The House of Representatives has announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Two presidents--Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton--have been impeached. Neither was removed from office. The only president to leave office as the result of impeachment was never actually impeached.
Following a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee, in April
1974 edited transcripts of many Watergate-related conversations from the Nixon White House tapes were made
public by Nixon, but the committee pressed for full tapes and additional
conversations. Nixon refused, but on July 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to comply.
On July 27, 29, and 30, 1974, the Committee approved three articles of
impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of justice, abuse
of power, and contempt of Congress, and reported those
articles to the House of Representatives. Two other articles of impeachment
were debated but not approved.
Before the House could vote on the impeachment
resolutions, Nixon made public on August 5, 1974 a transcript of one of the
additional conversations, known as the "Smoking Gun Tape", which
made clear his complicity in the cover-up. With his political support
completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. It is widely
believed that had Nixon not resigned, his impeachment by the House and removal
from office by a trial before the United States Senate would have occurred.
Last winter, my son’s high school baseball team had a
community fundraiser. The “wing bash” as we called it was held in a social hall
in a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Amid all the hot wings and
baseball memorabilia was a guy wearing a side arm.
There he was, plate in hand, event program under his arm and
firearm on his hip as uneasy patrons pretended not see. He wasn’t a police
officer or security guard. He was a private citizen who apparently felt so
threatened at our wing bash that he had to come armed.
How did we get to a point where private citizens need to
carry firearms when they leave their homes? This isn’t Dodge City, Kansas circa
1878, or a John Wayne movie on the silver screen — this is reality and an
obvious step backward for a civilized society.
The proliferation of gun ownership has increased the
potential for unnecessary violent confrontations. Lawmakers recognized this
concern centuries ago.
According to a New York Times op-ed by Robert J. Spitzer, a
professor at the State University of New York-Cortland, in 1686, New Jersey
enacted a law against wearing weapons because they induced “great Fear and
Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia passed similar
laws in the 18th century. By the 19th century, 37 states joined the list
prohibiting concealed weapons. Today, more than 11 million Americans have
concealed carry permits.
A 2017 Harvard/Northwestern University joint study estimated
that our country’s 319 million citizens currently own about 265 million guns.
And while in 1994, the “typical gun-owning household” owned 4.2 guns, in 2015,
the Washington Post revealed that the average number of firearms
owned has nearly doubled to 8.1 guns per household.
Why so many guns?
It certainly is not due to out of control violent crime. The
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI Annual Crime Report, according to
the Pew Research Center — two of most trusted names in crime analysis — found a
substantial decline in the violent crime rate since it peaked in the early
Every year, the FBI reviews crime reporting from 18,000
police departments around the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys
more than 90,000 households asking Americans whether they were victims of
crime, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police.
Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 49
percent between 1993 and 2017. Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the
rate fell 74 percent during that same period.
Yet in spite of those statistics, Gallup polling found that
the percentage of gun owners who possessed a firearm for hunting purposes fell
from 60 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2013. The number of respondents who
cited gun ownership for “sport” fell even more.
According to a Harvard University School of Public Health
survey, 63 percent of gun owners in 2016 reported self-defense as their
primary motivator, up from 46 percent in 2004.
Some suggest the recent widespread adoption of state
stand-your-ground laws has fueled firearms sales. These laws permit people who
feel threatened to use deadly force without the need to retreat.
Twenty-five states have stand-your-ground laws, including
Florida which brought us George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon
Martin and the recent would-be robbery victim who killed three young teens —
ages 15, 16, and 16 — in an alleged robbery gone awry.
The Congress can’t even decide if it wants to consider any
options on gun violence. Legislators in many states, in deference to the power
and money of the NRA, pretend like there isn’t a gun problem in this country.
According to the CDC, middle-and high school-age children in the U.S. are now
more likely to die as the result of a firearm injury than from any other single
cause of death.
How can anyone, much less a lawmaker, look the other
way? Pretending it’s not a problem, much the same way patrons at my son’s
baseball fundraiser did, is not the answer.
That uneasy feeling that makes you look the other way when
someone walks into your neighborhood grocery store with a gun, is the very
feeling that should cause you to stand up and say “enough is enough.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett,
Kelly & George P.C. in New Castle, Pa., and the author of “The
Executioner’s Toll, 2010.” @MatthewTMangino.
