Thursday, October 17, 2019

Las Vegas will no longer take firearms in DV cases

The cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas will prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence cases without requiring those convicted to give up their firearms, reported the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Las Vegas officials said the decision could face legal challenges from critics of the new policy.
In a 6-1 vote, the Las Vegas City Council approved the ordinance Wednesday in response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that requires defendants in such cases to be afforded the option of a jury trial. Councilman Cedric Crear voted against the plan.
The high court ruled a month ago that defendants were entitled to a trial after deeming the offense no longer “petty” but a “serious” one because of a 2015 state law that banned convicted individuals from possessing firearms.
Officials in Las Vegas have lamented that the city’s municipal court is ill-equipped to hold trials because it does not have jury boxes or administration, plus there are not enough city prosecutors or judges, nor a means to summon a jury pool. In addition, state law doesn’t allow for jury trials in municipal courts.
Other cities in Nevada face similar burdens. Henderson unanimously passed a similar ordinance Tuesday, while North Las Vegas passed its ordinance Wednesday night in a 3-1 vote. Councilman Isaac Barron cast the lone vote against the measure but did not explain his opposition. Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown was not present for the vote.
“Without this solution, battery domestic violence that happens in this city cannot and will not be prosecuted, and victims will be left with limited criminal legal resource,” North Las Vegas City Attorney Micaela Moore told council members.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Supreme Court Brief asks 'What's the matter with Kansas?'

Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle ask “What's the matter with Kansas” on the National Law Journal’s Supreme Court Brief. Today the Supreme Court  will hear argument in Kansas v. Garcia, the second of three cases this term in which the Sunflower State is a named party. On October 7, the first argument was Kahler v. Kansas. And on November 4, the court will hear Kansas v. Glover. All three are criminal cases.

It is rare but not unprecedented for a state to become directly involved in so many cases in a single term. According to Dan Schweitzer, Supreme Court counsel for the National Association of Attorneys General, Texas, Michigan and California—all large states—have argued three cases before the Supreme Court in recent terms, and in 2010, California had four.

In July, when the argument dates were set, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt remarked in a statement: “It is highly unusual for a single state, especially a small state like Kansas, to have three cases pending before the court simultaneously. We are working vigorously to prepare for these three arguments and look forward to presenting the state’s cases in the fall.”

So how can the frequent appearances of Kansas be explained? We asked former Kansas solicitor general Stephen McAllister, a former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk and a scholar of the high court who is currently U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas.

“As a general matter, Kansas has a Supreme Court that is off the rails,” McAllister said, stressing that he was speaking on his own behalf, not for the government. “They’ve gone overboard on the defendants’ side and they’ve gotten the Supreme Court’s attention.”

The Kansas Supreme Court in the Kahler case went against the defendant on an insanity defense, but in Garcia, an immigration case, and Glover, a Fourth Amendment traffic stop dispute, the Kansas high court ruled for the defendant.

To handle the trilogy, Kansas AG Schmidt has rolled up his sleeves himself. He will be arguing today in the Garcia case, his third U.S. Supreme Court argument. State solicitor general Toby Crouse was at the lectern on October 7, and Crouse will do it again in November.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Natural causes kills another on death row

Charles Walton Wright, was scheduled to be executed on October 10, 2019.  He wasn't executed.  He didn't get a reprieve or clemency from the governor of Tennessee. He died of natural causes on death row.  That is the fate for many on death row they don't die of lethal injection but instead natural causes.
Wright, 64, died just before noon on May 19, 2019 at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, said his lawyer, federal public defender Kelley Henry, according to The Tennessean. He had been in the prison infirmary for months.
Wright was bedridden and suffered from terminal cancer that spread from his prostate into his bones. A statement from the Tennessee Department of Correction confirmed he died of natural causes. 
In a statement, Henry said Wright's legal team was grateful to the prison and medical staff for "professional and considerate care" during his illness.
"He has struggled a great deal these past six months. He fought mightily to beat his illness," Henry said. "He desperately wanted to one day touch the grass and eat his sister’s cooking. He will be missed."
Wright's execution was scheduled for Oct. 10.
Before he died, Wright's legal team was fighting to get him clemency that would have stopped the execution and allowed him to die naturally outside of prison.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, October 14, 2019

Columbus Day--the celebration of Italian heritage--grew out of the lynching of 11 Italians in 1890 New Orleans

