Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Some in Congress want to stop transfer of military weaponry to local police

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have begun a new push to shut down a Pentagon program that transfers military weaponry to local law enforcement departments, as bipartisan urgency builds to address the excessive use of force and the killings of unarmed black Americans by the police, reported the New York Times.
With protests turning violent across the country, lawmakers are scrutinizing the Defense Department initiative — curtailed by former President Barack Obama but revived by President Trump — that furnishes police departments with equipment such as bayonets and grenade launchers. The move comes after several nights when officers wearing riot gear have been documented using pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning or seemingly unprovoked.
The push stands in stark contrast to the reaction of Mr. Trump, who has often encouraged rough tactics by law enforcement and spent Monday complaining privately to governors that they were not handling protesters aggressively enough.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the Rose Garden on Monday evening. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
On Capitol Hill, however, where Republicans often take their cues from the president, most lawmakers had a different message as they focused on the immediate catalyst for the protests: George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for a prolonged period.
“In no world whatsoever should arresting a man for an alleged minor infraction involve a police officer putting his knee on the man’s neck for nine minutes while he cries out ‘I can’t breathe’ and then goes silent,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Monday. “Our nation cannot deafen itself to the anger, the pain and the frustration of black Americans. Our nation needs to hear this.”
Top lawmakers in both parties and on both sides of the Capitol moved quickly last week to announce their intention to hold hearings on the use of excessive force by law enforcement and racial violence.
Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who has long pressed to limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to police departments, announced that he would move to include an amendment in the must-pass annual defense policy bill to shut down the program entirely.
To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

President Obama on bringing about real and meaningful change in this country

President Barack Obama writes on Medium about working for real change:
As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change.
Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering.
First, the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.
On the other hand, the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause. I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.
Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.
Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.
It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.
So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.
Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away. The content of that reform agenda will be different for various communities. A big city may need one set of reforms; a rural community may need another. Some agencies will require wholesale rehabilitation; others should make minor improvements. Every law enforcement agency should have clear policies, including an independent body that conducts investigations of alleged misconduct. Tailoring reforms for each community will require local activists and organizations to do their research and educate fellow citizens in their community on what strategies work best.
But as a starting point, here’s a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House. And if you’re interested in taking concrete action, we’ve also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who’ve been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years.
I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.
Let’s get to work.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 1, 2020

Pandemic complicates efforts to reform Colorado's mental health system

PBS's Insight with John Ferrugia  investigation found that untreated mental illness is overwhelming the state’s criminal justice system, and leaving many in a position where getting arrested is the only way to access mental health treatment.
The documentary ended with the promise of reform from government leaders. But like many aspects of American life during this pandemic, these existing problems are getting worse because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated economic fallout.
When Governor Jared Polis took office last year, he established a behavioral health task force, and asked them to reform the state’s troubled mental health system.
Robert Werthwein, the state’s director of the Office of Behavioral Health, says the task force was motivated to make big changes — then COVID-19 struck.
Now, with the state budget in tatters, Werthwein says the short-term focus has shifted from overhauling the system to simply trying to preserve what is already in place.
“Any time we’re talking about reducing or not being able to evolve our services, it sets us back and it sets Coloradans back in getting the services they need. It’s gonna probably take a little longer for the vision that we have to help all Coloradans. I don’t know what that looks like exactly though at this time,” Werthwein said.
He said the task force has proposed using some federal opioid grants to help offset proposed cuts to jail-based mental health programs. The state will need to find other ways to cut costs and fill gaps left by the budget crisis.
“It means that we’re going to have to be creative in how we mitigate, and look at the best fiscal options that are available to us, telehealth being one of them, and do our best to mitigate as much as possible the impact of budget cuts and COVID,” Werthwein said.
There may already be a road map on how to cut some costs. Before the coronavirus hit, the state completed a fiscal analysis examining how the state’s mental health budget was being spent. Werthwein said the analysis identified several costly inefficiencies that put obstacles between Coloradans and the mental health care they need.
“I think there are ways for us to be more strategic across the state and work together more collaboratively so we can make a single dollar go further, which is more important now than ever before,” Werthwein said.
The behavioral health director said the people who shared their stories in Breakdown made a big impact on the task force and “re-energized” their work.
“Putting real faces and real names and real people struggling day in and day out through all the communities in Colorado … we cannot stop our work. And that’s why you feel me pushing a little bit. When we talk about budget, it’s going to have an impact. But for me, we can’t stop moving forward because there are real lives here,” Werthwein said.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Mangino talks enforcement of stay-at-home orders on WFMJTV-21 Weekend Today

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today talking with Lindsay McCoy about prosecuting stay-at-home violators. 
To watch the interview CLICK HERE

California community ignores COVID-19 outbreak in local prison to meet state guidelines for reopening