He welcomes feedback at mattmangino.com.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House
of Representatives would begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald
Trump. The inquiry will focus on the president seeking to enlist a foreign
power to investigate a political opponent aiding his reelection campaign, while
dangling foreign aid to entice cooperation.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously
violated the Constitution ... no one is above the law,” said Pelosi during a
Impeachment refers to the process specified in the
Constitution for trial and removal from office any federal official accused of
misconduct. Impeachment comes in two parts. The House of Representatives
charges the official, here the President of the United States, with articles of
impeachment. Once charged by the House, the case goes before the Senate for a
trial. House members serve as prosecutors and must prove an impeachable offense
defined as, “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Essentially, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial,
the House prosecutes and the Senate serves as the jury.
America has been down this road before.
In spring 1868, President Andrew Johnson, who assumed office
after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, became the first president to be
A year earlier, the Republican lead Congress passed the
Reconstruction Act. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was responsible for
enforcing the Act. Johnson, a Democrat, opposed the Act and tried to remove
Stanton. The House formally adopted 11 articles of impeachment.
In May 1868, after a trial in the Senate, presided over by
Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, 35 Senators voted to convict, one vote short of
the required two-thirds majority. A single profile in courage, a Republican
senator from Iowa voted against his party’s leadership saying, “I cannot agree
to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution for the sake of getting
rid of an unacceptable president.” Johnson remained in office and served out
It would be 130 years before another president was
impeached. However, impeachment is not just for presidents. In the last 100
years, five federal judges have been impeached and removed from office. The
most recent, Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in
Judge Porteous, was accused of receiving cash and favors
from lawyers who had dealings in his court, using a false name to elude
creditors and intentionally misleading the Senate during his confirmation
hearing. According to the New York Times, the articles of impeachment alleged a
“pattern of conduct incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him.”
The U.S. Senate found Porteous guilty on four articles of
impeachment and removed him from office. All 96 senators present voted “guilty”
on the first article.
The 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton is a little
fresher in the American psyche. The GOP-lead House initiated impeachment
proceedings on Oct. 8, 1998. The specific charges against the president were
lying under oath and obstruction of justice - charges that stemmed from a
sexual harassment lawsuit chronicled by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in a
report to the House Judiciary Committee. In December 1998, the House adopted
two articles of impeachment against Clinton.
The trial in the Senate began in January 1999, with Chief
Justice William Rehnquist presiding. On Feb. 12, Clinton was acquitted by the
Democrat-lead Senate when it failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for
In 1998, America had a Democrat president, a Republican
majority in the House and a Democrat majority in the Senate. Today, we have
exactly the opposite. If history is any indication, this latest push to impeach
will end the same way the other two presidential impeachments did - acquittal.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George
P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland
Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and
follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
A partially redacted version of the whistleblower complaint that has led to
an impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump was released, detailing allegations that the president and members of his
administration conspired to induce a foreign country to interfere in the 2020
US presidential election, reported Jurist.
The complaint, originally made on August 12, comes from a
yet unnamed source within the Trump administration who “received information
from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States
is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country
in the 2020 U.S. election.” The complaint was filed with intelligence community
Inspector General Michael Atkinson in August, but was illegally withheld from
congressional intelligence committees until earlier this week. Section
(K)(5)(C) of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act requires
that whistleblower complaints from members of US intelligence agencies be
released to congress within seven days. The refusal of the Trump administration
to release the whistleblower complaint was one of the catalyzing events that
led congressional Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.
The complaint alleges that while on a phone call made on
July 25, Trump pressured the government of Ukraine to investigate
unsubstantiated claims that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son
had illegal business dealings in the country and provide that information to
the White House. In addition, the president reportedly requested that the
Ukrainian government obtain and deliver servers used by the Democratic National
Committee during the 2016 presidential election that he believed were in the country
and to contact US Attorney General Robert Barr and Trump’s personal attorney
Rudy Giuliani for any follow-up. Most notably, the complaint alleges that White
House officials sought to immediately cover up the records of the conversation,
including removing electronic recordings of the phone call from normal White
House records systems and refusing to distribute raw transcripts to
cabinet-level officials as is customary. The complaint further details months
of interactions between Giuliani, Barr and Ukrainian officials allegedly tied
to the interference scheme. Finally, a redacted portion of the complaint covers
the refusal of the administration to release approved foreign aid to Ukraine at
the same time as the phone call took place. The details of the whistleblower
complaint comport with a heavily edited summary of the telephone conversation released by the
Robert Sparks, 45, was executed by lethal injection in Texas on September 25, 2019 for the
September 2007 slayings of 9-year-old Harold Sublet and 10-year-old Raekwon
Agnew in their Dallas home, reported The Associated Press.