On this Columbus Day, Brent Staples writes in the New York Times about the lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans.  Staples does not hold back on his employer (The Times) and its deplorable, racist, violence condoning writing of the late 19th and early 20th.
The carnage in New Orleans was set in motion in the fall of 1890, when the city’s popular police chief, David Hennessy, was assassinated on his way home one evening. Hennessy had no shortage of enemies. The historian John V. Baiamonte Jr. writes that he had once been tried for murder in connection with the killing of a professional rival. He is also said to have been involved in a feud between two Italian businessmen. On the strength of a clearly suspect witness who claimed to hear Mr. Hennessy say that “dagoes” had shot him, the city charged 19 Italians with complicity in the chief’s murder. 
That the evidence was distressingly weak was evident from the verdicts that were swiftly handed down: Of the first nine to be tried, six were acquitted; three others were granted mistrials. The leaders of the mob that then went after them advertised their plans in advance, knowing full well that the city’s elites — who coveted the businesses the Italians had built or hated the Italians for fraternizing with African-Americans — would never seek justice for the dead. After the lynching, a grand jury investigation pronounced the killings praiseworthy, turning that inquiry into what the historian Barbara Botein describes as “possibly one of the greatest whitewashes in American history.”
The blood of the New Orleans victims was scarcely dry when The Times published a cheerleading news story — “Chief Hennessy Avenged: Eleven of his Italian Assassins Lynched by a Mob” — that reveled in the bloody details. It reported that the mob had consisted “mostly of the best element” of New Orleans society. The following day, a scabrous Times editorial justified the lynching — and dehumanized the dead, with by-now-familiar racist stereotypes.
“These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians,” the editors wrote, “the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cutthroat practices … are to us a pest without mitigations. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they. Our own murderers are men of feeling and nobility compared to them.” The editors concluded of the lynching that it would be difficult to find “one individual who would confess that privately he deplores it very much.”
Few who march in Columbus Day parades or recount the tale of Columbus’s voyage from Europe to the New World are aware of how the holiday came about or that President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it as a one-time national celebration in 1892 — in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Watergate prosecutors call for impeachment of President Trump

The following are all former members of the Justice Department’s special prosecutor team that investigated the Watergate scandal, who signed the following letter to the Washington Post calling for the impeachment of President Trump:
Nick Akerman, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York
Richard Ben-Veniste, former member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Richard J. Davis, former assistant secretary of the treasury for enforcement and operations
Carl B. Feldbaum, former inspector general for Defense Intelligence, former assistant to the energy secretary and former chief of staff to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter
George T. Frampton Jr., former assistant secretary of the Interior and former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
Kenneth S. Geller, formerly deputy U.S. solicitor general
Gerald Goldman, former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan
Stephen E. Haberfeld, former U.S. magistrate judge in the Central District of California
Larry Hammond, former first deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel
Henry Hecht, lecturer in residence at University of California at Berkeley School of Law
Paul R. Hoeber, lawyer in private practice
Philip Allen Lacovara, former deputy solicitor general of the United States; former special counsel to the House Ethics Committee; and former president of the D.C. Bar
Paul R. Michel, former chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and former associate deputy attorney general of the United States
Robert L. Palmer, lawyer in private practice
Richard Weinberg, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York
Jill Wine-Banks, former general counsel of the U.S. Army; former solicitor general and deputy attorney general of the state of Illinois; and former chief operating officer of the American Bar Association
Roger Witten, lawyer in private practice