Officials in Santa Barbara County, California, wanted to start reopening the local economy as the state’s coronavirus epidemic began to ease. But they had a problem.
This coastal county, known for its vineyards and stunning ocean views, is also home to the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, which has one of the country’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks in a prison. Nearly 1,000 prisoners have tested positive. Two have died.
California’s governor had set clear requirements for counties to emerge from lockdown. The prison outbreak made it hard for Santa Barbara to meet those standards. So local officials proposed a solution: Don’t count the prisoners.
“The individuals in the Lompoc prison are not out in the community, so it’s really a whole separate population,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, a county spokeswoman.
County officials prevailed. The California Health and Human Services Agency agreed last week to exclude COVID-19 infections of federal and state prisoners when it decides whether a county can loosen up on lockdowns. Before Memorial Day weekend, Santa Barbara announced it had been approved for limited reopening. Shoppers can now go to malls and swap meets. Restaurants can offer dine-in service.
The state made the decision because “inmates of state and federal prisons generally do not return to the counties in which they are incarcerated,” an agency spokeswoman said.
The situation in Santa Barbara, a county with close to 450,000 residents, could play out in communities throughout the country. Prisons account for many of the “hot spots” for COVID-19 infections, from Trousdale County, Tennessee, to Liberty County, Florida, to Marion County, Ohio. And many local officials, from Pennsylvania to Arkansas, have raised the idea of separating out the prison cases.
Some advocates for prisoners called the decision to exclude the cases problematic, raising concerns that the move could reduce political pressure to address the COVID-19 crisis behind bars. They were also dubious about the idea that prisons are separate from the larger community, noting that staff come and go each day.
“It's a fiction,” said Kate Chatfield, a senior advisor at the Justice Collaborative, a criminal justice advocacy group. “The virus doesn’t stay within the walls of the prisons, as we know.”
To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, May 30, 2020

GateHouse: The Flynn case has gotten downright weird

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 29, 2020
If the case involving retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn wasn’t already unconventional, it has now gotten downright weird.
The procedural posture of Flynn’s case is anything but your run-of-the-mill federal prosecution. First, the defendant was the president’s national security adviser. Flynn, the third highest-ranking adviser to the president, pleaded guilty. Then he fired his legal team and asked to withdraw the plea.
Flynn admitted, under oath in open court, to lying during an FBI interview on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after taking office. The lies regarded conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador about not escalating hostilities over sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
The prosecution had won a conviction. Then the Justice Department, more aptly prosecutors and the defense, asked for the charges against Flynn to be dropped. The judge deferred a decision on the request.
Just when things couldn’t get any stranger, the judge hired an attorney to respond to an appeal by Flynn, and appointed a retired New York federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s request to dismiss Flynn’s charges—a sort of advocatus diaboli for the court.
The presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, delayed a decision on the motion to dismiss the charges so he could hear his appointed advocate, former federal judge John Gleeson, and other public groups who intended to argue against the Justice Department’s request to drop the charges.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is now examining Judge Sullivan’s actions. To that end, the judge has retained Attorney Beth Wilkinson to represent him in defending his decision to the appeals court in Washington, according to the Washington Post. Gleeson has proposed that Judge Sullivan allow the government and outside groups to respond after he files his argument.
There are more than a few outside groups who want to weigh-in on the matter. The first group, comprised of nearly 1,000 former Justice Department prosecutors, has accused Attorney General William Barr of protecting the president’s interests over the interests of the nation. The prosecutors, who have served the last 11 presidential administrations, argued in a brief to the court that Barr violated his oath to faithfully execute the law.
According to news reports, attorneys with the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Protect Democracy have submitted a brief suggesting that Supreme Court precedent gives Sullivan authority to undertake “a searching review” of Flynn’s case and to “protect the public interest in the evenhanded enforcement of our laws.”
With regard to Attorney Wilkinson she is no demagogue. She represented Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his tumultuous confirmation. She also represented a longtime confidant of Hillary Clinton during an investigation into whether then-Secretary Clinton mishandled classified information by using her personal email.
Wilkinson will help guide Judge Sullivan as the U.S. Court of Appeals reviews whether Sullivan overstepped his authority.
The appeals court set a June 1 deadline for Sullivan to respond to a petition from Flynn’s lawyers that seeks the immediate dismissal of the case.
Stuart M. Gerson, who served as assistant attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and as acting attorney general early in the Clinton administration, recently wrote in the Washington Post, “It’s not uncommon for a court to appoint an outside lawyer to argue a case in lieu of the government when circumstances call for that approach.”
Some have suggested that Gleeson, Judge Sullivan’s court-appointed advocate, is biased.
Gerson contends, “However “biased” he [Glesson] might be in opposing the motion to dismiss, is he any less biased than whatever lawyer the Justice Department will send to argue in favor of ending the prosecution? Indeed, rephrase that so-called bias as “zealous advocacy,” something that the legal profession’s code of professional responsibility requires of counsel.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trump threatens Twitter after fact-check: 'We will strongly regulate, or close them down"

