Friday, April 28, 2017

And then there were four: Arkansas carries out four of eight planned executions

The 10th Execution of 2017
Arkansas executed a its fourth death-row inmate in eight days, concluding a frantic execution schedule officials said was necessary to carry out death sentences before one of their drugs expired, reported the Washington Post.
The aggressive timetable drew international scrutiny and criticism, pushing Arkansas into the epicenter of American capital punishment as the state attempted to carry out an unprecedented wave of executions. Court orders ultimately blocked half of the scheduled lethal injections, including a second that had also been scheduled for Thursday night, even as the state was able to resume executions for the first time in more than a decade.
The execution of Kenneth Williams, who was convicted of killing a man he fatally shot after escaping from a prison where he was serving a life sentence for another killing, came after his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and not fit to be executed. Arkansas officials pushed back, saying these attorneys were only trying to delay his lawful sentence.
Relatives of another of Williams’s victims — a truck driver killed while Williams fled from police in a car chase following his prison escape — also pleaded for his life, asking the governor to call off the execution.
These pleas went unanswered, and Williams, 38, was given the lethal cocktail of drugs and pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., according to the Associated Press, which has reporters serve as media witnesses in Arkansas. Media witnesses told reporters at the prison that during the execution, Williams briefly coughed, convulsed and lurched while on the gurney.
An AP reporter said Williams’ body lurched several times about three minutes into the process. Williams’ lawyers described the witness accounts as “horrifying” and demanded an investigation into what they called the “problematic execution,” the Associated Press reported.State authorities said this schedule was necessary because one of their lethal injection drugs — midazolam, a common sedative that has been controversial when used in executions — expires at the end of April. Pointing to an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, sparked in part by drug companies’ objections to their products being used to kill people, officials said they had no guarantee of obtaining more drugs and needed to carry out the sentences of eight men convicted of capital murder, some decades ago.
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Elephant tranquilizer hits the streets killing intravenous drug users

A substance used to tranquilize elephants that is 100 times more potent than the drug that killed Prince is hitting the streets, adding to a growing problem linked to the exotic and toxic sedative, reported the Washington Post.
In recent weeks, police departments across the country announced carfentanil-related fatalities, including Maryland, Illinois, Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Law enforcement officials fear the growing lethal overdoses tied to the synthetic opioid marks a new normal in the nation’s heroin epidemic.
“We have never seen death like we do now,” said Tom Synan, head of Hamilton County Heroin Coalition in Ohio, which was among the first spots to discover a string of carfentanil deaths during a week in which the county’s overdoses more than doubled.
 “It shows how callous these drug dealers are,” Synan said. “It has no human use whatsoever and they’re putting it out on the street and wreaking havoc.”
Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and nearly 50 law enforcement agencies, experienced an average of 50 to 70 reported overdoses a week in early 2016 and four or five deaths, Synan said. One month after law enforcement learned carfentanil had hit the county, overdoses skyrocketed with about 175 to 200 calls in a single week in August. Four of those users died.
The difficult-to-detect substance is so powerful that an amount equivalent to a few grains of salt can be deadly. It requires more aggressive treatment to reverse a typical opiate overdose. First responders are getting burned out answering back-to-back overdose calls rising because of carfentanil and other synthetic opioids and worry about falling ill after exposure while answering calls.
And the drug is so new that some medical examiners don’t have the tools to detect it in autopsies.
Often people don’t know drugs they’ve purchased have been laced with an elephant sedative that is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, leaving their families devastated.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Oklahoma commission unanimously recommends death penalty moratorium 'due to serious flaws'