We, former members of the Watergate special prosecutor force, believe there exists compelling prima facie evidence that President Trump has committed impeachable offenses. This evidence can be accepted as sufficient for impeachment, unless disproved by any contrary evidence that the president may choose to offer.
The ultimate judgment on whether to impeach the president is for members of the House of Representatives to make. The Constitution establishes impeachment as the proper mechanism for addressing these abuses; therefore, the House should proceed with the impeachment process, fairly, openly and promptly. The president’s refusal to cooperate in confirming (or disputing) the facts already on the public record should not delay or frustrate the House’s performance of its constitutional duty.
In reaching these conclusions, we take note of 1) the public statements by Trump himself; 2) the findings of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation; 3) the readout that the president released of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; 4) the president’s continuing refusal to produce documents or allow testimony by current and former government employees for pending investigations, as well as for oversight matters; and 5) other information now publicly available, including State Department text messages indicating that the release of essential military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on Ukraine’s willingness to commence a criminal investigation designed to further the president’s political interests.
In the 1970s, we investigated serious abuses of presidential power by President Richard M. Nixon, including obstruction of justice, concealment of government records and misuse of government agencies to punish his political enemies. We prosecuted many of Nixon’s aides for their complicity in Nixon’s offenses. Rather than indicting the president, the grand jury named him an unindicted co-conspirator, delivered to the House a “road map” of the evidence implicating him in wrongdoing and deferred to the House’s constitutional responsibility to address such presidential wrongdoing through the impeachment process.
mmittee, fulfilled that responsibility by reviewing the evidence, interviewing witnesses and concluding that the facts warranted adopting three articles of impeachment: one for obstruction, one for abuse of power and one for contempt of Congress. Shortly thereafter, the president resigned rather than face a Senate trial.
In our considered view, the same three articles of impeachment could be specified against Trump, as he has demonstrated serious and persistent abuses of power that, in our view, satisfy the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” For example:
● Trump conditioned protection of the military security of the United States and of an ally (Ukraine) on actions for his personal political benefit.
● Trump subordinated the integrity of our national electoral process to his own personal political interest by soliciting and encouraging foreign government interference in our electoral process, including by Russia and China. He also appears to have demanded that Ukraine investigate a potential 2020 political opponent and pursue the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that it was Russia that had interfered.
● According to the evidence laid out in the Mueller report, Trump engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of justice in violation of federal criminal statutes and of his oath of office to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Because Mueller viewed Justice Department policy as precluding him from filing criminal charges against the president, the special counsel appropriately stated that these abuses are for Congress to address.
● Trump obstructed lawful congressional investigations by systematically withholding evidence and by directing government agencies and employees to refuse to cooperate with legitimate oversight by Congress. Most significantly, the president’s blanket refusal to honor requests for relevant information sought by House members conducting an impeachment inquiry constitutes impeachable contempt and obstruction. The public is entitled to know the facts, and Congress is the body our democracy has entrusted with uncovering them.
The Constitution provides for the elected representatives of the people to resort to impeachment in extraordinary circumstances showing that this drastic remedy is necessary to restrain, and possibly remove, a president who has engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. Proper regard for reestablishing and protecting the rule of law requires firm and resolute action by the House. Lawmakers should not allow any refusal by the president to cooperate in its process to frustrate the performance of its constitutional duties.
If a bill of impeachment comes before the Senate, we urge all members of the Senate to put aside partisan loyalties and carry out their own constitutional duties courageously and honestly. In 1974, it was a group of Republican senators who put national interest over party loyalty and informed Nixon that his conduct was indefensible and would compel conviction by the Senate and removal from office. We hope the current Senate would similarly put honor and integrity above partisanship and personal political interest.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, October 12, 2019

GateHouse: Crime rates fall, reform amps up

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 11, 2019
The FBI recently announced that violent crime fell 3.9% in 2018. The numbers are recorded by police departments across the country and compiled annually by the FBI. The violent crime rate in the United States has been cut nearly in half in the last 25 years.
In 2015 and 2016 there was an uptick in violence as recorded by the FBI. Some feared that the increase was a harbinger of more dangerous times. The latest data puts that fear to rest.
Ames Grawert, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute at New York University’s School of Law, told The Marshall Project, “That’s a really good sign that the long term trend towards greater safety is not in fact reversed, and that we’re moving past whatever happened in 2015 and 2016.” She pointed out “that two years isn’t a trend, and two years doesn’t break a trend.”
The good news from the FBI has further bolstered reform-minded prosecutors like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia; reform governors like California’s Gavin Newsom; and just about every member of a crowded field of Democrats running for president.
The leading Democrats have all come out with a crime reform plan that, by all accounts, would have immediately delegitimized their candidacies just two presidential campaign cycles ago.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is advocating for the end of cash bail. She said, “We should allow people to return to their jobs and families while they wait for trial.” She takes issue with pre-trial civil forfeiture, “I’ll reverse the Trump administration’s policy expanding pre-trial civil forfeiture at the federal level, and restrict the use of civil forfeiture overall.”
Warren also seeks to cap fines and fees at a percentage of income for low-income individuals. She believes states should also eliminate the profit incentive that drives excessive fees and fines by capping the percentage of municipal revenues derived from the justice system, and diverting seized assets.
California Senator Kamala Harris supports ending mass incarceration, supports states legalizing marijuana and legalizing marijuana on the federal level, ending mandatory minimum sentencing on the federal level and incentivizing states to do the same. Invest money in states to shorten the length of probation and other forms of community supervision and end jail time for technical probation and parole violations
A consistent pattern of reform is beginning to emerge.
Congressman Bernie Sanders’ wish list for criminal justice reform is massive. According to his website, Bernie would abolish the death penalty; stop excessive sentencing with the goal of cutting the incarceration rate in half and end mandatory minimum sentencing. That sounds awfully familiar.
He would reinstate a federal parole system and end truth-in-sentencing. He would expand the use of sentencing alternatives - including community supervision and publicly funded halfway house - and revitalize the executive clemency process by creating an independent clemency board removed from the Department of Justice and placed in the White Hous
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s reform plan is equally ambitious. He pledges to decriminalize marijuana, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, end the death penalty, abolish private prisons, get rid of cash bail and discourage the incarceration of children. For the Democrat contenders it’s wash, rinse, repeat.
Biden would also create a new $20 billion grant program that encourages states to reduce incarceration and crime.
As for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, read any of the above plans ... abolish the death penalty, end cash bail, reduce prison population and eliminate private prisons.
“This is a conversation that is unrecognizable from 10 years ago - even five years ago - when these kinds of proposals wouldn’t have been floated in back rooms, let alone in public,” Adam Gelb, president of the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan research organization, told the New York Times.
President Donald Trump’s take on criminal justice reform, like Republican presidents before him, is confrontational. “They (Democrats) don’t mind crime,” he said recently at a rally in New Hampshire. “We do mind crime.”
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, October 11, 2019

