Sunday, September 22, 2019

PA State Police stopped collecting data on race of drivers pulled over

The Pennsylvania State Police, the nation’s third-largest statewide law enforcement agency, quietly stopped collecting data on the race of drivers stopped by its troopers in 2012, making it far more difficult to detect bias, reports Spotlight PA, a project of major Pennsylvania newspapers, according to The Crime Report.
This week, after being presented with the findings of Spotlight PA’s nationwide survey that showed the force was the largest of 11 statewide law enforcement agencies that do not collect race data during stops, Pennsylvania State Police officials said the agency would reverse course and resume collection next year.
“We do feel that collecting this information would yield valuable statistical information for the department,” said Lt. Col. Scott Price, deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
When initially asked why data collection was discontinued, a spokesman for the State Police said it was based on studies that found no evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops. One of those studies had, however, identified “racial, ethnic, and gender disparities” in how troopers dealt with motorists after they were stopped.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the state police, alleging troopers were violating the law by stopping and holding people based solely on their Latino appearance.
The failure to collect racial data can “undermine” police legitimacy, commented Georgetown law Prof. Christy Lopez, a former official in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It makes it look like you either don’t care about disparities, or you are trying to hide what the data shows.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 21, 2019

GateHouse: Killing of 3 teens shines light on stand-your-ground

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 20, 2019
This past week in Rockdale County, Georgia, three masked teenagers - ages 15, 16 and 16 - allegedly tried to rob three individuals in front of their home.
One of the teens allegedly fired a shot in the direction of the would-be robbery victims. None of them were hurt, but, and this is a big but, one of the targeted victims returned fire and killed all three of the retreating teens.
Georgia allows people to take deadly action when they have a reasonable belief it is necessary to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to prevent a felony that involves the use or threat of physical force.
In 2005, Florida passed the first stand-your-ground law expanding on what was known as the Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine permitted the use of deadly force within one’s home without first attempting to retreat.
Florida’s stand-your-ground law stated “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” Georgia’s law mirrors the Florida statute.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws in at least 25 states provide that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker anywhere in which one is lawfully present. At least 10 of those states have language stating one may stand his or her ground.
Research published several years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that stand-your-ground increased homicide rates. Soon after the law took effect in Florida, there was a sudden and sustained 24% jump in the monthly homicide rate - the rate of homicides caused by firearms increased by 32%.
An investigation last year by the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida newspaper, found that the rate of homicides declared justifiable tripled in the five years after the passage of stand-your-ground.
More than 11 million Americans now have concealed carry permits. Stand-your-ground and the proliferation of gun ownership has increased the potential for unnecessary violent confrontations.
Professor Ronald L. Carlson of the University of Georgia, told The New York Times that the Georgia law provides that someone may “use whatever force to protect themselves if a felonious assault is about to be made upon him,” and is not obligated to retreat.
According to the Washington Post, the Georgia case joins a national debate over stand-your-ground laws fueled by high-profile cases. The Florida law came under scrutiny after the police invoked it in declining to arrest George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
In 2012, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman after Martin allegedly punched Zimmerman, slammed his head against the sidewalk and knocked him to the ground. The outrage that followed Zimmerman’s acquittal helped launch Black Lives Matter. As for Zimmerman he had several brushes with the law after the trial, including assaultive behavior.
Not all cases have ended the way Zimmerman’s did. Last year, a Florida jury convicted Michael Drejka of manslaughter for shooting Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a convenience store in Clearwater, Florida. Drejka unsuccessfully sought the protection of Florida’s stand-your-ground law.
Maybe the senseless loss of three young lives in a Georgia neighborhood will cause lawmakers to rethink the idea that gun slinging is the answer to America’s ills.
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 20, 2019