A bipartisan private commission recommended that a court-ordered stay on executions in Oklahoma remain in effect until “significant reforms” are accomplished, citing concerns about resources available to those facing death sentences and the faulty application of execution procedures, reported the Tulsa World.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released its findings and nearly four dozen recommendations in a nearly 300-page report on a study of capital cases from initial contact with police to the day defendants are put to death.
Former Gov. Brad Henry, who helped lead the effort, announced that the commission unanimously recommended that the moratorium be extended due to what he said were serious flaws in the way Oklahoma handles death-penalty cases. He said the number of death-row exonerees from Oklahoma — 10, according to the Death Penalty Information Center — was among his biggest worries, along with the discovery of the limitations capital defendants have when presenting legal defenses.
“If you look at the various defense counsel organizations, whether it’s (the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System) or Oklahoma County or Tulsa County public defenders, they are just overwhelmed with felony cases,” Henry said. “They don’t have enough attorneys. They don’t have the funding that they need, especially in death-penalty cases, to hire investigators (or) to hire experts. You have to decide whether you want to pay to do it right, and either you do or you don’t.”
Oklahoma has put more than 100 people to death in the modern era of capital punishment, and according to commission member and trial lawyer Robert Alexander, it’s almost certain that at least one of them was innocent and couldn’t prove it because of financial reasons.
“Our report has found, 41 years (after the death penalty resumed), systemic flaws in our death-penalty system,” Alexander said. “Whenever there’s a systemic flaw in the system, any injustices that system could cause … fall on the people with the fewest resources to navigate that system.”
The commission also noted that two forms of evidence — forensics and witness identification — were determined to be among the most unreliable.
Henry said he came to the conclusion that the process as it stands needs to be “overhauled” by policymakers, and he said there are good reasons for conservatives to be concerned about the practice despite voters’ November decision to protect the death penalty in the state constitution with State Question 776.
“What we all agreed on was that if you’re going to have the death penalty, it ought to be done right,” Henry said of the commission. “It ought to be done in a way that, as best we can, ensures no innocent person is ever put to death by the state of Oklahoma.”
Co-Chairman Andy Lester, a former federal magistrate, said the fact that an execution is permanent makes it paramount that everyone involved be certain that those on death row are in fact guilty and that they’ve received the best possible legal aid.
“Nobody wants to execute an innocent person,” he said. “If one of (the 10 exonerees) slipped through, just think how horrible that would be. It’s bad enough that somebody gets wrongfully convicted. It’s possible to recreate a life after a wrongful conviction, but it is not possible after a wrongful execution.”
Gov. Mary Fallin released a brief statement Tuesday evening after the report was made public indicating that she’s not yet well-versed on its contents.
“My office has not received a copy of the report, but my staff will obtain a copy and review it,” she said.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office requested a moratorium in October 2015 once it learned about issues with a lethal-injection drug used in the January execution of Charles Warner and the scheduled execution of Richard Glossip. Those mistakes occurred after Oklahoma received international attention for the 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014.
A multicounty grand jury issued a highly critical report in May 2016 about the handling of Glossip’s and Warner’s cases by multiple state agencies. The grand jury recommended that the Department of Corrections overhaul its protocol yet again but did not recommend any indictments.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Arkansas executes 2 more, 3 of Arkansas Eight dead

The 8th and 9th Executions of 2017
Arkansas put to death two men Monday night in the first back-to-back executions in the United States since 2000, reported CNN. Mattmangino.com has been tracking executions since 2009 and this is the first time that two executions have been listed in the same post.
Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams were among eight inmates set for execution in April before the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month.The compressed timeline set off a series of last-minute challenges from inmates challenging the state's lethal injection protocol. The Arkansas Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests for stays from Jones and Williams earlier Monday, as did the US Supreme Court.
Jones was administered the lethal injection at 7:06 p.m. Monday (8:06 p.m. ET) and pronounced dead 14 minutes later. Williams was administered the injection at 10:16 p.m. (11:16 p.m. ET) and was pronounced dead 17 minutes later.
Before Williams' execution began, a federal district court judge issued a temporary stay based on claims from Williams' lawyers that Jones' death was "torturous and inhumane." Infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to place a line in Jones' neck, before placing one elsewhere on his body, the emergency motion read.
The state called the claims "utterly baseless" and a federal judge lifted the temporary stay, clearing the way for Williams' execution to proceed.
These lethal injections were the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out the death sentences of Brian Roberson and Oliver Cruz on August 9, 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Arkansas' last double execution -- of Allen Willett and Mark Gardner -- was on September 8, 1999, according to the Department of Corrections.
Arkansas put to death two men Monday night in the first back-to-back executions in the United States since 2000.
Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams were among eight inmates set for execution in April before the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month.
The compressed timeline set off a series of last-minute challenges from inmates challenging the state's lethal injection protocol. The Arkansas Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests for stays from Jones and Williams earlier Monday, as did the US Supreme Court.
Jones was administered the lethal injection at 7:06 p.m. Monday (8:06 p.m. ET) and pronounced dead 14 minutes later. Williams was administered the injection at 10:16 p.m. (11:16 p.m. ET) and was pronounced dead 17 minutes later.
Before Williams' execution began, a federal district court judge issued a temporary stay based on claims from Williams' lawyers that Jones' death was "torturous and inhumane." Infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to place a line in Jones' neck, before placing one elsewhere on his body, the emergency motion read.
The state called the claims "utterly baseless" and a federal judge lifted the temporary stay, clearing the way for Williams' execution to proceed.
These lethal injections were the first back-to-back executions in the United States since Texas carried out the death sentences of Brian Roberson and Oliver Cruz on August 9, 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Arkansas' last double execution -- of Allen Willett and Mark Gardner -- was on September 8, 1999, according to the Department of Corrections.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, April 24, 2017

Two of the Arkansas Eight scheduled for execution tonight

The state of Arkansas plans to execute two of the Arkansas Eight tonight, which would make it the first U.S. state in 17 years to put a pair of convicts to death on the same day, reported The Huffington Post.
A flurry of last-minute legal appeals at both the state and federal level are expected, though their likelihood of success may have diminished with the recent appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The high court cleared the way last week for Arkansas to hold its first execution in 12 years and the state carried out the death penalty on convicted murderer Ledell Lee.
Jack Jones, sentenced in 1996 for raping and strangling Mary Phillips and attempting to murder her 11-year-old daughter, is scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m at the Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles southeast of the state capital of Little Rock. Jones was also convicted of rape and murder in Florida.
At 8:15 p.m., the state is tentatively scheduled to execute Marcel Williams, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
Marcel Williams is also scheduled for execution on Monday. He was sentenced to death for t he kidnapping, rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
The last time a state executed two inmates on the same day was 2000 in Texas.
The condemned pair were among eight inmates that Arkansas had initially planned to execute in the span of 11 days, a compressed schedule prompted by the impending expiration date of supplies of a sedative used as part of the three-drug lethal injection process.
The drug in question, midazolam, was employed in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney. No problems were reported in Lee’s execution on Thursday.
Four of the planned executions have already been placed on hold by court order.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Here's a prisoner suicide you probably haven't heard about--but should have