Thiel College-Death Penalty

The Death Penalty-Comment Project 3

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that a method of execution violated the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.  Which method of execution--hanging, electrocution, gas, firing squad, lethal injection--do you find most humane? Explain you answer.

Police in Illinois charge 9-year-old with five counts of first-degree murder

A 9-year-old has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder in connection with a lethal mobile-home fire in April near Goodfield, IL, reported the Peoria Journal Star.
The juvenile also has been charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger said.
The identity of the suspect was not revealed, given that person’s age. Minger would not divulge additional details about the suspect, including a possible relationship to the victims.
Minger’s decision to prosecute came six months following the blaze April 6 that killed two adults and three children in a residence at Timberline Mobile Home Park.
The fire at 14 Cypress Court began shortly after 11 p.m. on a Saturday. The trailer was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived a few minutes later.Kathryn Murray, 69; Jason Wall, 34; Rose Alwood, 2; Daemeon Wall, 2; and Ariel Wall, 1, died of smoke inhalation, autopsies revealed.
There were two survivors — Katrina Alwood, who was 27 at the time of the fire, and her juvenile son.
Katrina Alwood and Jason Wall, who were engaged to be married, were parents of Ariel Wall and Daemeon Wall. Rose Alwood was a niece. Murray was Katrina Alwood’s grandmother.
Minger said he went through various authoritative reports about the blaze numerous times before he decided to proceed with prosecution.
“It was a heavy decision,” he said. “It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have.
“But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”
He said the aggravated-arson charge suggests the suspect knew others were present when the fire was set.
Earlier, Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman ruled the fire was started intentionally.
The fire site is just northeast of Goodfield. The village of about 1,000 residents is located along Interstate 74 between Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
No arrest warrant is to be issued for the suspect, Minger said. He wasn’t certain about the minimum age threshold for imprisoning a minor.
The suspect is to be appointed an attorney and will be subject to a bench trial, in front of a judge, according to Minger. No jury is to be empaneled.
If convicted, the suspect could be placed on probation for at least five years but not beyond the age of 21, the state’s attorney said. Therapy, counseling and psychological evaluation would be likely.
Incarceration is not an option, Minger suggested.
“Probation, given the age, is about the only outcome that could happen here,” he said.
To read more CLICK HERE 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Indigent defendants crushed by court costs

Though poor defendants are entitled to be provided legal representation, that does not mean access to the justice system is free, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Court fees — even for indigent defendants — average more than $1,000 per case across Pennsylvania. The median court costs imposed on indigent defendants in the region range from $537 in Philadelphia County to $1,652 in Delaware County, an ACLU of Pennsylvania analysis found. That’s in addition to fines and restitution the court may impose.
For those who spend years on probation or parole, as Hudson did, costs can pile much higher. In addition to assorted fees — $250 for a DNA detection fund, $50 toward the cost of prosecution, $8 for a judicial computer project, $5 for a firearm training fund — he was assessed almost $800 in supervision fees.
In many cases, these costs appear uncollectible: The ACLU found that among defendants poor enough to be assigned public defenders, court costs were paid in full in just 24% of cases over 10 years. Among non-public-defender cases, 54% had paid in full.
“It tends to be the people who are not paying are the ones who have no ability to pay,” Christy said.
In Philadelphia and other counties, public defenders have been campaigning over the last year for judges to waive court costs for indigent defendants, arguing they are obligated to take defendants’ means into account. That question is now before the state Superior Court, which ruled in September that judges did not have to do so — but recently, unprompted, withdrew that opinion, opting to put the question before a judicial panel for further review.
But costs and fines across Philadelphia and its four suburban counties brought in $273 million over the last 10 years, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts — making them a critical part of courts’ budgets.
And, in some local counties, judges routinely impose punishments on people who can’t or won’t pay, generally without distinguishing between the two.
In Delaware County, dockets show some people have been sentenced 10 times or more on a single case, with sentence conditions emphasizing paying fines, court fees, or restitution. In some cases, the judge threatened detention in the event of a single missed payment. In others, judges promised early termination once costs were paid.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