Detroit police arrest suspected serial killer

Prosecutors announced murder charges against a 34-year-old man in the slayings of four women in Detroit whose deaths authorities have characterized as the work of a serial killer, reported The Associated Press.
Deangelo Martin is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and four counts of felony murder in the killings of the women whose bodies were found in abandoned houses in the city as far back as February 2018, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said at a news conference.
Martin, who was arrested in June, was already charged in the stabbing and sexual assault of 26-year-old woman in May and the kidnapping and assault of a 51-year-old woman in June.
Police Chief James Craig has said he sees similarities between three of the slayings and the assaults of at least two other women who survived attacks.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we believe he is a serial killer,” Worthy said.
She named the victims as Annetta Nelson, 57, whose body was found Feb. 26, 2018; Nancy Harrison, 52, who was discovered March 19, 2019; Trevesene Ellis, 55, was found March 24; and Tamara Jones, 55, who was found June 5.
All the victims were found face down with a used condom beside them, she said. A coroner determined that Nelson and Harrison died of blunt force trauma but the cause of death for the other two couldn’t be determined because their bodies were too badly decomposed, Worthy said.
Police are investigating two additional possible homicide cases that might also be connected, she said.
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Martin’s appointed defense attorney in the assault and kidnapping cases.
Police have said they believe all the women were sex workers.
“Predators ... look for people who are seemingly vulnerable, left out and left behind,” Worthy said. “People that they think will not fight back, people that they think nobody cares about, people that they think won’t be missed. But they’re wrong.”
She continued: “We worked tirelessly to make sure that we can bring them some modicum of justice, of respect and of dignity, no matter what they were engaged in before, during, after they were reported missing.”
Martin was initially arrested in June in the rape and attempted murder of a woman who was able to escape the attack. At that point, police had already uncovered three homicide victims, and teams of police officers and other city workers were searching hundreds of vacant buildings for more bodies.
“This is the kind of case that creates so much fear in our community,” Craig said during the news conference. “We’re very diligent, relentless in how we approach these matters.”
Six years ago, Detroit had at least 30,000 empty houses and 20 square miles (50 square kilometers) of vacant land. Mayor Mike Duggan has said removing blighted houses is a priority in his efforts to revive Detroit since the city’s 2014 exit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Duggan this week announced plans to ask voters to approve the sale of up to $250 million in bonds to eradicate residential blight across the city. A proposed resolution to put the initiative on the March 2020 ballot has been submitted to the City Council.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Oregon's less than unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases to be reviewed by SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled hear arguments on Oct. 7 in Ramos v. Louisiana and determine whether it should overrule Apodaca v. Oregon and hold that the sixth amendment of the constitution guarantees a state criminal defendant the right to a unanimous jury verdict, reported the Salem Statesman Journal.
Apodaca v. Oregon refers to Robert Apodaca and two other Oregon men convicted of felonies whose cases went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. 
Apodaca, then 23, of Salem, was convicted by a split Marion County jury in 1968 of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to five years in prison. According to newspaper archives, Apodaca cut a man's neck with a knife during a fight on State Street earlier that year. 
It took the jury less than 10 minutes to convict Apodaca. 
Apodaca and two other Oregon men appealed their convictions. After the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review, the men took their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the non-unanimous juries that convicted them violated their constitutional rights.
The court reviewed whether a conviction stemming from a less-than-unanimous jury decision violated the men's right to a fair trial by jury as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a fair trial and impartial jury; the Fourteenth Amendment ensures due process of the law and equal protection of law. Neither explicitly states unanimous jury verdicts are required for conviction. 
In 1972, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to a trial by jury was not violated by a non-unanimous verdict in state court. 
Apodaca's and the two other men's convictions were upheld. 
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who dissented along with three others, said the ruling "cut the heart out" of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
Since the ruling, Oregon has continued to allow non-unanimous jury convictions in manslaughter, sex abuse, attempted murder and rape cases.  
Louisiana voters ended the practice in 2018, leaving Oregon as the lone holdout for non-unanimous verdicts in the United States.
A widespread push emerged during the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session to take the issue of non-unanimous juries to voters.
Opponents of the system said it leads to racism, wrongful convictions and serious miscarriages of justice. Even sides who typically opposed each other — prosecutors, defense attorneys and activists — were united against the non-unanimous jury system. 
Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at the Lewis & Clark Law School, said Oregon's decision to allow non-unanimous verdict in the 1930s was the result of racism and xenophobia.
A Jewish defendant was acquitted of murder and instead convicted of manslaughter because of a hung jury in 1933, a public outcry ensued. Many blamed the hung jury on immigrant and non-white jurors. 
The next year, Oregon voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow non-unanimous jury verdicts.
This choice, Kaplan said, effectively silenced minority juror voices and abandoned the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. 
Even Oregon's district attorneys joined in urging legislators to repeal the system on the ballot. 
The resolution to bring the issue to voters passed unanimously and with no opposition in the House, but the resolution died in committee and never went to the Senate for a vote.
Some speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear Ramos v. Louisiana may have contributed to the resolution losing momentum.
“Some felt that we should let the case on the issue pending before the United States Supreme Court, Ramos v. Louisiana, play out before advancing a constitutional amendment to voters,” Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said in a statement after the session ended. “This issue remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to fight to ensure that non-unanimous juries become a relic of Oregon’s past.”
She vowed to work during next year's short legislative session to bring it to voters in 2020.
DOJ lawyers made it clear in the first page of the brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that they were not aiming to address whether Apodaca was correctly decided.
"Nor does this brief contend that a non-unanimous jury rule is preferable to a unanimous jury rule," the brief reads. "In fact, there is widespread agreement among the stakeholders in Oregon's criminal justice system that the state's constitution should be amended to require jury unanimity prospectively."
Rather, the brief was filed to outline the impact of ruling that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity on state prosecutions. 
"I filed the amicus brief in Ramos ... to explain the dire situation the Oregon justice system would find itself in if Apodaca were to be overturned," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. 
As Oregon's attorney general, she favors unanimous jury verdicts for cases going forward.
But, Rosenblum clarified, for 47 years, Oregon judges have relied on the Apodaca ruling upholding the constitutionality of non-unanimous verdicts. 
"If that decision were to be reversed now, hundreds, if not thousands, of past Oregon felony convictions since 1972 could be overturned," Rosenblum said. "Already criminal defense lawyers have set over 250 cases currently on direct appeal in motion."
Oregon Justice Resource Center Executive Director Bobbin Singh said this was an unfortunate position for Rosenblum to take, accusing her of being "afraid of too much justice."
Everyone acknowledges and admits that the non-unanimous jury system is rooted in racism and xenophobia, Singh said. 
"It undermines the integrity of convictions," he said. "I think this is all well-understood and accepted by pretty much everyone at this point. If we accept that, then we should accept it in its entirety."
He likened the current dilemma with the case McCleskey v. Kemp — "one of the most horrific decisions to emerge from the Supreme Court as it relates to racial disparities and discrimination and the death penalty."
In the 1987 decision, Singh said, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged racial disparities existed when it came to death sentences, but said it would be "too disruptive" to fully acknowledge the problem. 
"We can't accept these truths and these realities in piecemeal or in ways that are just convenient for us," Singh said. 
DOJ attorneys said Oregon has a legitimate reliance in maintaining convictions made since Apodaca, saying the brief was submitted to alert the Supreme Court that overruling the 1972 decision would cause widespread disruption in the criminal system, including to the victims and witnesses in each felony case tried to conviction and affirmed in the past eight decades in Oregon.
"The extent to which Oregon has relied on Apodaca cannot be overstated," the brief said. "Oregon courts have given a non-unanimous jury instruction in almost every single felony jury-trial case for the past 47 years."
Tens of thousands of jurors have followed these instructions. The DOJ outlined a future if Apodaca was overturned:
Trial, appellate and post-conviction courts would be flooded with non-unanimity claims.
The criminal justice system would be overwhelmed by the "staggering" number of cases to be re-tried.
Many cases could not be re-tried due to loss of evidence and witnesses from the passage of time. 
In Ramos' reply brief, his attorneys said Apodaca was a splintered decision.
"So even from the very beginning, convictions obtained by non-unanimous verdicts rested on unsteady— indeed, defective — legal footing," attorneys said in the brief. "Louisiana and Oregon relied on Apodaca at their own risk."
They also contended that there is no good reason to believe ruling in Ramos' favor would severely burden the court system. 
Rosenblum said a better outcome would stem from voters, not the courts, eliminating Oregon's non-unanimous system.
"In my view, legislators should refer this important issue to the ballot so Oregonians can vote, and hopefully end the long-standing practice in Oregon of non-unanimous jury verdicts," Rosenblum said. "If we move forward with a referral to the people, I believe the Supreme Court will be less likely to outright reverse Apodaca, and we will be in a much better position to make a compelling argument to the Court to that effect."
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Distinguished DOJ award for lawyers who worked on Kavanaugh nomination