In his final moments, Sparks uttered these words: "Umm, Pamela, can you
hear me? Stephanie, Hardy, Marcus, tell all the family I love them. I am sorry
for the hard times and what hurts me is that I hurt y'all, and um, even for
y'all too, and Patricia, she wrote me, tell Patricia I wrote her back and to
tell y'all what I said. I love y'all. I am ready."
Prosecutors say Sparks' attack began when he stabbed his wife, 30-year-old
Chare Agnew, 18 times as she lay in her bed. Sparks then went into the boys'
bedroom and separately took them into the kitchen, where he stabbed them.
Raekwon was stabbed at least 45 times. Authorities say Sparks then raped his
12- and 14-year-old stepdaughters.
His attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, alleging his trial
jury was improperly influenced because a bailiff wore a necktie with an image
of a syringe that showed his support for the death penalty. Sparks also alleges
a prosecution witness at his trial provided false testimony regarding his
prison classification if a jury chose life without parole rather than a death
Lower courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down requests by
Sparks' attorneys to stop his execution.
Sparks became the 16th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the
seventh in Texas. Seven more executions are scheduled in Texas this year.
On Tuesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop his
execution on claims he was intellectually disabled, saying his attorneys had
not presented sufficient evidence to show Sparks was mentally disabled and had
failed to raise such a claim in a timely manner.
In August, the 5th Circuit did grant a stay for Dexter Johnson, another Texas
death row inmate who also claims he is intellectually disabled. In that case,
the appeals court ruled Johnson had made a sufficient showing of possible
intellectual disability that needed further review.
After his arrest, Sparks told police he fatally stabbed his wife and stepsons
because he believed they were trying to poison him. Sparks told a psychologist
that a voice told him "to kill them because they were trying to kill
Sparks' lawyers argued he suffered from severe mental illness and had been
diagnosed as a delusion psychotic and with schizoaffective disorder, a
condition characterized by hallucinations.
A psychologist hired by Sparks' attorneys said in an affidavit this month that
Sparks "meets full criteria for a diagnosis of" intellectual
"Without a stay of execution, it is likely that Texas will execute an
intellectually disabled man," Seth Kretzer and Jonathan Landers, Sparks'
appellate attorneys, wrote last month in court documents.
The Supreme Court in 2002 barred execution of mentally disabled people but has
given states some discretion to decide how to determine intellectual
disability. However, justices have wrestled with how much discretion to allow.
The Texas Attorney General's Office, which called the killings "monstrous
crimes," said in court documents that Sparks' "own trial expert
testified that he was not intellectually disabled."
His attorneys said that at the time of his trial, Sparks was not deemed
intellectually disabled, but changes since then in how Texas makes such
determinations and updates to the handbook used by medical professionals to
diagnose mental disorders would change that.
On whether Sparks' jury was improperly influenced by the bailiff's necktie with
an image of a syringe, the attorney general's office said the jury foreperson
indicated she never saw the tie and had no knowledge of it affecting the
The attorney general's office said the testimony from the prosecution witness
on prison classification was corrected on cross-examination.
"Sparks committed a heinous crime which resulted in the murders of two
young children. He is unable to overcome the overwhelming testimony" in
his case, the attorney general's office said in its court filing with the
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Tennessee’s attorney general has asked the state
Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine death row prisoners, bucking a
national movement away from capital punishment, reported The Associated Press.
Attorney General Herbert Slatery quietly filed the request
on Friday with no explanation, and the state Supreme Court later posted it on
its website on Tuesday.
“The Tennessee Constitution guarantees victims of crime the
right to a ‘prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction of
sentence,’” Slatery said in a statement Tuesday in response to a request for
comment from The Associated Press.
Slatery’s motion came the same day he publicly announced he
would challenge a Nashville Criminal Court’s decision to commute the death
sentence of black inmate Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s to life in prison after concerns were raised that racism
tainted the jury selection pool. Slatery argued in his appeal that the court’s
order “circumvented established legal procedures.”
