Thursday, December 5, 2019

Legal scholars testify before Congress about impeachable offenses

Three of the lawyers were chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans, and the experts split much like the committee, along partisan lines, over whether Trump committed an impeachable offense when he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
The lofty arguments about the Constitution were frequently interrupted by partisan sniping among committee members.
Here are some takeaways from the hearing, according to The Associated Press:
The four law professors who testified brought history lessons to the hearing, with talk of American Founding Fathers and British monarchs, of the 18th-century Constitutional Convention and the 20th-century impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Their testimony had a contemporary purpose, too, as Democrats look to bolster the argument for impeachment by having outside constitutional experts make the case that Trump committed an impeachable offense.
Three of the witnesses made clear they thought Trump’s conduct met the definition of an abuse of power that the constitutional framers had in mind for removal of a commander in chief. They said the president’s interaction with Ukraine amounted to high crimes and misdemeanors, the impeachment standard set out in the Constitution.
“If what we are talking about is not impeachable,” said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, “then nothing is impeachable.”
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the Founding Fathers were particularly concerned about foreign interference in American politics.
“The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified them,” Karlan said. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done.”
The lone dissenter was Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor, who said that although he is not a supporter of the president, he found the case against Trump legally weak and warned that it would “collapse” amid an absence of criminal intent.
The three Democratic witnesses agreed that Trump could be impeached for bribery as it is defined in the Constitution. Democrats have hinted that bribery could be one of the articles of impeachment.
Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School said the “clear sense” of the framers on bribery was “when the president corruptly asked for or received something of value to him from someone who could be affected by his official office.”
“So if the House of Representatives and the members of this committee were to determine that getting the investigations either announced or undertaken was a thing of value to President Trump, that was what he sought, then this committee and this House could safely conclude that the president had committed bribery under the Constitution,” Feldman said.
Karlan said that if Congress concludes that Trump asked for the investigations of Biden and his son to aid his reelection, “then yes, you have bribery here.”
Turley disagreed, warning against using a “boundless interpretation” of bribery.
“The statement has been made, not just by these witnesses but Chairman Schiff and others, that this is a clear case of bribery. It’s not,” Turley said.
There may have been four law professors at the hearing, but many of the lawmakers limited their questions to witnesses summoned by their own party — and some asked none at all.
Several GOP lawmakers, bypassing the chance to pose questions to witnesses, used their five-minute allotments with speeches that defended the president and attacked the impeachment proceedings as partisan and rushed.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio praised the testimony of Turley, the GOP-selected witness, but didn’t actually direct any questions to him.
Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas asked a series of questions of Turley but also chose to ignore the three witnesses Democrats relied on to make their impeachment case.
Democrats mostly did the same, focusing their queries to witnesses brought in by their party. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of Louisiana, brought up Turley several times but asked other witnesses — not him — about his testimony.
Still, there were some notable exceptions, such as when Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida challenged the witnesses on what he said were Democratic biases and anti-Trump leanings. H e asked Gerhardt and Karlan about contributions they’d made to Democrats including President Barack Obama.
He also asked all the witnesses to raise their hands if they had personal knowledge of the events at hand; none did.
“And let the record reflect no personal knowledge of a single fact,” Gaetz said.
When it was his turn, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, confronted Turley directly on his past statements — and even legal involvement — in prior impeachment proceedings.
Democrats have been debating whether to include an article on obstruction of justice as laid out in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller.
That report, released in April, laid out potential acts of obstruction but declined to make a determination one way or the other about whether the president had illegally subverted the Russia investigation, with Mueller citing Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. He essentially left it up to Congress to decide.
Nadler signaled that he believes Mueller’s findings should be included, saying in his opening statement that Trump took “extraordinary and unprecedented steps” to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.
He said that Trump not only “welcomed foreign interference in the 2016 election” — the focus of Mueller’s investigation — but also “demanded it for the 2020 election.”
Democrats haven’t yet decided whether to include Mueller’s investigation in any articles of impeachment. But many members have argued that it should be included.
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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

AG Barr: Lack of respect for police could mean no protection from police

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said recently, according to the HuffPost, that if some communities don’t begin showing more respect to law enforcement, then they could potentially not be protected by police officers.
The country’s top cop made the questionable remarks while giving a speech at the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing
So according to the AG, the police could abandon communities that have some unknown member of inhabitants that don't show respect to the police.  So, those vulnerable members of the community who want, need and appreciate the help and protection of the police will be ignored?
 “But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr said. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves ― and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for clarification on who specifically Barr was referring to when he mentioned “communities” and what he meant by people finding themselves without police protection.
But American Bridge, a liberal super PAC that first flagged the comments, said the attorney general was referring to communities of color that have historically had a contentious relationship with law enforcement due to police brutality, mass incarceration and racial profiling.
“The Attorney General isn’t being subtle and that shouldn’t surprise us considering this administration’s record,” American Bridge spokesperson Jeb Fain told HuffPost in a statement. “When it comes to communities of color, he sees justice and equal protection under the law as subject to conditions. 
“Barr’s words are as revealing as they are disturbing ― flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law.”
The attorney general has proved before that he does not support the more humane criminal justice reform that’s coming to states, counties and local jurisdictions across the country. Since taking over as attorney general in February, Barr has maintained the “tough on crime” approach that President Donald Trump has adopted.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Kansas man with Alzheimer's disease facing execution by federal government