The Justice Department will present a prestigious award to the team of lawyers who did "work in support of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh" to the Supreme Court, according to an internal email sent to department staff .
The email, obtained by CNN, says Taylor Owings, Douglas Rathbun and Craig Minerva along with others across the department were selected to receive "the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service."
The award -- the department's second highest for employee performance -- is often given to employees who worked on key prosecutions.
News of the award comes amid renewed scrutiny of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court last year as a new book is published that contains a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale.
The victim declined to be interviewed by the book's authors, and her friend told the authors she does not recall the incident.
Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor and the first accuser to come forward, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both teenagers. He has denied all allegations against him.
While President Donald Trump has stood by Kavanaugh -- as he did throughout his nominee's confirmation process -- some Democrats, including presidential candidates, are jumping on the wave of renewed scrutiny to call for Kavanaugh's impeachment.
"I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the US Senate and most importantly to the American people," said Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "He was put on the court through a sham process and his place on the court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice."
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

K9s trained to sniff out child porn?

You’ve heard of bomb- and drug-sniffing police dogs.
You may have heard of service dogs that can detect changes in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels. They are trained to wake their masters before they lapse into a coma.
But did you know police K9s can be trained to sniff out child porn?
The Miami Herald reported the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has a 2-year-old yellow lab named Ty that has been trained to detect the chemical scent of electronics that are often hidden in the most unusual of places, reports WJXT News4 Jax.
It should be made clear Ty isn’t trained to detect the content on the electronics, just the electronics themselves. But it’s safe to assume if someone is going to great lengths to hide a thumb drive, chances are there’s some data on it a person doesn’t want you to see.
Ty’s official title: Electronic Scent Detection Canine, or ESDC for short.
“What Ty is trained on is a chemical odor that most of your electronic devices will have in them, and he picks up on that odor,” Clay County spokesman Deputy Drew Ford told News4Jax.
“The suspects and criminals get very, very creative when it comes to hiding electronic devices,” Ford told First Coast News.
How creative?
Think micro SD cards or thumb drives that hold data, which can include offenses like child pornography, tucked inside books, taped to the bottom of drawers, even slipped inside a shower curtain rod.
The sheriff’s department has found the electronics in all of these places, often thanks to the K9 nose that knows.
When Ty, who works with deputies in the department that tackles crimes against minors, isn’t sniffing out SD cards, he’s used as a therapy dog to help anxious kids.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 16, 2019

Politicians blame video games for violence — but the data doesn’t back them up

After two mass shootings that killed 31 people and wounded dozens more, the New York Times reported that powerful Republicans, including the president, blamed an old bogeyman: video games.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” President Trump said in a White House address on the shootings. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
Mr. Trump’s words echoed those of Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader. In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday morning, Mr. Patrick implored the federal government to “do something about the video game industry.”
“We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others,” added Mr. McCarthy on a different Fox show.
Armed with little and often unconvincing evidence, politicians have blamed violence on video games for decades. Their rhetoric quickly ramped up in the 1990s, after games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom popularized the genre of violent first-person shooting games. Since then, video games have been blamed for shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and many others in between.
Researchers have extensively studied whether there is a causal link between video games and violent behavior, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, there is broad agreement that no such link exists.
According to a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”
Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, led the committee that developed the policy statement. In an interview, he said the evidence was clear that violent video games are not a risk factor for serious acts of aggression. Neither are violent movies, nor other forms of media. 
 “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive,” said Dr. Ferguson. “Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
The Supreme Court has also rejected the idea. In striking down a California law that banned the sale of some violent video games to children in 2011, the court savaged the evidence California mustered in support of its law.
“These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively,” Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion. He added: “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s address, the hashtag #VideogamesAreNotToBlame began trending nationally on Twitter, with most tweets mocking the idea that video games were to blame for either of the shootings.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Is 50 years in prison a life sentence for a juvenile?

Is 50 years in prison a de facto life sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder?
That narrow, but complex question is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court following a short appeal hearing in Philadelphia, reported WHYY-FM.
The case centers on Michael Felder, who shot and killed Jarrett Green in 2009 after a two-on-two pick-up basketball game at Shepard Recreation Center in West Philadelphia. 
Felder was 17 years old at the time of Green’s murder. He was later given life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder convictions in Pennsylvania at the time, regardless of the defendant’s age.
That changed in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole for all juveniles were unconstitutional because they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan.
Then, in 2016, the nation’s high court made that decision retroactive to those sentenced before 2012.
In Pennsylvania, the landmark decision meant more than 525 state inmates who had been convicted as juveniles — including more than 300 from Philadelphia — were eligible for resentencing hearings.
A trial court judge gave Felder 50 years to life, a sentence his lawyers say still constitutes life in prison.
Felder would be nearly 70 years old if he gets out after five decades behind bars, which his lawyers argue would rob him of the opportunity to lead a “meaningful, quality life” upon release.
“The [U.S. Supreme Court] has given a definition to what meaningful means. It doesn’t mean that they come out when they’re on a gurney. It doesn’t mean that they come out with just a few years to live,” Marsha Levick, chief legal officer of Juvenile Law Center, said after Wednesday’s hearing.
Felder’s legal team maintains that 20 to 25 years in prison should be the maximum sentence for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agrees that 50 years constitutes a life sentence, but argues that 40 years is a more appropriate bright line for these juveniles to become eligible for parole.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania rejected the case, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 does not “directly apply” to Felder’s situation or other claims of de facto life sentences.
“We conclude that when a juvenile convicted of homicide has been subjected to a discretionary sentence that may approach but does not clearly exceed life expectancy, that sentence does not run afoul of [Miller v. Alabama] and therefore does not violate the Federal Constitution.” 
It could be months before the state’s high court renders a decision.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 14, 2019