Joshua Lee Miles, 36, was found unresponsive in his cell at a South Carolina jail during the early hours of April 13. His death has been ruled a suicide, reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Miles actually wasn’t supposed to still be in jail on April 13, as a Kanawha County magistrate had tried to send an order to the jail for his release the morning of April 12.
Kanawha Magistrate Jack Pauley signed and attempted to fax an order to South Central at 9:40 a.m., April 12. The fax, though, didn’t go through, according to a “communication result report” printed through the fax machine. The report, which was printed at 10:14 a.m., notes that the one-page release order was not sent. The report was placed in Miles’ case file in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
Pauley did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Miles had been in jail since Feb. 27, after allegedly violating the terms of the Kanawha Day Report Program. Kanawha Magistrate Julie Yeager set a $5,000 cash-only bail.
Yeager had sentenced Miles to Day Report after he pleaded guilty in September 2016 to violating a domestic violence protective order.
On March 29, Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster faxed an order for Miles to be released from South Central on a personal recognizance bond. Miles appeared before Webster on a charge of intimidation/retaliation of a witness.
Miles remained in jail, despite Webster’s order, because of the Day Report charge.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 22, 2017

GateHouse: Hernandez’s prison suicide, one of many nationwide

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 21, 2017
Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez’s death in a Massachusetts prison has been ruled a suicide. Hernandez had been serving a life sentence without parole for a 2013 murder.
A former member of the New England Patriots, Hernandez’s death came five days after a jury acquitted him in two other deaths, which prosecutors alleged were precipitated by a spilled drink.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told ESPN.com, “Anytime someone kills themselves in prison, something clearly went wrong,″ adding that he wasn’t drawing any conclusions until the full details of the investigation were released.
Rarely do governors take the time to comment on the death of an inmate. If they did, governors would spend an awful lot of time on the subject. The most recent statistics reported by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4,446 inmates died while in custody in 2013.
Suicide is a problem is jails and prisons across the country. Suicide has been the leading cause of death in jails every year since 2000. In 2013, a third (34 percent) of jail inmate deaths were due to suicide. The suicide rate increased 14 percent, from 40 suicides per 100,000 jail inmates in 2012 to 46 per 100,000 in 2013. A far cry from the 129 suicides per 100,000 inmates in 1983.
Deaths by suicide in prison are far higher than the number of deaths that result from suicide in the general population -- which is only about 1.6 percent. Jeremy Samuel Faust wrote this week in Slate, “It is no exaggeration to say that when a person becomes incarcerated, what the inmate should fear the most is not a skirmish with the leader of some terrifying gang, but what might happen to his own mind.”
There are two primary causes for jail suicide according to the National Institute of Corrections -- first, jail environments are conducive to suicidal behavior and, second, the inmate is facing a crisis situation.
Certain features of the jail environment enhance suicidal behavior -- fear of the unknown, distrust of the authoritarian environment, lack of apparent control over the future, isolation from family and significant others, shame of incarceration, and the dehumanizing aspects of incarceration.
In addition, certain factors often found in inmates could predispose them to suicide -- a history of excessive drinking, drug use and mental illness. These factors become exacerbated during the first 24 hours of incarceration, when the majority of jail suicides occur. In addition, many jail suicide victims are young. Neither of which appear to apply to Hernandez -- he was 27-years-old and had been incarcerated for 4 years.
These issues are compounded by the fact that many inmates have poor coping and problem-solving skills, rendering them unable to deal with difficult emotions. Additionally, according to Corrections.com, many have a history of behaving impulsively -- doing things on the spur of the moment without thinking ahead to the consequences of their actions. Clearly, Hernandez appeared to fall into the categories of poor coping skills and impulsivity.
There are warning signs as well, and Hernandez may have displayed some. The Associated Press described Hernandez during his trial as upbeat, constantly backslapping his lawyers, letting out bellowing laughs and blowing kisses to family members in the courtroom.
An indicator of suicidal plans is often a sudden calmness. Many individuals who are contemplating suicide have a sense of resignation that can result in them acting very calm and even peaceful in the days leading up to their suicide.
Hernandez’s life was a story of tragedy, anguish and pain for so many people. Maybe his death will bring awareness to the toll of prison suicide.
-- 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.
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Friday, April 21, 2017

