Thursday, October 31, 2019

Catholic Bishops: Change Canon Law and allow ordination of married men

A summit of Roman Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican recommended that Pope Francis allow the ordination of married men as priests in the Amazon region, that would change a roughly 1,000-year-old canon law and potentially revolutionize the priesthood, reported the New York Times.
It is the first time a grouping of bishops convened by a pope has endorsed such a historic change to the tradition of a celibate priesthood. The proposal is limited to remote areas of South America where there is a scarcity of priests but could set a precedent for easing the restriction on married priests throughout the world.
If Francis, who has already signaled an openness on the issue, accepts the bishops’ recommendation, he will turn the remote areas of the Amazon region into a laboratory for a Catholic Church looking to the global south for its future, with married priests and indigenous rites mixing with traditional liturgy.
The pope is expected to respond to the proposals by the end of this year.
The final document of the summit, noting that many of the faithful in the Amazon region have “enormous difficulties” in receiving communion and seeing a priest, proposed to “ordain priests suitable and esteemed men of the community,” who had already had “fruitful” experiences as deacons and who “receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family.”
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Forensic genealogy has expanded the reach of law enforcement

DNA databases are not new. Since the U.S. DNA Identification Act of 1994, law enforcement agencies around the country have been collecting and searching the DNA of missing people, convicted felons and from crime scene evidence, reported the ABA Journal.
Some states also collect DNA from those arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges. These datasets are stored in the FBI-operated Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. California has its own similar statewide system, which as of 2009 includes the DNA of those arrested on any felony charge.
With these databases, law enforcement can run DNA against them to find matches or generate leads. With rare exceptions, CODIS was not developed to assist in the investigation of a family tree. Now, private companies have changed the game and expanded the data pool to include people with no criminal histories and looped in extended family members with no knowledge that they are in a perpetual genetic lineup.
These private databases have been around since at least 2000, which is when direct-to-consumer sales of the DNA tests began. Led by companies like 23andMe and, the products let customers—through a mouth swab or spit—receive raw and analyzed data about their DNA. These companies collect more genetic markers than CODIS, including height, geographic ancestry or whether an individual carries a genetic disease or is a product of incest.
Once in possession of their DNA data, consumers can upload it to websites like GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA, which allow for people and law enforcement to search for missing relatives or suspects.
“You’re reverse-engineering a family tree,” says Leah Larkin, a genealogist and founder of The DNA Geek, which helps people find missing relatives. “It’s a lot like putting a puzzle together.”
Not just built on DNA, this technique includes public documents, news clippings, social media and other documents to re-create a family tree.
Through their growth in popularity over the last decade, DNA testing companies boasted 26 million users as of the end of 2018, according to the MIT Technology Review. Today, the databases are so robust that 60% of Americans with European ancestry are identifiable from DNA within these databases, according to research published in Science in 2018. That number is expected to jump to 90% in just a few years, researchers say.
This increased data pool has opened up a new avenue for law enforcement and genealogists to find fresh leads for investigations that long ago went cold, which also brought increased attention.
“Since the Golden State Killer case broke, it’s been an ongoing wildfire of media interest and public interest,” says Larkin, who does not take criminal genealogy cases for ethical reasons related to informed consent and government overreach. “Genetic genealogy was a sleepy little backwater hobby prior to that.”
Larkin is referencing the April 2018 arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo—the “Golden State Killer”—who was charged with eight counts of murder related to a prolific number of rapes, murders and burglaries committed in California between 1976 and 1986. With prosecutors seeking the death penalty, the trial is ongoing.
High-profile or not, forensic genealogy is used to develop leads to investigate a person and has so far not been used to generate probable cause warrants, which makes the technique hard to challenge in court.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pennsylvania a leader in criminalizing drug deliveries resulting in death

