A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court seems ready to make it more difficult for states to confiscate cars,
houses and other property that is even tangentially used in the commission of a
crime, reported NPR. It's a process legally known as civil asset forfeiture and was argued before the court this week.
That would be a victory for Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land
Rover was seized by the state of Indiana after he was arrested for selling a
small amount of heroin to undercover cops for $400. A trial judge ruled that
taking the SUV was a grossly disproportionate punishment, on top of other fines
and a year of house detention.
An Indiana appeals court agreed. But the state Supreme Court
ruled that the Constitution's ban on excessive fines, unlike nearly all the other
provisions of the Bill of Rights, has never been applied to the states.
On Wednesday, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher
defended that proposition in the U.S. Supreme Court, facing a chorus of
skepticism from justices, conservative and liberal.
Justice Neil Gorsuch led off questioning Fisher. Whatever
the scope of the excessive fines clause, he said, "can we at least
agree" it applies to the states?
Not when the fine is levied against property, as it is here,
"Really?" shot back Gorsuch, "Come on,
Justice Stephen Breyer hypothesized about the limits of
Fisher's argument. Could the state, he asked, seize a "Bugatti, Mercedes
or a special Ferrari, or even jalopy" if the driver was speeding 5 miles
an hour over the limit?
"The answer," the pained-looking Fisher replied,
Arguing the contrary position was Wesley Hottot of the
Institute for Justice, representing Timbs.
Chief Justice John Roberts offered the most aggressive
questioning, observing that there is a "well-established" distinction
between fining someone $500,000 and confiscating assets used in a crime.
Hottot replied that confiscating property is "a very
different animal" today than it was hundreds of years ago when pirate
ships were the object of civil forfeiture. In contrast, he said, today police
can go after every person's property, even in cases where the owner of the
property is blameless and has not been charged.
Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that in this case, Timbs
had been convicted of a crime. That's correct, Hottot replied, noting that the
trial judge in this case sentenced Timbs at the low end of the scale and ruled
against the state's attempt to confiscate the truck, saying it was
Several justices wanted Hottot to clarify whether he was
asking the court to adopt a proportionality rule.
Not at this stage, Hottot said. All we are asking is that
the court overrule the Indiana Supreme Court and declare that the
Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to the states, not just the
federal government. That, he said, would give the lower courts the opportunity
to work out what standards to apply.
Roberts opined that that may be like asking the court to buy
a "pig in a poke."
"You say, don't worry what it means," Roberts
said, "just incorporate it [to apply to the states] and then figure it out
Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy
assistant attorney general wrote for the USA Today that many presidents, beside
Donald Trump, have taken issue with
judicial decisions on the merits. Most famously, President Abraham Lincoln
excoriated Chief Justice Roger Taney’s scandalous analysis in the Dred
Scott case. Andrew
Jackson, Dwight Eisenhower and Barack
Obama, among others, also have disagreed with the court.
Trump’s harangue differed from all of these in its scorn and
sheer demagoguery. He made no effort — if he were even capable of doing so
— to challenge the court’s legal reasoning. His Willie-Horton
style argument was rather that the court’s application of the
law was making the country less safe.
The only even remote analogue to Trump’s assault on the
independent judiciary was Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1937 court-packing
plan to enlarge the court and add justices sympathetic to his
policies. FDR offered arguments on the merits, but he also played a bit
dirty, telling the country in a fireside chat that
the courts “have cast doubts on the ability of the elected Congress to protect
us against catastrophe by meeting squarely our modern social and economic
It was a mistake that cost Roosevelt. The court-packing
plan failed to win public
support, and it retarded
his efforts to enact the ambitious series of laws that brought the
country out of the Great Depression.
If history is any guide, Trump’s attacks will backfire and
hurt him politically. Unfortunately, as has so often seemed the case over
the past two years, history is not any guide. Trump's sole political lookout is
his roughly 43 percent base. From
that standpoint, the contempt of the majority is a political
plus stoking the same fires that got him elected. And his
nose-thumbing at legal and cultural elites — and they don’t come more
elite than the chief justice of the United States — similarly tends to
delight the only voters he cares about.
Moreover, Trump needn’t worry that Roberts will continue to
engage with him. Roberts would never stoop to carrying out a personal
battle with the president, which would be bad for public confidence in the
court and demeaning to him personally.
But hasn’t Trump made it more likely that the court will
rule against him if some landmark case involving his presidency and even his
liberty comes before it? In a word, no. Roberts has too much integrity to
permit Trump’s imbecility to affect his legal judgment.
On the other hand, that same integrity bodes ill for Trump
if his fortunes are one day put in the court’s hands — for example in a
legal battle over a subpoena for the president’s testimony. The court is
likely to bring Trump to heel (and, I would predict, in an opinion authored by
Roberts and joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh).
That is not because of its personal distaste for
this president, but because Trump’s general claim to be above the law is
constitutionally offensive and untenable. Should the court one day make that
clear, its mandate will prove the ultimate test of Trump’s contempt for the
rule of law.
Joseph Garcia is scheduled to die in Texas on December 4,
although it is clear that he did not kill anyone, reported the Houston Chronicle. Though he’s consistently
admitted to his role in a prison break-out and robberies, he’s long maintained
that he never fired his gun and never intended to kill a police officer after a
Even so, he was sentenced to death under the controversial
law of parties, a Texas statute that holds everyone involved in a crime
responsible for its outcome.
The law of parties has long been baked into the Texas criminal code. It’s a
statute that’s broader — and used more frequently in death penalty cases — than
in many other states, according to Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty
The requirements are simple: The state must show only that
an accomplice to one felony may have “anticipated” another felony could occur.
So, if a three-man robbery crew hits a convenience store and one person kills
the clerk, all three of them are guilty of capital murder — even if the other
two never fired a shot. And, if there’s a getaway driver waiting outside, he
can be responsible as well, even if he never got out of the car.
In some cases, the actual shooter might manage to net a life
sentence and be eligible for parole, while non-shooter accomplices face the
In some states it’s known as vicarious liability.