A federal death row inmate who confessed to killing and dismembering a Kansas City teenager has advancing Alzheimer’s disease and does not understand why the government wants to execute him, his attorneys said in a new lawsuit, reported the Kansas City Star.
Lawyers for Wesley Purkey, 67, said his scheduled Dec. 13 execution would therefore violate his constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which bars the death penalty for someone who is incompetent.
Purkey believes the government wants to execute him in retaliation for making complaints about prison conditions, his lawyers said.
“Wes Purkey is a severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease,” Rebecca Woodman, one of his attorneys, said in a statement. “He has long accepted responsibility for the crime that put him on death row, but as his dementia has progressed, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him.”
Purkey was sentenced to death in January 2004 after he was convicted in federal court of kidnapping 16-year-old Jennifer Long, whom he raped and killed in 1998. He was also convicted in Wyandotte County District Court of murdering 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales, a Kansas City, Kansas, woman who was killed with a hammer.
Purkey’s execution was set to be among the first carried out by the federal government in 16 years. The death sentences have been temporarily halted by a judge as a lawsuit continues over how the government intends to carry them out. The Trump administration has appealed the judge’s ruling.
In a lawsuit this week, Purkey’s attorneys challenged his competency to be executed under the Eighth Amendment. They are seeking a hearing to address the issue as soon as possible.
Among his life’s trauma cited in the lawsuit, Purkey was molested by a priest, his alcoholic mother and a friend of his brother. Purkey suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and psychosis, his attorneys said. Records document his multiple suicide attempts, psychiatric symptoms and his longstanding mental illness.
Purkey grew up in the prison environment, where his “breaks with reality” have been repeatedly documented, his attorneys said. He has believed that correctional officers and inmates have tried to poison him, that prosecutors and judges have retaliated against him for his legal complaints and his own attorneys — who are trying to save his life — are “part of the conspiracies against him.”
“He lacks the ability to know who is trying to hurt and who is trying to help him,” a forensic psychiatrist determined.
Purkey, the practitioner said, believes he is going to be executed “in retaliation for his legal work, to prevent him from being a hassle for the government.” He has had hallucinations of prison staffers confirming that distorted perception, according to the lawsuit.
His attorneys say they have witnessed his accelerating physical and mental decline. He slurs his words and struggles to remember the names of the most important people in his life, including relatives and the lawyers who have represented him for five years, according to the lawsuit.
Purkey remains at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, December 2, 2019

SCOTUS to hear arguments on the Second Amendment

It has been almost 10 years since the Supreme Court last heard a Second Amendment case. Today, a transformed court will return to the subject and take stock of what has happened in the meantime, reported The New York Times.
The nation has had a spike in gun violence. And lower courts have issued more than 1,000 rulings seeking to apply the justices’ 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which established an individual right to own guns but said almost nothing about the scope of that right.
The new case concerns a New York City ordinance. Fearing a loss in the Supreme Court, to say nothing of a broad ruling from the court’s conservative majority on what the Second Amendment protects, the city repealed the ordinance and now argues that the case is moot. But the court may be ready to end its decade of silence, elaborate on the meaning of the Second Amendment and, in the process, tell lower courts whether they have been faithful to the message of the Heller decision.
Proponents of gun rights and some conservative justices say lower courts have been engaged in lawless resistance to the protections afforded under the Second Amendment by sustaining unconstitutional gun-control laws.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Kansas judge falls asleep during trial--no big deal

The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously concluded recently that a man’s firearms convictions shouldn’t be automatically reversed because the district court judge fell asleep in front of the jury during proceedings on the first day of the trial, reported the Hutchinson News.
The state’s highest court rejected a legal interpretation by the Kansas Court of Appeals prompting an order in 2017 that Daquantrius Johnson be granted retrial because Judge Benjamin Burgess confessed to napping at the bench. Johnson gained national attention in a separate case when convicted of stealing the wedding ring off an unconscious woman’s finger as she lay dying in a Taco Bell drive-thru.
Justice Caleb Stegall, who wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion in the sleepy-judge case, said there was no precedent in Kansas to justify a finding of structural error simply because a judge catnapped during a trial. The issue is significant because structural errors are defects in the mechanism of a trial so egregious as to warrant immediate reversal.
Burgess admitted to the jury that he fell asleep, but he defended himself by noting no objections from attorneys were raised while he was temporarily out of commission. He assured the jury he wasn’t the first judge to be overcome by heavy eyelids.
“I acknowledge myself, ladies and gentlemen, that I did nod off,” Burgess said.
The Supreme Court concluded the trial judge’s slumber amounted to regrettable misconduct and noted Johnson’s lawyer declined to request a mistrial when given the opportunity. The justices rejected the Court of Appeals’ position that a sleeping judge was the legal equivalent to a judge who had physically left the bench. By doing so, the justices blocked the lower court’s attempt to broaden the definition of structural error.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 30, 2019

GateHouse: Where have all the heroes gone?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 29, 2019
William D. Ruckelshaus died this week. In 2015, President Barack Obama presented Ruckelshaus with the nation’s highest civilian honor - the Medal of Freedom.
Ruckelshaus was recognized for his dedicated service in fighting pollution and serving as the first leader of the Environmental Protection Agency. Tucked away in the White House statement announcing his award was the following passage, “During the Watergate crisis, Ruckelshaus and Attorney General Elliot Richardson chose to resign rather than fire the Watergate special prosecutor. Their principled stance was a pivotal moment for the Justice Department and galvanized public opinion for upholding the rule of law.”
In 1972, five men hired by the committee to re-elect President Richard Nixon broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Building in Washington D.C.
About a year later, Archibald Cox was appointed to investigate the matter.
Cox demanded that the White House turn over 10 hours of secret Oval Office recordings, some of which could implicate the president in covering-up the break-in.
Later that year, Nixon, feeling the investigation closing in on him, demanded the Department of Justice fire Cox for refusing to obey the president’s order to abandon his demand for the “White House tapes.”
Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than dismiss Cox. Nixon then turned to Ruckelshaus, his Deputy Attorney General, to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus chose to resign as well. The incident became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
Robert Bork, the solicitor general, became acting attorney general and fired Cox. Within minutes, the White House sent the FBI to seal the offices of the Special Prosecutor, Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General.
Under enormous public pressure, Nixon appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. He eventually obtained the missing tapes and Nixon resigned the following year.
Ruckelshaus is certainly not a household name, but he was a true American hero. He told The New York Times years later, “I thought what the president was doing was fundamentally wrong - I was convinced that Cox had only been doing what he had the authority to do; what was really of concern to the president and the White House was that he was too close. He hadn’t engaged in any extraordinary improprieties, quite the contrary.”
Ruckelshaus took a principled stand and was willing to put it all on the line for what he believed in - the rule of law. The conduct of our current president reveals just how few American heroes we have today.
Ruckelshaus displayed, as Ernest Hemingway coined it, “grace under fire.”
In his letter of resignation, reprinted at the time by The New York Times, Ruckelshaus politely thanked President Nixon for the opportunity to serve and wished him well, but admonished that “my conscious will not permit me to carry out your instructions to discharge Archibald Cox. My disagreement with that action at this time is too fundamental to permit me to act otherwise.”
Compare Ruckelshaus’ statement with that of recently fired Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, who lashed out at President Donald Trump writing in the Washington Post, ”(T)he president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”
In 2018, Ruckelshaus wrote in the Washington Post, the “Saturday Night Massacre” was not only the beginning of the end for Nixon, “but it also accelerated the growing wave of political cynicism and distrust in our government we are still living with today. One manifestation of that legacy: a president who will never admit he uttered a falsehood and a Congress too often pursuing only a partisan version of the truth.”
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 and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Police, Tasers and school discipline-a real problem

