 in fiscal 2019. This year the average population is 13,345.
The pace of paroles in Nevada are a concern for Sandoval, who questioned the reasons for delays at a November meeting of the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners.
Minutes of that meeting indicate that Nevada has the fewest parole releases to the community per-inmate population in the country.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, January 30, 2017

Prosecutors drive racially disproportionate incarceration in Oregon

Here’s a riddle: What state incarcerates a higher percentage of its black population than Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana?
I’ll bet you didn’t guess Oregon, writes Robert J. Smith a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, reported Slate.
Indeed, the Beaver State locks up its black citizenry at a rate twice that of Georgia and Mississippi. Oregon also has the second highest rate of youth transferred to adult court after Florida. It is the only state besides Louisiana that allows non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases, and it is the only state besides Texas to require “future dangerousness,” a discredited and scientifically bankrupt jury determination, as a determining factor in sentencing people to death.
How does Oregon, a state that has voted blue in every gubernatorial andpresidential election since 1988 and which was one of the first states to legalize marijuana, end up with a criminal justice system that more closely resembles the Deep South than its West Coast neighbors?
The blame lies in significant part with Oregon’s out-of-touch elected prosecutors. These powerful forces within the criminal justice system help to explain the gap between two seemingly incompatible Oregons: one with a governor who has placed a moratorium on executions, and the other whose retrogressive and racially disparate criminal law enforcement policies have led to the seventh highest rate of black imprisonment in the nation.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reporter describes witnessing the execution of Ricky Gray in Virginia

Below is a description of the execution this month of Ricky Gray in Virginia by The Virginian-Pilot reporter David Harki:

The witness room inside the execution chamber (Greenville Correctional Center, Jarratt, Virginia) is equal parts prison cell, hospital room and theater. It’s cinder block walls and harsh lighting. Curtains hang in front and in back of the main floor space, with seats neatly arranged.
And, of course, there’s the gurney, front and center.
On it sat neatly arranged medical lines – IV tubes, maybe – that strung to holes in the back curtain. Behind that curtain, the executioners would push the three-drug cocktail into Ricky Gray’s veins. Their identity was shielded from us.
The gurney was less than 12 feet in front of me. Officials stood on each side of the chamber. I felt as though I was caught up in someone else’s disturbing routine.
On the right of the chamber: a door with a window. The window’s blinds were closed. Behind that, I was told, was Ricky Gray.
A red phone was on the wall beside the door – a direct line to Gov. Terry McAuliffe. An official picked up the receiver and the witness room fell silent.
If the execution was to be stopped, the announcement would come from that phone. Minutes ticked by. We’re all watching a clock on the wall.
The phone call ended at 8:51 p.m., and Gray entered the room – a large man surrounded by other large men. He was wearing a blue-gray, button-up prison shirt, rolled-up blue jeans and sandals. His hands were cuffed in front of him. The faces in the room were expressionless.
Everyone appeared numb, and I felt numb.
Gray staggered or wobbled. Was it the sight of the gurney? Or maybe he was sedated. Eight corrections officers quickly walked him to the gurney. They enveloped him. One stood at his head, one at his feet and three to each side, securing him to the gurney with leather straps.
The thick, blue vinyl curtain in front of the witnesses closed at 8:54 p.m.
The IVs were being inserted. From what I’d read, this was supposed to take around 10 minutes. We waited in silence, staring at each rustle of the curtain.
By 9:18 p.m., I was getting concerned. It had been too long. I asked Frank Green of the Richmond Times-Dispatch if what was happening was normal.
“No,” he said.
I steeled myself for what I might see when that curtain opened.
Finally, at 9:27 p.m., it was pulled back. Gray’s arms were outstretched, his hands wrapped tightly in bandages. He moved his feet, wiggled his toes. His sandals sat on top of one another between his legs.
Gray was asked if he had any last words. He didn’t.
Then the execution truly began. The IV started to twitch. The first drug – a sedative — was coursing into his body. Gray raised his head. It slowly fell back.
Things were moving fast now. By 9:29 p.m., Gray’s breathing seemed to become labored. His legs still moved. He started snoring loudly – as if he had simply fallen asleep. After he was tested for consciousness, the deadly drugs start flowing. I watched Gray’s chest – rising, falling, rising, falling. I was watching for that to stop. To be done with it, for everyone’s sake.
His chest went still. A physician opened Gray’s shirt and used a stethoscope.
I could read his lips: “He is dead.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, January 28, 2017