Nationally, it’s not clear how many people are on death rows across the country
under such laws, but the Death Penalty Information Center counts only 10 clear
cases of non-shooter accomplices who’ve been executed, including five from
“There’s this borderline area between common and uncommon
and I don’t think it’s either of the two,” Dunham said. “But it’s applied much
more frequently in Texas than in similar circumstances in other states.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that only three percent of inmates have serious mental illness needing regular treatment, reported The Marshall Project. By comparison, more than 30 percent of California inmates get care for a “serious mental disorder.” The figure is 21 percent for New York inmates and 20 percent in Texas. Data obtained through a
Freedom of Information Act request shows that instead of expanding treatment,
the bureau lowered the number of inmates designated for higher care levels by
more than 35 percent. Increasingly, prison staff are determining that
prisoners—some with long histories of psychiatric problems—don’t require any
Although the Bureau of Prisons changed its rules, officials
did not add the resources needed to implement them, creating an incentive for
employees to downgrade inmates to lower care levels. BOP confirms that
mental-health staffing has not increased since the policy took
effect. “You doubled the workload and kept the resources the same. You
don’t have to be Einstein to see how that’s going to work,” said a former
Bureau of Prisons psychologist. The bureau said it is “developing a
strategy” to analyze the drop in mental-health care, consistent with a
Justice Department inspector general’s recommendation last year. Although only
a small fraction of federal inmates are deemed ill enough to merit regular
therapy, 23 percent have been diagnosed with some mental illness.
More than any other place in the United States, Huntsville
is the capital of capital punishment, reported the New York Times. All of the 556 men and women Texas has
executed since 1982 by lethal injection and all of the 361 inmates it
electrocuted from 1924 to 1964 were killed here in the same prison in the same
town, at the red-brick Walls Unit. Texas accounts for nearly 40 percent of the
So many people have been put to death and so often — in
January 2000, seven people were executed in 15 days — that people here take
Former Gov. Rick Perry ordered 279 executions during his administration (2001-2014), more than any other governor in U.S. history. Executions peaked in
Texas in 2000, when 40 people were put to death. Perry a staunch defender of the state’s record,
saying that “in Texas for a substantially long period of time, our citizens
have decided that if you kill our children, if you kill our police officers,
for those very heinous crimes, that the appropriate punishment is the death
penalty.” He said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I’m confident that the
way that the executions are taken care of in the state of Texas are
Corsi's role in the investigation largely revolves around
the possibility that he was an intermediary between Stone and WikiLeaks. He has
been involved in Mueller's investigation for roughly two months and has
participated in multiple interviews with investigators, handed over documents
and provided testimony before the grand jury.
Corsi could face any number of charges -- spanning from
perjury to making false claims to obstruction of justice. The potential charges
could be related to false statements he made about his relationship with
WikiLeaks and Stone.
In a rare rebuke, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. defended the nation’s independent judiciary against President Donald
Trump’s attack on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit and an “Obama judge” for delivering an “automatic loss” to cases
brought by the Trump administration, reported the National Law Journal.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush
judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement issued by the court.
“What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level
best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent
judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Roberts has been mostly silent after previous
criticisms voiced by Trump against the judiciary, but Trump’s angry statements
Tuesday apparently crossed a line.
“I’m going to put in a major complaint, because you
cannot win—if you’re us—a case in the 9th Circuit and I think it’s a disgrace,”
Trump said as he left for Florida. He was responding to a question about
the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the
Northern District of California ordering a resumption of accepting asylum
claims regardless of where the claimants entered the United States.
“When people file—every case gets filed in the 9th
Circuit because they know—that’s not law. That’s not what this country stands
for,” Trump told reporters. “They file it in what’s called the 9th Circuit.
This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like
Trump continued, “The 9th Circuit is really
something we have to take a look at because it’s — because it’s not fair.
People should not be allowed to immediately run to this very friendly circuit
and file their case.”
Trump also said that when the asylum case makes its
way to the Supreme Court, “we will win.”
President Donald Trump has provided the special counsel with
written answers to questions about his knowledge of Russian interference in the
2016 election, his lawyers said Tuesday, avoiding at least for now a
potentially risky sit-down with prosecutors. It's the first time he has
directly cooperated with the long investigation.
The step is a milestone in the negotiations between Trump's
attorneys and special counsel Robert Mueller's team over whether and when the
president might sit for an interview.
The compromise outcome, nearly a year in the making, offers
some benefit to both sides. Trump at least temporarily averts the threat of an
in-person interview, which his lawyers have long resisted, while Mueller
secures on-the-record statements whose accuracy the president will be expected
to stand by for the duration of the investigation.
The responses may also help stave off a potential subpoena
fight over Trump's testimony if Mueller deems them satisfactory. They represent
the first time the president is known to have described to investigators his
knowledge of key moments under scrutiny by prosecutors.
But investigators may still press for more information.
Mueller's team months ago presented Trump's legal team with
dozens of questions they wanted to ask the president related to whether his
campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the 2016 election and whether he
sought to obstruct the Russia probe by actions including the firing of former
FBI Director James Comey. The investigators agreed to accept written responses
to questions about potential Russian collusion and tabled, for the moment,
Mueller left open the possibility that he would follow up
with additional questions on obstruction, though Trump's lawyers — who had long
resisted any face-to-face interview — have been especially adamant that the
Constitution shields him from having to answer any questions about actions he
took as president.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow offered no details on the current
Q&A, saying merely that "the written questions submitted by the
special counsel's office ... dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related
topics of the inquiry. The president responded in writing." He said the
legal team would not release copies of the questions and answers or discuss any
correspondence it has had with the special counsel's office.
Another of Trump's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said the lawyers
continue to believe that "much of what has been asked raised serious
constitutional issues and was beyond the scope of a legitimate inquiry."
He said Mueller's office had received "unprecedented cooperation from the
White House," including about 1.4 million pages of materials.
"It is time to bring this inquiry to a
conclusion," Giuliani said.
The president told reporters last week that he had prepared
the responses himself.
Trump said in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday that he
was unlikely to answer questions about obstruction, saying, "I think we've
wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we're
According to Austin Koltonowski of Jurist, lawyer Tom
Goldstein has asked the US Supreme Court to appoint
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the acting Attorney General,
replacing Matthew Whitaker.