Ledell Lee one of the Arkansas Eight executed minutes before warrant expired

The 7th Execution of 2017
Arkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years following a flurry of court filings, reported the Huffington Post
Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, on April 20, 2017 just minutes before his death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. 
Lee is one of eight men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before the supply of one of the drugs in its three-part lethal injection protocol expires at month’s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution. 
Throughout his more than two decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her Jacksonville home.
Lee’s execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final court battles. 
“Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later,” the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee’s execution. “During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation’s prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test.”
It added: “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Lee’s attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that raised various issues about Lee’s trials and his representation over the years. Among them, attorneys noted that Lee’s lawyers in his first trial provided inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn’t disclose an affair with the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee’s post-conviction counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.
rkansas carried out its first execution in 12 years on Thursday night following a flurry of court filings. 
Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, just minutes before his death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. 
Lee is one of eight men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before the supply of one of the drugs in its three-part lethal injection protocol expires at month’s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution. 
Throughout his more than two decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her Jacksonville home.
Lee’s execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final court battles. 
“Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution twenty-four years later,” the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee’s execution. “During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation’s prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test.”
It added: “While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent.”
Lee’s attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that raised various issues about Lee’s trials and his representation over the years. Among them, attorneys noted that Lee’s lawyers in his first trial provided inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn’t disclose an affair with the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee’s post-conviction counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, utilizing FBI crime statistics and city police records, found:
Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century, reported the Washington Post. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed.
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people, and has generally been declining ever since. In 2015, crime fell for the 14th year in a row. Estimates based on preliminary data for 2016 indicate that the overall crime rate will remain stable at 2,857 offenses per 100,000, rising less than 1 percent from 2015. Today’s crime rate is less than half of what it was in 1991.
The general trend for violent crime and for murder is similar. With regard to murder, however, here is the wrinkle:
From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016. It is important to remember the relatively small base from which the percentage increases are calculated.
We don’t know with certainty what has caused the 25-year drop in crime, although many researchers, including those at the Brennan Center, say it is related to better — and more — policing, an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption. But rather than paint the entire country and all cities as awash in murder and violence, policymakers and voters should look at several data points.
First, it is important to remember that crime rates can be volatile, bouncing up and down for reasons that are not readily discernible. The overall trend, however, remains the same. For example: “In Las Vegas, the violent crime rate has been especially volatile. The rate surged between 1990 and 1994, then steeply declined until 2000. Yet, from 2000 to 2007 crime followed a largely upward trajectory, reaching another peak in 2007. Then crime fell until 2011, and followed another largely upward trajectory until 2015. Yet, the estimated 2016 rate dropped nearly 13 percent from 2015, and now is roughly at the same rate as in 1998.”
Second, the national murder rate is down — by a lot. “After peaking in 1991 at 9.8 murders per 100,000, the national murder rate remains near the bottom of a 25-year trend. In 2016, the estimated murder rate was 5.3 per 100,000, a decline of 46 percent. The murder rate in the 30 largest cities has fallen faster than the national rate, declining by more than 60 percent since 1991, from 28.8 to 11.4 killings per 100,000 people.”
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thiel College-Death Penalty

Thiel College -Comment Project No. 6

French Philosopher Albert Camus spoke of executions as the macabre dance of the executioner and condemned calling it "administrative murder."  Do you agree or disagree with Camus' characterization? Explain your answer.

Who is minding the use of algorithms in the criminal justice system?

Algorithms pervade our lives today, from music recommendations to credit scores to now, bail and sentencing decisions. But there is little oversight and transparency regarding how they work. Nowhere is this lack of oversight more stark than in the criminal justice system. Without proper safeguards, these tools risk eroding the rule of law and diminishing individual rights, reported Wired.
Currently, courts and corrections departments around the US use algorithms to determine a defendant’s “risk”, which ranges from the probability that an individual will commit another crime to the likelihood a defendant will appear for his or her court date. These algorithmic outputs inform decisions about bail, sentencing, and parole. Each tool aspires to improve on the accuracy of human decision-making that allows for a better allocation of finite resources.
Typically, government agencies do not write their own algorithms; they buy them from private businesses. This often means the algorithm is proprietary or “black boxed”, meaning only the owners, and to a limited degree the purchaser, can see how the software makes decisions. Currently, there is no federal law that sets standards or requires the inspection of these tools, the way the FDA does with new drugs.
This lack of transparency has real consequences. In the case of Wisconsin v. Loomis, defendant Eric Loomis was found guilty for his role in a drive-by shooting. During intake, Loomis answered a series of questions that were then entered into Compas, a risk-assessment tool developed by a privately held company and used by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. The trial judge gave Loomis a long sentence partially because of the “high risk” score the defendant received from this black box risk-assessment tool. Loomis challenged his sentence, because he was not allowed to assess the algorithm. Last summer, the state supreme court ruled against Loomis, reasoning that knowledge of the algorithm’s output was a sufficient level of transparency.
By keeping the algorithm hidden, Loomis leaves these tools unchecked. This is a worrisome precedent as risk assessments evolve from algorithms that are possible to assess, like Compas, to opaque neural networks. Neural networks, a deep learning algorithm meant to act like the human brain, cannot be transparent because of their very nature. Rather than being explicitly programmed, a neural network creates connections on its own. This process is hidden and always changing, which runs the risk of limiting a judge’s ability to render a fully informed decision and defense counsel’s ability to zealously defend their clients.
Consider a scenario in which the defense attorney calls a developer of a neural-network-based risk assessment tool to the witness stand to challenge the “high risk” score that could affect her client’s sentence. On the stand, the engineer could tell the court how the neural network was designed, what inputs were entered, and what outputs were created in a specific case. However, the engineer could not explain the software’s decision-making process. 
With these facts, or lack thereof, how does a judge weigh the validity of a risk-assessment tool if she cannot understand its decision-making process? How could an appeals court know if the tool decided that socioeconomic factors, a constitutionally dubious input, determined a defendant’s risk to society? Following the reasoning in Loomis, the court would have no choice but to abdicate a part of its responsibility to a hidden decision-making process.
Already, basic machine-learning techniques are being used in the justice system. The not-far-off role of AI in our courts creates two potential paths for the criminal justice and legal communities: Either blindly allow the march of technology to go forward, or create a moratorium on the use of opaque AI in criminal justice risk assessment until there are processes and procedures in place that allow for a meaningful examination of these tools.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Arkansas Eight have executions halted