Tensions between President Trump and Twitter escalated as he threatened to "strongly regulate" or shut down social media platforms, which he accused of silencing conservative viewpoints, reported NPR.
Trump's threats come one day after Twitter, for the first time, added a fact-check warning to a pair of his tweets. In them, Trump claimed without evidence that mail-in ballots are fraudulent.
"Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices," Trump tweeted on May 27, 2020. "We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can't let a more sophisticated version of that.... happen again."
Twitter declined to comment on the president's threats.
It's unclear what Trump could do to crack down on social media platforms, but the power of Silicon Valley tech giants has been the subject of investigations by federal and state agencies, as well as congressional hearings.
University of Miami Law Professor Mary Anne Franks said the president has little legal recourse against Twitter's decision to fact-check his posts because the company has the right to set and enforce its own rules.
"Can a public official try to regulate or to shut down a private entity on the basis of not liking what they did?" she said. "No, that would be exactly what the First Amendment protects us against. That's the great irony of this."
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Mangino on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today talking about China being sued over COVID-19 response

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV21 Weekend Today regarding states suing China over that country's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Twitter fact-checks President Trump for first time ever

Twitter labeled two of President Donald Trump’s tweets with a fact-check warning for the first time, prompting the president to accuse the platform of “stifling free speech,” reported The Huffington Post.
The social media platform applied the tag on two of Trump’s tweets that made claims, without evidence, that voting with mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent.” The labels say “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” and direct users to a collection of news reports and articles debunking the tweets.
Near the top of Twitter’s fact-check page, a statement reads: “Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”
The president has ramped up his attacks to discredit the integrity of mail-in voting in recent weeks, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.
Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough said the tweets were labeled because they contain “potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Violent crime down during pandemic, but the tide is starting to turn

The Coronavirus has ushered in a steep drop in major crimes, reported the New York Times.
“The dynamics of street crimes, of street encounters, of human behavior are changing because people are staying home,” said Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer turned criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University.
Crime, say those who study it and those who fight it day to day, requires three things — a perpetrator, a victim and an opportunity.
With tens of millions of Americans off the streets, would-be victims and opportunities for crimes have vanished, causing a drop in the number of perpetrators committing infractions. The dip in crime is compounded by the fact that some police departments have been hampered by quarantines, or have made fewer arrests to limit interactions or to avoid filling the jails.
Arrests in Chicago, where the Cook County jail became one of the nation’s largest-known virus hot spots, were down more than 73 percent during roughly the initial month of the lockdown, said Deputy Chief Thomas Lemmer of the Chicago Police Department.
Crime did not entirely disappear, of course, and some of the worst offenders remained undeterred. Homicides in numerous cities remained flat or even rose.
Not so fast, Chicago’s Memorial Day weekend was the deadliest in five years, with 10 people killed and 39 wounded, said Sally Bown, a spokeswoman for the city’s police department. Temperatures were in the 80s, she noted, and even without a lockdown, warm weather tends to send people outdoors and drive up crime rates. According to The Crime Rport, violence on Memorial Day weekend is not a new phenomenon.
At the beginning of Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of summer — Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown announced opening a Summer Operations Center to centralize police resources in an effort to tamp down on summer gun violence. The most recent fatal shooting was Monday evening in Garfield Park on the West Side. Two men, 45 and 52, were standing on the sidewalk about 8:30 p.m. when someone in a white sedan fired shots. On Sunday afternoon, a person was fatally shot in Rosemoor on the South Side. Sunday morning, a man was killed in Humboldt Park on the Northwest Side. A 45-year-old man was killed several hours before that in Grand Crossing on the South Side. The newspaper detailed a string of other shootings.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, May 25, 2020

Lincoln: 'The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here'

President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are planning for political doomsday scenarios