Goldstein claims that Whitaker was illegally installed as
the temporary successor of former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and that
Rosenstein is the legal and constitutional successor to Sessions. The motion
argues that as the Senate-confirmed Deputy Attorney General, Rosenstein
automatically succeeded to the role of Acting Attorney General under 28
USC § 508(a) and the Appointments Clause in Article II of the
The motion calls for the court to resolve this dispute
immediately. The Attorney General has a number of responsibilities, including
appointing immigration judges, determining whether to enforce federal statutes
and overseeing the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
If the court does not resolve this dispute immediately, then
decides later that Whitaker’s appointment was always invalid, then unwinding
all of Whitaker’s orders would be “a fraught and disruptive exercise,”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry
Krasner has withdrawn his office from Pennsylvania’s largest prosecutors’
association, saying the group has supported regressive or overly
punitive policies and represented “the voice of the past,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
first 11 months in office have attracted national attention for his
reform-driven agenda, said he believed that the Pennsylvania District Attorneys
Association was at least partly responsible for an explosion in the
state’s prison population over several decades, and that it continues to
back ideas that would make the problem worse. “They have been claiming that
Philadelphia supports this absolute nonsense, this throwback set of policies,
and we do not,” Krasner said at an “Innovation in Prosecution” conference
at the University of Pennsylvania. He added: “The Pennsylvania District Attorneys
Association will not claim legitimacy of its most important criminal justice
jurisdiction and try to take us back 40 years. No.”
Richard Long, the group’s director, said he was
“disappointed, but not surprised” by Krasner’s remarks, which he called “a troubling
misrepresentation of our organization and the dedicated prosecutors who protect
our communities.” The group, with 1,200 members, offers training sessions,
holds annual meetings, and lobbies for criminal justice-related
legislation. Long said Krasner “has made it very clear that he would
rather use the PDAA as a political straw man than engage Pennsylvania’s 66
other district attorneys of both parties in a productive conversation.” He
added that “the level of vitriol Mr. Krasner is directing at our members and
how they go about their business is divisive and unproductive.” In his talk,
Krasner said, “We have a motivated bunch of rural counties — motivated —
who want to have our Philadelphians, often black and brown Philadelphians, in
their jails, because it gives them power, it gives them money.”
In Missouri, a jury is being asked to consider whether
murder is justified in retaliation for a long history of child abuse by a
The only catch is that the killer was not the victim of
abuse, but rather the autistic online boyfriend of the victim.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard lived with her mother, Dee Dee
Blanchard, in Springfield, Missouri. Gypsy had reportedly been battling several
chronic diseases since childhood including Muscular Dystrophy and cancer. She
was confined to a wheelchair since the age of seven. In June 2015, Dee Dee
Blanchard was found dead in her home. She has been stabbed 17 times and her
chronically ill daughter, Gypsy, was missing.
Within days, to everyone’s shock, Gypsy was arrested for Dee
Dee’s murder in Big Bend, Wisconsin, along with her online boyfriend Nicholas
Police soon revealed that Gypsy was perfectly healthy. She
could walk and never had cancer. Her ailments had been the product of her
mother’s imagination. Gypsy’s mother suffered from a rare disorder known as
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP).
The name MSbP is derived from Munchausen Syndrome, a
different though related condition. People with Munchausen Syndrome have a
profound need to assume the sick role, and exaggerate complaints, falsify tests
or inflict illnesses on themselves directly. With MSbP perpetrators fulfill
their need for positive attention by hurting their own child, thereby assuming
the sick role onto their child — by proxy.
The case had all the ingredients of a prime-time crime drama
— mental illness, child abuse, sex, matricide and a gory crime scene.
According to the Washington Post, the murder created a media
sensation around Gypsy’s arrest. She appeared on the “Dr. Phil Show.” HBO
featured a documentary on the case. Hulu is set to produce a scripted series
based on the events.
Godejohn is on trial for first degree murder in Missouri for
his role in the killing. He allegedly did the stabbing. Gypsy, 27, is serving a
10-year sentence in Chillicothe Correctional Institution in Ohio. She pleaded
guilty to second-degree murder. She will be eligible for parole in 2024, at the
age of 32.
In the trial’s opening statement, Godejohn’s lawyer
portrayed him as an autistic man with few friends who only had one real job in
his life, holding a sign outside of a pizza shop, and spent most of his time on
the internet, reported the Springfield News-Leader.
Godejohn fell in love with Gypsy online. The two shared
salacious text messages. Gypsy revealed the abuse heaped on her by her mother.
Gypsy formulated the plan for the killing, stole the murder
weapon and arranged for Godejohn to come down to Springfield from his home in
Godejohn’s defense is to show that he wasn’t able to
formulate the requite intent to commit first-degree murder because of
diminished capacity — his autism spectrum disorder.
According to Christine N. Cea in Autism and the Criminal
Defendant, autism is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed
through the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders. A fundamental criterion for autism is a “persistent deficit in
social communication and social interaction.”
In a stunning turn of events, Gypsy testified for the defense
this week at Godejohn’s trial. She said she planned the murder — she used
Godejohn because “I didn’t believe I could do it — I’m too squeamish.”
Gypsy testified about her mother’s abuse, her isolation from
the outside world and being forced to portray herself as wheelchair-bound and
sickly. A sad story to be sure, but is it a defense for Godejohn?
At the trial’s end, the jury will decide whether Godejohn is
guilty of first-degree murder — the intentional and deliberate killing of Dee
Dee Blanchard — or a lesser charge like second-degree murder. That decision
will have a major impact on how Godejohn spends the rest of his life.
First-degree murder in Missouri carries a sentence of life
in prison without the possibility of parole.
— 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.
An op-ed in the New
York Times last week, written by former solicitor general Neal Katyal
and conservative lawyer George Conway, argues that Whitaker’s appointment is
unconstitutional under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which
requires that the president get the “advice and consent of the Senate” for
appointments to offices that report directly to the president. The U.S.
attorney general is a position that requires Senate confirmation, and Whitaker
had not been through that process for his post as Sessions’ chief of staff. Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed similar misgivings in a letter
to the president last week, CNBC reports.
The president appointed Whitaker under the Federal
Vacancies Reform Act, a 1998 federal law laying out rules for how a president
may appoint temporary officers. Under that law, presidents may appoint a
temporary officer to a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed position when
the previous officeholder “dies, resigns or is otherwise unable to perform the
functions and duties of the office.” The president may install any other person
who has been confirmed by the Senate, or an “officer or employee” who has
served at least 90 days at the agency at a senior pay scale, reported the ABA Journal.
Whitaker, as the former chief of staff, would fall
under the second category. That’s unusual, critics note. Most acting federal
officers are promoted from a position as deputy to the vacant office. The
Vacancies Reform Act makes this the default succession, and the Justice
Department’s succession law, 28
U.S.C. § 508 (2011), designates the deputy attorney general as the
preferred acting attorney general. This would make Rod Rosenstein, who has been
through a Senate confirmation, the presumptive successor to Sessions. On
Tuesday, the state of Maryland made
that argument in a motion challenging Whitaker’s appointment as
illegal and unconstitutional.