A recent report from the Pennsylvania Attorney General shows
that law enforcement across the state made over $15 million dollars through the
use of civil asset forfeiture between 2017 and 2018, WHYY-FM.
This controversial legal mechanism allows police departments
and district attorney offices to profit from property seized during arrests,
even if a suspect is never convicted of a crime. This property — which is often
tied to drug suspects — ranges from cash, cars and homes to jewelry and flat
While the annual haul –– which covers both the AG itself and
67 county DA offices –– is down from previous years, critics say the report
shows that police still regularly take small amounts of cash from suspects — in
some instances from innocent people.
Jennifer McDonald, a researcher with the national non-profit
Institute for Justice, says these smaller confiscations are a sticking point
for reformers. Potentially innocent people caught up in such a seizure rarely
find it worth the cost of retaining a private lawyer to retrieve a few hundred
dollars or less.
“For district attorneys to say, ‘Someone has $175 dollars in
their wallet. We can call that drug money,’ is concerning. That means anyone
who happens to be carrying cash at the wrong place at the wrong time can have
their property taken and they’re very likely to not get it back,” she said.
Although the state legislature and court rulings have moved
to tighten Pennsylvania’s forfeiture policies, McDonald hopes the state
implements more reforms to protect innocent people.
The recent AG report showed that the main subject of that
story, Berks County DA John T. Adams, brought in $1.8 million between June 2017
and June 2018 –– more than any other county.
Adams said this reflects his efforts to squash major drug
organizations. He credited his county detectives with executing several
high-profile busts, including the breakup of a large synthetic marijuana ring
that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Part of our fight against the drug trade is to strip the
profits that are made by the drug dealers and the drug organizations so they
can’t reap the benefits of their illicit activity,” he said. “[Forfeiture]
takes away the profits of their drug dealing. It takes away their incentive to
Adams said his office had recently raised the minimum amount
of cash it would seize to $500 in most cases to prevent instances in which
innocent people surrendered property because it was too costly to fight back.
Adams acknowledges that the state’s forfeiture laws hold
some potential for abuse — that it is largely up to individual DAs to implement
controls on property confiscation.
“We know there’s a lot more scrutiny now,” he said. “We
An Orlando, FL police officer who arrested two children — a
6-year-old and an 8-year-old — at school in separate incidents on Thursday will
be subject to an internal investigation, reported BuzzFeedNews.com.
Officer Dennis Turner was on duty as a school
resource officer when he arrested the students on misdemeanor charges, Lt.
Wanda Miglio of the Orlando Police Department told BuzzFeed News. Turner did
not follow the department's policy of requiring approval from a watch commander
for the arrest of any children under the age of 12.
be an internal investigation regarding these incidents,” Miglio said.
The officer is part of the department's reserve
program and will be suspended from duty pending the outcome of the
"As a grandparent of three children less than
11 years old this is very concerning to me," Chief Orlando Rolón said in a
statement. "Our Department strives to deliver professional and courteous
service. My staff and I are committed to exceeding those standards and
The investigation comes after the 6-year-old's
grandmother said the girl was handcuffed and taken away in a police car,
drawing outrage and national headlines.
Meralyn Kirkland, 6-year-old Kaia Rolle's
grandmother, told NBC affiliate WLFA that she was called Thursday
and told her granddaughter had been arrested after throwing a tantrum at
Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, the Orlando charter school she attends as a
first grader. Kirkland said she was told her granddaughter had been arrested on
a battery charge.
The school didn't immediately return a request for
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.”
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
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
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
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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him
on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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.
Police Chief James Craig has said he sees similarities
between three of the slayings and the assaults of at least two other women who
“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
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
Police have said they believe all the women were sex
“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
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.
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 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
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
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
Louisiana voters ended the practice in 2018, leaving
Oregon as the lone holdout for non-unanimous verdicts in the United
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
Even Oregon's district attorneys joined in urging
legislators to repeal the system on the ballot.
Some speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to
hear Ramos v. Louisiana may have contributed to the resolution losing
“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
"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
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
"We can't accept these truths and these realities in
piecemeal or in ways that are just convenient for us,"
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
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."
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.
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly
& George P.C. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 was released by
McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him
on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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
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
Bottom of Form
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
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."
An analysis of crime and punishment from the perspective of a former prosecutor and current criminal justice practitioner.
The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or postions of any county, state or federal agency.