White House refuses to cooperate 'Wonderful thing, a subpoena'

The White House declared war on the House impeachment inquiry reported the New York Times, announcing that it would not cooperate with what it called an illegitimate effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” and setting the stage for a constitutional clash with far-reaching consequences.
However, as Wilford Brimley said in Absence of Malice, "Wonderful thing, a subpoena."
In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House said the inquiry had violated precedent and denied President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents.
“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” said the letter signed by Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the executive branch and all future occupants of the office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”
But in refusing to cooperate with what Mr. Trump on Tuesday called a “kangaroo court,” the president risked ensuring the very outcome he would rather avoid. House Democrats made clear that his failure to comply with their demands for information could form the basis for its own article of impeachment.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Judge cancels killer's execution amid questions of competency

A Texas judge has withdrawn a death row inmate's execution date amid questions that he may not be mentally competent to be put to death, reported the Texas Tribune.
On Thursday, less than two weeks before Randall Mays’ scheduled Oct. 16 execution, Judge Joe Clayton of Henderson County withdrew the death warrant. Mays’ attorneys had filed a motion to find him incompetent for execution because he was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and believes he is to be executed because he has a renewable energy design that threatens oil companies.
Clayton said in his order that he stopped the execution to “properly review all medical records submitted.” The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that for an execution to be conducted, the inmate must know that they are about to be executed and why.
Mays, 60, was sentenced to death in 2008 after killing two Henderson County sheriff's deputies in a standoff that began with a domestic disturbance call, according to court records. Mays and his wife were yelling, and a neighbor said Mays was shooting at her, on their property in Payne Springs, a small town southeast of Dallas.
At first, deputies said Mays was calm and polite, and that his wife told them to leave because they were “just having a spat.” When the neighbor wanted to press charges for the gunshots and a deputy attempted to arrest Mays, however, his face changed, court briefings state. He ran inside with a rifle , but continued talking with deputies through a window and at one point outside for about 20 minutes, telling them he feared the deputies would kill him.
Mays then shot two deputies, Tony Ogburn and Paul Habelt, in the heads, killing them. Another deputy was shot in the leg but survived. Mays surrendered after he was shot himself.
In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped Mays’ first scheduled execution because of competency questions, but ultimately the same Henderson County judge found he was fit for execution. A reason for that finding, Mays’ lawyers claim, was because the Texas prison system had not diagnosed or treated Mays for any relevant mental illness at that time.
That has since changed. In 2018, prison mental health officials diagnosed Mays with schizophrenia and other disorders and prescribed him antipsychotics, the lawyers wrote in a motion last month.A forensic psychiatrist who visited Mays before also said that as of August, his cognitive functions and delusional beliefs have worsened. Mays had trouble staying on topic, quickly veered conversation to comments that the guards were poisoning the air vents and was frequently incoherent.
Mays’ execution was the second stopped this week. On Friday, the execution of Randy Halprin, set for Oct. 10, was halted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, October 7, 2019