GateHouse: Neurolaw: Discovering the past and the future

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 13, 2019
The criminal justice system is not precise. The burden of proof in a criminal case is not guilt to a mathematical certainty or beyond all doubt. Proving an accused guilty of a crime does require a heavy burden - beyond a reasonable doubt - but it does not provide errorless outcomes.
As a result, there is a level of tolerance in criminal cases that an occasional innocent person will be convicted. Sure there are technological advances that have resulted in exonerations of people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Those advances, particularly DNA, when available, have provided a safety net for those falsely convicted.
How can science help investigators get it right the first time?
Eryn Brown wrote recently in Knowable Magazine, about Judge Morris B. Hoffman, of Colorado's 2nd Judicial District Court, a leader in neurolaw research. He predicted that neuroscientists are likely "in the next 10 to 50 years ... (to) be able to detect memories and lies, and to determine brain maturity."
If investigators were able to detect when someone is lying or recreate their memory, could that help insure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are set free?
The primary element of most criminal statutes is intent. An actor's responsibility is often determined by whether their conduct was reckless or intentional. Stephen J. Morse,Professor of Law and the Associate Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neuroscience and Society, contends that his research "found that they were able to predict with a high degree of accuracy whether a person was in a knowing or reckless state and were also able to associate those mental states with unique functional brain patterns."
That finding is significant. Using science to determine intent would be a huge advancement in neurolaw. However, Morse's study was conducted in real time using MRI brain scans while the decisions were being made by the participants. Unfortunately, criminals don't wear devises that scan their brain when they act.
Morse and his colleagues admit as much when he wrote, "Even if several future studies confirm what we have observed here, that knowledge and recklessness are associated with different brain states, if human jurors cannot distinguish them behaviorally, then one may still ask whether they should be considered relevant to assessments of criminal liability."
The whole idea of neurolaw raises some concerns. Neurolaw is creeping into courtrooms across the country on an ever-increasing basis. Brown wrote, "In criminal courts, MRIs are most often used to assess brain injury or trauma ... (I)f a murder defendant's brain scan reveals a tumor in the frontal lobe, for instance, or evidence of frontotemporal dementia, that could inject just enough doubt to make it hard for a court to arrive at a guilty verdict."
That type of evidence is often used as mitigation, not that the accused didn't commit the crime, but that they are less responsible.
Science is not only looking back at what the brain can tell us about a criminal's state of mind at the time of a crime, but also what might happen in the future. In "Predicting violent behavior: What can neuroscience add?" the authors suggested that neuroprediction offers the potential to identify brain function that can distinguish the callous criminal from the immature or dysfunctional actor who might benefit from treatment or preventive programming.
Neuroscience is also being considered for use as a tool to predict who might be most likely to commit a crime in the future. What do we do with those individuals labeled as future criminals? Do we lock them up for crimes they haven't yet committed?
What role neurolaw plays in measuring culpability and predicting human behavior will best be left to ethicists, scientists and legal scholars.
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears arguments to outlaw death penalty

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked this week to outlaw the death penalty because of what critics call the cruel and arbitrary way it’s applied to poor and black defendants, reported the Associated Press.
More than half of the 441 death sentences handed down since the death penalty was reinstated in the late 1970s have been deemed flawed and overturned, Assistant Federal Defender Timothy Kane told the court. Among the 155 from Philadelphia, the reversal rate is 72%.
“The reliability of the system as a whole is cruel … and the systemic problems affect every case,” Kane argued before an overflow crowd at Philadelphia City Hall.
Most of the time, the sentence or verdict was reversed on appeal because of the work of court-appointed lawyers working with limited public funds, he said.
In the two test cases involved in the unusual “King’s Bench” petition presented to the Supreme Court, transcripts of the defense portion of their sentencing hearings run to just 14 pages combined.
Justice Debra Todd asked why the issue was urgent, given the moratorium on executions that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf imposed after taking office in 2015. A lawyer for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who opposed the petition, said it was not. Shapiro’s office said that any amendments to the death penalty should be decided by the state Legislature.
“The questions the report raises are important, and should be thoroughly considered and resolved, by the General Assembly,” Shapiro’s office said in its brief.
However, Kane said the Supreme Court needs to step in given the failure of lawmakers to act on a troubling, bipartisan review completed last year. He asked the court to declare the state statute unconstitutional and convert the sentences of 137 men on death row to life imprisonment. There are no women on death row in Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who won election in 2015 on an anti-death penalty platform, said that 82% of the current death row inmates from Philadelphia are black.
Statewide, just under half of the current death row inmates in Pennsylvania are black, compared to 11% of state residents. The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.
The average appeal in Pennsylvania takes 17 years, straining the resources of the court system, critic said.
The five Democrats and two Republicans on the state Supreme Court did not indicate when they would rule.
The test case involves two men sentenced to death row in the 1990s — Jermont Cox of Philadelphia and Kevin Marinelli of Northumberland County. Relatives of Marinelli’s victim, who was killed over a stereo during a 1994 home invasion robbery, oppose the appeal.
Only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, the last of them in 1999.
The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although at least four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Reform minded Lt. Governor will consider 21 lifers for clemency in Pennsylvania