Arkansas' planned to carry out eight executions in 10 days.  Two of the eight were postponed and the remaining six executions  were halted by state and federal judges who raised constitutional concerns, according to Arkansasonline.com.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's decision, filed about 6 a.m. Saturday, to block the executions prompted immediate rebukes from state officials determined to see the six sentences of death carried out. The state reacted to her decision by filing federal court appeals Saturday. 
Lawyers were already scrambling to respond to a temporary restraining order issued late Friday by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen to stop the prison system from using one of the three drugs employed in lethal injections. After issuing his order, Griffen went to the Governor's Mansion and joined a protest outside against the death penalty.
n February, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions of eight men over an 11-day span in April. Since then, two of the inmates received court stays, one of which was issued Friday.
The executions schedule -- a pace rarely seen since the death penalty resumed 40 years ago in the United States -- has drawn international media attention to Arkansas.
The first of the executions was scheduled for Monday, but barring a reversal by judges or a higher court, Don Davis will not be put to death that day.
In a statement released Saturday, Hutchinson said he would meet Monday with state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and prison officials to discuss options.
Arkansas last put someone to death in 2005.
Rushing to resume executions, critics say, increases the chance for human error and trauma. But prison officials and state attorneys say waiting now would put the state's death penalty on hold indefinitely.
Arkansas' supply of the sedative midazolam, which is the first of three drugs used for lethal injections, expires at the end of April. After that, officials say finding a supplier willing to allow the drug to be used to kill someone will be exceptionally difficult.
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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Alabama sheriffs can keep prison meal money not spent on meals

Alabama law allows sheriffs who oversee county jails to keep unspent food funds. In Morgan County, AL the sheriff receives $1.75 per day from the state for each Alabama inmate housed in the jail, according to AL.com. The county also receives about $3 per meal for each federal inmate. The jail, which recently underwent a 450-bed expansion, now has the capacity to house more than 900 inmates.
Morgan County Sheriff's Office has been excluded from keeping excess meal money because of claims the prior sheriff underfed the inmates in his care.
The current sheriff Ana Franklin is embroiled in a legal battle with the Southern Center for Human Rights, and is scheduled for a hearing.
At that hearing, the sheriff's attorneys are expected to argue that a years-old consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn't be held in contempt. The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals.
The decree was issued in 2009 after Franklin's predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed "Sheriff Corndog" because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail.
The Center is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 15, 2017

GateHouse: The assault on science moves to the DOJ

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 14, 2017
The Trump Administration’s assault on science has moved to the Department of Justice.
Climate science was the first target. Climate deniers have challenged the idea that global warming is real and that greenhouse gases are the culprit. One of President Donald Trump’s first actions was to freeze spending at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then he appointed Scott Pruitt, an avowed climate change denier to lead the Agency. He has been a relentless opponent of basic pollution limits as well, the kind that protect the environment from mercury, smog, arsenic and other deadly air toxins, reported Time. He also questions whether toxic mercury pollution is hazardous to public health.
Now science deniers have control of the Department of Justice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end the National Commission on Forensic Science, a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards. He has also suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques, like hair sample analysis, that have come under question.
The DOJ is returning forensic science to the control of the very men and women who, at times, are tempted to use questionable forensic evidence to build a prosecution and seek a conviction.
The Obama Justice Department established the Commission to take an active role in developing policy recommendations and coordinating implementation. The Commission scientists were working to develop and propose discipline-specific practice guidance that would have become publicly available and be considered for endorsement by the Commission and the Attorney General.
The disbanding of the Commission is even more baffling in light of the FBI’s admission that, after reviewing 500 cases that employed microscopic hair analysis, examiners’ testimony contained erroneous statements in at least 90 percent of the cases.
The review was part of an ongoing, decades-long investigation of FBI microscopic hair analysis. The FBI was conducting the review in partnership with the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The review began in July 2013, and covered the first 500 cases of an estimated 3,000 cases spanning more than 30 years. That effort has been halted by Sessions.
Questionable forensic science doesn’t end there. At least 24 individuals charged or convicted, of murder or rape, based at least in part on identifying bite marks on the flesh of victims have been exonerated since 2000, according to the Innocence Project. A small group of dentists belonging to the American Society of Forensic Odontologists are responsible for the proliferation of bite-mark analysis. Those dentists’ findings are often key evidence in prosecutions -- even though there is no scientific proof that teeth can be matched definitively to a bite into human skin. The FBI doesn’t use it, and the American Dental Association does not recognize it.
There is even more evidence under scrutiny -- fingerprints, shoe and tire tread prints, tool marks, ballistics and even bias in line-up and eyewitness identification.
A blue-ribbon panel of the National Academy of Sciences raised concerns with forensic evidence in 2009. The report found nearly every familiar staple of forensic science scientifically unsound, wrote Erin E. Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times.
As far back as 2003, Kenneth Melson, then President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, a former prosecutor and Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, wrote: “(M)ore research is needed in the techniques and (forensic) science already in use ... Method validation studies and new research must be ongoing even in the areas of traditional forensic science disciplines. Justice demands good science and we have an obligation to provide it.”
Today, 14 years later, the DOJ is burying its head in the sand. Science is out of favor in the Trump Administration and we are all in peril as a result.