U.S. violent crime rate remains on downward trend falling by 3.9% percent in '18

New FBI data  suggests that the violent crime rate in the U.S. remains on a decades-long downward trend, falling by 3.9 percent in 2018, according to The Marshall Project. Overall, the violent crime rate has plunged by more than 50 percent since the highwater mark of the early 1990s.
The drops came across categories of violent offenses, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter and robbery, and property crimes like burglary, larceny and vehicle thefts, while aggravated assault numbers remained about flat. The rate for rape bucked this trend however, up slightly for 2018, and in each of the last six years.
The overall numbers, recorded by police departments across the country and compiled annually by the FBI, are welcome news for crime researchers like Ames Grawert, who closely monitored an uptick in violence in 2015 and 2016.
“That's a really good sign that the long term trend towards greater safety is not in fact reversed, and that we’re moving past whatever happened in 2015 and 2016,” said Grawert, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute at New York University’s School of Law. “It’s a reminder that two years isn’t a trend, and two years doesn’t break a trend.”
Mostly fueled by a spike in homicides in a handful of large cities, the nation’s violent crime rate increased by 3.3 percent in 2015 and 3.5 percent in 2016 before dropping. Some opponents of criminal justice reform seized on the two-year uptick as proof of what they called a new cresting crime wave. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in early 2017 that his “best judgment” was that these data represented a “dangerous permanent trend.”
That spike also fueled the emergence of the so-called “Ferguson Effect” hypothesis, that the Black Lives Matter protest movement had prompted demoralized police officers to cut back on proactive policing strategies in response to scrutiny from the general public. Then-FBI director James Comey described it as “a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement.”
University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, who authored several studies on the spike, has found that something akin to a “Ferguson Effect” likely did contribute to increased murder rates in a handful of cities, like Chicago and Baltimore, but that the “demoralized cops” explanation was unsupported by the data. A study he co-authored in March found “no evidence” that arrest rates had any effect on homicide rates in the cities and time period examined, a correlation one would expect to see if a dip in proactive policing was really to blame.
“The uptick in homicide was more likely associated with a crisis in police legitimacy: People, especially in disadvantaged minority communities, drawing even further back from the police,” Rosenfeld told The Marshall Project. “There is an avalanche of research right now in criminology pointing in that direction, that declining legitimacy is associated with increases in crime.” Predatory violence might increase, for example, because offenders believe victims and witnesses will not contact the police to report incidents.
Violent crime did not decrease across the board in 2018, however, and one category is in the midst of a slow but persistent six-year upward swing: rape. For the 2013 statistics the FBI changed its outdated parameters of rape—then defined as the forcible “carnal knowledge of a female”—to a more modern definition structured around consent, rather than force. Ever since, the rate has been on a steady surge, up more than 18 percent in that period.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Gov. Wolf pushes pardons for low-level marijuana convictions

If you have a conviction for a “low-level” marijuana crime, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons have a deal for you, reported
They are vowing to accelerate the process for reviewing applications for pardons to purge such offenses from the records of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
The hope is to cut the turnaround time for evaluating such pardon applications by more than half, to about a year, Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference in the Capitol.
“Minor offenses should not carry a life sentence,” Wolf said. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said of expediting pardons for pot crimes. “It’s also the smart thing to do.”
A minor marijuana conviction can stand in the way of someone getting a good job, housing and education, the governor said.
The pardons initiative comes in tandem with Wolf’s support of legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, a push he said has bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Flood described the expediting of marijuana-related pardons applications as a “stop-gap” measure pending an anticipated statewide decriminalization of recreational pot.
“In my opinion, it’s a foregone conclusion that Pennsylvania will legalize (recreational) marijuana,” Flood said. “It’s a matter of when, not if.”
He said expedited pardons relief will be open to those with convictions for possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use; for possession with intent to distribute a small amount; distribution of a small amount that does not involve a sale of the drug; possession of drug paraphernalia; marijuana-related conspiracy; and in some cases felony possession.
The expected one-year turnaround time for expedited pardon rulings is an improvement on the current 2 1/2 -year average time for reviewing marijuana cases that have been lumped in with pardon requests for all other types of crimes, Flood said.
The accelerated pardon track is not open to those who have pending cases involving marijuana crimes, he said. Pardons can only be sought after convictions. Anyone with a history of violent crime will be excluded from the expedited program as well, Flood said.
Only one pardon application can be filed at a time. The filing process is free.
Flood said expediting the pardon process is a better option than expecting those facing marijuana charges to seek admission to Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition programs that allow non-violent first-time offenders to avoid criminal records. County district attorneys are the gatekeepers on ARD programs, which charge participation fees ranging from $1,100 to $3,000, depending on the county, he said.
Commutations aren’t suitable alternatives, either, because applicants have to wait 10 years from the date of their convictions to even apply, Flood said.
Even with the expedited program, there is no guarantee of a pardon, he and Wolf stressed.
“I want to emphasize that while we cut down on the red tape for pardons, these cases are not being rubber stamped,” the governor said.
“I read each recommended case and weigh the decision carefully. I factor in the effect a pardon will have on past victims and the likelihood to re-offend,” he said. “But I also weigh the consequences of people continuing to carry a record when they have turned their lives around. By allowing more cases to be heard through the pardons process, we are treating people like individual human beings.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, October 5, 2019