Pennsylvania prosecutors can charge people with “drug delivery resulting in death” (DDRD) if they give or sell an illicit substance to someone who dies because of using it. DDRD is a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Charging someone with this can also make it easier for prosecutors to obtain a conviction on other charges; its harsh sentences provide them leverage during plea negotiations, reported The Appeal.
Drug-induced homicide charges have rapidly increased since 2011, according to data collected by the Health In Justice Action Lab, a project of the Northeastern University School of Law. The lab found 23 cases total between 1974 and 2000, less than 100 a year through 2011, and exponential growth since: 326 in 2015, 495 in 2016, and 717 in 2017.
But this legislative change also speaks to the importance of DAs and their associations. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association lobbied for the 2011 reform, asking lawmakers “to remove that malice requirement.” Other prosecutors demanded statutory changes elsewhere. Expanding prosecutors’ ability to charge people with drug-induced homicide was a priority for the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys this year, for instance. Madeline Singas, the Democratic DA of New York’s Nassau County, wrote draft legislation to the same effect. 
With 49 Pennsylvania counties electing their DAs this year, the surge of homicide prosecutions could have been a core issue up for debate. The same goes for New York, home to 25 DA elections this year, and where prosecutors have also somewhat frequently charged people with homicide in the aftermath of an overdose. I have identified few counties where this has played out, though.
One candidate ruled out homicide charges, and three shared concerns
The Political Report contacted DA candidates running in the nine Pennsylvania counties and two New York counties with contested elections this year that have prosecuted at least six people for drug-induced homicide, based on the Health In Justice Action Lab’s data.
Across these eleven counties, only one candidate ruled out ever charging someone with homicide in the aftermath of an overdose.
It just so happens that this one candidate is running in Lancaster, the Pennsylvania county that has used this approach more frequently than any other county nationwide. 
“We must prioritize treatment over punishment, and DDRD laws prioritize punishment over healing,” Hobie Crystle, the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 5 election, said in a statement emailed via a spokesperson. “That approach sends folks into the shadows. We need light and air to heal, so my office will not pursue DDRD charges. Period.” Crystle said DAs have other tools than homicide at their disposal to hold “profiteers who have caused a death” accountable. “We can punish peddlers of poison severely enough using regular drug delivery laws, without involving the families and loved ones of those who succumb to their illness,” he said.
Crystle’s stance sets up a potentially stark policy shift in Lancaster given the office’s current policies. Steadman, the Republican incumbent, is not seeking re-election. Heather Adams, the Republican nominee and a former prosecutor who now works as a criminal defense lawyer, did not answer multiple requests for comment. The Political Report could not identify her stance from her website or other reporting. Adams and Crystle have publicly disagreed on other issues such as the death penalty, which Adams supports and Crystle opposes.
Three other candidates shared their discomfort with drug-induced homicide prosecutions. 
In Pennsylvania, Lisa Middleman (an independent in Allegheny County) and Jack Stollsteimer (the Democratic nominee in Delaware County) expressed concern that DDRD charges are used excessively against people with addiction issues and people who shared their drugs in the context of using them. Shani Curry Mitchell, the Democratic nominee in New York’s Monroe County (Rochester), said she saw no deterrent effect in drug-induced homicide prosecutions, and worried about the racial disparities in their use.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, October 28, 2019