GateHouse: Is inadequate treatment impacting Chicago's murder rate?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
January 27, 2017
The murder rate in the U.S. is projected to rise by about 13 percent for 2016, but almost half of that increase is due to violence in just one city, Chicago. There were 762 murders last year in America's third largest city, a stunning 58 percent increase in homicides from 2015.
Theories abound as to why - from a slow down by the police, illegal guns streaming into the city, declining community-police relations and a lack of resources for disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Data compiled by the Denver Medical Center between 2000 and 2013 - during a period when death rates from gunshot wounds increased by about 6 percent every couple of years - suggested the increasing severity of gunshot wounds and the increasing number of patients shot multiple times, was making it more likely today than 10 years ago that shooting victims would die as a result of their wounds, reported The Denver Post.
More than a decade ago, when homicides were spiraling, researchers lauded the skill of hospital trauma units. In 2002, University of Massachusetts-Amherst sociologists published a study that found improvements in emergency medical services dramatically suppressed murder rates in the U.S. between 1960-99 even though overall violent assault rates rose dramatically.
The research found that the number of victims dying from criminal assault went down almost 70 percent from 1960-99, with annual declines of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent for firearm assaults, and 3.5 percent and 4 percent a year for other assaults.
The primary reasons for the dropping homicide rate, according to the study, included the development of 9-1-1 services, the rapid stabilization and transport of trauma victims by trained medical professionals, the nationwide proliferation of hospitals into non-urban areas and the development of specialized trauma units.
There were 4,331 shooting victims in Chicago last year, according to police records. A new study by the Journal JAMA Surgery found, between 2009 and 2013, almost one in five gun-related injuries that met the criteria for treatment at a trauma unit throughout Chicago's Cook County were initially under-treated at non-trauma facilities.
"I was not surprised by the number of cases treated in hospitals without trauma units ... What did surprise me was the number of firearm injuries," Lee Friedman, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a co-author of the study told CNN.
Among those with injuries that met the criteria for treatment in a trauma unit about 18 percent received initial treatment at a non-trauma facility, and only about 10 percent of those were transferred to a trauma facility.
One of the very things that the University of Massachusetts-Amherst study heralded as driving homicides down - treatment at trauma unit - is happening with less frequency in Chicago.
The Chicago study involved an analysis of nearly 10,000 gunshot injuries over five years, reported CNN. The criteria for a patient to be transported to a specialized trauma unit include the patient's level of consciousness, vital signs and location of injury, for instance whether a gunshot wound is to the head, neck, torso or above the elbows or knees, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this era of increasing fire power and automatic weapons is it possible that one in five gunshot wound victims in Chicago don't meet the criteria for treatment in a trauma hospital?
Last year was not the deadliest in Chicago's history, nor is Chicago the most deadly city in America per capita. However, the fact that Chicago had more murders last year than the two largest cities in America, combined, calls for close scrutiny of every potential contributing factor to this dire situation.
If Chicago's failure to timely and adequately treat gunshot victims is contributing to the rise in homicide, that problem can be fixed. Before policymakers send in the "feds" or the National Guard, maybe instead they should consider Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross.

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 atwww.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

To visit the Column CLICK HERE

Friday, January 27, 2017

Texas executes man for killing two Subway employees during a robbery

The 3rd Execution of 2017
Terry Edwards was executed in Texas on January 26, 2017 for the murder of two workers at a Subway Sandwich Shop in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs, reported the Houston Chronicle.  
He was convicted of the July 18, 2002 shooting death of Mickell Goodwin, 26, a mother of two, and Tommy Walker, 34, during the robbery.
The robbery occurred as the employees opened the deli for business. Both victims were shot in the upper abdomen, and about $3,000 was taken in the robbery. Edwards, who previously had served prison time for a drug offense and theft, had been fired from the sandwich shop about a month before the robbery. He was arrested as he attempted to dispose of a pistol in a trash bin across the street from the business. His accomplice, Kirk Edwards, a cousin, surrendered the next day. He was later convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
On appeal, Edwards contended that he was denied the right to trial by an impartial jury. He argued that a panel of potential jurors allegedly received improper instructions on the definition of mitigating evidence and that the trial court denied his challenge of one prospective juror. That appeal was denied in May 2015.
In the days leading up to his scheduled execution date, new lawyers for Edwards filed petitions in state and federal court arguing that gunshot residue evidence used in his trial had been falsified and that he was effectively abandoned by the attorneys representing him in earlier stages of his case. His appeals also claimed that prosecutors illegally excluded African-Americans from the pool of potential jurors, instead seating an all-white jury to try Edwards, who is black. Each appeal was rebuffed by the courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay his execution.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Man recently granted clemency by President Obama victim of execution style killing

Michigan State Police say two masked gunmen with assault-style rifles entered a federal halfway house with a specific goal: the "execution" of Demarlon C. Thomas one 79 people who had their sentences commuted by President Barack Obama on Nov. 22, 2016
Thomas, a former member of Saginaw's Sunny Side Gang had his 19-years sentence commuted, was slain by one of the gunmen around 9:40 p.m. on January 23, at Bannum Place, a federal halfway house, said Michigan State Police Lt. David Kaiser.
Thomas, 31, was shot in the head and numerous other times by one of the gunmen as his partner corralled at gunpoint some of the other 23 people in the house, Kaiser said.
"One person watched over a group of them while another subject located the victim and executed him," Kaiser said. "They were looking for this person."
No one else was injured, and it's unknown at this time what security measures the halfway house had in place, Kaiser said. No suspects are in custody.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project 1

Why is there a death penalty?