GateHouse: Congress’ unprecedented reliance on the courts

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 4, 2019
For years Congress and state legislatures across the country have complained about litigiousness. Blasting lawyers for filing lawsuits on a whim just to generate a fee. Legislators on a state and federal level have sought to limit lawsuits alleging personal injury, medical malpractice and products liability.
Lawmakers lament questionable lawsuits that “compromise access to affordable health care, punish consumers by raising the cost of goods and services, chill innovation, and undermine the notion of personal responsibility.”
Yet, the House of Representatives has already become a party to nine separate lawsuits this year, while also filing briefs in support of a handful of other suits. More lawsuits are sure to come as the White House vows not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
According to the New York Times, eight months into the 116th Congress, “the Democrat controlled House is going to court at a tempo never seen before.”
The increase in the litigiousness of Congress is not just a Democrat problem. In 2011, a Republican-led House filed suit to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Republican leaders had the opportunity to bring the issue straight to the American people by introducing a resolution on the House floor and allowing members to articulate their support for the Act. Instead they filed suit.
In 2014, the Republican controlled House filed suit over how the Obama administration was implementing the Affordable Care Act. This year, the Trump Administration has refused to defend the Affordable Care Act. In its place, the House has intervened and provided lawyers to argue against the challenge.
Where do the House lawyers come from?
In 1976, House Speaker Tip O’Neill sought to create a House counsel’s office. With O’Neill’s support the office became, as suggested by Tara Leigh Grove in the William & Mary Law Review, “in effect, ... the attorney general of the House.” Grove went on to write, “although the rule states that the House counsel should act ‘without regard to political affiliation,’ and that the Speaker ‘shall consult’ with both the majority and the minority party leaders the counsel’s role has largely been defined by the Speaker.’”
The partisan nature of the House Counsel’s Office explains how Congress, on one hand, could object to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and, five years later, defended the Act against a legal challenge.
While this unprecedented wave of litigiousness preoccupies House members - right and left - Congress has the audacity to continue to consider legislation to curtail the ability of injured and mistreated individuals from seeking redress.
The House is considering legislation to cap noneconomic damages from a lawsuit at $250,000 and place limits on contingency fees that lawyers can charge in medical malpractice cases.
Federal lawmakers are also considering a measure that would require judges to impose monetary sanctions to reimburse the winning party for reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs attributable to a “frivolous” claim. Both bills will have a chilling effect on individuals pursuing potential claims.
What happens if the White House or other member of the president’s cabinet defy congressional subpoenas? The body that abhors abuse of litigation will, of course, file a lawsuit. Where will that litigation lead?
Charlie Savage, who has written about issues of congressional litigation for the New York Times, said recently, “If the House filed a lawsuit for the (subpoenaed) documents, it will join a long list of disputes that are slowly winding their way through the judicial system. It is not likely, therefore, that Congress will obtain these files anytime soon, if ever.”
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.
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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Missouri executes man with rare medical condition