Jim Crow is back: The new Poll Tax, court costs and fines

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, within months of being sworn in, signed SB 7066, a law requiring former felons to pay outstanding, court-ordered fees, fines, or victim restitution to the state before they can vote. In doing so, analysts say, DeSantis, a Republican, instantly disqualified some 1.4 million voters, reported the New Republic.
SB 7066 made national headlines and prompted a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union; last week, a judge temporarily blocked the law. But Florida isn’t alone in requiring former felons to settle their debts if they want to vote. At least 30 states, from California to Mississippi, make paying court-ordered costs either a direct requirement for voting, an indirect one, or list it as a condition of receiving clemency, which would restore their access to the ballot box.
Proponents of these laws argue that lawbreakers should have to complete their court-ordered punishment—including financial penalties—before they can vote. But critics say the laws are just modern incarnations of poll taxes, designed to suppress the African American vote.
Amendment 4 was drafted to erase a Jim Crow-era law embedded in the state constitution, and passed with 64 percent of the vote. Despite that overwhelming support, the Republican-controlled legislature passed SB 7066 and DeSantis, in June, signed it. The governor and his allies argued that the law merely clarified ambiguous language in the amendment, which called for restoring former felons’ voting rights “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” SB 7066 specifies that “all terms” includes financial obligations.
But several studies released this year point out that SB 7066 and similar laws in other states suppress millions of votes—enough to potentially swing the outcome of a national election.
“Nearly six million individuals are denied the right to vote in the United States” due to a past conviction and an inability to pay a rising number of fines, fees, court costs, and restitution, according to the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown University School of Law. The Campaign Legal Center calls the practice “a modern poll tax as a precondition of voting” that falls disproportionately on the poor and people of color.
“It’s Disenfranchisement 101,” according to Carol Anderson, an Emory University historian and author of One Person, No Vote. She said these laws reflect an old political calculus, found mostly on the right: Stay in power by narrowing the electorate, and block African Americans and the poor from voting by any means necessary.
During the Jim Crow era, “the poll tax was about poverty,” she said. The modern-day laws tied to court cost are no different, she said: “To make it sound rational, they say, ‘Well, they just have to pay their court fines and fees—that’s all.’ But with the poll tax, they said, ‘They have to pay because democracy is expensive. Elections are expensive.’”
But DeSantis rejects this comparison, arguing that the fees and fines are part of an offender’s punishment. “The idea that paying restitution to someone is equivalent to a tax is totally wrong,” he told The Tampa Bay Times in May. “The only reason you’re paying restitution is because you were convicted of a felony.”
Laws connecting payments to voting rights dates back to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Whites in former slave states saw freed African Americans flex their new political muscle at the ballot box, sending scores of black representatives to state legislatures across the South, as well as to Congress. Alarmed at the threat, whites squelched the nascent political movement by enacting laws making voting contingent on proof of wealth, through poll taxes and property ownership.
Many of those laws remain on the books today. Eight states, including Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida, have laws explicitly requiring ex-offenders to pay all fines and fees known as Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). Twenty states, including Minnesota and California, require settlement of outstanding LFOs as a term of completing probation and parole. In Alabama, besides paying LFOs, ex-felons have to fill out paperwork: a certificate of eligibility to register to vote. In Tennessee, they have to prove they’re current in child support payments.
Those financial requirements “fall particularly hard on poor people,” of all races, said Aderson Francois, director of the Civil Rights Clinic. But restoring voting rights only after criminal penalties are paid, he adds, “harms minorities in particular” because they are “overly represented in the criminal justice system, and overly represented in terms of poor people.”
These laws have led to an estimated 10 million people who “owe more than $50 billion in fines and fees related to criminal convictions,” according to the CRC’s report. And some jurisdictions see them as a way to fill state or municipal budget holes. “These LFOs include a variety of fines and fees assessed to generate revenue for various judicial and law enforcement expenses,” the report states, “but also debts for medical care incurred during incarceration and fees and legal costs imposed specifically on indigent defendants who are represented by public defenders.”
The Campaign Legal Center report found ex-offenders “owed an average of $8,195 in restitution alone,” a figure that doesn’t even calculate fines or fees, according to the report. “This returning population,” the report states, “is ill-equipped to pay these debts.” Ex-offenders struggle to find steady work because of their records. When they do land jobs, more often than not they don’t pay well enough to eliminate the debt.
This long-standing, racially motivated disenfranchisement “fundamentally calls into question whether or not we have the right to call ourselves a true democracy,” Francois said. Micha Kubic, executive director of the ACLU, noted that Amendment 4 “was the biggest expansion of the franchise since the 1970s. We’re also talking about large numbers of white voters who will be stopped for registering as well. I think it is instead an attack on democracy itself, an attack on the voters’ ability to make decisions for the state.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Police struggle to deal with suicide within their ranks

A law enforcement think tank wants police departments dealing with a suicide crisis in their ranks to rethink how they make one of their toughest decisions: when to take guns away from troubled officers, reported The Associated Press.
The recommendation to review gun-removal policies is contained in a new report by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum released in anticipation of a gathering of police chiefs this weekend in Chicago. It aims to help law enforcement agencies respond to a spate of officer suicides this year in New York City and elsewhere around the country. A comparison of national statistics kept by nonprofit organizations shows that more law enforcement officers have died this year by their own hand than in the line of duty.
Last week, an off-duty sergeant became the 10th New York Police Department officer so far this year to take his own life, nine of them with a gun. Also last week, an officer in Maryland killed himself with a gun.
“There are risks in taking the guns and risks in not taking them,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the think tank. “The real question is, how do you support police officers without stigmatizing them?”
The report stems from a conference on police suicides in April at NYPD headquarters attended by police officials from around the world. It says when the subject turned to making officers surrender their weapons as a preventative measure, some officials expressed concerns that it could do more harm than good because it could “threaten his or her identity and purpose” and even “keep some officers from seeking help.”
With that in mind, the report says psychologists should be involved in any decision to remove guns. It also says the officers should be assured that they won’t lose their paychecks and that their weapons will be returned as soon as they’re cleared for duty. Typically, when such a decision is made, officials are supposed to take away all guns the officer owns, not only the service weapon.
“My threshold for recommending gun removal is very high,” said a Los Angeles Police Department psychologist quoted in the report, Denise Jablonski-Kaye. “As I sit and talk to an officer, maybe they have some problems . but if I don’t believe that they’re an imminent threat to themselves, I won’t recommend that their gun be taken.”
In New York, the NYPD recently decided it would stop taking away the badges of officers who are forced to give up their guns in non-disciplinary cases to help remove any stigma. Of the cases the NYPD’s medical division deals with, less than 10% result in guns being taken away, and the vast majority of those officers get their guns back and return to full duty, police said.
In addition, the NYPD unveiled a program this week that will allow officers to get free, confidential mental health services, including counseling and prescription drugs, through the New York-Presbyterian Hospital system. By relying on non-department, non-city providers, police officials hope the program, dubbed Finest Care, can eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help.
Removing a firearm is “part of a comprehensive process to support the officer through a temporary difficulty so they can return to full duty and a fulfilling career,” the NYPD said in a statement. “At its core, it is a judicious measure carried out with dignity and designed to save a life.”
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Saturday, October 26, 2019