SCOTUS refuses to consider Alabama judges imposing death sentences

The Supreme Court refused to consider challenges to Alabama's death penalty system, the only one in the country that lets judges overrule juries and impose death sentences, reported the USA Today.
The court's denial of several lower court appeals came a year after the justices ruled 8-1 against a similar capital punishment protocol in Florida. Since that decision, state supreme courts there and in Delaware have struck down those systems.
Many opponents of the Alabama system had expected the justices to take up a challenge. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in particular, has criticized the state for allowing elected judges to impose executions even when juries recommend life sentences.
A recent study by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, one of the groups challenging the state's death penalty system, found that judges overrode jury verdicts 107 times in the four decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. In nearly all those cases, judges imposed death sentences. The study said 21% of 199 people on the state's death row were sentenced through such judicial overrides.
The state executed two prisoners last year, more than any other state except Georgia and Texas. It ranks seventh in total executions since 1976, behind Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, Missouri and Georgia.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pennsylvania plans to close two prisons in already overcrowded system

Two Pennsylvania state prisons are shutting their doors in the near future. The system is already nearly four percent above ideal operating capacity, reported WITF in Harrisburg.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said it's approaching what's known as "emergency capacity," which is the absolute maximum number of prisoners a facility can house.
Wetzel said the two closures would push the state system from 87 percent of emergency capacity, to 92 percent.
"I'd prefer to keep it at about 90 percent of emergency capacity," he said. "But we're not in ideal times. If you look at the financial realities, our choices were to reduce staffing and programming, or do this."
The move is part of an overarching state effort to slash costs to deal with rising budget shortfalls and a multi-billion dollar structural deficit.
Five prisons are potentially on the chopping block-- Frackville in Schuylkill County, Mercer in Mercer County, Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, Retreat in Luzerne County, and Waymart in Wayne County.
The two prisons selected to close will be announced on January 26.
Potential savings aren't finalized, but Wetzel estimated shuttering the facilities will add 40 to 45 million dollars to the state's pocketbook.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, January 23, 2017

Georgia Legislature: No one may challenge our laws in state court

Georgia’s legislators may pass any law they wish — a ban on interracial marriage, for example, or a law against gun ownership, or a prohibition against Christians holding office — and no one may challenge them in any state court, reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The state Attorney General’s Office takes that surprising argument before the Georgia Supreme Court in a hearing on the state’s “fetal pain” law. Citizens, the attorney general says, may challenge such laws in state court only if the Legislature has specifically granted them permission to do so.
As controversial as the “fetal pain” statute is — it bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks — the dispute has implications far beyond abortion law and could result in one of the most consequential decisions by the state’s highest court in decades.
At issue is the doctrine of sovereign immunity, rooted in the centuries-old English principle that “the king can do no wrong.” Sovereign immunity protects governments at all levels from being sued without their consent.
“The foremost principle governing the three branches of government is the system of checks and balances,” said Atlanta lawyer Don Samuel, who represents three doctors challenging the state’s “fetal pain” law. “Under the state’s argument, the Legislature, not the state Supreme Court, is the final arbiter of the Bill of Rights. It reverses who’s supposed to be in charge.”
State attorneys argue, however, that courts may not review challenges to laws when they have no jurisdiction to do so, and that’s the case here because the state has not given its consent to such a constitutional challenge.
“If the public interest in avoiding occasional harsh or unfair results outweighs the public interest in sovereign immunity, the people of Georgia through their representatives can waive (it) by legislative enactment,” the state AG’s office told the state Supreme Court.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Connecticut looks to raise age for adult court to 21

Connecticut’s governor has launched a new attempt at a groundbreaking juvenile justice reform effort this year, pushing to raise the age at which most young offenders go before an adult court to 21, reported the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed the same plan in 2016, only to see it stall in the state legislature. But if he succeeds this year, Connecticut would be the first to raise the age beyond 18 for all but the most serious offenses, such as murder, assault with a firearm and rape.
There’s no doubt this is a cutting-edge proposal, said Lael Chester, the co-author of a report by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government that’s recommending a step-by-step program for making that change.
A state legislative committee that oversees juvenile justice urged Connecticut officials Thursday to move deliberately if the plan gets adopted, phasing in the changes over a 4½ -year period — but it didn’t sign off on any particular bill.
In recent years, several states have raised the age at which teenagers are routinely prosecuted as adults to 18. Connecticut was one of them, raising its age from 16 to 18. But no state has gone beyond 18, the age at which Americans are generally considered legal adults with the right to vote, join the armed forces, carry a credit card.
In their report, Chester and co-author Vincent Schiraldi characterize people between 18 and 21 as emerging adults.Recent advances in the understanding of adolescent brain development and psychology suggest young adults should get the juvenile justice system’s opportunities for rehabilitation and second chances.
Currently, those emerging adults have the highest recidivism rates of any group in the criminal justice system, Chester said. The report found that young adults prosecuted in adult courts were between 34 and 77 percent more likely to be arrested again, and more likely to be arrested for a more violent crime than teens who stayed in the juvenile system.
 “We have historically just lumped together 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in the adult system without really thinking about it,” she said. “And yet we now know from research that that emerging adult population is a distinct developmental stage. They’re somewhere between childhood and fully mature, independent adulthood.”
She added: “We know from developmental psychology and neurobiology that the brain is still developing. That’s what moved a lot of states and moved the U.S. Supreme Court to find that they have a greater protection from the Constitution.”
At least three other states — Massachusetts, Vermont and Illinois — are considering similar proposals, but none have acted yet, Chester said.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, January 21, 2017

GateHouse: Police body cameras 'Ready! Set! Action!'