While some forms of school discipline, like suspensions or referrals to police, are meticulously documented, there isn’t any systematic tracking of how often kids are Tasered at school. Through tracking local news reports on the issue and lawsuits, HuffPost has created its own minimum count.
An investigation by the HuffPost found that children have been Tasered by school cops in at least 143 incidents since September 2011. Rebecca Klein of the HuffPost wrote that they specifically tracked incidents where the cop worked full or part time at the school. Our number represents a bare minimum count, as most of these incidents are likely not reported by local media or subject to litigation. 
Over the past several years, children have been Tasered for a range of behaviors, sometimes merely for childhood misbehaviors like talking back, even as these weapons have the ability to seriously injure or even kill, our investigation found. (A 2017 Reuters investigation uncovered 150 autopsy reports that referenced Taser use as a cause or contributing factor to deaths since the early 2000s, around the country.)
A 15-year-old child with special needs was Tasered in New Mexico earlier this year after mouthing off. (The deputy in this case now faces charges of child abuse.) In 2018, a deputy in Ohio used a Taser to awake a sleeping student. Victims have been as young as 11 years old. Students have been stunned near the heartdespite the high safety risk associated with doing so. 
Tasers in schools have also been used to protect children, deescalating acts of near-fatal violence. In 2016, school cops used a Taser to subdue a student who had stabbed five classmates. On at least several occasions, deputies have successfully used Tasers to protect students from violent intruders.
The number of electroshock weapons in schools has risen in recent decades with the number of cops in schools. 
In 1997, only 10% of schools reported employing a police officer. But after the Columbine shooting in 1999, these numbers started to skyrocket. In the wake of Parkland, these numbers are only poised to increase, with states and the federal government further injecting funding into such positions, a move designed to protect students from active shooters. 
More than half of all public schools employed a sworn law enforcement officer as of the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of these officers, more than 90% carried a “physical restraint,” like handcuffs or a Taser.  
There’s conflicting research about whether or not cops make schools safer overall. Statistics suggest that their presence can help funnel kids into the criminal justice system for schoolyard misbehaviors, especially students of color. On the other hand, schools with cops are more likely to have emergency safety plans in place. Many districts don’t require these cops to have special training before working with children, meaning they might apply the same tactics in a school hallway as they would on the street. 
“It raises a lot of policy issues about how can school resource officers be safely integrated into school systems and have their role be limited to imminent risk of serious bodily injury,” said Diane Smith Howard, managing attorney for criminal and juvenile justice at the National Disability Rights Network. “When they’re around, they get used for this other stuff.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Gallup: 60% of Americans say life in prison better than the death penalty

For the first time in Gallup's 34-year trend, a majority of Americans say that life imprisonment with no possibility of parole is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty.
The 60% to 36% advantage for life imprisonment marks a shift from the past two decades, when Americans were mostly divided in their views of the better punishment for murder. During the 1980s and 1990s, consistent majorities thought the death penalty was the better option for convicted murderers.
The Oct. 14-31 survey was conducted before a Texas state court halted the scheduled execution of Rodney Reed in mid-November. A number of prominent politicians and celebrities joined legal activist groups in lobbying Texas officials to spare Reed amid new evidence that could exonerate him.
Even as Americans have shifted to viewing life imprisonment without parole as preferable to execution, a majority still favor use of the death penalty, according to Gallup's long-term death penalty trend question, which was updated in an Oct. 1-13 poll. That question, first asked in 1936, simply asks Americans if they are "in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder," without providing an alternative option. Currently, 56% of U.S. adults say they are in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers in response to this question.
Support for the death penalty, as measured by the historical Gallup question, has been steady over the past three years. However, it is down seven percentage points from 2014, the last time Gallup asked the life imprisonment versus death penalty question.
The percentage in favor of using the death penalty has been lower than it is now, most notably during the mid-1960s through early 1970s. A 1966 survey found 42% of Americans in favor and 47% opposed to the death penalty, the only time more have expressed opposition than support.
Growing concerns about states' just application of their death penalty statutes led the Supreme Court to effectively impose a moratorium on the death penalty in the U.S. in 1972. Four years later, when support for the death penalty had climbed to 66%, the Supreme Court upheld revised state death penalty laws. Executions resumed in the U.S. in 1977.
At least six in 10 Americans favored the death penalty from 1976 through 2016, peaking at 80% in 1994, when crime was a top concern for Americans.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 25, 2019

Conservatives lambaste AG Barr for adherence to 'Completely lawless, ignorant, foul-mouthed president'