Thus, the debate over Whitaker’s appointment is
partially about whether the Vacancies Reform Act’s provision allowing the
appointment of non-Senate-confirmed officials violates the Appointments Clause.
Justice Clarence Thomas said it did in 2017, writing in NLRB v. SW
General Inc. that the Appointments Clause should apply even to
“That the Senate voluntarily relinquished its
advice-and-consent power in the FVRA does not make this end-run around the
Appointments Clause constitutional,” Thomas wrote.
The Wall Street Journal notes that some critics of
the president’s choice also argue that the provision of the Vacancies Reform
Act at issue doesn’t apply to “principal officers” that report directly to the
As Lawfare and Slate note, there’s also a debate
over whether the Justice Department’s succession statute should override the
Vacancies Reform Act. John Bies, writing at Lawfare, notes that rules of
statutory interpretation favor specific statutes over more general ones.
However, the Justice Department itself, through its Office of Legal Counsel,
has supported a deviation from the line of succession during President George
W. Bush’s administration in 2007, when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez
stepped down. In that case, Bush selected Peter Keisler, who had gone through
the Senate confirmation process as the assistant attorney general of the
Justice Department’s Civil Division. Keisler served less than two months as the
acting attorney general before Michael Mukasey was confirmed as U.S. attorney
general by the Senate.
“The Vacancies Reform Act nowhere says that, if
another statute remains in effect, the Vacancies Reform Act may not be used,”
the 2007 memorandum
opinion states. “Nor would it make sense that the attorney general,
through the exercise of a discretionary authority to name a further order of
succession after the deputy attorney general and associate attorney general,
could prevent the president, his superior, from using his separate authority
under the Vacancies Reform Act. Indeed, for this reason, we believe that the
president’s action under the Vacancies Reform Act, without more, trumps the
attorney general’s designation of a succession under section 508.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released
a new memo referencing the 2007 opinion and justifying Whitaker’s
appointment as within the president’s powers.
Gonzalez himself weighed in on Whitaker’s
appointment in an NPR interview
on Saturday. “I’ve got some issues with this, quite frankly, because the notion
that the chief of staff who is not Senate confirmed would have more experience,
more wisdom and better judgement than someone like the deputy attorney general
or even the solicitor general, people in the line of presidential succession
within the Department of Justice, to me, it confounds me,” he told NPR.
Finally, some question whether the Vacancies Reform
Act applies when the departing officer was fired. Sessions resigned, but said
in his resignation letter that he was resigning at the president’s request,
raising questions about whether that is effectively a firing. The Vacancies
Reform Act says it applies when the officer “dies, resigns or is otherwise unable
to perform the functions and duties of the office.” Attorney John Lewis of
Democracy Forward and Elizabeth Hempowicz, director of public policy for the
Project on Government Oversight, told the ABA Journal in October that there’s
an active legal debate on this issue, with no court rulings and a
pending case on the issue as applied to the Department of Veterans
Those who say the Vacancies Reform Act includes
firings point to the “otherwise unable” language as wide enough to encompass
firings. Law professor Steven Vladeck of the University of Texas wrote
in the New York Times on Saturdaythat Sessions’ resignation letter is
enough to pass muster, and that the Vacancies Reform Act would apply to
Whitaker’s appointment. Professor Anne Joseph O’Connell of Stanford argues on
Twitter that whether or not Sessions was fired, the Vacancies Reform
Act would apply.
“What about a bad apple in a [presidentially
appointed] job? If the person refuses to resign (and impeachment takes time)
what would happen to the job’s duties if they were non-delegable and could not
be performed, except by an acting (confirmations take time too)?” wrote
O’Connell. She notes that there are issues with the Vacancies Reform Act that
could be tweaked, “but don’t burn down a statute that makes modern government
work because of [Trump].”
Texas executed Robert Moreno Ramos by lethal injection
on November 14, 2018, amid his lawyers’ continued pleas up until the final hour
that the case be re-examined for legal violations from 25 years ago, reported the Texas Tribune.
Ramos, 64, was convicted of capital murder in March 1993 for
the February 1992 killings of his wife, Leticia, 42, and their two children,
Abigail, 7, and Jonathon, 3, in Hidalgo County. Ramos, a Mexican national, beat
his wife and children with a miniature sledgehammer, and then buried them under
the bathroom floor in the family’s Progreso home, according to trial evidence.
Ramos’ case had been a point of contention in both district
and federal courts for years, due to requirements of an international treaty.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations mandates that when an immigrant is
arrested and held in detention, he has the right for the consulate to be
notified so that the foreign government can provide legal representation.
Lawyers in Ramos’ case had argued in appeals since 1996 that
Ramos wasn’t aware of his rights, and therefore didn’t receive sufficient legal
guidance that they say could have made a difference in his sentencing.
His current lawyer, Danalynn Recer, wrote in a 2015 filing
that Ramos was instead represented by court-appointed, “incompetent counsel”
who was poorly trained and failed to present “mitigating evidence” at his
conviction and sentencing that disregarded Ramos’ brain damage and history of
severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder, as well as his upbringing
marked by “shocking brutality and desperate poverty.”
On Feb. 7, 1992, a neighbor reported that she had heard
screams coming from the Ramos home. For nearly two months after the murders,
Ramos dodged questions regarding his wife and children’s location, until his
sister-in-law reported Leticia Ramos and the children as missing. In court
records, it is noted that Ramos was having an affair and had married the woman
three days after the killings.
Police questioned Ramos at the end of March about his
family’s disappearance. After providing contradictory statements — saying first
that his family was in Austin, then San Antonio and Mexico — Ramos was later
arrested on traffic violations and brought to the police station.
Police obtained permission to search the house on April 6.
They found traces of blood throughout the home. After another round of
questioning on April 7, Ramos admitted that he buried the victims under the
bathroom floor, where police eventually excavated the bodies from underneath
newly installed tiling.
During Ramos’ sentencing, his 19-year-old son testified
against him, detailing harrowing accounts of growing up under his father’s
physical and verbal abuse. Another woman testified that Ramos was likely
responsible for the disappearance of her daughter, who married Ramos in 1988 in
Reynosa and who had not been seen by her family since 1989.
Ramos was found guilty and sentenced to death in March 1993.