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
January 20, 2017
The Chicago Police Department announced this week that by the end of the year every city police officer will wear a body camera.
Chicago is coming off of a horrendous year. The city’s homicide rate increased by 63 percent. The Laquan McDonald video sparked national outrage — Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, five of his colleagues claimed that McDonald lunged at Van Dyke with a knife, but the video showed McDonald walking away.
The Department of Justice released a scathing report this week about the Chicago Police Department finding the department engages in a pattern or practice of using force, “including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies in training and accountability … and the failure to conduct meaningful investigations of uses of force.”
Police body cameras are part of a comprehensive plan for law enforcement reform in Chicago.
Yet, on inauguration day and the Women’s rally the following day, the Washington D.C. Police will be required to turn off their body cameras. There is an ordinance in the national’s capital, supported by the ACLU, that the police may not record a protest or rally. The law was intended to protect First Amendment rights by eliminating the possibility that police may review video and use it for other intelligence purposes or to suppress “anti-government” protests.
Twenty-one states have passed laws outlining guidelines for the use of police body cameras. Those states have struggled with issues of privacy, public access and costs. The other 29 states have no framework for handling police video technology.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, a senior United States district judge for the Southern District of New York, wrote in “Americas Quarterly,” police departments experimenting with the use of body cameras “have produced encouraging data.”
Scheindlin, who wrote the controversial opinion that struck down New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, cited a study out of Rialto, California. After the police in Rialto used body cameras for a year, citizen complaints dropped by 60 percent. In addition, the number of incidents that resulted in the use of force by police dropped by 88 percent. In Mesa, Arizona, use-of-force complaints decreased by 75 percent for officers using cameras in a pilot program. In Nampa, Idaho, they dropped by 24 percent, wrote Scheindlin.
Some commentators have argued that police dash cams, body cameras and cameras wielded by private citizens have exposed a pattern of misrepresentations by the police.
There are no comprehensive statistical studies of police being less than candid about arrests. As a result, it is impossible to know how often officers get away with falsehoods, wrote Albert Samaha for Buzzfeed News.
Samaha cited one rigorous study published by the University of Chicago Law Review in 1992 by Myron Orfield, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota. He surveyed dozens of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in Chicago. Fifty-two percent of them responded that prosecutors “know or have reason to know” that an officer fabricated evidence “at least half of the time.” Nearly 90 percent of prosecutors responded that they were aware of police perjury in cases “at least some of the time.”
Most importantly, body cameras have reduced the use of excessive force by the police. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology found that police officers were more cautious and risk averse when wearing body cameras. The authors, Justin Ready and Jacob Young, suggested that the reason that camera-wearing officers made fewer arrests and conducted fewer stop-and-frisks was because they thought more carefully about criminal policy and procedures.
— 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 atwww.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, January 20, 2017

Barack Obama: The president of mercy

During President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, he announced 330 more commutations, for nonviolent drug offenders, bringing his total number of clemencies to 1,715, reported the Washington Post.
Obama has granted commutations to more people than the past 12 presidents combined, including 568 inmates with life sentences. He has granted 212 pardons. His final group of clemencies was the most granted on one day in U.S. history.
 “By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. “With 1,715 commutations in total, this undertaking was as enormous as it was unprecedented.”
One clemency activist said, “His gracious act of mercy today sealed his clemency legacy and allowed many truly deserving men and women to be reunited with their families." 
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Virginia executes killer of sisters 4 and 6 years old

The 2nd Execution of 2017
Ricky Javon Gray was executed in Virginia by lethal injection on January 18, 2017 for the slaying of two young Richmond sisters on New Year’s Day 2006, reported the Roanoke Times.
Gray, 39, was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center. Asked if he had any final words, Gray said, “Nope,” according to a prison spokeswoman.
Gray was sentenced to die for the Jan. 1, 2006, slayings of Ruby Harvey, 4, and Stella Harvey, 9. He and accomplice Ray Dandridge, 39, also killed their parents, Bryan Harvey, 49, and Kathryn Harvey, 39, in their Woodland Heights home.
A few days later, Gray and Dandridge killed Ashley Baskerville, 21; Baskerville’s mother, Mary Tucker, 47; and stepfather, Percyell Tucker, 55, in their South Richmond home. Dandridge, Gray’s nephew, was sentenced to life for those killings.
The Harveys were tied up and beaten with a hammer, and their throats were cut. Their house was set on fire by the killers when they fled and the victims were initially discovered by firefighters. Ultimately, Gray was sentenced to death, leading to years of appeals.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe turned down a clemency request to commute Gray’s death sentence to life without possibility of parole. Gray’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay, which the justices denied on hours before the execution.
The late court challenge stemmed from Virginia’s three-drug execution procedure.
For Gray’s execution the state planned to use midazolam and potassium chloride made by a licensed compounding pharmacy in Virginia as the first and third drugs. The compounded chemicals are tested monthly to verify identity and potency, said state officials.
Compounded midazolam had never been used in an execution in Virginia, Gray’s lawyers complained. 
Their bid for a stay of execution was rejected by a federal judge and a federal appeals court only days before the execution. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Virginia governor declines clemency for condemned killer

Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia declined to grant clemency for Ricky Gray, who will die by injection tonight at the Greensville Correctional Center for the capital murders of two young sisters 11 years ago unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, reported the Richmond Times Dispatch.
“I have decided not to intervene in this case. Mr. Gray was convicted in a fair and impartial trial, and a jury sentenced him to death in accordance with Virginia law. Federal and state appellate courts have extensively reviewed his case and denied his requested relief. Unless a court intervenes, the Department of Corrections will carry out the execution in accordance with the order of the sentencing court," said McAuliffe in a prepared statement.
The governor said, “It is the Governor’s responsibility to ensure that the laws of the Commonwealth are properly carried out unless circumstances merit a stay or commutation of the sentence. After extensive review and deliberation, I have found no such circumstances. I will continue to pray for all of the individuals and families affected by these tragic and horrible crimes.”
Gray's lawyers filed an emergency request for stay of execution with the U.S. Supreme Court.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Serious mental illness pervasive among Florida death row inmates

The Florida Supreme Court recently held that the state’s capital punishment statute is unconstitutional. Approximately 380 people sentenced to death under the now-invalidated sentencing scheme remain on death row, reported Fairpunishment.org. 
While litigation is still pending over whether the decision applies to all Florida death sentences, the Court has clarified that the approximately 150 people who were convicted after the Ring v. Arizona decision in 2002 must have their sentences reconsidered. Roughly one-third of these individuals convicted since 2002 come from just five of Florida’s 67 counties: Duval, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, and Pinellas.
This report examines the 48 invalidated death sentences from these five Florida counties. We examined legal pleadings and opinions, trial testimony, and media reports, and consulted with several legal experts in Florida who are familiar with the individuals on death row.
Our research revealed that 63 percent of these individuals exhibit signs of serious mental illness or intellectual impairment, endured devastatingly severe childhood trauma, or were not old enough to legally purchase alcohol at the time the offense occurred.
The pervasiveness of these crippling impairments among Florida’s death row population is significant when evaluating whether the death penalty was the appropriate sentence. Although all murders are gruesome and deserving of serious sanction, the Constitution limits the death penalty to the most aggravated and least mitigated cases. 
So, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that regardless of the severity of the crime the death penalty cannot be imposed upon a juvenile or an intellectually disabled person, both classes of individuals who suffer from impaired mental and emotional capacity relative to typically developed adults. To do otherwise would be so disproportionate as to violate his or her “inherent dignity as a human being.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, January 16, 2017

Study examines the unnecessarily incarcerated

There’s a new figure in the world of over-incarceration worth remembering: 39 percent.
That’s the percentage of people in U.S. prisons who are “unnecessarily incarcerated,” a new Brennan Center study reported in The Atlantic. The report, which took three years to complete, studied criminal codes, criminal-justice research, and prison populations throughout the country to determine how many prisoners are incarcerated without a justifiable public-safety rationale.
The report concluded that 576,000 inmates currently locked up for crimes ranging from mail fraud to simple burglary could be swiftly released without endangering their fellow Americans. Many of those Americans view incarceration as a largely punitive tool. But the report instead focuses on whether or not prison sentences reduce crime or enhance public safety. To that end, it outlines a series of alternatives that state legislatures and Congress could adopt, ranging from electronic monitoring to community service.
The report also recommends redirecting the estimated $18.1 billion in annual savings from reduced prison costs into reentry programs and community policing, although it doesn’t otherwise focus on the impact of releasing half a million prisoners back into society.
It’s a bold, novel proposal to change the American criminal-justice system, and one sure to draw its share of supporters and critics alike.
To read more CLICK HERE 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