-- 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, April 14, 2017

A brief U.S. history of the rise and fall of various execution methods

Over the past 100 years, states have sought the most humane execution methods, each supposedly “guaranteed” to eliminate the gruesome errors of previous uncivilized methods, reported the Washington Post. At the beginning of the 19th century, hanging was the universally accepted execution method.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the electric chair was introduced and quickly spread, thanks to the Gerry Commission (named after its chairman, Elbridge Gerry, grandson of the early Massachusetts governor who bequeathed the gerrymander to American politics). The Gerry Commission reviewed and rejected all known execution methods as barbaric and uncivilized — except the brand-new electric chair, then guaranteed to kill the inmate “in the ten-thousandth part of a second.” Thomas Edison vouched for this, the courts went along, and electrocution was soon the main method of state killing. 
In 1924, Nevada adopted the gas chamber. Few other states joined in, partly because of the association with Nazi extermination camps, and partly because it was so difficult to seal the deadly gas within the chamber or to vent it safely after the prisoner was dead.
In 1982, Texas was the first to use lethal injection when it executed Charles Brooks Jr. Lethal injection thus became the most recent in a series of “institutional fads.” As you can see in the chart above, since the decline of hanging, no method of execution has remained popular for long.
In 1977, Oklahoma developed the three-drug protocol that most states quickly adopted. Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma state medical examiner at the time, designed the procedure to improve on what he had seen occur during use of the electric chair. 
In writing the laws for that procedure, state Sen. Bill Dawson and Rep. Bill Wiseman had little or no consultations with doctors or scientists. The protocol was never subjected to any serious testing or evaluation. They didn’t consider any of the available evidence assessing the risks of lethal injection. The law left all critical decisions to the prison officials in charge of the execution, who often have little medical training or experience. And even the best procedures can go wrong if carried out by inexperienced, stressed and untrained personnel.
To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Former Pennsylvania DA to be new drug czar

A former Pennsylvania district attorney, Tom Marino, will be President Trump's drug czar, according to a report from CBS News. Marino served as DA of Lycoming County, My time as DA in Lawrence County overlapped with Tom's from 1998 to 2002 when he became U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Marino, now a Congressman, has a congressional voting record as a hard-liner on marijuana issues, and he recently said that he'd like to put nonviolent drug offenders in some sort of “hospital-slash-prison,” reported the Washington Post.
As drug czar, Marino would oversee the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a branch of the White House that advises the president on drug policy issues. More than anything else, the office sets the tone of an administration's drug policy. Under President Barack Obama, for instance, the office quite publicly retired the phrase “war on drugs,” preferring rhetoric centered more on public health than criminal justice.
Whether that approach continues is something of an open question. Former drug czars from a more militant drug policy era have been publicly agitating to “bring back the war on drugs.” Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is moving to put criminal justice back at the forefront of drug policy.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Professor examines DOJ shuttering of forensic science commission

Erin E. Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law, is the author of “Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic D.N.A.” wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on the DOJ shutting down the National Commission of Forensic Science, here is an excerpt:

Prosecutors applauded the April 10 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice was disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science and returning forensic science to law enforcement control. In the same statement, Mr. Sessions suspended the department’s review of closed cases for inaccurate or unsupported statements by forensic analysts, which regularly occur in fields as diverse as firearm and handwriting identification, and hair, fiber, shoe, bite mark and tire tread matching, and even fingerprinting analysis.
If all you knew about forensic science was what you saw on television, you might shrug off this news, believing that only the most sophisticated and well-researched scientific evidence is used to solve and prove crimes. But reality is different.
D.N.A.-exoneration cases have exposed deep flaws in the criminal justice system’s use of forensic science. Reforms have not come easy, but slow and plodding progress has been made. In 2005, the F.B.I. said that it would no longer conduct bullet-lead examinations after a review panel found matches essentially meaningless. A blue-ribbon panel of the National Academy of Sciences raised the same concern in a 2009 report that found nearly every familiar staple of forensic science scientifically unsound.
Prompted in part by that report, the Justice Department initiated a review of thousands of cases involving microscopic matching of hair samples. In 2015, the F.B.I. announced its shocking initial findings: In 96 percent of cases, analysts gave erroneous testimony. At a meeting last spring of the commission that Mr. Sessions just disbanded, the department said it would expand the view to include a wider array of forensic disciplines.
With the announcement by Mr. Sessions, this momentum comes to a screeching halt. Although forensic science would seem a low priority for an incoming attorney general, it is not altogether surprising that it was in Mr. Sessions’s sights. As a senator (and former prosecutor), Mr. Sessions made forensic science a priority. He sponsored and shepherded to passage the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Act of 2000, which remains the signature federal funding mechanism for state all-purpose forensic labs. That might suggest that Mr. Sessions would care about the integrity of forensic science, but his enthusiasm has been for more — not better — forensic evidence. When the National Academy of Sciences’ scathing report was released, Senator Sessions simply waved it away, remarking, “I don’t think we should suggest that those proven scientific principles that we’ve been using for decades are somehow uncertain” — ignoring the panel of experts who had concluded just that.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sessions dumps National Commission on Forensic Science