Katie Benner of The New York Times wrote, A group of conservative-leaning lawyers criticized Attorney General William P. Barr for the expansive view of presidential power he espoused in a recent speech and for his conclusion this spring that President Trump had not obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.
“In recent months, we have become concerned by the conduct of Attorney General William Barr,” the group, Checks & Balances, said in a statement that was shared Friday with The New York Times.
Members of the group have sharply denounced what they described as abuses of power by Mr. Trump, who is facing a fast-moving impeachment inquiry. The speech by Mr. Barr last week, in which he argued that the president had never overstepped his authority, so alarmed them that they felt compelled to push back publicly.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
At a conference hosted by the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group, Mr. Barr said in his speech that those who have sought to hem in Mr. Trump were denying the will of voters, subverting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law.
The president’s opponents “essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple by any means necessary a duly elected government,” he said.
Checks & Balances is made up of Republican and conservative lawyers, including some who served in recent administrations. George T. Conway III, one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal critics and the husband of the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, is one of the group’s most prominent members.
Mr. Barr’s view on executive power is a misreading of the unitary executive theory, said Charles Fried, a Checks & Balances member and Harvard Law professor who endorsed the theory while he was solicitor general during the Reagan administration. In Mr. Fried’s reading of the theory, “the executive branch cannot be broken up into fragments.”
While that branch acts as a unified expression of a president’s priorities, with the president firmly at the helm, “it is also clear that the executive branch is subject to law,” Mr. Fried said. “Barr takes that notion and eliminates the ‘under law’ part.”
While Mr. Barr did not use the word “impeachment” in his speech, he laid out a new defense of Mr. Trump that was taken up by Republicans on Capitol Hill. In an effort to invalidate the inquiry, lawmakers had argued that the president did not withhold a White House meeting or military aid to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically.
After a week of damaging public hearings in which multiple witnesses offered new details of the president’s pressure campaign and said that he spoke openly of his desire that Ukraine publicly announce investigations, Mr. Trump’s supporters began to argue that he had acted within his rights.
Mr. Trump has also begun to echo Mr. Barr’s assertions. In an interview on Fox on Friday, he said that the decision to investigate his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia “was an overthrow attempt at the presidency.”
Now that the claim that Mr. Trump never pressured Mr. Zelensky no longer holds, “the argument has got to be a ‘so what’ argument — Bill Barr’s argument that the president did all these things, but this is what a president can do,” said Stuart Gerson, a Checks & Balances member who was a senior campaign adviser to George Bush and a Justice Department official in his administration.
“The Republicans in the Senate and in the House think they’re in a Parliament, and their responsibility is to a prime minister to whom they owe party loyalty,” Mr. Gerson said. “That’s not the American tradition. One can recognize substantial executive power, but that doesn’t mean the legislative branch should be dead.”
Mr. Barr has argued that his view of presidential power stems directly from the Constitution. It delineates the responsibilities of the three branches of government, he has said, rather than allowing the legislature and the judiciary to check the powers of the president as two of three co-equal governing powers.
That interpretation of history “has no factual basis,” Checks & Balances wrote in its statement, including the claim that “the founders shared in any respect his vision of an unchecked president, and his assertion that this view was dominant until it came under attack from courts and Congress a few decades ago.”
The group said that the “only imaginable basis” for Mr. Barr’s conclusion that Mr. Trump did not obstruct the Russia investigation “was his legal view that the president is given total control over all investigations by the Constitution.”
Mr. Fried suggested that Mr. Barr’s interpretation of the law set a dangerous precedent. “Conservatism is respect for the rule of law. It is respect for tradition,” he said. “The people who claim they’re conservatives today are demanding loyalty to this completely lawless, ignorant, foul-mouthed president.”
Mr. Gerson echoed that sentiment. “It’s important for conservatives to speak up,” he said. “This administration is anything but conservative.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 24, 2019

PA legislature poised to change statute of limitations for sexual assault

Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) as said his own abuse by a priest drove him to run for office in the first place, and to take on the commonwealth’s relatively restrictive statutes of limitations, reported WHYY-FM.
But for the last few years, he and supporters of his legislation have been in a bitter stalemate with Senate Republican leaders, who were worried that opening a window for retroactive lawsuits on old abuse cases — one of the key provisions in the package — might be unconstitutional, and would bankrupt churches.
2018 grand jury report on decades of alleged child sex abuse in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Dioceses added a sense of urgency to the negotiations.
The compromise that eventually won approval by the legislature was hammered out over the last year, and is mostly contained in two bills.
One would get rid of the statute of limitations for people to file criminal charges against their abusers. It would also extend the statute for civil suits to the victim’s 55th birthday. Those provisions would only apply to people who are abused when they are 23 or younger.
The second would amend the constitution to make it clear that retroactive lawsuits on old abuse cases are legal. It would create a two-year window for those suits, starting in 2021.
Some abuse victims have been dismayed by the compromise because amendments take two legislative sessions to pass. State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said it creates uncertainty.
“We could be looking at an extra four years, potentially, tacked on to this,” she said. “Survivors don’t want to wait. They would rather see it go to the courts in 2020 and let the courts decide.”
She added, though, that she considers the bill “progress.” And she said she’s confident legislative leaders — particularly Senate Republicans who have been opposed to the measure — are now committed to passing it.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said as much. The goal, he said, is to let victims heal.
“It may not be at the pace that some want, but at the same time I do believe it’ll begin a pathway for victims to seek a way to compensate for all the damages that have been done,” he said. “That’s important.”
During extended, emotional Senate floor debate, Katie Muth (D-Montgomery) was one of several lawmakers who pitched a slew of amendments that would have broadened the proposals to allow more abuse victims to sue, and would have passed a window for retroactive suits as a simple bill, instead of an amendment.
They all failed.
Muth urged her fellow lawmakers to look at this action as the beginning, not the end of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations overhaul.
“This is a step in the right direction, but we’re leaving many behind,” she said. “Rape is the most underreported crime in the United States.”
Rozzi said he understands why some victims aren’t happy with his compromise.
But he added, “I have to be responsible for them and make sure the path I give them is successful. I don’t want to take them down a road that’s a dead end that’s ruled unconstitutional.”
The way he sees it, churches would probably move quickly to protect their assets if a window for retroactive lawsuits were passed—particularly churches that are already putting millions of dollars into internal compensation funds for victims.
If, for instance, a retroactive window were to open tomorrow, Rozzi estimated about three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses “would file Chapter 11 reorganizational bankruptcy, and victims would probably see less compensation than they would through the compensation fund.”
Because the legislature is opting for a slower constitutional amendment, he said, churches will have time to “close these compensation funds out, take a step back, reorganize the church, and then the window will open in about a year and a half.”
A spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Catholic Conference, a longtime opponent of retroactive abuse lawsuits, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The constitutional amendment that would open the retroactive lawsuit window cleared its first hurdle late Wednesday night: initial passage by the legislature. Lawmakers will need to pass it once more next session before it goes to voters in a statewide referendum.
The bill extending statutes of limitations going forward needs final approval by the House, which is expected to be a formality. Then it will head to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s desk, along with related measures that would clarify penalties for covering up abuse and make sure confidentiality agreements don’t prohibit victims from talking to police.
Wolf is expected to sign them soon.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 23, 2019