GateHouse: Less than half of crimes reported, fewer solved

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 25, 2019
Recently I wrote that crime rates are at a near all-time low. According to the FBI, violent crime in the United States has been cut nearly in half in the last 25 years.
However, a closer look at the data reveals problems. Most crimes are not reported to police, and most reported crimes are not solved.
In its biannual survey, the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics asks victims of crime whether they reported the crime to police. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a national survey of approximately 49,000 to 77,400 households, on the frequency of crime victimization, as well as, characteristics and consequences of victimization.
In 2018, only 43% of violent crimes tracked in the NCVS were reported to police. And in the much more common category of property crime, only 34% were reported.
Crimes go unreported for all sorts of reasons, including fear of repercussions, lack of trust in the police, long waits for police to respond to a call or simply disinterest in involving the police in a minor incident.
There are obvious reasons why some crimes are reported more often than others. Homicide, for instance, leaves behind a significant piece of evidence - a body. Sure, there are unreported homicides, victims go missing, and their bodies never recovered, but homicide has an extremely high rate of police involvement.
Rape, on the other hand, is different. Women are reluctant to report rape and men who have been raped rarely report their victimization to the police. According to the NCVS, less than 1 in 4 sexual assaults are reported to the police.
According to NCVS data, aggravated assault and auto theft are reported to the police at much higher rates. For example, nearly four out of every five auto thefts are reported to the police.
Stolen vehicles are expensive to replace and are more likely to be recovered by police than other stolen items. In addition, the vast majority of cars are insured and most insurance policies require a police report before companies will pay on a claim.
Aggravated assaults involve the intent to inflict serious bodily injury. As such, these crimes are more likely to result in hospitalization and most states require hospitals to report suspicious injuries to law enforcement.
Unfortunately, an even dire problem comes to light after crimes are reported. According to the Pew Research Center, most of the crimes reported to police are never solved. Based on a measure known as the “clearance rate,” the FBI determines the percentage of crimes that are closed or “cleared.” In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, law enforcement agencies can clear offenses in one of two ways - arrest or by exceptional means.
Clearance by exceptional means includes the death of a suspect or the reluctance of the victim or witnesses to cooperate in an investigation.
According to Pew, police nationwide cleared 46% of violent crimes that were reported to them last year. Clearance of property crimes was an abysmal 18%.
Clearance rates have declined precipitously over the last 50 years. In 1965, the clearance rate for homicide was just above 90%. Last year, the clearance rate nationwide was 62.3%.
Although homicide has declined dramatically in this country from a high water mark of 24,530 in 1993 to 16,214 last year, solving murders has become more difficult. Even with modern investigative techniques, more homicides than ever remain unsolved.
The scope of the problem is enormous. If you take the total number of murders over the last 10 years and divide that number by the average clearance rate the result is approximately 54,000 unsolved murders. That means there are as many as 50,000 killers walking among us.
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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Friday, October 25, 2019

Study: Philadelphia could see additional $13 million in tax revenue if homicides dropped 10%