The year was 1988, and that lieutenant governor, Mark Singel, would oversee the release of just 27 of the state’s lifers before one of them, Reginald McFadden, went on a violent crime spree that left three people dead, ended Singel’s run for governor, and extinguished hopes for commutation in the state.
Now, three decades later, Inge’s plea for clemency is finally before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons again, this time in the hands of another reform-minded lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who is set on restoring second chances, particularly for those sentenced to life in prison who did not actually take a life themselves, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“We need to reevaluate and ask ourselves as a community, how much is enough?" Fetterman said in an interview. "Is that 25 years? Thirty years? Thirty-five? Forty? We have inmates in our system who have done 40 years and never taken a life directly. I think it’s critical that we examine that and, when it merits it, make sure we give them another chance to rebuild their lives and contribute to society.”
That commitment is evident in public hearings set to begin Wednesday for the largest number of lifers up for commutation that anyone can recall: 21 men and women, all of whom have served decades in prison and are recommended by the state Department of Corrections for release.
As well, Fetterman is backing a constitutional amendment to roll back the requirement that commutations be recommended unanimously by the five-member Board of Pardons — a rule put in place as officials were reckoning with the deadly error of releasing McFadden. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Republican from southwestern Pennsylvania, and Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat, are poised to introduce legislation to ease it back to a four-to-one vote, which would still be a higher bar than the three-to-two majority required in the pre-McFadden era. (To take effect, the measure would have to pass in two successive legislative sessions and then be approved by voters.)
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To Bartolotta, the decision to require a unanimous vote was “an emotional reaction” — with enormous ripple effects, creating a backlog as long as three years in commutation applications as lifers are denied clemency over and over again. There are now more than 5,000 lifers in Pennsylvania. “It’s not increasing public safety. It’s not streamlining the process. It has basically just slammed the door shut on cases that should otherwise be considered,” she said.
Farnese said he saw the importance of the reform in the case of William Smith, who was denied commutation twice by a four-to-one vote before he was finally released earlier this year at age 77. Attorney General Joshua Shapiro, the only elected official besides the lieutenant governor on the Board of Pardons, had initially opposed Smith’s release, but relented after learning the District Attorney and victim’s family did not object.
Farnese said he believes the proposed reform will take the “political considerations out of it.”
“The folks up for commutation generally they’ve served 30 years in state prison. They’ve worked extremely hard to improve themselves. They take responsibility for their crimes. They become mentors and teachers that help other individuals rehabilitate,” he said. "When these mentors and teachers go up for commutation and they’re not getting it, it hurts the overall morale. We need to give people hope. That’s what this process is all about."
For now, the 21 applicants up for review will still need unanimous support to be considered by the governor for clemency.
They include both individuals convicted of first-degree murder, which is intentional killing, and those found guilty of second-degree or “felony” murder, a charge applied to any individual who participates in a felony that results in death. Among those second-degree cases are Michael Helwig, a Pottstown man who was involved in a 1982 attempted robbery in which a codefendant shot and killed a man outside a pancake house; Thomas Schilk, who tied up a man in his apartment and took the man’s wallet, but was not present when the man fell from a third-floor window and died in 1984; and David Sheppard, who was convicted in a 1992 robbery of an Overbrook pharmacy in which a codefendant shot and killed the pharmacist.
In the 1960s, when there were fewer than 500 lifers incarcerated and commutation was more routine, it was not unusual for a dozen or more to be considered at once. In recent years, however, the Board of Pardons has allowed only a handful of cases to advance to public hearings.
While Fetterman’s predecessor as lieutenant governor, Mike Stack, also advocated for second chances in his role as chairman of the Board of Pardons, he made little progress. By the time he left office at the end of 2018, voted out after a series of scandals, he declared the commutation system “broken.”
But Gov. Tom Wolf has now commuted a total of 11 life sentences — the highest total since Gov. Bob Casey Sr. in the ’90s. And Fetterman is taking a different course from Stack, who at times battled with Attorney General Joshua Shapiro over board decisions, most publicly in the case of William Smith. Fetterman’s plan is to build consensus: Rather than forcing the issue of any given vote, he intends to hold under advisement any applicants who don’t yet have unanimous support so he can fulfill any missing requirements or satisfy any lingering concerns.
In response to an interview request, Shapiro’s office provided a statement emphasizing his commitment to second chances: "I give careful consideration to each case that comes before us and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Texas executes man for 2010 home invasion and murder

The 15th Execution of 2019
On September 10, 2019 Texas executed Mark Soliz for the 2010 home robbery and shooting death of a North Texas woman. The execution was the sixth in Texas this year and the third in the last month. Nine more are scheduled through December, reported the Texas Tribune.
Soliz, 37, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of Nancy Weatherly, 61, and the robbery of her Johnson County home, according to court records. Prosecutors said the murder was part of an eight-day crime spree during which Soliz and another man, Jose Ramos, robbed random people at gunpoint, and Soliz killed another man.
Soliz and his lawyers had long argued that his life should be spared because he had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which they claimed is the “functional equivalent” of an intellectual disability, a condition the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled disqualifies individuals from execution. Both state and federal courts rejected the claim during Soliz’s relatively short seven years on death row.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, Soliz was taken into the execution chamber in Huntsville and placed on a gurney. Soliz was apologetic in his final words, addressing Weatherly's family members.
"I wanted to apologize for the grief and the pain that I caused y’all," Soliz said. "I’ve been considering changing my life. It took me 27 years to do so. Man, I want to apologize, I don’t know if me passing will bring y’all comfort for the pain and suffering I caused y’all. I am at peace."
He was then injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, the only drug used in Texas executions. He was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m.
In June 2010, prosecutors said, Soliz and Ramos terrorized residents in the Fort Worth area for eight days before they were arrested on suspicion of one of several crimes, including multiple robberies, carjackings and shootings, another of which was fatal. When police interrogated Ramos about one stolen car, he began talking about another crime — in which he said the two men forced their way into Weatherly’s house in Godley at gunpoint, and Soliz shot her in the back of the head as they robbed her home.
Soliz initially denied killing Weatherly, telling police he was outside by the car when he heard a gunshot and then saw Ramos exit the house. Later during the interrogation, he said he would confess “just to get this over with,” according to a 2014 ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A friend of Soliz’s later said he bragged to her about killing an “old lady.” Ramos received life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder.
At his trial and in his appeals to state and federal courts, Soliz repeatedly raised the claim that he should not have been executed because of his disorder. Several defense experts testified before the jury that he was diagnosed with partial fetal alcohol syndrome, which his lawyers claim caused mental impairments like lack of impulse control, serious adaptive learning deficits and hyper-suggestibility. But the testimony did not keep the jury from handing down a death sentence, and appellate courts did not interfere, partially because the claim was raised at trial and failed.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pa Supreme Court to take up the death penalty this session