GateHouse: Football incident highlights problem of workplace violence

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 22, 2019
More than a week ago, 67,000 people witnessed, in person, a growing problem in this country - workplace violence.
In this case it was a member of the Cleveland Browns professional football club intentionally striking a co-worker, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers football club, on the head with an object capable of causing serious bodily injury.
The object was a football helmet weighing between 4 and 6 pounds, swung with considerable force by a man standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 272 pounds.
In Ohio the legislature has defined assault as an act that "recklessly (or) knowingly cause(s) or attempt(s) to cause physical harm to another."
As of this writing, Myles Garrett, the Cleveland Brown who assaulted Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Mason Rudolph, has not been charged.
Garrett and Rudolph are professional athletes. Playing football is their job. They get paychecks, fringe benefits and time off. They go to lunch, they take breaks and they go home to their families every night - just like working men and women do every day nationwide.
They also, at times, face violence from co-workers in the workplace. In 2017, workplace assaults resulted in 18,400 injuries and 458 fatalities. Assaults include obvious violence like shootings, stabbings and bludgeoning as well as hitting, kicking, shoving and beating.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "The best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees." To that end, the NFL did suspend Garrett indefinitely. However, the Cleveland police and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor have done nothing.
Workplace violence, co-worker assault, is commonly prosecuted - even when there are few witnesses and conflicting versions of the event. Recently, on a single day in suburban Philadelphia a 22-year-old man was arrested for hitting a co-worker in the head with a 12-inch metal bar at a construction site. After speaking with all the parties involved, police determined that a verbal altercation turned into a physical altercation.
The same day, Philadelphia police were told that employees of a lawn care business were cutting grass at a home when one of the employees stopped working. The employee was fired. Police said the fired employee hit his supervisor in the back of the head and then four more times in the face. He then kicked him in the face and fled.
This past week, an employee at a Domino's Pizza in Friendswood, Texas assaulted a co-worker who revealed the plot of a recently released movie. The employee was charged with assault after police were called to the shop and interviewed the victim and other employees.
Yet, in this case where a stadium full of people, and millions more witnessed the assault in real-time with many millions more having watched a video of the assault, law enforcement officials have shrugged shoulders.
Prosecutor Michael O'Malley told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his office was not involved in the incident. Apparently, O'Malley doesn't have a television, computer, iPad or cellphone. He added that he would conduct a review for potential felony charges if the city police or prosecutors ask him to do so.
"If there were to be an investigation, it would be initiated at the city level," O'Malley said in a statement.
Football is a violent game. Every game, enormous men run into one another with great speed and force. Players assume the risk of serious injury every time they step on the field.
However, a quarterback, or any other person at work for that matter, does not assume the risk of being intentionally hit on the head with a dangerous object and ignoring such conduct sends the wrong message.
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 and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, November 22, 2019

Urban and rural Pennsylvanians talk criminal justice reform

People from Adams and Philadelphia counties are hoping their shared views on the criminal justice system can make a difference, reported WITF-FM.
About 30 people came together at recent workshops run by Urban Rural Action (URA), a nonprofit group that aims to bridge the divide between people in rural and urban America.
URA partnered with the Pennsylvania Prison Society to try to build a consensus on criminal justice reforms.
“We live very differently oftentimes in urban and rural America, and when you’re able to understand the needs and the different dynamics, you’re able to better understand especially how state policies can change,” said Adams County organizer Chad Collie.
The group agreed on a set of points that include prioritizing rehabilitation over punishment, planning for re-entry after incarceration, and ensuring inmates under 18 are not held in facilities for adults.
“When you give yourself some time to talk and do that in a respectful manner, we can come to a balancing point on a lot of subjects, one of those being criminal justice reform,” Collie said.
Collie said he hopes the consensus statement from the workshops can be used to raise awareness and influence policy at the state level.
He said they plan to continue discussions on issues such as gun violence.
Collie added the workshops inspired the formation of two new groups in Adams County: one focused on re-entry services and another to examine the cash bail system.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

The Death Penalty-Comment No. 6

Why is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons so important to juvenile criminal justice jurisprudence?  Explain in detail the decision's impact beyond the death penalty.

'Serving Time': Illinois using confinement as a form of discipline in schools

In Pennsylvania the Department of Corrections recently agreed not to use solitary confinement on death row inmates.  In Illinois, school districts use a form of solitary confinement on students, often very young students with disabilities, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The spaces have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.
But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.
The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.
In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.
Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

PA settles with ACLU regarding solitary confinement for death row inmates

After nearly two decades in death row solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania state prison, Jimmy Dennis could no longer endure the humiliation of being strip-searched and shackled to move between the cage of his 8-by-12-foot cell, the cage of a work station in the law library, the cage of the small, fenced-in exercise yard, and the cage of a stall in the secure visiting room, where his daughter would cry when she saw him in handcuffs and chains on the other side of a glass barrier.
So, in 2008, he stopped leaving his cell.
 “I went for years with no shower, no library, no nothing,” said Dennis, who was released from prison in 2017 after a federal judge found that he was wrongly convicted of killing a teenage girl for her gold earrings in 1992 because prosecutors withheld key evidence. But he still has not recovered from the trauma. “It’s like chipping away at your soul on so many different levels, and you feel like you’re literally suffocating in your own skin.”
The Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections has agreed to sweeping changes that will allow the 136 people sentenced to death to enjoy many of the same rights as those in the general population: to be out of their cells 42.5 hours a week or more, to use the phone at least 15 minutes each day, and to have contact visits with family who have, in many cases, not hugged their loved ones in decades, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
To settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Project, and two law firms on behalf of those housed on death row, the department also agreed to provide resocialization assistance as well as physical and mental health evaluations.
“This settlement brings Pennsylvania out of the penological dark ages and makes it a national leader in treating all incarcerated persons humanely,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, Susan McNaughton, said the proposed settlement “formally memorializes many of the reforms that the DOC had already instituted.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Appeal: Death by incarceration in Pennsylvania