The New York Times has written about a group of Democrats and some Republican brainstorming on what could be called political doomsday scenarios.  Things like, President Trump declaring a state of emergency in major cities in battleground states, like Milwaukee and Detroit, banning polling places from opening.
How about Attorney General William P. Barr, a week before the election, announcing a criminal investigation into the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Or, after Mr. Biden wins a narrow Electoral College victory, Mr. Trump refuses to accept the results, won’t leave the White House and declines to allow the Biden transition team customary access to agencies before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Far-fetched conspiracy theories? Not to a group of worst-case scenario planners — mostly Democrats, but some anti-Trump Republicans as well — who have been gaming out various doomsday options for the 2020 presidential election. Outraged by Mr. Trump and fearful that he might try to disrupt the campaign before, during and after Election Day, they are engaged in a process that began in the realm of science fiction but has nudged closer to reality as Mr. Trump and his administration abandon longstanding political norms.
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states.
“In the eight to 10 months I’ve been yapping at people about this stuff, the reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen,’” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor. Earlier this year, Ms. Brooks convened an informal group of Democrats and never-Trump Republicans to brainstorm about ways the Trump administration could disrupt the election and to think about how to prevent it.
But the anxiety is hardly limited to outside groups.
Marc Elias, a Washington lawyer who leads the Democratic National Committee’s legal efforts to fight voter suppression efforts, said not a day goes by when he doesn’t field a question from senior Democratic officials about whether Mr. Trump could postpone or cancel the election. Prodded by allies to explain why not, Mr. Elias wrote a column on the subject in late March for his website — and it drew more traffic than anything he’d ever published.
But changing the date of the election is not what worries Mr. Elias. The bigger threat in his mind, he said, is the possibility that the Trump administration could act in October to make it harder for people to vote in urban centers in battleground states — possibilities, he said, that include declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.
Such events could serve to depress or discourage turnout in pockets of the country that reliably vote for Democrats.
 “That to me is that frame from which all doomsday scenarios then go,” he said.
To ream more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 23, 2020

GateHouse: The pandemic is crushing the Sixth Amendment

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
May 22, 2020
The pandemic has altered the way justice is meted out in courtrooms across the country. While courts have tried to be innovative, video conferencing and closed courtrooms are not what the founding fathers had in mind when drafting the Bill of Rights.
No amendment to the Constitution has been trampled on, in the name of public health, more than the Sixth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ... be confronted with the witnesses against him ... and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
In 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution required defendants in capital cases be given access to counsel upon request.
Ten years later the court refused to extend the right to counsel to criminal charges other than capital murder. The court held that a refusal to appoint counsel for an indigent defendant charged with a felony did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
In the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the court found that a person accused of a serious crime was entitled to free legal counsel.
Today, courthouses are closed - public defenders and prosecutors have been furloughed and judges are on call. The right to counsel is being tested across the country. Having access to counsel is fundamental.
The aid of counsel helps preserve all the other protections provided by the Sixth Amendment.
For instance, the Sixth Amendment also provides that those accused of a crime are entitled to a speedy and public trial by a jury of their peers. Unfortunately, those clearly established rights have been set aside by governors and judges for the sake of protecting the public from a highly contagious disease.
Jury trials have essentially disappeared in this era of COVID-19. Certainly, there is concern that 12 jurors sitting side by side for days or being housed for an extended period of time in a room deliberating a verdict is a legitimate health risk. However, men and women accused of crime have a right to be heard in a timely manner.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that some of those accused of a crime are sitting in jail awaiting trial. Their lives are at risk as well. Hygiene is at a premium and social distancing is a utopian idea behind bars.
The Sixth Amendment also provides that those accused of a crime have the right to “be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
This is where innovation has complicated matters. Many courts have adopted measures to deal with emergency criminal cases. For instance, some courts have adopted the use of video conferencing to deal with bond hearings, preliminary hearings and other time sensitive matters when an accused is sitting in jail awaiting trial.
Cross-examining witnesses through video conferencing can be challenging, especially when the judge, witness and lawyers are all in different locations. When the Constitution provided that an accused has the right to confront witnesses - that confrontation was in person.
When a lawyer and her client are in two different locations, communication with the client during the proceeding is impossible. The Defendant can simply not aid in her defense.
Even after the pandemic - what is done today will have an impact for years to come. Every proceeding in court is transcribed. The reason to transcribe a proceeding is to create a record of the testimony and evidence that is presented to the court for possible review on appeal.
In our new world of virtual justice, if counsel objects to specific testimony, often the witness continues to talk, conveying evidence to the court that might have not have otherwise been admissible.
Creating a good record with remote witnesses is very difficult. Counsel, witnesses and even judges can at times talk over one another. Creating a clear record for appeal is going to be a daunting task.
What is the big deal?
The Sixth Amendment protects those who have been accused of a crime - not convicted. Protecting the public from the transmission of COVID-19 is a laudable goal, but trampling on the U.S. Constitution to do it is risky business.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino

To visit the column CLICK HERE

Friday, May 22, 2020

The newly conservative Florida Supreme Court reverses itself again on the death penalty