Reducing gun violence in Philadelphia is a widely acknowledged moral imperative.
But does it also make good economic sense?
That’s the argument laid out in a new report by the Office of the City Controller, as reported by WHYY-FM. It found that a single homicide in Philadelphia reduces the value of homes sold within 0.75 miles of the murder by an average of 2.3%, compared to homes purchased slightly farther away.
“Our results suggest homeowners who sold in the immediate aftermath of a homicide received a price about $3,400 lower than they otherwise would have if the homicide [had] not occurred,” the Controller’s Office concluded.
By looking at more than 4,000 homicides and 220,000 home sales in Philadelphia between 2006 and 2018, the Controller’s Office says it can now put a number behind the accepted wisdom that “when a homicide occurs, it negatively impacts the perception of safety in a neighborhood.”
The new analysis — which was conducted independently by the City Controller’s Office and reviewed by three academic researchers — uses that mathematical assertion to argue that targeted violence-reduction efforts could pay for themselves through increased tax revenue.
“There is a return on investment from a financial standpoint,” said City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. “That return on investment is great and could allow us to invest in this city and bring the whole city up. I know that sounds idealistic, but it’s possible.”
If the city could reduce homicides by 10%, the report says, the resulting increase in property values would generate an extra $13 million in property tax revenue. And if Philadelphia maintains that pace for five years straight, an extra $114 million would flow to city coffers.
With a problem as intractable and generational as gun violence, it’s hard to know if Philadelphia could achieve that kind of reduction in homicide. But Rhynhart’s office recommends a trio of “evidence-based” strategies that it believes could lead to a dramatic drop in violent deaths.
Those strategies — which have been tested in other cities, the report says — include targeted “hot spot” policing, group counseling, and the deployment of community activists to intervene in neighborhood disputes.
The City Controller’s Office says faithful implementation of these approaches would cost $43 million over the next five years.
“A properly funded and implemented multi-pronged strategy could lead to a 35% reduction in homicides over five years, saving 318 lives,” according to the office’s analysis. “It would reduce the homicide count to 230, a historic low for Philadelphia.” 
But is an economic case for gun-violence reduction even necessary? Shouldn’t the untimely death of 350 Philadelphians each year be enough to prompt action? Who cares about the return on investment?
Rhynhart hopes the new numbers will help people understand the citywide toll of Philadelphia’s homicide rate. She believes this analysis can reach people who don’t feel the everyday scourge of gun violence, which is highly concentrated in a handful of disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“If people aren’t convinced enough from a moral argument, from a humanity argument, well then here’s a financial argument,” Rhynhart said.
Caterina Roman, a Temple University professor who reviewed the report before its release, said that unfortunately too many people don’t feel the urgency of Philadelphia’s violence epidemic. Some of those people, she said, think “these are young black men shooting young black men, not educated, they’re just fighting amongst themselves. Why should it be our problem?”
By arguing that homicides hurt home values — and thus depress the city’s tax base — this latest research gives “the public in general a broader lens that it does affect everybody,” Roman said.
More broadly, she added, it’s important for people to understand that homicide has financial and societal costs beyond those imposed by the criminal justice system.
Harvard researcher Thomas Abt — who is cited in the study, but did not review it  — believes policy makers need to use whatever arguments they can to prompt anti-violence action. “I’m a pragmatist. And whatever convinces and motivates people to action is what I’m in favor of,” he said.
Philadelphia’s homicide rate has gone up 41% since 2013, and Philly now has the highest murder rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities. In 2018 alone, 351 Philadelphians were murdered. Of those 351 homicides, 83% involved guns.
Rhynhart suggested that Philadelphia model its anti-violence initiatives on an effort in Oakland called “Operation Ceasefire” and another in New Orleans named “NOLA for Life.” The New Orleans program earned plaudits for driving down murder rates, but there have been more recent questions about the long-term sustainability of the strategies.
Among the stickier points in Rhynhart’s plan could be its use of “focused deterrence,” a carrot-and-stick approach that targets the “small group of people” considered most likely to commit future homicides. When implemented well, Rhynhart said, the strategy gives those people a “way out” of criminal circles through social services and jobs. If they refuse that help, law enforcement is supposed to take swift legal action.
District Attorney Larry Krasner has expressed some skepticism of the approach, saying that too often the crackdown side of the equation gets more heft than the uplift side. But he has indicated an openness to the idea in recent months.
Rhynhart said that she spoke with Krasner about the plan for roughly an hour and that the DA “reaffirmed his commitment to wanting to do these three programs.”
The new data from the Office of the City Controller updates a 2012 study from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. The 2012 analysis studied the economics of homicide in eight cities, including Philadelphia.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thiel College-The Death Penalty

Thiel College-Comment Project No. 4

Hugo Bedau  claims: 

"The execution of the innocent believed guilty is a miscarriage of justice that must be opposed whenever detected.
Most human activities like medicine, manufacturing, automobile, and air traffic, sports, not to mention wars and revolutions, cause the death of innocent bystanders.  Nevertheless, advantages outweigh the disadvantages, human activities including the penal system with all its punishments are morally justified."