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board looked at two overlapping injustices in Pennsylvania: the large number of people sentenced to die in prison and the use of this sentence against people who are considered accomplices to a crime but did not kill anyone and are convicted of felony murder. It also discussed a mechanism for addressing these problems: the state’s clemency process, sidelined for decades but now experiencing a revival through the leadership of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, writes Vaidya Gullapalli of The Appeal.
A sentence of life in prison is an extreme punishment, yet these sentences are common in the United States. The Sentencing Project has found that 1 in 7 people in prison in the U.S. are serving a life sentence or what, by virtue of sentence length, is its equivalent. There are more people sentenced to die in prison than there were people in prison in the early 1970s.
Pennsylvania is one of the worst U.S. states on the matter of life without parole sentences. There are more than 5,300 people in prison for life in the state. (In absolute numbers, only Florida has more people in prison for life.) These sentences have been incredibly concentrated, with more than half of those people sentenced in Philadelphia. And while life without parole sentences have been used disproportionately against Black and Latinx people across the country, Pennsylvania is even worse than the national average on this measure.
These numbers are the product of the tough-on-crime sentencing laws that swept the nation in the ’80s. In commentary for the Inquirer in January, Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project and co-author of “The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences,” identified three sets of laws that contribute to Pennsylvania’s flood of life sentences. First, a life sentence in Pennsylvania is automatically a life without parole sentence. (It is one of only five states where parole is not available for anyone sentenced to life in prison.) Second, life sentences are automatic for anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder. This includes felony murder, in which a person who is considered an accomplice to murder but did not kill anyone, which is second-degree murder. Finally, the state charges children as young as 14 as adults, resulting in, as Nellis wrote, “the nation’s—and the world’s—largest population of lifers who were juveniles at the time of their offense.”
The problem has been clear for some time. State lawmakers have introduced bills to restore parole eligibility for some people sentenced to life in prison. There have also been legislative efforts to address the injustice of felony murder sentencing. These bills have not yet passed in the legislature.
At the local level, in Philadelphia at least, there has been an attempt to correct the practice of overcharging that contributed to so many people being sentenced to death in prison. For too long, at the local level, district attorneys have used harsh sentences as a tool to extract pleas and have made bringing the highest charges possible the default. These charging decisions, made by prosecutors with full information about sentence lengths (unlike jurors, who lack this information at trial), make extremely long sentences the norm. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is trying to change this, introducing a policy of carefully considering the full spectrum of charges available in homicide cases and evaluating which is most appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
These necessary efforts all address the front-end and the flow into the prison system. But as is the case nationally, it is important to couple these efforts with mechanisms to release the people who are already in prison. In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. Fetterman, chairperson of the state Board of Pardons, has made restarting the clemency processincluding for people convicted of violent crimes, a priority. Since Governor Tom Wolf took office, he has granted commutations to 11 people who had been sentenced to die in prison. In September, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons recommended commutations for nine people in prison for life. In Philadelphia, the DA’s office Conviction Review Unit examines cases for unjust sentencing as well as wrongful convictions.
The work to address Pennsylvania’s incarceration system has been underway for a long time. The movements that propelled Krasner to Philadelphia DA have also envisioned the review of extreme sentences. People who have lost loved ones both to homicides and to the prison system have described themselves as “dual victims” and called for an end to life without parole sentences.
Last year, the Philadelphia-based Abolitionist Law Center issued a report on life without parole sentences in Pennsylvania and recommendations for ending the practice.
“The situation of permanent imprisonment for more than 5,300 people in Pennsylvania is untenable,” the authors wrote. “It does not have to be this way. In the vast majority of the world, it is not. DBI [death by incarceration] sentences are another peculiarly U.S.-based phenomenon. Around much of the world such sentences are not permitted, and where they are they are not imposed at anywhere near the levels that they are imposed in this country. The racial demographics of DBI sentences are a scandal and a human rights travesty.”
And these sentences do not just affect people in prison. They afflict families and cripple communities. “The consequences of DBI sentencing extend far beyond the prison walls,” the authors continued. “The total absence of redemptive opportunity hardens punitive attitudes in society by legitimating the most destructive and divisive impulses within people: fear, vengeance, racism, and cruelty.”
To fight to end death by incarceration sentences, they wrote, is also to fight for a society ordered around different values. “Ultimately, the fight to abolish DBI sentences is a fight over what type of society we want to live in, whether we will organize around values of restoration and redemption and healing or continue down the path of fear and stigma and vengeance. The fight is about how much injustice people will tolerate from the government.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 18, 2019

AG Barr gives 'lunatic authoritarian speech'

Attorney General William Barr vociferously attacked Democratic lawmakers and federal judges and accused them of trying to limit Trump's presidential power, reported NPR.
During a sweeping speech at a conference of The Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, Barr said Democrats "essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government."
Barr's speech drew swift criticism from legal experts, some of whom decried its ideas as "authoritarian" and "dangerous." It comes as Trump's use of presidential power faces intense scrutiny. Lawmakers involved in the impeachment inquiry are trying to determine whether the president abused the power of the presidency by seeking to trade military aide to Ukraine for a political favor.
The attorney general has long been a champion of expansive presidential power, commenting on that he "admires a muscular executive."
Neil Kinkopf, a law professor at Georgia State University, testified at Barr's confirmation hearing earlier this year that he opposed Barr's nomination over concerns about his views on executive authority. Kinkopf saw the speech in person, and said Barr's comments were "all very consistent with everything he's always said."
But putting it together in the way he did yesterday with the broad sweep, I think it makes it absolutely clear what some of us have always thought — which is that this is a person who holds dangerous views about the scope of presidential power," he added.
Barr described a "resistance" that began as soon as Trump was elected. "The fact of the matter is that in waging a scorched-earth, no holds barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law," he said.
The attorney general expressed frustration that Trump has faced obstacles to implementing his policies, despite the fact that many of them were outlined for voters before they went to the polls. "While the president has certainly thrown out the traditional beltway playbook and punctilio, he was upfront about what he was going to do and the people decided they wanted him to serve as president," he said.
Kinkopf said he felt Barr was making "a very dangerous suggestion that dissent and opposition is somehow contrary to democracy — it's in fact the core and spirit of democracy."
Richard Painter, who was the top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, described the remarks as a "lunatic authoritarian speech."
"While the attorney general is a political appointee of the president, the attorney general needs to maintain a posture of neutrality in ongoing investigations and particularly criminal matters," Painter told NPR.
And yet, Painter said Barr's speech was "extremely partisan, castigating the so-called resistance, characterizing all those who were concerned about the Trump administration as being part of the far left."
Barr said the powers of the executive in the U.S. have been encroached upon for decades by the other branches of government. "This process, I think, has substantially weakened the function of the presidency to the detriment of the nation," he said.
Painter, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, says he has seen the opposite — an expansion of executive power under Trump and previous presidents, including Bush and Barack Obama. "President Trump has gone further than his predecessors on the policy side," he said.
Kinkopf also viewed Barr's claim as ahistorical. He said that while Congress strongly reasserted its role in the aftermath of Vietnam, presidential power has been steadily expanding for decades since then. "I think since 1981, it's been nothing but an upward line," he said. Claims that Trump's lawyers are making that he should be immune from criminal prosecution, Kinkopf added, are "virtually unprecedented."
Barr also dished out criticism of the federal courts, which have frequently issued injunctions that acted to freeze controversial Trump policies, such as the travel ban that restricted entry into the U.S. for citizens of certain countries.
"It is no exaggeration to say that virtually every major policy of the Trump administration has been subjected to immediate freezing by the lower courts," Barr stated. "No other president has been subjected to such sustained efforts to debilitate his agenda."
The attorney general criticized the courts for considering the president's motives when they assess the legality of a policy, saying this amounts to "attempts by courts to act like amateur psychiatrists."
"Well, if that's right, there is very little in the way of a legal constraint on the president's exercise of his powers," said Kinkopf. For example, if the president was motivated by a bribe to issue a pardon, there would be little mechanism to hold him accountable because it's well within his authority to issue a pardon. "The suggestion that we can't question his motives, that that's somehow improper, cuts to the heart of the rule of law."
He added that Trump is providing, in real time and on Twitter, clear statements about his motivations in a way that other presidents did not. "We have now a president who tweets his motives right in the middle of the night, constantly ... and so what's a court to do now that it has evidence that it never had access to before?
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Georgia executes man who sat on death row 25 years