PLW: Solitary Confinement: The Prison Within a Prison

Matthew T. Mangino
Pennsylvania Law Weekly
January 12, 2017
A recent article in the New York Review of Books examined an art exhibition at the former Reading Prison in Berkshire, England. The prison, formerly known as the Reading Gaol, was for about two years the residence of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.
At the time, Gaol was run according to the "principles pioneered at the Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia." Inmates were locked up for 23 hours a day in complete solitary confinement. It was 1897, and inmates, when exercising in the yard or attending services in the chapel, were isolated from one another in boxes and were made to wear hoods. Strict silence was enforced.
One hundred and eighteen years later, in a U.S. Supreme Court concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned the continued use of solitary confinement.
The decision in Davis v. Ayala, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), had nothing to do with solitary confinement. The case dealt with a Batson challenge to a death sentence. Kennedy's concurring opinion received significant coverage from the media, and The Atlantic suggested that solitary confinement may become a "new battleground" for Kennedy.
Kennedy wrote that he wanted to address a matter that Ayala's counsel did not have a chance to expound upon during oral argument. Kennedy described solitary confinement in much the same way it existed in the time of Wilde. Inmates held "in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day; and in the one hour when he leaves it, he likely is allowed little or no opportunity for conversation or interaction with anyone."
Kennedy cited 18th-century British prison reformer John Howard who wrote in "The State of the Prisons in England and Wales," "that criminals who had affected an air of boldness during their trial, and appeared quite unconcerned at the pronouncing sentence upon them, were struck with horror, and shed tears when brought to these darksome solitary abodes."
The concurrence by Kennedy also invoked literature, Charles Dickens in his 1859 masterpiece "A Tale of Two Cities," "recounted the toil of Dr. Manette, whose 18 years of isolation in One Hundred and Five, North Tower, caused him, even years after his release, to lapse in and out of a mindless state with almost no awareness or appreciation for time or his surroundings."
In 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that solitary confinement bears "a further terror and peculiar mark of infamy." In In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160 (1890), the court further found that, "A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short [solitary] confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition ... and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide."
Yet, the high court has yet to definitively determine whether solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
In September, a Pennsylvania federal judge ordered prison officials to come up with a plan to release an inmate from solitary confinement.
Arthur Johnson's lawyers contend that for the last 37 years, their client has been held in an artificially-lit cell "approximately seven feet by 12 feet." He has been permitted one hour of time outside, weather permitting, in a cage roughly the size of his cell. He has not had physical contact—not touched another human being—in decades. According to The Daily Beast, lawyers argued solitary confinement had deprived Johnson of "basic and fundamental human needs" like "mental health and environmental stimulation; social interaction; sleep; a reasonable opportunity to exercise; and dignity."
This comes after a January 2015 settlement, wherein the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections agreed to a complete, statewide overhaul of its policies and practices affecting prisoners in solitary confinement.
The settlement in Disability Rights Network v. Wetzel provides the DOC will stop housing inmates with serious mental illness in the harsh conditions of solitary confinement. New treatment units are to be established to provide appropriate mental health treatment.
While there will continue to be secure units for some inmates, even those units will provide significant out-of-cell time both for therapeutic and non-therapeutic activities. These new units and the treatment and programming provided in them are aimed at ensuring that inmates with serious mental illness have the least amount of restrictions placed on them as clinically necessary.
U.S. District Chief Judge Christopher Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Department of Corrections (DOC) concerns that Arthur Johnson might try to escape, are outweighed by Johnson's argument that the confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.
University of Pittsburgh law professor Jules Lobel, who worked on Johnson's suit, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I believe it is the first time that an inmate has been ordered released who was not shown to be mentally ill."
Johnson was released to the general population at SCI Greene last week.
The pervasive use of solitary confinement for problematic inmates with mental illness is egregious. Solitary confinement, or restricted housing units (RHU) as they are referred to by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, have a place in prison management.
The RHU is like a prison within the prison. Inmates violate prison policy, they commit misconducts in much the same way they committed crimes. The "sentence" for a misconduct might be time in the RHU. The use of solitary confinement in this manner is an appropriate administrative tool to manage a prison.
However, throwing an inmate in RHU and throwing away the key, especially those who act out because they are laboring under a mental defect, is unconscionable.
A report released this summer by the Center for American Progress, "Disabled Behind Bars: The Mass Incarceration of People with Disabilities in America's Jails and Prisons," highlights the tragic intersection of two policy shifts. First, the movement toward mass incarceration; second, an underfunded "deinstitutionalization," or removing people with disabilities from mental hospitals without making simultaneous public investments in community treatment. These policies have resulted in the criminal justice system assuming responsibility for mental health treatment—turning prisons into de facto mental hospitals.
According to the ACLU, "Solitary confinement is psychologically difficult for even relatively healthy individuals, but it is devastating for those with mental illness. ... Many engage in bizarre and extreme acts of self-injury and suicide."
There is also a longstanding practice in some prisons of keeping LGBT prisoners in near permanent solitary confinement, under the guise of protecting them from abuse.
Finally, the majority of death-row inmates, around 3,000 inmates in 35 states, are held in perpetual confinement. In Pennsylvania, the roughly 186 inmates sitting on death row have little chance of being executed.
Pennsylvania has made an effort to deal with mental illness in prison, which often leads to prisoners so inflicted to experience stints of solitary confinement and prolonged prison stays. Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced that 1,000 staff members have received Crisis Intervention Team training aimed at improving response to inmates with mental health needs.
"We have made significant improvements to our mental health services and key to all of the services being successful is how our employees respond to a mental health crisis at the onset," Wetzel said in a press release.
Inmates with mental illness are no longer held in solitary confinement. Additionally, all staff members—15,000 to 16,000 people, according to Wetzel—are trained in mental health first aid (MHFA).
MHFA is an eight-hour course often compared to CPR training or basic first aid training, reported CNN. DOC staff learns to identify warning signs of a suicide attempt, and how to intervene when someone is experiencing delusions. They are also trained on the various symptoms of mental illnesses.
Twenty thousand people leave our prisons every year and we want them to return to their communities healthier than when they arrived," Wetzel said. "Increasing the level of staff training on mental health issues is one important step toward achieving that goal." •

Special to the Law Weekly Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. Contact him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