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Provide a detailed explanation of your position.

Animal cruelty may soon become a federal offense

Animal cruelty would become a federal offense with a penalty of up to seven years in prison under a proposed expansion of an animal welfare law that won unanimous approval this week in the House of Representatives, reports the New York Times.
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act advanced through the House on Tuesday after a voice vote, which the law’s backers said they hoped would get the Senate to act soon on a companion bill.
Most of the animal cruelty laws on the books are at the state level, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The legislation would expand a 2010 law signed by President Barack Obama banning so-called crush videos that show animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or subjected to other forms of torture. In some of the videos, women with their faces hidden could be seen stamping on rabbits with spiked high heels.
Animal welfare advocates said that while the current law prohibited the production and distribution of crush videos, it had failed to address the animal cruelty depicted in them. So Representatives Ted Deutch and Vern Buchanan, who are both from Florida and serve on opposite sides of the political aisle, sought to broaden the law.
“This bill sends a clear message that our society does not accept cruelty against animals,” Mr. Deutch, a Democrat, said in a statement. “We’ve received support from so many Americans from across the country and across the political spectrum.”
“Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice,” he continued. “Law enforcement officers have sought a federal overlay to help them stop animal abusers who are likely to commit acts of violence against people. And animal lovers everywhere know this is simply the right thing to do.”
Mr. Buchanan, a Republican, said in a statement that the bill’s prospects of becoming law were favorable.
“This is a landmark bill that establishes for the first time a federal offense against the malicious torturing of animals,” Mr. Buchanan said.
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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Marsy's Law on the Nov. 5 ballot in Pennsylvania

On Nov. 5, Pennsylvanians will vote on a ballot referendum known as Marsy’s Law, which proponents deem a crime-victim rights amendment to the Pennsylvania state constitution, reported the Pittsburgh City Paper. The referendum states the amendment would “grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity.”

In 1983, 23-year-old Marsalee Ann Nicholas, who went by Marsy, was murdered in Malibu by Kerry Conley, her ex-boyfriend. Conley was convicted of second-degree murder in 1985 and he died in prison in 2007. But in the period between his charges and his conviction, Conley was free after posting a $100,000 bail.

Marsy’s Law for All, the foundation that has the goal to get Marsy’s Law passed in all 50 states and eventually in the U.S. Constitution, was started in 2009 by Henry Nicholas, Marsy’s brother.

This funding dynamic has basically always been the case for Marsy’s Law. According to League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, more than $102 million has been spent advocating other states to pass the law, and Nicholas has contributed 97 percent.

Nevada passed Marsy’s Law in 2018, as did Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma. According to campaign finance reports, Nicholas, either personally or through his foundation, funded virtually all of the cash for these efforts.

This is one of the reasons the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania is skeptical of Marsy’s law, as well as concerns that the law is just repeating protections that already exists and that, if passed, victims could refuse to be interviewed or to turn over pertinent evidence or testimony.

The Pennsylvania ballot questions states in full: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?”

Both the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania brought a suit against Marsy’s Law on Oct. 11, alleging that the ballot initiative is too broad and should be instead broken up into two or three separate questions.

In the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act already affords victim’s protections and established rules that crime victims have to be notified about arrests and legal actions against the victim’s offender, but Marsy’s Law would extend some of those rules to the victim’s family members too.

According to WHYY, the ballot referendum doesn’t change very much about the state’s existing crime-victims protections laws, and really just codifies those laws into the state constitution, making it easier for the victim's and victim’s families to sue if those rights aren’t upheld.

However, Marsy’s law does make some significant changes to rules concerning the accused. One of the more contentious parts of the proposed amendment would allow victims to “refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request” made by the accused or the accused’s lawyers.

This is one of the main reasons the ACLU of Pennsylvania opposes Marsy’s Law. The ACLU says these changes could shift the scales too much in favor of the state, which is responsible for prosecuting the accused in criminal cases.

On paper, Marsy’s Law appears like an amendment worthy of approval, but opposition has always existed. Several newspaper editorials have been questioning whether Marsy’s law is necessary, including the Palm Beach Post in Florida and Indy Week in North Carolina.