The 20th Execution of 2019
Ray Jefferson Cromartie was sentenced to die for the murder of Richard Slysz, a food store clerk in Thomasville, Ga., in April 1994, reported The Marshall Project. His execution originally scheduled for October 30 was stayed at the last moment.
The day before Slysz's death, Cromartie went to the Madison Street Deli armed with a borrowed .25-caliber and found Dan Wilson washing pans. Cromartie shot Wilson in the neck and then tried to get into the deli's register. A surveillance camera captured the sound of the shots from the back of the restaurant and an image of Cromartie trying to open the register.
The next day, he asked his cousin if he heard about the shooting and took credit for it. Later that day, April 8, 1994, Cromartie and two others headed for the Junior Food Store. Cromartie and Corey Clark went into the store while Thaddeus Lucas waited in the car, believing they were there to steal beer.
Moments later, Cromartie shot Slysz twice in the head. Cromartie and Clark then tried and failed to open the register, so they left only with two 12-packs of Budweiser. A passing motorist saw them running from the store when they dropped one of the beers on the ground.
Cromartie was tied to the crime because he left behind a footprint and a thumbprint. Lucas and Clark testified against Cromartie. They were sentenced to prison, and Cromartie was sentenced to die.
His appeals over the years focused on several issues. His unsuccessful claims included certain jurors should not have been seated, evidence was suppressed and his lawyer failed to find it, false testimony was allowed and one of the jurors made her decision to vote for death after reading a particular Bible verse.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 16, 2019

GateHouse: Impeachment represents very different things in a divided country

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
November 15, 2019
I grew-up in a small Italian community in western Pennsylvania. I was about 11-years-old during the televised Watergate impeachment hearings. Millions of Americans were enthralled by the hearings.
I remember “Briefcase Charlie.” He was the local barber who moved a television into his shop so that he, and his customers, could watch every minute of the hearings. About 10 days into the 51 days of hearings Charlie began carrying a briefcase to the barbershop.
Most of the time there was a lot more chirping than clipping, but people were genuinely interested in the proceedings. The three major networks and public television brought the hearings into everyone’s home, workplace and yes, even their barbershop.
There was no Fox News or MSNBC to parade an endless line of talking heads to tell viewers what they should be getting out of the hearings. There was Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor and Harry Reasoner, trusted news anchors who didn’t twist the news from any specific bias or on behalf of a political party.
That is the big difference between 2019 and 1973. Americans are not all watching the same thing. In 1973 there was a sense of community - a nation watching the impeachment hearings without a filter. The opportunity was there to make up one’s own mind.
Today, America is polarized and those interested in the impeachment hearings are not watching through the same lens - literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, viewers are watching the hearings through their favorite news lens - television (Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity) social media, podcasts, fake news or news prepared specifically for us based on our internet preferences.
The Washington Post characterized the cable news coverage after the first day of the Trump hearings like this - CNN and MSNBC focused heavily on the revelations made during the public hearing. Fox News, however, generally focused on the context for the hearing, disparaging Democrats and waving away the actual testimony.
The Post suggested, “What’s outlined is three hours not of coverage of the hearing but, instead, of framing of it.” CNN, MSNBC and Fox News anchors and guests interpreted for viewers what they just saw and heard for themselves.
In a figurative sense, most Americans don’t look at politics with an open mind, they are either “this” or “that.” Voters view issues through their own political lens. Political discussions play-out like this, “I support the Second Amendment, you don’t, so you’re a bad person.” We have become so polarized in this nation that we dwell on those things that divide us and ignore those that unite us.
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the U.S. Senate. The primary goal of those 535 men and women is to get re-elected and keep their respective parties in power. Unlike those that John F. Kennedy wrote about more than a half century ago, there are no profiles in courage in modern American politics.
Politicians no longer even try to bring the country together. Instead of speaking to the entire country, politicians cater to their base. President Donald Trump talks to disenchanted white males and Nancy Pelosi panders to left-leaning progressives. Those in the middle are ignored and guess what - they are ignoring the process right back.
During the Watergate hearings, Sen. Howard Baker, emphasized that the only way the Republican Party could be “mortally wounded” by Watergate would be “for the public to think that we Republicans don’t have the courage, the stamina and the determination to clean our own house.”
Nobody is talking about cleaning their own house. Politicians, and their supporters, hoot and holler “drain the swamp,” “impeach him,” “lock her up” - those are not the rousing chants of statesmen, it is the divisive rhetoric of demagogues.
Maybe we shouldn’t wax eloquent about the comity of 1973 - there was certainly division in the country at the time - we should also not expect the same result as the 1973 hearings - a new president.
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 and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, November 15, 2019

Former inmate released under First Step Act arrested for murder

Joel Francisco who served 14 years of a life sentence for selling crack cocaine and was released under the First Step Act has been arrested for murder in Rhode Island, reported CNN.
A landmark piece of criminal justice reform legislation, passed with the support of President Donald Trump and rare bipartisan backing, had made Francisco newly eligible for an older law that reduced the sentences for convicted crack dealers.
Behind bars, the former gang leader had made "significant efforts toward post-conviction rehabilitation" and had separated himself from the "proverbial 'herd'" while "committing himself to a law-abiding life," he wrote in an application for his release.
In February, with the approval of federal prosecutors and a district court judge, Francisco became one of the first federal prisoners to walk free as a result of the First Step Act.
Last month, he was handcuffed again, accused this time of stabbing to death 46-year-old Troy Pine at a Providence, Rhode Island, hookah lounge.
More than 4,700 inmates have been released from prison under the law since its signing late last year, according to the Department of Justice, and federal officials believe Francisco is the first among them to be accused of murder.
While an outlier, his case is raising questions and resurfacing concerns from detractors of the legislation.
"This case is upsetting but it's not a surprise," said Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who was one of the bill's biggest critics on Capitol Hill. "Letting violent felons out of prison early as the First Step Act did leads to more crime and more victims."
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project No. 5

The neuropsychology issue raised in juvenile death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court has jumped to non-death penalty cases like juvenile life without parole. Do you think brain development cases will further seep into juvenile criminal jurisprudence?  Explain your position in detail.