GateHouse: A farewell and a warning

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
January 13, 2017
This week President Barack Obama gave his farewell address. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley described the run up to the speech as "the most highly publicized farewell address in American history."
That is no surprise. The most famous of all presidential farewells was that of George Washington. The father of our country didn't actually make a speech, but his words helped shape the country we have today.
Washington used the 32-page address, published on Sept. 19, 1796, to explain his "rationale for leaving the presidency, despite pressure from the public and others in government to seek a third term in office," reported History.com. That decision set a precedent that was followed until Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a third and fourth term during World War II. More importantly, the decision protected America from the dangers of tyranny.
President Obama may have viewed his speech as doing the same when he said, "Democracy can buckle when it gives in to fear."
Another poignant passage of his speech was when he spoke of the U.S. Constitution. "Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift ... But it's really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning - with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge."
However, if recent history is any measure, Americans are more apt to surrender their liberties than fight to protect them. For instance, the price of falling crime rates. Experts may not say it and the average American may not admit it, but decreasing crime rates have come at a precious cost - the sacrifice of personal liberty.
We have altered our lifestyles and fortified our homes in the name of security. Homes and businesses across the country have taken measures to become more secure. What was once considered extreme is now commonplace - security systems, spot lights, motion detectors, metal gates over front doors, video surveillance, car alarms, mace, pepper spray, stun guns, handguns, personal self-defense training, even architectural design with crime prevention in mind.
In America, citizens have also passively watched their constitutional rights disappear in the service of security, largely without protest and often while still celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave, suggested Peter Van Buren, author and former member of the United States Foreign Service, in Mother Jones.
In the 1960s, the Warren Court, fearing new forms of surveillance, expanded the protections of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment. Those decisions dealing with pre-arrest detention, right to counsel, Miranda and the exclusionary rule were recognized as fundamental rights.
The post-Warren Courts, due to their concerns about rising crime rates, limited those protections. As it has in the past, the debate over the interpretation of the Constitution will continue to be a point of contention and be "subject to change based on the shifting social and political views of the members of the Supreme Court," wrote Orin Kerr on the SCOTUSblog.
President Obama's warnings are relevant, but may be too little too late. With regard to the ever-shrinking protections of the Constitution, President-elect Donald Trump will make at least one appointment to the Supreme Court and that appointment will shift the balance of power and the "social and political views" of the court.
More importantly, Obama's warnings are, in some ways, contrary to the policies he continued or adopted as president. During his presidency, due process was manipulated in a way that seemed to authorize torture, indefinite detention without charge and even government-sponsored murder of American citizens. As Van Buren wrote, "Torture morphs into acceptable enhanced interrogation techniques, indefinite detention acquires a quasi-legal stance with the faux-justice of military tribunals, and the convenient murder of a citizen is turned into an act of 'self-defense.'"
With the inauguration of a new president only days away, will the emasculation of the due process continue?
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 atwww.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, January 13, 2017

DNA collection: Crime fighting or rights crushing?

Advocates for swabbing people for DNA as soon as they’re arrested, say it helps to solve hard-to-crack cases when other leads grow cold. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials say, it can help prevent crime by catching repeat offenders earlier in their criminal career, reported Stateline.
“We started back in old days with mug shots, then people’s fingerprints,” Meyer said. “Now in the 21st century, we need to start using DNA to the fullest extent.”
But opponents, including defense attorneys and civil rights groups, say that when people are swabbed for a DNA sample when they’re arrested, they are being treated as if they’re suspects in other crimes or even implicating themselves in crimes they may not be suspected of. 
“You can always collect DNA from someone convicted of a crime, so why do you need to frontload that and collect DNA from someone presumed innocent?” said Barry Pollack, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
States have been passing and expanding DNA collection programs over the past decade. In 2013, President Barack Obama signed a law that set aside $10 million a year for three years in federal funds that states could tap to launch or expand their DNA programs.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the practice, saying taking samples at the time of arrest doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. “Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure,” the court wrote in a 2013 decision  Maryland v. King.
Opponents say the laws take a dragnet approach, and ensnare people who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime in other legal battles.
“What is happening is not that law enforcement is seeking evidence that the person committed the crime they were arrested for, but seeking evidence that this person committed some unrelated, unsolved crime,” said Pollack of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It is neither going to strengthen the case against the person that has been arrested, nor weaken it. It has nothing to do with that case.”
Oklahoma last year passed a law requiring DNA collection upon arrest for a felony, with the sample to be automatically destroyed if charges are dismissed.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said police already are able to get a warrant for DNA if it’s necessary for investigating a crime. Testing people whose DNA isn’t needed is a fishing expedition that will exacerbate existing backlogs, he said.
“You’re growing the haystack to where it’s even more difficult to find those needles,” he said.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Surprise:Texas carries out first execution of 2017

The 1st Execution of 2017
Christopher Wilkins, was executed in Texas on January 11, 2017 for killing two men.  He was declared dead at 6:29 p.m., 13 minutes after a lethal injection of pentobarbital, reported The Associated Press.
Before the drug was administered, he twice mouthed “I’m sorry,” to two relatives of one of the murder victims as they watched through a window. He gave no final statement.
Wilkins had explained to jurors at his capital murder trial in 2008 how and why he killed his friends in Fort Worth three years earlier, saying he didn’t care if they sentenced him to death.
Wilkins was released from prison in 2005 after serving time for a federal gun possession conviction. He drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth, where he befriended Willie Freeman, 40, and Mike Silva, 33.
Court records show Freeman and his drug supplier, who wasn’t identified, duped Wilkins into paying $20 for a piece of gravel that he thought was a rock of crack cocaine. Wilkins said he shot Freeman on Oct. 28, 2005, after Freeman laughed about the scam, then he shot Silva because he was there. Wilkins’ fingerprints were found in Silva’s wrecked SUV and a pentagram matching one of Wilkins’ numerous tattoos had been carved into the hood.
Wilkins also testified that the day before the shootings, he shot and killed another man, Gilbert Vallejo, 47, outside a Fort Worth bar in a dispute over a pay phone, and about a week later used a stolen car to try to run down two people because he believed one of them had taken his sunglasses.
“I know they are bad decisions,” Wilkins told jurors of his actions. “I make them anyway.”
Wes Ball, one of Wilkins’ trial lawyers, described him as “candid to a degree you don’t see,” and had hoped his appearance on the witness stand would have made jurors like him.
“It didn’t work,” Ball said.
While awaiting trial, authorities discovered he had swallowed a handcuff key and fashioned a knife to be used in an escape attempt.
“This guy is the classic outlaw in the model of Billy the Kid, an Old West-style outlaw,” said Kevin Rousseau, the Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wilkins.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Death for racist mass killer Dylann Roof