North Dakota passed Marsy’s Law in 2016, but in 2018, North Dakota state Sen. David Hogue said the constitutional amendment didn’t “provide any meaningful protections for victims that isn’t otherwise in our statute,” according to the Grand Forks Herald. He said there were some negative consequences of Marsy’s Law, but added they were manageable but come with “obvious costs.”

Jack McDonald of the North Dakota Newspaper Association said one potential consequence would likely occur when legal challenges come about if someone is hindered in gathering information to defend themselves. Houge noted Marsy’s Law being embedded in the constitution makes it very difficult to undo.

“The problem is when you put it in Constitution, you make it more difficult,” Hogue said to the Herald. “You cannot readily amend or adjust it because it’s embedded within the Constitution.”
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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Michigan one of the last states to prosecute 17 year olds as adults will end the practice

State lawmakers gave final approval to bills that would end Michigan’s status as one of just a handful of states where 17-year-old offenders are prosecuted as adults, reported The Associated Press.
Starting in October 2021, 17-year-olds would be handled in the juvenile system. Prosecutors could still try 14- to 17-year-olds as adults for violent offenses such as murder.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer supports the overall goal of the legislation and was reviewing changes that were made as part of a compromise in the Republican-led Legislature.
“There has been little good to come out of prosecuting our children as adults, and I look forward to them returning back into their schools and workplaces instead of a state prison,” said Sen. Sylvia Santana, a Detroit Democrat and a sponsor of the bill.
Another sponsor, Republican Sen. Peter Lucido of Macomb County’s Shelby Township, said the legislation is long overdue, saying 17-year-olds cannot vote, sit on a jury, join the military or enter into binding contracts. Locking them up with adults ensures “they’re learning how to become better criminals,” he said.
For four years, the state would pay the full amount of counties’ additional juvenile justice costs associated with handling an additional 7,500 cases. Beginning in October 2025, the costs would be incorporated into the traditional 50-50 split arrangement between the state and counties.
The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that the state would incur additional costs of between $19.3 million and $54.3 million annually in today’s dollars.
The main measures were passed 35-3 in the Senate and 104-6 and 101-7 in the House.
If Whitmer signs the legislation, three states — Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin — would still have a maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction of 16. Missouri’s law increasing its juvenile age to 17 takes effect in 2021.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, October 21, 2019

ACLU says 'too many crimes on the books in PA', PDAA says 'not so fast'

In 1972, there were 282 possible criminal charges a Pennsylvania prosecutor could bring against a person accused of breaking the law, reported the Pennsylvania Capital Star.
Those charges, enumerated in Pennsylvania’s crimes code, outlawed offenses ranging from murder to petty theft. 
In the past four decades, they’ve nearly quintupled in number — a trend that’s helped Pennsylvania’s prison populations skyrocket, according to a report published Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s crimes code now contains 1,500 unique offenses, ACLU researchers found, giving prosecutors a dizzying array of charges to bring against alleged offenders. 
The proliferation is the result of a decades-long, bipartisan legislative trend that has dire real-world consequences, Nyssa Taylor, legal counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a phone call with reporters Thursday. 
The expansion of the crimes code means that more people are being charged with crimes, Taylor said, and makes it more likely that prosecutors will secure convictions and lengthy sentences. 
“These new laws are a boon that allows [prosecutors] to bring numerous charges for a single crime,” Taylor said Thursday. 
It’s no coincidence, Taylor said, that the expansion coincides with an “explosion” in Pennsylvania’s prison and jail populations, which nearly tripled between 1978 and 2015, data from the Prison Policy Project, a nonprofit research institute, shows.
Taylor said that many of the offenses in Pennsylvania’s crimes code are unnecessary and redundant. Others arise in response to isolated events or criminal trends that grab attention in the news. 
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association takes issue with the ACLU's findings: “The ACLU’s persistent and tired tactic of ignoring crime victims and public safety to advance its goal of eroding confidence in prosecutors is troubling.  Even more troubling is that the ACLU has decided to ignore gaps in the law and changes in technology that make victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation vulnerable to significant harm and injury. We prefer to deal in truth and facts."   
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, October 20, 2019