The Mexican government eventually filed a case against the
United States in 2003 that bundled Ramos with more than 50 other Mexican
immigrants sentenced to death in the U.S. who did not receive
consulate-sponsored representation under the treaty. The case went to the
International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, which determined in
2004 that the U.S. government had violated the treaty.
No major American city has come close to Chicago’s soaring
murder total in the past few years. The Windy City recorded nearly 1,900
homicides between 2015 and 2017, a period during which the next-closest city,
Baltimore, registered around 1,000, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, when adjusting for its large population, Chicago is
by no means the nation’s “murder capital.” For decades, in fact, it has had
fewer murders per capita than many other U.S. cities with smaller populations,
according to FBI data going back to 1985.
St. Louis led the nation with 66.1 murders per 100,000
people in 2017, according to the FBI’s most recent yearly statistics, released
in September. It was followed by Baltimore (55.8 per 100,000), Detroit
(39.8 per 100,000), New Orleans (39.5 per 100,000) and Baton Rouge, Louisiana
(38.3 per 100,000).
For its part, Chicago ranked 14th among cities with at least
100,000 people in 2017. Its 653 murders, measured against a population of more
than 2.7 million, translated to a murder rate of 24.1 homicides per 100,000.
That was less than half the rate in St. Louis and Baltimore and below the rates
of cities including Cleveland; Memphis, Tennessee; and Newark, New Jersey.
St. Louis has had the nation’s highest big-city murder rate
every year since 2014. Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans have all been in the
top five during that span, according to the FBI, which collects data each year
from thousands of local, state, federal and other law enforcement agencies.
(It’s important to note that not all police agencies submit data to the FBI
every year, which can make comparisons across cities or time periods difficult.
Chicago’s annual murder total reached its highest level in
two decades in 2016 (765 murders), but New York, Los Angeles and several other
big cities have enjoyed long-term declines. No decrease has been more dramatic
than New York’s: The 292 murders that took place in the Big Apple in 2017 were
down from a peak of 2,245 in 1990. In fact, New York’s murder rate – 3.4
homicides per 100,000 people – is now below the national average.
Gregory Gibson's son was killed in a school shooting in 1992, he wrote this for the New York Times:
In 1992, my son was killed in a school shooting in
Massachusetts, a random victim of a disturbed fellow college student who’d
purchased a semiautomatic rifle at a local gun shop and smuggled it onto
campus. College officials had been warned that this student had a gun, but they
didn’t know how to respond; school shootings were still too new.
How could we have imagined then the cellphone videos of the
carnage in Las Vegas? Or Thousand Oaks, Calif. trending on social media because
a dozen people, including college students, were slaughtered in a country music bar?
America’s response to our gun problem has taken some strange
turns since 1992. We no longer ask, “How could this have happened?” Gun
violence has become reliable content in the 24-hour news cycle.
endorsed by Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, that putting guns in
schools will reduce school shootings. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting,
President Trump seconded the motion: “If they had some kind of protection inside
the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”
I think of the crowded school library in which my son died.
I try to imagine a librarian drawing her Glock and returning fire.
This scenario resonates for me. A few years ago, tired of
being told by gun rights people that I knew nothing about firearms, I bought a
handgun and learned to carry and use it. I found the transgressive nature of
the exercise stimulating. Survivors of gun violence are not supposed to walk
around with guns. I also discovered, to my surprise, that shooting was
therapeutic. I was mastering the instrument of my suffering. Now I
reckon I’m at just the level of casual knowledge that a gun-owning janitor or
history teacher might be expected to have attained. What if I’d been in that
library in 1992, charged with keeping my son safe?
I put the question to a man I know, a retired Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms agent who specializes in training people to use guns
defensively — the kind of training that this administration might want to give
teachers, the kind that the National Rifle Association imagines could stop the
killer in a mass shooting.
This man spoke with me about the low proficiency of the
average gun owner: “Imagine shooting hoops in your driveway and thinking you
can play in the N.B.A.” He spoke of the hundreds of hours necessary to achieve
the Zen-like level of expertise in which, in the midst of chaos, responses are
instantaneous and instinctive. He spoke of the continual training necessary to
maintain those skills, and he generously agreed to take me through an
abbreviated version of that curriculum, training intended to turn an average
shooter into, well, what exactly? I wasn’t sure.
In the midterms, Michigan became the first state in the
Midwest to legalize marijuana, Florida restored the vote to over 1.4 million
people with felony convictions, and Louisiana passed a constitutional
amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony trials. These are
the latest examples of the astonishing progress that has been made in the last
several years on a wide range of criminal justice issues. Since 2010, when I
published “The New Jim Crow” — which argued that a system of legal discrimination
and segregation had been born again in this country because of the war on drugs
and mass incarceration — there have been significant changes to drug policy,
sentencing and re-entry, including “ban the box” initiatives aimed at eliminating
barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people.
This progress is unquestionably good news, but there are
warning signs blinking brightly. Many of the current reform efforts contain the
seeds of the next generation of racial and social control, a system of
“e-carceration” that may prove more dangerous and more difficult to challenge
than the one we hope to leave behind.
Bail reform is a case in point. Thanks in part to new laws
and policies — as well as actions like the mass bailout of inmates in New York City jails that’s
underway — the unconscionable practice of cash bail is finally coming to an
end. In August, California became the first state to decide to get
rid of its cash bail system; last year, New Jersey virtually eliminated the use of money bonds.
But what’s taking the place of cash bail may prove even
worse in the long run. In California, a presumption of detention will effectively
replace eligibility for immediate release when the new law takes effect in
October 2019. And increasingly, computer algorithms are helping to determine
who should be caged and who should be set “free.” Freedom — even when it’s
granted, it turns out — isn’t really free.
Under new policies in California, New Jersey, New York and
beyond, “risk assessment” algorithms recommend to judges whether a person who’s
been arrested should be released. These advanced mathematical models — or
“weapons of math destruction” as data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls them —
appear colorblind on the surface but they are based on factors that are not
only highly correlated with race and class, but are also significantly
influenced by pervasive bias in the criminal justice system.
As O’Neil explains, “It’s tempting to believe that computers
will be neutral and objective, but algorithms are nothing more than opinions
embedded in mathematics.”
Challenging these biased algorithms may be more difficult
than challenging discrimination by the police, prosecutors and judges. Many
algorithms are fiercely guarded corporate secrets. Those that are transparent —
you can actually read the code — lack a public audit so it’s impossible to know
how much more often they fail for people of color.