Just a few hours after he told a crowded courtroom, “I still feel like I had to do it,” Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a federal jury for carrying out the mass shooting inside Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in a bid to spark a race war, reported The Post & Courier.
The 12-member panel – three black jurors, nine white – deliberated for a little less than three hours before unanimously deciding the 22-year-old self-avowed white supremacist should die for his crimes rather than spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has scheduled a hearing for 9:30 a.m. today to formally impose that sentence and hear from loved ones who wish to address the killer.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gun violence dominates disadvantaged neighborhoods

Four and a half million Americans live in areas within cities with the highest numbers of gun homicide, which are marked by intense poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation, reported The Guardian. Geographically, these neighborhood areas are small: a total of about 1,200 neighborhood census tracts, which, laid side by side, would fit into an area just 42 miles wide by 42 miles long.
The problem they face is devastating. Though these neighborhood areas contain just 1.5% of the country’s population, they saw 26% of America’s total gun homicides.
Gun control advocates say it is unacceptable that Americans overall are "25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries". People who live in these neighborhood areas face an average gun homicide rate about 400 times higher than the rate across those high-income countries.
Understanding this dramatic clustering of America’s of gun violence is crucial for the effort to save more lives.
Four and a half million Americans live in areas of these cities with the highest numbers of gun homicide, which are marked by intense poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. Geographically, these neighborhood areas are small: a total of about 1,200 neighborhood census tracts, which, laid side by side, would fit into an area just 42 miles wide by 42 miles long.
The problem they face is devastating. Though these neighborhood areas contain just 1.5% of the country’s population, they saw 26% of America’s total gun homicides.
Gun control advocates say it is unacceptable that Americans overall are "25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries". People who live in these neighborhood areas face an average gun homicide rate about 400 times higher than the rate across those high-income countries.
Understanding this dramatic clustering of America’s of gun violence is crucial for the effort to save more lives.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, January 9, 2017

AG nominee Session's record on capital punishment

Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff  Sessions fought to uphold Alabama’s death sentences as attorney general from 1995 to 1997. He worked to execute insane, mentally ill and intellectually disabled people, among others, who were convicted in trials riddled with instances of prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination and grossly inadequate defense lawyering, reported the New York Times
Mr. Sessions secured the execution of Varnall Weeks, who believed he was God and would “reign in heaven as a tortoise” after his death. After the Supreme Court banned executions of insane people, Mr. Sessions persuaded a federal court to defer to an Alabama court’s findings that Mr. Weeks was competent enough to be killed even though he met “the dictionary generic definition of insanity.”
Mr. Sessions also pushed for the death penalty for Samuel Ivery, a black man convicted of decapitating a black woman. At his trial, Mr. Ivery claimed insanity and presented evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and believed himself a “ninja of God.” The prosecutor countered during closing arguments that “this is not another case of niggeritous,” that is, racism. Mr. Ivery later argued that the slur tainted his conviction with racial bias, but the appellate court sided with Mr. Sessions in upholding his death sentence.
Mr. Sessions’ support for the death penalty, even in troubling circumstances, remains unwavering. Last August, he praised Mr. Trump’s 1989 newspaper ads calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York, which appeared shortly after five black and Latino teenagers were charged with raping a white jogger. The men, known as the Central Park Five, were exonerated in 2002 and awarded a $41 million settlement, but for Mr. Sessions, the ads proved that Mr. Trump “believes in law and order.”
Surely, Mr. Sessions isn’t to blame for all the flaws in Alabama’s capital system that pervaded the cases he litigated, many of which involved horrific crimes. But his pursuit of executions in spite of racial bias, defendants’ mental disabilities and other injustices raises concerns about how he will oversee federal capital prosecutions, and shows his lack of commitment to due process and equality. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Chicago: Police stops down 90%, homicide up 50%

Chicago’s former police superintendent blamed the city’s rise in homicides —including 11 over the Christmas weekend — on political pushback against police stops and other proactive measures to curb the ongoing violence, reported the New York Daily-News.
Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s former police superintendent, noted Tuesday in an interview with the Daily News that the number of police stops is down by nearly 90 percent this year compared to last.
Also, the department no longer holds CompStat meetings to focus on crime hot spots, he said.
“We have completely flipped the script where we investigate police and not criminals,” said McCarthy, a Bronx native who once served as the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of operations under then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir during the early 2000s.
 “And as a result, we are reaching a lawless state in this country.” said McCarthy.
Chicago police say more than 40 people were shot over the holiday weekend.
The number of people shot in Chicago this year reached more than 4,300 and the number of homicides to 770. Last year, there were 2,989 shooting victims and 492 murders.

To read more CLICK HERE