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not renew the National Commission on Forensic   Science (NCFS), according to a statement, reported Juris. The NCFS is a 30-member group of scientists, academics, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges originally commissioned in 2013 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) during President Obama's administration. 
The commission had responsibility for developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the courtroom and developing policy recommendations, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for training and certification. 
As the use of bite-mark analysis, hair and fiber sample analysis and even fingerprint analysis have been called into question, the NCFS was charged with standardizing national guidance for forensic science practitioners. Additionally, NCFS was to develop methods for forensic measurements and validate select existing forensic science standards.
The commission is set to expire April 23, and continued efforts to "advance forensic science and combat violent crime" will be handled by the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a committee established by executive order under President Trump. Sessions commended the efforts of the NCFS in his statement.

As we decide how to move forward, we bear in mind that the Department is just one piece of the larger criminal justice system and that the vast majority of forensic science is practiced by state and local forensic laboratories and is used by state and local prosecutors. We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field.


To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Atlantic: Black male inmates have a lower mortality rate than black men on the street

Mass incarceration overall hurts the health of Americans, leading to worse outcomes for the families and communities of men in prison, reported The Atlantic. The inmates themselves are at a very large risk of self-harm and violence immediately after their release. But a recent review of the impacts of incarceration on health published in The Lancet hints at a surprising upshot: Getting out of jail can be miserable, but going to jail can temporarily protect health—at least for some men.
For children and communities, the impacts of a parent’s incarceration are unequivocally bad, write study authors Christopher Wildeman of Cornell University and Emily Wang of Yale. Kids whose fathers go to jail are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and obesity, and they are more likely to do drugs later in life. Because criminal records dampen job opportunities, according to some studies people who live in neighborhoods with high levels of incarceration are more likely to experience asthma from dilapidated housing. These consequences are especially severe for children of color: Because black men are jailed disproportionately, a black child born in 1990 had a one-in-four chance of having their father imprisoned, Wildeman and Wong write.
But, paradoxically, going to prison can actually improve health—at least temporarily—for some inmates. Black male inmates, the authors write, have a lower mortality rate than similarly aged black men who aren’t in jail. The reason? 
The risk of death from violent accidents, overdoses on drugs or alcohol, and homicides is much lower in prison than it is in the neighborhoods where these men would be living otherwise. What’s more, before the Affordable Care Act was passed, many states made it all but impossible for low-income, childless men to obtain health care. Under the ACA, 32 states expanded Medicaid to cover all poor adults, but 19 have not. Because of that, Wildeman and Wang write, prison is the first time many incarcerated young men receive regular health care.
The drop in mortality “is just an indicator of how dangerous the environment for African-Americans is on the outside, rather than being a function of how good the medical care is that they’re receiving” in prison, Wildeman told me.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mangino explains 'Nuclear Option' on WFMJ-TV Weekend Today

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV Weekend Today about the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch.  To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Arkansas Eight gets day in court as executions loom

Tomorrow a hearing will begin in federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas regarding a lawsuit filed by the Arkansas Eight--death row prisoners scheduled for execution this month. The lawsuit asserts that the proposed execution schedule is a violation of the Eighth Amendment and their right to counsel. 
On February 27, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that he was scheduling two executions to occur back-to-back on each of the following days: April 17, 20, 24, and 27, 2017. The Governor’s stated reason for the compressed schedule is that Arkansas’s supply of the controversial drug midazolam will expire at the end of April 2017. Midazolam has been implicated in botched executions across the country.  
Arkansas death-row prisoners have filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s unprecedented schedule of eight executions in a ten-day span amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, violates their right to counsel, and violates their right to access the courts and to counsel during the executions. No state has attempted to conduct executions at this pace in at least half a century. The prisoners have filed the Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The prisoners also filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, which asks the federal court to stay the executions pending full consideration of the lawsuit.
The Complaint states:  

“Taking into consideration the complexity of the procedure for each Plaintiff, the added pressure of eight executions in ten days, the lack of time necessary for review, and the lack of experience of those involved at the highest levels—combined with the use of a drug that is insufficient for its intended purpose and that has caused botched executions in the past—there is a substantial and objectively intolerable risk of suffering and harm to Plaintiffs.” 
To read complaint CLICK HERE