Even if you’re lucky enough to be set “free” from a
brick-and-mortar jail thanks to a computer algorithm, an expensive monitoring
device likely will be shackled to your ankle — a GPS tracking device provided
by a private company that may charge you around $300 per month, an involuntary
leasing fee. Your permitted zones of movement may make it difficult or
impossible to get or keep a job, attend school, care for your kids or visit
family members. You’re effectively sentenced to an open-air digital prison, one
that may not extend beyond your house, your block or your neighborhood. One
false step (or one malfunction of the GPS tracking device) will bring cops to
your front door, your workplace, or wherever they find you and snatch you right
back to jail.
Who benefits from this? Private corporations. According to
a report released last month by the Center for
Media Justice, four large corporations — including the GEO Group, one of
the largest private prison companies — have most of the private
contracts to provide electronic monitoring for people on parole in some 30
states, giving them a combined annual revenue of more than $200 million just
for e-monitoring.Companies that earned millions on contracts to run or
serve prisons have, in an era of prison restructuring, begun to shift
their business model to add electronic surveillance and monitoring of the same
population. Even if old-fashioned prisons fade away, the profit margins of
these companies will widen so long as growing numbers of people find themselves
subject to perpetual criminalization, surveillance, monitoring and control.
Who loses? Nearly everyone. A recent analysis by a Brookings Institution
fellow found that “efforts to reduce recidivism through intensive supervision
are not working.” Reducing the requirements and burdens of community
supervision, so that people can more easily hold jobs, care for children and
escape the stigma of criminality “would be a good first step toward breaking
the vicious incarceration cycle,” the report said.
Many reformers rightly point out that an ankle bracelet is
preferable to a prison cell. Yet I find it difficult to call this progress. As
I see it, digital prisons are to mass incarceration what Jim Crow was to
If you asked slaves if they would rather live with their
families and raise their own children, albeit subject to “whites only signs,”
legal discrimination and Jim Crow segregation, they’d almost certainly say:
I’ll take Jim Crow. By the same token, if you ask prisoners whether they’d
rather live with their families and raise their children, albeit with nearly
constant digital surveillance and monitoring, they’d almost certainly say: I’ll
take the electronic monitor. I would too. But hopefully we can now see
that Jim Crow was a less restrictive form of racial and social control, not a
real alternative to racial caste systems. Similarly, if the goal is to end
mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not an answer.
They’re just another way of posing the question.
Some insist that e-carceration is “a step in the right
direction.” But where are we going with this? A growing number of scholars and
activists predict that “e-gentrification” is where we’re headed as entire communities
become trapped in digital prisons that keep them locked out of neighborhoods
where jobs and opportunity can be found.
If that scenario sounds far-fetched, keep in mind that mass
incarceration itself was unimaginable just 40 years ago and that it was born
partly out of well-intentioned reforms — chief among them mandatory sentencing
laws that liberal proponents predicted would reduce racial disparities in
sentencing. While those laws may have looked good on paper, they were passed
within a political climate that was overwhelmingly hostile and punitive toward
poor people and people of color, resulting in a prison-building boom, an
increase in racial and class disparities in sentencing, and a quintupling of
the incarcerated population.
Fortunately, a growing number of advocates are organizing to
ensure that important reforms, such as ending cash bail, are not replaced with
systems that view poor people and people of color as little more than
commodities to be bought, sold, evaluated and managed for profit. In July, more
than 100 civil rights, faith, labor, legal and data science groups released
a shared statement of concerns regarding the
use of pretrial risk assessment instruments; numerous bail reform groups, such
Community Bond Fund, actively oppose the expansion of
If our goal is not a better system of mass
criminalization, but instead the creation of safe, caring, thriving
communities, then we ought to be heavily investing in quality schools, job
creation, drug treatment and mental health care in the least advantaged
communities rather than pouring billions into their high-tech management and
control. Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “when machines and computers,
profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people,
the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable
of being conquered.” We failed to heed his warning back then. Will we make a
different choice today?
Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, is the author
of the new book “Presidents of War” and wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post.
On the Nov. 11 100th anniversary of the Allied victory in
World War I, I’m celebrating the heroism of American warriors in Europe.
Perhaps 116,000 of them died in that struggle. Their commander in chief,
Woodrow Wilson, did not match the quality of their service. During the
conflict, Wilson made serious mistakes as a political leader that should never
Wilson’s missteps in wartime were hardly his only defects.
His most disgraceful flaw was his racism. Given his high-flown rhetoric as a professor
about elevating humankind, Wilson especially stood out in his white supremacy.
He was not a man of his time but a throwback. His two predecessors, Theodore
Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, had looked far kindlier on African Americans
and their rights.
In 1916, Wilson, a Democrat, narrowly won reelection, campaigning under false pretenses
with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” Privately, however, he knew it was
quite possible that he would take the nation into the European struggle soon
after starting his second term.
As an academic, Wilson had emphasized the need for
presidents to explain military setbacks and other complex or mystifying events
to Americans. Yet he spent much of 1917, the first year of U.S. engagement
in the war, in kingly isolation, rarely using his luminous oratorical gifts to
explain to his countrymen why they needed to make severe sacrifices for a
conflict that wasn’t an obvious, direct threat to America’s national security.
Wilson, who preened as a civil libertarian, persuaded
Congress to pass the Espionage Act, giving him extraordinary power to
retaliate against Americans who opposed him and his wartime behavior. That same
law today enables presidents to harass their political adversaries. Wilson’s
Justice Department also convicted almost a thousand people for using “disloyal,
profane, scurrilous or abusive language” against the government, the military
or the flag. Wilson is an excellent example of how presidents can exploit wars
to increase authoritarian power and restrict freedom, some arguing that
criticizing the commander in chief amounts to criticizing soldiers in the
In the 1918 midterms, with the Great War heading to its
climax, Wilson shamelessly exploited the military struggle for domestic
politics, urging voters to support his party “for the sake of the nation
itself” because Republicans were trying to take “the conduct of the war out of
my hands.” This cheap maneuver backfired. Roosevelt and Taft charged that
Wilson was asking for “unlimited control over the settlement of a peace that
will affect them for a century.” Partly out of disgust with Wilson’s
presumptuousness, voters switched controlof both the House and Senate to the
I admire Wilson’s insistence on ending the war with a League of Nations to ensure that such
a conflict never happened again, but his plan to achieve it was clumsy
political malpractice. He knew the Republican majority in Congress and many
other Americans would be troubled by the possibility that if the Senate
endorsed U.S. entry into the League of Nations, the new peace organization
might have the right to call American troops into battle. Wilson should have
immediately made it his central mission to assuage those fears, but he instead
decamped to the Paris peace conference for months — certain, in
his vanity, that no mere professional diplomat could match his negotiating
skills. The domestic debate over the League of Nations was left to its loudest
opponents, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. By the time Wilson returned in the summer of 1919, fatal
damage had been done.