Will SCOTUS expand the ability of police to stop motorists?

Michael McGough, senior opinion writer for the Los Angles Times, formerly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes:
The 4th Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” But the Supreme Court has interpreted that protection pretty loosely when it comes to traffic stops, for which the police need only “reasonable suspicion” that the law is or has been broken. (The same indulgent standard applies when police stop and frisk a pedestrian.)
This week the justices heard arguments in a case that could make it even easier for the police to stop — and potentially search — a car. Ominously, the majority seemed likely to give police an additional benefit of the doubt.
The case stems from a 2016 incident in which a sheriff’s deputy in Douglas County, Kan., spotted a pickup truck and decided to run the vehicle’s license plate through a state registration database. The search turned up the information that Charles Glover Jr., the owner, had had his driver’s license revoked.
The deputy stopped the truck, which was being driven by Glover, and cited him for the offense of habitually driving with a suspended license.
This might seem an easy case. But Glover challenged the legality of the traffic stop, claiming that the deputy had made an unreasonable assumption that the owner of the car (whose license had been suspended) was in fact the person driving the car. (It doesn’t matter that it turned out that the driver was the owner; an unconstitutional search or seizure is unconstitutional even if it turns out that the suspect committed the offense.)
A lawyer for Kansas, backed by the U.S. Justice Department, told the justices on Monday that it’s a “common-sense inference” that the owner of a car is also the driver. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. seemed to agree, telling Glover’s lawyer that “if they’re relying on common sense, they don’t have to give you anything more than common sense.”
But is it really common sense that a car is being driven by its owner? Lots of people lend their cars to friends or family members.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that drivers whose licenses have been suspended might actually be less likely to be the driver of the car. Roberts pushed the opposite idea, that a driver with a suspended license would be more likely to drive anyway because he or she has “already broken the law in some sense.” Studies cited by Kansas in its appeal to the court suggest that many drivers with suspended licenses do continue to drive and are more hazardous on the road than are licensed drivers.
Even so, a significant amount of the time the driver won’t be the owner. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch suggested that the assumption that an owner of a car is the driver, or vice versa, may become less valid over time because “the next generation ... often rents cars.”
Why does all this matter?
It’s already far too easy for the police to stop cars either under the “reasonable suspicion” standard or on the pretext of some minor violation such as broken taillight. If the court rules for Kansas, police will be able to stop a car based on the status of the owner’s driver’s license — even though it may be the owner’s son or daughter (or neighbor) behind the wheel.
And remember: A stop isn’t just a stop. It can lead to a search of the passenger compartment for weapons that can also result in the seizure of illegal drugs that are in plain view. Subjecting a driver to that invasion of privacy because of someone else’s suspended license is not “reasonable.”
To read more CLICK HERE 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Hate crimes on the rise, especially those against Latinos

Personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high in 2018, the F.B.I. said, with a significant upswing in violence against Latinos outpacing a drop in assaults targeting Muslims and Arab-Americans, reported the New York Times.
Over all, the number of hate crimes of all kinds reported in the United States remained fairly flat last year after a three-year increase, according to an annual F.B.I. report. But while crimes against property were down, physical assaults against people were up, accounting for 61 percent of the 7,120 incidents classified as hate crimes by law enforcement officials nationwide.
State and local police forces are not required to report hate crimes to the F.B.I., but the bureau has made a significant effort in recent years to increase awareness and response rates. Still, many cities and some entire states failed to collect or report the data last year, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn from the F.B.I. report.
In addition, experts say that more than half of all victims of hate crimes never file a complaint with the authorities in the first place.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Utah man demanding execution by firing squad dies of natural causes

Ron Lafferty, who spent 34 years on Utah’s death row and demanded to be executed by firing squad died of natural causes at the Utah State Prison, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The 1984 slayings by Lafferty— which were examined in Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” — appeared to have been triggered by Lafferty’s extremist views.
Lafferty, 78, whose full name was Ronald Watson Lafferty, died of natural causes at the Draper facility, prison officials said. Though he had been on death row for decades, an execution date had not been set — but it was on the horizon after he lost his latest federal appeal in August.
His brother, Daniel Charles Lafferty, 71, who helped carry out the slayings, is serving a life sentence in a different unit at the Draper prison.
Therese Michelle Day, one of Ron Lafferty’s attorneys, said in a Monday statement that her client was mentally ill, and never able to assist his attorneys in his case. She wrote that Lafferty believed his incarceration was the result of a conspiracy between the state, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “unseen spiritual forces,” including the spirit of the trial judge’s deceased father. He thought all of his attorneys were working against him, she said, and that one attorney was his reincarnated sister who later became possessed by an evil spirit.
“Through it all Mr. Lafferty, himself, never believed that he was mentally ill or incompetent,” Day said. “One expert said that if he was guilty of faking anything, he was guilty of pretending to be normal when he was not. Mr. Lafferty, like other mentally ill prisoners, was not treated for his mental illness as he should have been.”
Day said that while Ron Lafferty had an understanding of time and place, he lacked any rational understanding of the legal proceedings “that was not polluted by his delusions.” She said his execution should have been prohibited because of those mental health issues.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement Monday that state officials have “labored for decades” on Ron Lafferty’s case.
“That the wheels of justice turn so slowly in cases like this is cruel and tragic,” he said. “Now that Mr. Lafferty is facing his maker, perhaps ultimate justice will be realized and there will finally be some closure for the family of the victims.”
Ron Lafferty had chosen to die by firing squad.
The Utah Legislature ended this execution option in 2004, except for inmates who had already been sentenced to die and had selected the method. Then, in 2015, the Legislature added firing squads again, but only if courts determine Utah does not have the cocktail of drugs needed to execute an inmate by lethal injection. 
Utah has not executed an inmate since Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad in 2010. Ron Lafferty had been one of eight men on death row — and a recent ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals made Lafferty the closest of them to execution.
To read more CLICK HERE