The second day of the September session of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to begin with a focus on the high-profile challenge to the state’s death penalty, reported The Legal Intelligencer.
The justices are set to hear argument in the consolidated appeals of Cox v. Commonwealth and Marinelli v. Commonwealth starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. The case comes before the justices in an unusual posture, as the justices agreed to hear the case under their extraordinary King’s Bench jurisdiction.
However, a possibly more unusual feature is the fact that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, is in agreement with the defendant that the death penalty statute is unconstitutional as applied. The prosecutor’s brief, entered in July, garnered significant media attention as it marked what one court observer called an “unprecedented” move of having a prosecutor’s office pushing to have a death-penalty statute struck down.
To support the argument, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office conducted a review of nearly all capital cases out of Philadelphia between 1978 and 2017, and found it was being applied in a “wonton and freakish, arbitrary and capricious manner,” quoting language from a 1982 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. Specifically, the brief cited racial disparities and the high rate of sentences being overturned due to ineffective court-appointed attorneys.
“Where a majority of death sentenced defendants have been represented by poorly compensated, poorly supported court-appointed attorneys, there is significant likelihood that capital punishment has not been reserved for the ‘worst of the worst,’” the brief said. “Rather, what our study shows is that, as applied, Pennsylvania’s capital punishment regime may very well reserve death sentences for those who receive the ‘worst’ (i.e. the most poorly funded and inadequately supported) representation.”
Krasner’s position splits from those presented by other prosecutors, including the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which said the court should defer to the General Assembly on the issue, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which asked the court to reject the constitutional challenge.
Although Chief Justice Thomas Saylor has hinted at possible agreement with Krasner’s position—even saying in 2013 in the Widener Law Journal that the “current state of Pennsylvania’s capital jurisprudence is impaired”—court watchers have questioned how forcefully Saylor and the rest of the court might address an issue that could be seen as the legislature’s prerogative.
Along with the prosecutor and defendants, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus is also set to present oral arguments in the case as an amicus curiae.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project 1

Why is there a death penalty?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Mangino on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today regarding the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. To watch CLICK HERE

Pitt leading way in developing marijuana breath detector

The alcohol Breathalyzer came to life slowly, over the course of decades.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, scientists, lawmakers, police and the public quarreled over the veracity of the numbers spit out by the device, the appropriate legal limit for drivers and whether they could trust a machine over a cop's testimony.
Today, the same debate is playing out over cannabis, reports NPR.
As 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot in some form, Breathalyzer-type devices that could theoretically aid police enforcement have begun appearing in various stages of development. But legal experts and scientists say there's a long way to go before those devices can actually detect a driver's impairment.
Last week, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh announced the latest tool to detect THC — delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component in pot — in breath.
The university's Star Lab, led by Alexander Star, began developing the box-shaped device in 2016, in the midst of a wave of pot legalization across the United States. Star, a chemistry professor, partnered with Ervin Sejdic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who's also at the university, to build the prototype.
The device uses carbon nanotubes, which are 1/100,000 the size of human hair, to recognize the presence of THC, even when other substances are in the breath, such as alcohol. The THC molecule binds to the surface of the tubes, altering their electrical properties.
"Nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry, which is considered the gold standard for THC detection," says the news release from the university's Swanson School of Engineering.
And the device is nearly ready for mass production.
"If we have a suitable industrial partner," Star told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson, "then the device by itself would be quite ready in a few months."
The remaining steps, he says, include testing the prototype and correlating the device's output to the driver's level of impairment.
With alcohol, you can figure out impairment by measuring the amount of alcohol in someone's blood, which you can determine from a Breathalyzer using the "blood to breath," or "partition," ratio. Make that translation from breath to blood to brain, and you have a relatively accurate sense of how drunk someone is.
"So when it comes to these marijuana breath tests, that's the million-dollar question right now," says Chris Halsor, a Denver lawyer who focuses on issues around legal cannabis.
Is there a ratio that links the amount of THC in someone's breath to the amount in the person's blood — and then to exactly how stoned that person is?
No, says Sejdic. The correlation "is basically missing, from a scientific point of view."
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Red Flag laws vague and may infringe on due process

'Red Flag’ laws allow a court to seize someone’s weapons if it’s believed they pose an immediate threat to themselves or to public safety, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
In all, 17 states, along with Washington D.C. have such statutes. And the data appears to indicate that they’re working. Nonetheless, civil libertarians have raised due process concerns. That includes Pennsylvania, where Red Flag laws are now before the state House and Senate.
Our friends at neatly summed up the current, nationwide debate over due process in a piece posted earlier this week, finding that “most red flag laws are vague on what constitutes a ‘significant danger’ [to public safety], which gives courts broad discretion to seize firearms, Parris said. And in some states, respondents are not guaranteed representation in court, since these are civil and not criminal matters.”
In the year since Florida enacted its Red Flag law in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., attorney Kendra Parris told Stateline that she’s defended around 20 clients who were facing risk protection orders.
Parris told Stateline the statute is “almost like a shiny new toy for law enforcement,” who have been “filing them left and right.” Since Parkland, six states, and Washington D.C. have enacted such statutes, Stateline reported.
Dave Kopel, the research director at the Denver-based Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank, chimed in, telling Statelinte that legislatures “have taken the same approach President Donald Trump spoke in favor of in March 2018: ‘Take the guns first, go through due process second.'”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Todd Stephens, the Montgomery County Republican who’s sponsoring a Red Flag bill in the majority-GOP state House, told the Capital-Star earlier this year that he’s gone through his bill line-by-line to dispel critics’ fear about any infringement on their constitutionally protected due process rights.
Stephens bill provides for both the short-term seizure of someone’s weapons as well as a longer, months-long ban that carries with it a higher standard of evidence.
“Gun owners across Pennsylvania don’t realize that they can be disarmed for life without a judge ever saying a word,” Stephens told the Capital-Star, referring to state and federal law banning someone from owning a gun if they’ve been subject to an involuntary commitment. “So when you compare [extreme risk protection orders] with what the status quo is, it’s a win for gun owners.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold two days’ worth of hearings on gun-safety measures on Sept. 24 and Sept 25. A Senate Red Flag proposal, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, is likely to be on the docket for those hearings.
In an Aug. 23 op-Ed for the Capital-Star, Killion wrote that his legislation would protect due process rights “of all involved.”
“This law would create a transparent process in which judges can only order the relinquishment of firearms if there is compelling evidence that individuals pose a serious danger,” he wrote. “Long-term orders can only be issued after a full hearing is held, at which all parties can appear and present evidence.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has urged lawmakers to pass the Red Flag bills when they return to session later this month.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, September 7, 2019