Wilson’s famous failure to persuade Americans to accept his
cherished league (he poignantly suffered a strokewhile campaigning for it) had
gargantuan consequences. It doomed the League of Nations’ potential to keep the
world out of an even more ruinous war, decades later, as Adolf Hitler expanded
his brutal reach in Europe and Japan fell under the spell of a militant,
In the late 1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to
awaken Americans to the possibility that they might have to fight to save the
world from tyranny, perhaps his biggest obstacle was the bitter public memory
of Wilson and World War I. Laboring under the millstone of the then widely
detested 28th president, FDR managed to rearm the United States only in the
nick of time.
One can admire Wilson for his progressive reforms, for his
idealism and eloquence about America’s role in the world, as I do, without
sugarcoating his displays of political incompetence as a president of war. In
wartime, Americans have a right to expect that the bravery of U.S. troops is
matched by brilliant political leadership in the White House. Too often in the
past, World War I anniversaries have been transformed into paeans to Woodrow
Wilson. This time, let’s keep it focused on the troops.
Setting aside the bluster of soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and President Donald Trump, the big winner on election night was
criminal justice reform. Ballot initiatives focused on softening the impact of
crime and punishment were successful in blue states and red states.
In Florida, voters approved Amendment 4, a measure that
restores voting rights for people who have completed their sentences after
being convicted of a felony, excluding those convicted of murder or certain sex
According to Vox, the Sentencing Project, a non-profit
advocacy group, estimated that nearly 1.5 million people in Florida could not
vote in the midterm elections because of a conviction — about 9.2 percent of
the state’s voting age population.
Could those potential voters have had an impact on the very
competitive Governor and U.S. Senate races in Florida?
Marijuana advocates scored a number of substantial ballot
victories including Michigan, which became the 10th state in the nation to
approve recreational use of marijuana.
“Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end
marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is
regulated for adult use,” Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew
Schweich, told the Washington Post.
With the addition of Michigan, nearly 80 million Americans —
25 percent of the total U.S. population — live in a state or jurisdiction that
has legalized recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana was also approved by
voters in Missouri and Utah.
Not all news was good for marijuana advocates. North Dakota
voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have legalized
marijuana without setting any possession limits or regulatory structure.
In Ohio, voters rejected an initiative that would have
lessened the severity of some drug offenses.
Ohio prosecutors, judges, coroners and even Gov. John Kasich
urged a “no” vote on the proposal, which would have reduced certain drug
possession charges to misdemeanors. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the
measure failed by a margin of nearly two-to-one.
An initiative in Washington will make it less difficult for
prosecutors to pursue police officers who unlawfully use deadly force. Approval
of Initiative 940 means that prosecutors will no longer have to prove law
enforcement officers acted with “evil intent” or “malice” when considering
whether to file criminal charges such as manslaughter. According to the Seattle
Times, Washington was the only state with such restrictive language.
Abraham Lincoln once said “The ballot is stronger than the
bullet.” Colorado wasn’t on Lincoln’s mind when he said that, but on election
day — more than 150 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment —
Colorado voters officially abolished slavery.
Colorado is one of more than a dozen states whose
Constitutions allow involuntary servitude as a form of criminal punishment.
Colorado will no longer permit prisoners to do slave labor, reported The Associated
A constitutional amendment to end non-unanimous jury
verdicts in Louisiana was approved by the state’s voters. Louisiana and Oregon
were the only states that permitted a less than unanimous verdict in a criminal
The less-than-unanimous verdict was rooted in the state’s
ardent racism that intensified after the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era.
The amendment was pushed through the Louisiana Legislature
with strong support from groups that rarely collaborate. On the right,
supporters included the Christian conservative, Louisiana Family Forum, and the
Koch Brother’s political organization, Americans for Prosperity. On the left,
supporters included the American Civil Liberties Union and Innocence Project
Voters in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina
and Oklahoma approved a ballot measure known as Marsy’s Law — the so-called
crime victim’s bill of rights.
Marsy’s Law aims to ensure that victims and their family
members are informed about all criminal proceedings, present and heard, and
protected from the accused.
Finally, in the wake of the GOP’s election day loss of the
House — a notable casualty surfaced in the criminal justice system — President
Trump asked his embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. He agreed,
and so begins a new chapter in the tumultuous investigation of Russia, the
president, the White House and the president’s advisors.
— 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.
Hundreds of inmates from Delaware’s maximum-security
prison, the site of a deadly inmate uprising last year, will be transferred to
Pennsylvania in an effort to reduce overtime for severely understaffed
correctional officers, reported The Associated Press.
The head of the union representing Delaware
correctional officers criticized the move, saying the department needs to
commit to improving compensation and recruitment and retention of prison
Department of Correction officials said they have
entered into a two-year agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections to accept up to 330 inmates from the James T. Vaughn Correctional
Center in Smyrna. The agreement calls for Delaware to pay Pennsylvania $123 per
inmate, per day, to house offenders who were sentenced in Delaware. DOC
officials said the move would result in a savings of $8 per inmate, per day.
“Reducing mandatory overtime will provide relief for
Delaware’s correctional officers, and help make our facilities safer for
officers and inmates,” DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps said in a prepared
Geoff Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers
Association of Delaware, characterized the move as a half-measure.
“This is just another Band-Aid on the situation,”
Klopp said. “It’s a temporary fix. Until we’re able to hire and retain
correctional officers, we’re going to continue to have issues when it comes to
safety and security in the facilities.”
All of the inmates selected for transfers will have
more than five years remaining on their sentences and will return to Delaware
to complete their sentences when the correctional officer vacancy rate is
projected to be “significantly lower.”
There are currently 237 vacancies statewide,
according to prison officials. They did not specify what would constitute a
“significantly lower” number.
The vacancy rate remains stubbornly high despite
efforts taken after the February 2017 riot to boost correctional officer
salaries and offer recruitment and signing bonuses. DOC officials say they have
hired 130 cadets since the salary increase became effective in July.