The Florida Supreme Court reversed its previous ruling allowing any death row inmate to challenge a sentence based on a higher standard for determining whether they are intellectually disabled, reported The Associated Press.
The decision marked the second time this year that the new-look court overturned one of its own decisions on the death penalty.
The court reversed a previous decision that allowed retroactively applying a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said Florida couldn’t base the determination of a condemned prisoners intellectual disability strictly on an IQ test because there is a margin of error.
The latest decision a 4-1 Florida ruling said that the state high court previously made the mistake of making the issue retroactive, and thus Harry Phillips can’t make the case that his death sentence should be converted to life because he is intellectually disabled.
Phillips was sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of parole supervisor Bjorn Thomas Svenson in Miami. A prior claim that he was intellectually disabled was denied, but that was when Florida law set an IQ of 70 or below as the definition of intellectually disabled.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the intellectually disabled violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But until the 2014 ruling, it let states decide how to determine if condemned prisoners were disabled.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a Florida case in 2014 that because of a margin of error of five points, condemned individuals with IQ scores up to 75 points could challenge a death sentence using other factors to determine their disability.
In 2016, the state Supreme Court allowed a condemned prisoner to get a new sentencing hearing based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Now, the court says that was a mistake because cases decided before the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court shouldn’t be retroactive. The decision drew a sharp rebuke from Florida Justice Jorge Labarga.
“Yet again, this Court has removed an important safeguard in maintaining the integrity of Florida’s death penalty jurisprudence,” Labarga wrote in his dissenting opinion. “The result is an increased risk that certain individuals may be executed, even if they are intellectually disabled.”
The Florida Supreme Court also reversed itself in January with a ruling saying it was wrong when it said a jury must be unanimous in deciding a convicted murderer should be sentenced to death. It was dramatic legal reversal potentially affecting dozens of death row cases.
The composition of the Florida high court has gone from leaning liberal to firmly conservative. Three liberal justices on the seven-member court were forced to retire because of age limits on the same day Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in January 2019. That gave DeSantis the opportunity to appoint three conservative judges. Two of those justices have since been appointed to a federal appeals court and were not part of Thursday’s 4-1 decision.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Court permits fraud suit to move forward against Trump and his children

This week, a federal judge on denied requests by defendants to stay proceedings in a civil case in which President Donald Trump, three of his children and his company are accused of participating in a scheme to defraud investors, reported Jurist.
The civil complaint, brought by unnamed plaintiffs who were among a potential class of plaintiffs, alleges that The Trump Corporation, President Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, received millions in secret payments between 2005 and 2015 from a multilevel marketing company called ACN. The complaint alleges that President Trump falsely told prospective investors that his endorsement was “not for any money” and that ACN was doing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.
The denial of the request for stay comes weeks after the defendants’ request for mandatory arbitration was denied and means that the lawsuit is set to continue in district court. However, an appeal of the denial is currently pending and was a factor in consideration of Monday’s denial for stay.
Judge Lorna Schofield considered the four-factor standard for whether a stay in the proceedings would be appropriate:
(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits;
(2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay;
(3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and
(4) where the public interest lies.
Schofield reasoned that the first factor weighed “heavily in favor of denying the stay” because neither the Trumps nor ACN demonstrated a “likelihood of success on appeal” regarding the pending appeal for the recent denial of a request for mandatory arbitration. Schofield further supported her conclusion by asserting that there is no legal requirement to arbitrate the underlying dispute. In terms of the second factor, the defendant Trumps and ACN argued that they were open to substantial prejudice absent the stay due to their being subject to third-party discovery that might otherwise not be available in arbitration, and which may injure their reputation. However, Schofield asserted that no matter if the defendants had a credible appeal, it does not entitle them to prevent the case from moving forward pending that appeal. 
Additionally, the strong likelihood of failure on appeal outweighed the possibility of injury to the defendants. In evaluating the third factor, Schofield held that further delays suffered by the plaintiffs do weigh “somewhat against a stay,” but it was not enough to outweigh the first two “most critical” factors. Lastly, Schofield considered that the because the nature of the lawsuit is merely a private business dispute, no public interest was present, therefore, the fourth factor weighed slightly in favor of implementing a stay.
The next matter for consideration in the case is whether the plaintiffs may continue the case under pseudonyms or whether they must reveal their identities to the defendants. The parties are set to submit briefs on this issue by June 30, 2020 supporting their support or opposition to the pseudonym. Meanwhile, the parties are set to continue to meet and confer regularly to negotiate a timeline for the production of documents and discuss the remaining disputes.
To read more CLICK HERE


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Missouri carries out first execution in the nation since onset of pandemic