GateHouse: Electronic monitoring the illusion of safety

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
October 18, 2019
The criminal justice system is in the midst of a seismic shift in priorities. Ideas that not so long ago would have been considered radical are now mainstream.
Change can be positive, but it can also have unintended consequences. Electronic monitoring is a prime example. Electronic monitoring was introduced in the 1960s. Ralph Gable, a student at Harvard University patented a device derived from surplus military tracking equipment to verify his teacher’s theory of positive reinforcement.
Ironically, Gable’s foray into electronic monitoring was intended to do the opposite of what it does today. Gable used monitoring to reward probationers who followed the rules, as opposed to today’s focus of penalizing noncompliance.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have joined in the condemnation of incarceration rates. America incarcerates more people for longer periods of time than nearly every other country in the world. Lawmakers have looked to electronic monitoring as a safe and cost-effective alternative to prison and jail. The use of monitors increased dramatically between 1980 and 2016. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, probation and parole populations grew by 239% during that period.
Ralph Gable’s brother Paul Gable wrote, “Monitoring provides a convenient sentencing alternative because it is a punishment less harsh than incarceration but more strict than minimally supervised probation.”
The “reform” brought about by electronic monitoring has brought about new problems.
For instance, using electronic monitoring to supervise people while awaiting trial. Many criminal justice practitioners malign the cash bail system as unjust and particularly harmful to the economically disadvantaged.
A defendant is faced with posting bond in the amount of $5,000. He may have to choose between paying a surety bond of $350 or pay for installation and monthly rental of an electronic monitor.
The initial monitoring fee is $100, plus $50 per month to rent the monitor. After six months, the monitoring cost has exceeded the bond amount. If a defendant fails to pay one month, she may have her bond revoked ending up where she started - in jail. She may also have her bond revoked for drinking, or not working - things that wouldn’t otherwise affect someone on a straight monetary bond.
When it comes to bail, judges are a little gun-shy. Bail is not a big deal until a case goes bad. A defendant on bail awaiting trial harms another person. Electronic monitoring is a convenient fall back for judges. If a defendant harms an innocent person while awaiting trial, a judge can point the finger at the probation office or private vendor who is “supervising” the defendant.
The concern doesn’t stop pretrial. After sentencing, an offender may be put on electronic monitoring in lieu of incarceration. Those costs will be added to the court cost and fines, often burying a parolee in debt. Samantha Malamed of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote about a Philadelphia woman on her 15th year of probation for a 2003 theft - her only criminal conviction.
Malamed wrote, ”‘Case to close once restitution is paid in full,’ the docket noted, ordering payments at a rate of $75 per month toward a total of $40,939. If she continues paying at that rate, she will remain on probation for an additional 45 years, until she’s 104 years old.”
The criminal justice system itself creates a cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to overcome.
What’s worse is who is monitoring the electric monitor? A monitor can be used to recreate an offender’s location or even alert someone when the offender goes to a forbidden location, but it would literally take a workforce of thousands to monitor offenders in real time, in any meaningful way.
According to Ava Kofman writing in ProPublica, “Critics of monitors contend that their public-safety appeal is illusory: If defendants are intent on harming someone or skipping town, the bracelet, which can be easily removed with a pair of scissors, would not stop them.”
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 18, 2019

The next frontier of state sponsored vice: Sex workers

Washington DC’s City Council would make it the first American city to decriminalize prostitution, placing the nation’s capital at the forefront of a growing movement that seeks to permit the activities of prostitutes, as well as pimps and johns, and to allow bordellos, reported the New York Times. Prostitution in the United States is legal only in a few counties in Nevada, which has about 20 legal brothels.
At an initial hearing on Thursday, more than 150 people — many of them current and former sex workers — gave radically different opinions about whether decriminalization would cause prostitutes greater harm. Some wore T-shirts that said, “Sex workers deserve housing, not handcuffs.”
The proposal is dividing the city’s progressive community, pitting some women’s groups against advocates for sex workers. Some prostitutes who have been sex trafficked find themselves on the other side from sex workers who have not been. But all sides agree that prostitution practiced openly would reverberate well beyond the city’s thriving but shadowy sex industry of street prostitution, massage parlors, strip clubs and high-end call girls.
Prostitutes would most likely work openly out of homes in neighborhoods across the city. Certain blocks could become de facto red-light districts. And policing strategy would have to change so officers could distinguish pimps from sex traffickers.
Ms. Spellman, a transgender woman and activist, has worked for more than two years with Councilman David Grosso and advocacy groups in the city to try to marshal support for the legislation.
Violence against sex workers had made it critical for lawmakers to do something radical to try to protect them, Mr. Grosso said at Thursday’s hearing. “The criminalization approach has failed,” he said.
To read more CLICK HERE

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.
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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