A review ordered by Democratic Gov. John Carney
after the riot found that the dismissal by DOC officials of warnings about
trouble brewing was indicative of an overcrowded, understaffed facility plagued
by mismanagement, poor communication, a culture of negativity, and adversarial
relationships among prison staff, administrators and inmates.
“For years, excessive mandated overtime and fatigue
... inconsistent management ... the lack of communication, adversarial
relationships, and a general lack of respect at all levels ... have contributed
to poor correctional officer morale and increasing hostility between inmates
and correctional officers,” the review stated.
Carney noted that reducing mandatory overtime was
among the report’s key recommendations.
“We have heard loud and clear that the high levels
of mandatory overtime in Delaware’s prisons creates hardships for correctional
officers and real security concerns inside our correctional facilities,” he
said in a prepared statement.
Wednesday’s announcement comes amid the ongoing
trial for three of the 18 inmates indicted on criminal charges after the riot.
It also follows the filing of a class-action lawsuit last week on behalf of
scores of inmates at the prison. The lawsuit alleges that they were subjected
to inhumane conditions and physical and verbal abuse by guards both before and
after the riot.
Sixteen inmates were charged with murder, kidnapping
and other crimes following the riot, during which prison guard Steven Floyd was
killed and three other staffers taken hostage. Two other inmates, including one
who pleaded guilty to riot and is testifying for prosecutors, were not charged
with murder. The defendants are scheduled to be tried in groups over the next
“Under the law, the person running the Department of Justice
must have been approved by the United States Senate for some previous position.
Even on an interim post,” Napolitano told Fox News’ Dana Perino.
While Whitaker was confirmed by the Senate in 2004 when he
was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa,
Napolitano said that he was nevertheless ineligible to serve in his current
post as the confirmation was not “for a leadership position in the Justice
“Who has been confirmed and who’s next in line? Deputy
Attorney General Rosenstein,” Napolitano added.
Conservative new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined liberal colleagues in raising concerns about Missouri’s plan
to use lethal injection to execute a murderer with a rare medical condition, reported Reuters.
Lawyers for Russell Bucklew, 50, have argued that because of
a congenital condition called cavernous hemangioma that leaves him with
blood-filled tumours on his body, the lethal injection could cause undue agony
in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual
Based on the one-hour oral argument, it is not clear how the
court will rule in Bucklew’s case but Kavanaugh’s comments in his first death
penalty-related oral argument since joining the court last month suggest he
could potentially break with fellow conservatives.
If he joins the court’s four liberals, the court could issue
a narrow decision sending the case back to lower courts to determine whether
the state can accommodate Bucklew’s medical issues.
In 2005, the World Health Organization dubbed Glasgow, Scotland the
“murder capital of Europe.” There had been 83
homicides the previous year in the Glasgow region, where gangs were
known for their booze-and-blades culture, reported the Washington Post.
Exasperated police in Glasgow decided to rethink strategy.
They set up a violence reduction unit (VRU) guided by the
philosophy that violence is like a public health issue: Violent behavior
spreads from person to person. To contain it, you need to think in terms of
transmission and risk, symptoms and causes.
“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” said Niven
Rennie, director of the now-national Scottish VRU, a unit funded by the
government with a budget of $1.6 million this year.
Scottish police plucked ideas from the Cure Violence project
in Chicago, Boston’s Operation Ceasefire and Homeboy
Industries in Los Angeles, among other initiatives. They formed
partnerships with local teachers, doctors and social workers.
They didn’t abandon traditional policing. Shortly after
launching the VRU, police ratcheted up stop-and-search and successfully
campaigned for legislation that increased the maximum sentences for carrying a
knife. But increasingly, they emphasized the interruption and prevention of
violent behavior. They are intervening in hospitals, working with partners in
schools and helping former offenders get back to work.
Meanwhile, over the past decade, Glasgow has seen a 60 percent drop in homicides, and violent
crime in Scotland has fallen to historic lows.
The notion that the public health approach may have
contributed to the decline has brought officers from as far afield as Canada
and New Zealand to Glasgow to learn more.
And in London, where knife crime has risen by
50 percent in the past three years, Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced the
creation of a violence reduction unit modeled on Scotland’s. “We have listened
and researched the public health approaches in cities like Glasgow, where their
own long-term approach over more than a decade has delivered large reductions
in violence,” the mayor said in a statement.
Researchers urge caution in assessing the impact of
Scotland’s program. They stress the difficulty of pinpointing and disentangling
the variables that influence crime rates.
“There are a lot of factors at play,” said Susan McVie, a
professor of criminology at the University of Edinburgh.
Scottish police have been “bold, they’ve been progressive in
a way that has not happened in the city of Glasgow before,” said Alistair
Fraser, a criminology lecturer at the University of Glasgow and author of a
book on gang
identity. Fraser said the VRU has been successful at changing the narrative
about crime, but he was hesitant about more concrete results. “There is a
general sense it’s a good thing,” he said, “but little in the way of hard
The picture is complicated by statistics showing that crime
also has decreased in areas of Scotland where the VRU is not active. Other
possible explanations for the decline include anti-knife campaigns in Scottish
schools and a trend of young people spending more time at home and less
lingering on the streets.
Gun-carrying civilian groups and border vigilantes have
heard a call to arms in President Trump’s warnings about threats to American
security posed by caravans of Central American migrants moving through Mexico, reported the Washington Post.
They’re packing coolers and tents, oiling rifles and tuning up aerial drones,
with plans to form caravans of their own and trail American troops to the
“We’ll observe and report, and offer aid in any way we can,”
said Shannon McGauley, a bail bondsman in the Dallas suburbs who is president
of the Texas Minutemen. McGauley said he was preparing to head for the Rio
Grande in coming days.
“We’ve proved ourselves before, and we’ll prove ourselves
again,” he said.
McGauley and others have been roused by the president’s call
to restore order and defend the country against what Trump has called “an
invasion,” as thousands of Central American migrants advance slowly through
southern Mexico toward the U.S. border. Trump has insisted that “unknown Middle
Easterners,” “very tough fighters,” and large numbers of violent criminals are traveling among the women,
children and families heading north on foot.
The Texas Minutemen, according to McGauley, have 100
volunteers en route to the Rio Grande who want to help stop the migrants, with
more likely on the way.
An analysis of crime and punishment from the perspective of a former prosecutor and current criminal justice practitioner.
The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or postions of any county, state or federal agency.