The  6th Execution of 2020
Walter Barton was executed in Missouri by lethal injection on May 19, 2020 for fatally stabbing an 81-year-old woman nearly three decades ago, the first U.S. execution since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, reported the USA Today.
Barton, 64, had long maintained he was innocent of killing Gladys Kuehler, and his case was tied up for years due to appeals, mistrials and two overturned convictions. His fate was sealed when neither the courts nor Gov. Mike Parson intervened.
Barton breathed heavily five times after the lethal drug entered his body Tuesday evening, then suddenly stopped. In his final statement released prior to his execution, Barton said: "I, Walter "Arkie" Barton, am innocent and they are executing an innocent man!!"
Concerns related to the coronavirus caused several states to postpone or cancel executions over the past 2 ½ months. Until Tuesday, no one had been executed in the U.S. since Nathaniel Woods was put to death in Alabama on March 5. Ohio, Tennessee and Texas were among states calling off executions. 
The last execution in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state, was Feb. 6. Seven executions that were scheduled since then have been delayed. Six of the delays had some connection to the pandemic while the seventh was related to claims that a death row inmate is intellectually disabled.
Barton's attorney, Fred Duchardt Jr., and attorneys for death row inmates in the other states argued that the pandemic prevented them from safely conducting thorough investigations for clemency petitions and last-minute appeals. They said they were unable to secure records or conduct interviews due to closures.
Attorneys also expressed concerns about interacting with individuals and possibly being exposed to the virus, and they worried that the close proximity of witnesses and staff at executions could lead to spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Barton was executed in Bonne Terre, Missouri, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of St. Louis, at a prison that has no confirmed cases of the virus. Strict protocols were in place to protect workers and visitors from exposure to the coronavirus.
Everyone entering the prison had their temperatures checked. Face coverings were required, and the prison provided masks and gloves for those who didn't have them.
Six state witnesses — a reporter for a Springfield television station, an Associated Press reporter and four department of corrections employees — waited in a room together for about an hour prior the execution. All six were masked. At one point, four department of corrections officials, including Director Anne Precythe and three other officials, briefly entered. They did not wear facial protection. The witness waiting room was about 300 square feet.
Barton often spent time at the mobile home park that Kuehler operated. He was with her granddaughter and a neighbor on the evening of Oct. 9, 1991, when they found her dead in her bedroom.
Police noticed what appeared to be blood stains on Barton's clothing, and DNA tests confirmed it was Kuehler's. Barton said the stains must have occurred when he pulled Kuehler's granddaughter away from the body. The granddaughter first confirmed that account, but testified that Barton never came into the bedroom. A blood spatter expert at Barton's trial said the three small stains likely resulted from the "impact" of the knife. 
In new court filings, Duchardt cited the findings of Lawrence Renner, who examined Barton's clothing and boots. Renner concluded the killer would have had far more blood stains.
Duchardt said three jurors recently signed affidavits calling Renner's determination "compelling" and saying it would have affected their deliberations. The jury foreman said, based on the evidence, he would have been "uncomfortable" recommending the death penalty.
To read more CLICK HERE


Can POTUS lawfully fire state department inspector general?