The 17th Execution of 2019
A Missouri man convicted of killing a man during a 1996 crime spree was executed October 1, 2019 , despite concerns that the inmate’s rare medical condition would cause a gruesome lethal injection.
Russell Bucklew was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre. It was Missouri’s first execution since January 2017, reported The Associated Press.
Bucklew had twice previously been within hours of execution, only to have the U.S. Supreme Court grant last-minute reprieves over concerns that he might suffer during the execution process. He had a condition called cavernous hemangioma and had blood-filled tumors in his head, neck and throat. He breathed with help from a tracheostomy tube.
Bucklew’s attorneys said in a clemency request to Gov. Mike Parson that a throat tumor could burst, causing Bucklew to choke and die painfully and in violation of the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.
Bucklew looked around and twitched his feet beneath the sheet as he lay on the gurney just before the lethal injection. He suddenly took a deep breath and all movement stopped.
There were no outward signs of distress.
Adding to the concern was Missouri’s secretive execution drug. The state uses a single dose of pentobarbital but refuses to say where it gets it. The source is believed to be a compound pharmacy since large pharmaceutical companies prohibit the use of their drugs in executions.
The Supreme Court stepped in to halt Bucklew’s execution in 2014 and again in 2018. But in April, the high court gave the go-ahead for Bucklew to be executed.
Human rights groups and death penalty opponents, including all four Roman Catholic bishops in Missouri and the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Parson to grant clemency and remand Bucklew to life in prison without parole. The ACLU and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty presented the governor’s office on Thursday with petitions that they said included more than 57,000 signatures.
But Parson, a Republican who worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years and is a staunch death penalty supporter, decided early Tuesday that the execution could proceed.
Inmates’ medical conditions have affected other recent execution attempts.
In 2017, the execution of twice-convicted killer Alva Campbell, who suffered from smoking-related breathing problems, had to be halted in Ohio when a usable vein couldn’t be found to administer execution drugs. He died in 2018 at age 69.
In 2018, Alabama halted the lethal injection of Doyle Lee Hamm when the execution team had trouble getting the intravenous line connected. Hamm had damaged veins because of lymphoma, hepatitis and drug use. A doctor hired by Hamm’s lawyers wrote in a report that Hamm had at least 11 puncture sites and bled heavily from his groin during the attempts to connect the line.
Bucklew’s girlfriend, Stephanie Ray, left him on Valentine’s Day 1996. Over the next few weeks, according to court records, he harassed her, cut her with a knife and punched her in the face.
Ray feared for her life and the lives of her children, so she moved into the Cape Girardeau County mobile home that her new boyfriend, Michael Sanders, shared with his children.
On March 21, after stealing his nephew’s car and taking two pistols, handcuffs and duct tape from his brother, Bucklew followed Ray to Sanders’ home. Sanders confronted Bucklew with a shotgun inside the home. Bucklew fired two shots, one piercing Sanders’ lung. He bled to death.
Bucklew then shot at Sanders’ 6-year-old son and missed. Court records say he struck Ray in the face with the pistol, handcuffed her and dragged her to his car. He later raped Ray before heading north on Interstate 55.
A trooper spotted Bucklew’s car and eventually became engaged in a gunfight near St. Louis. Both men were wounded. Bucklew later escaped from the Cape Girardeau County Jail. He attacked Ray’s mother and her boyfriend with a hammer before being recaptured.
Bucklew’s attorneys, Cheryl Pilate and Jeremy Weis, said in a statement that Bucklew was remorseful for his crimes.
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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Prior DUI arrests related to higher risk of gun violence

A California study links convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol to a higher risk of a violent crime committed with firearms, reported The Crime Report.
The study, published in the Sept. 30 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine, found that 9 percent of legal handgun purchasers with previous DUI convictions were arrested for murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault.
“This is compared to 2 percent of purchasers with no prior criminal history at the time of purchase,” wrote Rose M. C. Kagawa, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California Davis, and lead author of the study.
“When we compared purchasers who only had DUI convictions and no other arrests or convictions with those who had no criminal history, a DUI conviction was associated with more than double the risk of future arrest for a violent crime.”
Kagawa and her team of researchers looked at criminal records of 78,878 California handgun purchasers between 2001 and 2013, using the California Department of Justice Dealer’s Record of Sale database.
The research built on earlier studies by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Program which associated risky alcohol use with arrests for violent crimes.
“Alcohol use is a well-established risk factor for firearm violence,” said Kagawa, “Our study suggests that handgun purchasers with a DUI conviction on their record at the time of purchase have a higher incidence of future violence and crime compared to purchasers without DUI convictions.”
Lending further weight to its conclusions, the study cited an earlier meta-analysis of research involving homicide offenders which indicated that an estimated 34 percent of people who committed homicide with a firearm were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crime.
The researchers noted that the federal government and many states restrict the purchase and possession of firearms by members of high-risk groups, including persons convicted of felonies, domestic violence misdemeanors, and other violent misdemeanors.
“Comparable benefits may arise from similar restrictions on persons convicted of DUI crimes,” they wrote.
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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

PA Supreme Court punts on the death penalty

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined a special petition to review the constitutionality of the death penalty but says it will still consider the fairness of individual cases, reported The Associated Press.
The decision comes after the court heard arguments this month from critics who call the punishment cruel and arbitrary in the way it’s applied to poor and black defendants. Public defender Shawn Nolan represents the two men whose petitions were at the heart of the petition.
Nolan said he is disappointed, given “overwhelming evidence that Pennsylvania’s death penalty system is broken.” But his office will continue to litigate the issue in state courts, he said.
Statewide, just under half of the current death row inmates in Pennsylvania are black, compared with 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.
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 said at the Sept. 11 hearing. Among the 155 from Philadelphia, the reversal rate is 72 percent.
“The reliability of the system as a whole is cruel, and the systemic problems affect every case,” Kane argued before the 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.
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 Legislature, which issued a troubling report on the issue last year.
“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 hoped the Supreme Court would step in given the lack of action by lawmakers.
The average appeal in Pennsylvania takes 17 years, straining the resources of the court system, critics said.
Five Democrats and two Republicans sit on the state Supreme Court.
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