GateHouse: White supremacists pose significant threat to America

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 7, 2019
Violent white supremacists pose a significant threat to the American public equal to or greater than the threat posed by foreign terrorists. Those who support such views or just remain silent, enable bigotry and hatred.
Michael C. McGarrity, assistant director of counterterrorism for the FBI testified before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee in May saying, “We believe domestic terrorists pose a present and persistent threat of violence and economic harm to the United States; in fact, there have been more arrests and deaths caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years.”
Yet, according to the Brennan Center, the “Justice Department regularly treats white supremacist violence not as domestic terrorism or hate crimes, but as gang crimes, which rank sixth on the FBI’s priority list.”
Domestic terrorism is defined by statute as any act occurring within the jurisdiction of the United States that is dangerous to human life, violates U.S. criminal laws and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.
Although domestic terrorism is defined by statute there is no specific domestic terrorism law that can encompass acts such as the mass shootings in El Paso,Texas, Pittsburgh and San Diego.
Justice Department attorney Brad Wiegmann told ABC News that he would be open to discussing a domestic terrorism statute with federal lawmakers.
“We’re always looking to improve our authorities. And so I think we’re certainly open to having a discussion with the Congress if there’s interest in the Congress pursuing a domestic terrorism statute,” Wiegmann said.
Do we need a specific domestic terrorism statute?
There are several federal laws on the books that could be used to combat domestic terrorism. One law, the “Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” makes it a federal offense to use, attempt to use, or conspire to use nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons - things that commonly come to mind when thinking of mass destruction. However, the law also covers the use of explosives. According to Bobby Chesney a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, the statute “does not require any showing of a transnational or foreign element in the fact pattern ... and it is perfectly available for domestic terrorism cases that involve bombings.”
As we have seen in recent days, terrorist attacks can be devastating without the use of explosives. Federal law does not appear to reach most gun-based acts of terrorism. There is a provision in federal law that defines a destructive device as a weapon that “expel(s) a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant ... (using a) barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter.” None of the recent mass attacks on U.S. soil were carried out with instrumentalities that fit that definition.
Well it may be true that there is not a specific statute to deal with acts of domestic terrorism that involve mass shootings - it may be as easy as tweaking existing federal law so it does not distinguish between methods of violence.
Another possible tool against domestic terrorists - such as neo-Nazis and racist white supremacist - is to go after the people who materially support those groups, financially and otherwise. This tactic is commonly used in federal terrorism prosecution, but not available for domestic terror.
There are First Amendment concerns with regard to support for a movement as opposed to participation in a criminal act, but exploring a statute that make it illegal to materially support a group promoting and espousing domestic terrorism is worth the effort.
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 @MatthewTMangino.weap
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, September 6, 2019

Texas inmate before execution: 'I am going to miss those pancakes'

The 14th Execution of 2019
A Texas death row inmate who brutally murdered two women was executed on September 4, 2019, but not before rambling about the “system” and partially describing his own end, according to the New York Post.
Billy Crutsinger, who fatally stabbed 89-year-old Pearl Magouirk and her 71-year-old daughter Patricia Syren in 2003, was given a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville and was pronounced dead just before 7 p.m.
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However, the 64-year-old Crutsinger did not go quietly, giving a disjointed four-minute statement before his death.
“I am going to miss those pancakes and those old time black and white shows. Where I am going everything will be in color,” he said, according to the Texas Tribune.
“There is a lot of this I don’t understand but the system is not completely right,” he continued. "It’s not completely wrong but, it is something that has to be done until something better comes along.”
Crutsinger also said, “I’m at peace now and ready to go and be with Jesus and my family,” and thanked three friends who attended the execution. He did not mention the two women he killed during his final statement, and family members of the murder victims were not present.
As he was given the deadly dose of pentobarbital, Crutsinger said he could feel it “in my left arm. It’s kind of burning.” He coughed and breathed heavily and made repeated snoring noises before he stopped moving, according to The Associated Press.
Crutsinger killed the women after entering their Fort Worth home under the pretense of doing work for them. He stole Syren’s car and credit card, and was arrested three days later at a bar in Galveston.
 “The defendant stabbed two elderly women to death in their own home,” prosecutor Michele Hartmann said in a statement. “They had offered him a chance at honest work. The loss of mother and daughter Pearl Magouirk and Pat Syren is still felt deeply by their family and the Fort Worth community. Our sympathy and thoughts continue to be with them.”
The Supreme Court declined a request by Crutsinger’s lawyer, Lydia Brandt, to stop the execution. Brandt claimed his previous lawyer had a long history of incompetent work in death penalty cases.
 “The jury heard nothing from the defense that provided an explanation about the disease of alcoholism in relation to the offense conduct,” including such things as “a history of domestic violence and abuse, and repeated losses of significant friends and relatives,” Brandt wrote in her one of her Supreme Court petitions.
Crutsinger was the 14th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the fifth in Texas. Ten more executions are on tap in Texas this year.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Mangino appears on segment of Law and Crime Network

Watch my appearance on the  Law and Crime Network regarding the Ohio trial of Skylar Richardson, a young woman accused of killing her new born.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

What does justice taste like? Ben and Jerry's introduces 'Justice ReMix'd'

Ben & Jerry’s says justice is a blend of cinnamon and chocolate ice cream, mixed with cinnamon bun dough and spicy fudge brownies, reported the Huffington Post.