Saturday, April 8, 2017

GateHouse: The Senate is the only victim of ‘Nuclear Option’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
April 7, 2017
Congratulations, Neil Gorsuch. You are the newest member of the United States Supreme Court. The question is at what cost?
The Republican-led U.S. Senate invoked the so-called “Nuclear Option.”
Former Republican leader Trent Lott coined the term to describe a rule change that would ban judicial filibusters and allow up-or-down votes on the president’s nominees.
A filibuster generally refers to extended debate that delays a vote on a pending matter, while cloture is a device to end debate. Filibusters are used by opponents of a nominee or legislation, while cloture is filed by supporters. Under the Senate rules as they existed yesterday, it took 60 votes for the cloture-ending debate.
In 1917, the Senate voted to empower a supermajority of 67 votes for cloture. In 1975, the Senate lowered the supermajority to 60 votes. The last Supreme Court nominee who faced a cloture vote was Samuel A. Alito Jr. in 2006. In Alito’s situation, cloture passed with 75 votes and he proceeded to a vote of the full Senate where he was confirmed.
The late Chief Justice, William H. Rehnquist, faced a cloture vote on his confirmation to the high court and later on his confirmation as chief justice. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s nominee for chief justice, Justice Abe Fortas lost a cloture vote. Fortas later withdrew.
The relatively rare filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation began this week. The Republicans did not have enough votes for cloture. Seemingly, the debate would continue and Gorsuch’s confirmation would not come up for a vote.
With no hope of confirmation does Gorsuch withdraw? No, the Republicans change the rules, instead of needing 60 votes for cloture the rule change provides a simple majority — 51 votes — for cloture, debate ends and Gorsuch becomes the 113th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
What is apocalyptical about changing the rules? The Senate likes to think of itself as the greatest deliberative body in the world. The filibuster and cloture votes have long been revered as tools that prevent hasty legislation and the confirmation of extreme nominees.
A rules change on Supreme Court nominees would be momentous for the Senate, which prides itself on bipartisanship and consent from all senators. Some warn that a rules change could begin to unravel Senate traditions and perhaps end up in the complete elimination of the filibuster — which could alter the reputation of the Senate.
As Democrats lament the dismantling of Senate traditions, they need look back only a few years for the impetus for this week’s action. In 2013, Democrats were in the majority and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada was their leader. He was upset about the blockage of President Barack Obama’s nominees to federal appellate courts. Democrats pushed through a rules change lowering the vote threshold for cloture for court nominees — except those for the Supreme Court — from 60 votes to a simple majority vote.
The current situation was certainly exacerbated by the Republicans’ refusal, for nearly a year, to grant a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court seat that Gorsuch will now occupy.
The ultimate result of the “Nuclear Option” is this president, and future presidents, will no longer need to look to more moderate nominees to the Supreme Court, they can pick more ideological nominees capable of winning only on a party-line vote, with no real concern for working across the aisle to build consensus.
The U.S. Senate, long admired as a body steeped in history and above partisan bickering and back-biting, has taken yet another step toward mediocrity and public indifference.
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, April 7, 2017

The hidden toll on police officers: Suicide

Yesterday, I wrote about Florida police shooting someone every 2 1/2 days. In the past this blog explored the 957 people killed by police nationwide in 2016.
Not to mention the horrible and tragic loss of 11 police officers so far this years as a result of gunfire. There is another calamity among police officers that we hear too little about. As of the end of the first quarter of 2017, 29 police officers have died of suicide, nationwide, a significant increase over the same period last year, reported Law Officer Magazine.  
These are just the ones that are reported and not “hidden.”  Over 100 police officers committed suicide during 2016.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Florida police shoot someone every 2 1/2 days

In 2014, the Tampa Bay Times set out to count every officer-involved shooting in Florida during a six-year period. We learned that at least 827 people were shot by police — one every 2½ days. We learned that blacks are shot at a higher rate than whites. We learned that on-duty police are almost never charged with crimes for firing, even though agencies pay millions to settle civil lawsuits.
Each year had about the same number of shootings, an average of 138.
The youngest person shot was a 2-year-old Jacksonville boy in his mother’s car at a Wendy’s. He survived. The oldest was a deranged 80-year-old man who shot at an officer before the officer fired back. He, too, lived.
Nearly a fifth of the people shot — 156 — were unarmed; no gun, no knife, no vehicle. And half of those were black, in a state where blacks make up just 15 percent of the population. That means unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot by police than whites. One hundred twelve people shot were believed to have driven toward police officers or otherwise used a vehicle as a weapon.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Alabama on verge of outlawing judicial override in death penalty cases

There are two possible sentences in capital murder cases, death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to override a jury's recommendation when sentencing capital murder cases.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative. Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence.
That is all about to change. The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the authority of judges to override jury recommendations in capital cases.
The proposal to end judicial override is not new. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down Florida's use of judicial override.
Ebony Howard, associate legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement applauding the bill's passage.
"Alabama should do everything it can to ensure that an innocent person is never executed," Howard said. "The bipartisan effort to pass a bill that would keep a judge from overriding a jury's vote in capital cases is a step in the right direction. As of today, Alabama is one step closer to joining every other state in our nation in prohibiting judicial override in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases."
To read more CLICK HERE