On Friday, May 15, President Trump announced in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that he was firing State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. Several sources have reported that Stephen Akard, the Senate-confirmed director of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, will replace Linick in an acting capacity. Trump’s firing of Linick is almost certainly lawful. However, it is unclear whether Trump can immediately replace Linick with Akard, if that is the plan, according to a Lawfare.com column by Jack Goldsmith and Ben Miller-Gootnik.
1. Is the Firing Lawful?
Bracketing for a moment the question of retaliation, which we discuss briefly below, Trump’s firing of Linick appears to be lawful. The State Department inspector general is governed by the Inspector General Act of 1978, as modified by the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 (IGRA). The amended statute states that an inspector general “may be removed from office by the President” but requires the president to “communicate in writing” to both houses of Congress “the reasons for any such removal” at least 30 days before the removal. The reason that Trump provided for the removal in his letter to Pelosi was that he “no longer” had the “fullest confidence” in Linick. This was the exact reason and language Trump used when he fired Michael Atkinson as inspector general of the intelligence community in April.
It is also the precise reason and language that President Barack Obama used in 2009 when he fired Gerald Walpin as inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), though the Obama White House within a week after the termination provided detailed reasons for the firing. After Obama fired Walpin, Walpin sued the CNCS for reinstatement. The federal district court in 2010 rejected Walpin’s request for mandamus relief on the grounds that he lacked a cause of action. Part of Judge Richard Roberts’s reasoning was that in complaining “that the President’s rationale [for the firing] was insufficient, Walpin fails to show how the [Inspector General Act] provides any sort of criteria that would allow a court to make that determination.” The court also noted that the Senate report accompanying the IGRA indicated that Congress rejected a higher “for cause” removal standard, hoped that the notice provision alone would deter improper firings, and stated that the notice provision “does not alter the President’s ultimate authorities with respect to Executive Branch employees.”
In short, the standard for firing the State Department inspector general is a low one, and Trump’s thin reason almost certainly suffices—especially against the background of the president’s constitutional authority to fire presidential appointees at will absent a statutory provision to the contrary.
This conclusion does not extend to potential legal constraints related to the possibility that Linick was fired in retaliation for investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The State Department inspector general statute, at 22 U.S.C. § 3929(a), specifies that “[n]either the Secretary of State nor any other officer of the Department shall prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation, or from issuing any subpoena during the course of any audit or investigation.” This may have been the provision that Rep. Eliot Engel and Sen. Bob Menendez had in mind when they stated that Linick’s firing “may be an illegal act of retaliation.” It is unclear how § 3929(a) intersects with the termination provision of the inspector general statute, and in any event the statute limits the secretary of state and not the president. But Pompeo’s reported recommendation to fire Linick, if substantiated, may implicate the State Department inspector general statute independent of the legality of firing itself.
2. Can President Trump Place Linick on Administrative Leave?
The IGRA requires notice to Congress “30 days before the removal.” This implies that Linick must remain State Department inspector general for almost a month longer.
One partial way around this conclusion would be for Trump to place Linick on administrative leave during that period prior to his formal termination and thus effectively (even if not technically) remove him from office immediately. That is what Trump did with Atkinson in April. It is what the State Department spokesperson might have implied when he or she recently said that Akard “will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department.” And it is also what Obama did with Walpin in 2009. According to Walpin (page 2) and a Republican staff report on the Walpin firing (page 44), Walpin was placed on administrative leave immediately upon notice of the termination and not permitted to return to his office.
At first glance, the placement of a terminated inspector general on administrative leave for the 30-day period appears to violate the statutory requirement of notice to Congress 30 days before removal. But in the 2010 Walpin decision, Roberts provided reasons why this move may not violate the 30-day rule. He explained that the IGRA states that “[n]othing in this subsection shall prohibit a personnel action otherwise authorized by law, other than transfer or removal.” He noted that Office of Personnel Management regulations on civil service employment define “removal” as “the involuntary separation of an employee from employment with an agency.” And he noted that courts had ruled—in contexts not concerning an inspector general—that placing an employee on administrative leave did not amount to removal. For these reasons, placing a terminated inspector general on administrative leave during the 30-day period is not a “removal” and thus does not violate the inspector general statute’s notice requirement. (The House’s latest coronavirus relief bill seeks to address this issue by adding the placement of an inspector general on “paid or unpaid non-duty status” to the list of personnel changes that require congressional notification 30 days before taking effect.)
In sum, it appears that the IGRA prohibits the Trump administration from formally terminating Linick for almost a month. If Linick is placed on administrative leave, that can be construed to be consistent with the statute’s 30-day rule on the ground that the leave technically does not constitute removal. This conclusion raises separate issues for Trump’s apparent replacement of Linick with Akard.
3. Can Akard Replace Linick Immediately?
A State Department spokesperson said that Akard would replace Linick and become acting inspector general “now,” which implies immediate replacement. But as of this writing it remains unclear whether Akard will assume the acting position immediately or after the 30-day period. There is a recent precedent, however. When Trump fired Atkinson from the intelligence community inspector general slot in April, he replaced him immediately with Thomas Monheim, who at the time was the general counsel of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. If something similar happens here, would it be lawful?
The answer turns on the intersection of the IGRA and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), and is complicated—too complicated to sort out definitively here. But here are the issues.
Recall that to make it possible for Linick to be placed on administrative leave for 30 days consistent with the 30-day notice requirement of the IGRA, we probably need to conclude that Linick has not been removed from his inspector general position for 30 days. Considered alone, that would seem to make it impossible for Akard to replace him during that period, since the slot has technically not been vacated.
But the FVRA has different criteria for when an office is vacant and can be filled. It allows a president to fill Senate-confirmed positions with certain defined persons when the person confirmed for the position “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” Akard satisfies one of the defined replacement criteria—he was confirmed by the Senate for a different slot. But is Linick “otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office”?
We have found no case law on the question of whether someone on administrative leave is unable to perform the functions and duties of the office for purposes of the FVRA. For a “normal” administrative leave for sickness or temporary absence, the answer is probably yes. The reason is that the FVRA likely covers both temporary and permanent vacancies, as the Office of Legal Counsel ruled in a 2017 memo. That interpretation seems sound. The preceding Vacancies Act explicitly listed “sickness” as one of the conditions under which the president could temporarily fill a vacant office, and the FVRA’s legislative history indicates that the FVRA was only intended to expand that act’s reach. As a result, it seems likely that the temporary nature of administrative leave by itself poses no bar to an FVRA appointment.
Whether an imposed administrative leave following a notification of presidential firing counts as a vacancy under the FVRA turns on the much-mooted question of whether someone fired by the president is “unable” to serve under the FVRA and thus can be replaced under the statute. The Office of Legal Counsel has taken the position that a presidential firing implicates the FVRA and allows the president to replace the fired officer. The Office of Legal Counsel’s main arguments are that the bill’s sponsor suggested on the Senate floor that the FVRA would reach firings and that “troubling” practical consequences would result if it did not. At least one federal district court has disagreed with this interpretation in dicta, and one of us recently argued that the Office of Legal Counsel’s view is wrong because it misinterprets the act’s legislative history, improperly reads its text and structure, and overlooks its historical context.
But even assuming the Office of Legal Counsel is right, there is still the question in the present context of how to reconcile its interpretation of the FVRA with the more specific and later-enacted IGRA. The IGRA does not allow Linick to be removed for 30 days, and Trump can only place Linick on administrative leave if he does not formally remove him. The statutory inability to remove Linick under the IGRA might control over an interpretation of the more general and earlier-enacted FVRA that allows Trump to replace Linick due to his being on administrative leave. And even if the FVRA is interpreted to allow Linick to be replaced immediately under its terms, the replacement still might independently violate the IGRA’s 30-day rule.
As we said, it’s complicated.
To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