Ben and Jerry’s tweeted:
NEW FLAVOR ALERT! Introducing Justice ReMix'd, a new Limited Batch flavor! We've partnered with @adv_project to churn up a flavor to support criminal justice reform and an end to structural racism in our broken criminal legal system. Find it near you: 

On its website, Ben and Jerry’s highlighted its partnership with the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that tackles inequality and works towards systemic change on the issues of democracy, voting rights and access to justice. Together, the partners aim to close The Workhouse jail, a St. Louis facility where hundreds of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime are held because they can’t afford to pay bail. Although Blacks make up less than half of the city’s population, 90% of those incarcerated at The Workhouse are Black.
A portion of the proceeds from the new, limited-edition ice cream will go towards the Advancement Project’s work in criminal justice reform, a media release stated.
To rad more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Gun-like hand gesture a crime in Pennsylvania

Stephen Kirchner of Manor Township, Lancaster County made a gun-like hand gesture at his neighbor and was arrested for disorderly conduct, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Sure, he thought, brandishing finger guns was only likely to inflame tensions between the bickering residents. But a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled last week that it also constituted a crime.
Superior Court upheld Mr. Kirchner's 2018 conviction on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, ruling that his firing finger aimed at neighbor Josh Klingseisen "served no legitimate purpose and recklessly risked provoking a dangerous altercation."
Mr. Kirchner's lawyer said his client has not yet decided whether to appeal or to accept the penalty, a $100 fine. But since the court released its ruling Tuesday, it has drawn national attention and set social media abuzz.
In writing the opinion, Judge Maria McLaughlin made clear that she and the two other appellate judges who heard the case did not view all forms of finger gun — a pervasive gesture frequent on schoolyard playgrounds and favored by campaigning politicians — as a criminal offense. Instead, they based their findings on the particulars of Mr. Kirchner's case.
The dynamic between him and Mr. Klingseisen was so charged that when Mr. Kirchner mimicked "the firing and recoiling of a gun," he risked causing a fight or further provoking the conflict, Judge McLaughlin wrote.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, September 2, 2019

GateHouse: A preview of the upcoming SCOTUS term

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
August 31, 2019
You can feel it in the air. The lines are drawn, old rivals prepare for battle, and fans wait in line to get in for opening day. No, it is not the first Sunday of NFL football — it’s the approaching first day of the fall term of the United State Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
If you’re a SCOTUS fan, particularly decisions impacting the criminal justice system, this term is going to be a real treat. The justices will hear a litany of cases dealing with everything from the insanity defense to the death penalty.
First, the court will consider the insanity defense. The insanity defense is not a justification for committing a crime — like self-defense — it is an excuse for committing a crime. The defendant admits the crime, but asserts a lack of culpability based on a severe mental illness.
Several years ago, Kansas abolished the insanity defense. There are only three other states without the insanity defense.
James Kahler was charged with murder in Kansas. His attorneys argued to the jury that their client wasn’t guilty because he was unable to appreciate the difference between right and wrong when he committed murder.
Without a recognized defense for insanity, Kahler was convicted. His case has made its way to the Supreme Court where it will be argued this fall.
To get to this point, his lawyers argued that Kansas’ approach “defies a fundamental, centuries-old precept of our legal system: People cannot be punished for crimes for which they are not morally culpable.”
In a second case out of Kansas, the high court will decide whether, for purposes of an investigative stop by police under the Fourth Amendment, it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle absent any information to the contrary.
Next, the death penalty. James McKinney was sentenced to death by a judge in Arizona. Following years of appeals, a federal appeals court ruled that the Arizona courts erred by not considering mitigating evidence during his sentencing, and ordered the state to reconsider the sentence.
Since McKinney’s first sentencing, the law changed requiring a jury, not a judge, to impose a death sentence. However, the Arizona court said because the law was different when he was first sentenced, McKinney should again be sentenced by only a judge.
McKinney is asking the Supreme Court to affirm his constitutional right to be sentenced by a jury. The court’s decision will impact a number of states since there is disagreement among the various state courts on this issue.
There is another case that has generated some interest--not only because of who is involved--but because of the potential impact on juvenile life sentences. Lee Boyd Malvo rose to infamy in 2002 when he and John Allen Mohammad went on a 21-day sniper spree that killed 10 motorists in the Washington, D.C., area.
Malvo was 17 when he committed the offenses, which led to a sentence of life without parole. After he was sentenced, the Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama. The court ruled in Miller that the Eighth Amendment prohibits sentencing a juvenile to a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
Virginia, where Malvo was sentenced, has argued that Malvo’s sentence of life without parole was not mandatory because Virginia law permits judges to suspend a life sentence. The Supreme Court must decide whether Miller applies to a sentencing scheme like Virginia’s that doesn’t “officially” impose a mandatory life without parole sentence.
Finally, in a case out of Louisiana, the Court will decide if the Constitution requires unanimous jury verdicts in all state criminal trials, as occurs in 49 out of 50 states?
Although Louisiana revised its state constitution to require unanimous verdicts—Oregon is now the only state that allows non-unanimous verdicts in criminal cases—the change came after Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of murder by only 10 of 12 jurors. Ramos wants the benefit of the new law.
SCOTUS, like the NFL, has a busy schedule this fall, but don’t look for any SCOTUS outcomes until after the Super Bowl.
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 @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Racist, anti-immigrant, demagogue pushes world into war 80-years ago today

Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party rearmed Germany and signed strategic treaties with Italy and Japan to further Hitler's ambitions of world domination. Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 drove Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and World War II began.
Over the next six years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. Among the estimated 45-60 million people killed were 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler’s diabolical “Final Solution,” now known as the Holocaust.
Remember the words of  philosopher George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."