SCOTUS rejects 3 of 13 appeals challenging qualified immunity

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected three out of 13 separate appeals involving the controversial doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields government officials from liability for alleged civil rights violations. I recently wrote a column examining qualified immunity for GateHouse Media.
Advocates across the political spectrum have been clamoring for the court to curtail or even eliminate the doctrine that they say too often deprives civil rights plaintiffs of the ability to challenge abusive behavior by police and other public officials, reported Bloomberg News.
Officials can receive immunity from suit if their alleged actions weren’t “clearly established” violations of constitutional rights. That’s had the effect of keeping even the most seemingly outlandish conduct out of court, so long as the specific factual allegations at issue hadn’t previously been found by a court to be unlawful.
Monday’s denials in three unrelated cases—from NebraskaCalifornia, and Louisiana—show that the justices aren’t ready to take on the issue. Not yet, anyway. At least 10 other petitions on the subject are pending on the high court’s docket.
The justices were initially set to consider 13 qualified immunity appeals at their private conference on Friday, including these three now declined. That raised speculation as to whether the court might be eyeing one or more of the petitions as a vehicle for taking up the doctrine that’s been criticized not just by lawyers and academics, but even by some of the lower court judges bound to apply it.
Yet the court only wound up considering these three cases at the conference, putting the others on hold and, in turn, causing further confusion and speculation about its qualified immunity plans.
Thursday’s Conference
The rejection of these three cases doesn’t make those plans clearer. After the denials, the justices put the remaining petitions back on for consideration at this Thursday’s conference, so the next chapter in the high court’s qualified immunity saga could be published by the court in an orders list next week.
Jay Schweikert of the Cato Institute deemed the denials “definitely a disappointment,” pointing to what he called the “especially egregious applications of qualified immunity” in two of the cases. In the Nebraska matter, a police officer received qualified immunity despite allegedly body-slamming a small woman who walked away from him during an interview.
In the California case, officers allegedly stole $225,000 in cash and rare coins while executing a search warrant.
In successfully opposing high court review, the Nebraska officer observed in his brief to the justices that, “for more than 30 years, the Court has repeatedly emphasized that the objective reasonableness of a particular use of force by law enforcement must consider the totality of the facts within the perception of the officer at the scene.”
He said he seized the woman in a “bear hug” and “brought her to the grass after she physically obstructed police operations, proceeded to move toward a person involved in a heated altercation with one of her family members, and ignored” the officer’s commands.
In fending off the California appeal, those officials told the justices that no theft took place, and that calls from outside groups, including Cato, to eliminate or curtail qualified immunity “should provide no support for review of this case.”
Despite the closely-watched nature of the issue, none of the three denials prompted separate statements from any of the justices, including Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas, who have suggested that the court further examine the issue.
Powder Dry
That could show that some members of the court are keeping their powder dry for one or more of the still-pending petitions, or it could simply reinforce the court’s lack of interest in taking up the issue for whatever reason.
As an example of the high court’s thinking on the subject, in a 2017 ruling, the justices cautioned against second-guessing law enforcement actions in a police-shooting case.
Advocates are disappointed that the justices won’t second-guess their approach to qualified immunity in any of the cases declined on Monday.
While conceding that the doctrine “protects government officials’ innocent mistakes from harassing litigation,” New Civil Liberties Alliance senior litigation counsel Michael P. DeGrandis said the California case “shows us how easily bad people can pervert qualified immunity in a way that deprives us of our civil rights.”
Still, some qualified immunity critics see hope on the docket.
Schweikert added that “the fact that the Justices denied these petitions doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t still interested in revisiting qualified immunity.” He noted the 10 outstanding petitions that were taken out of consideration from the justices’ last conference.
Among those petitions, he said, are ones that “raise the fundamental question of whether the doctrine should be reconsidered entirely.” Their rescheduling could “indicate that the Justices are more interested in addressing this larger question, rather than taking a narrower approach,” Schweikert said.
But even if the court takes up one or more of the remaining petitions, it’s unlikely that a “seismic shift is in the offing” when it comes to the immunity doctrine, said Kent Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, who has filed many briefs over the years supporting the government at the high court in various cases.
“This is a well-established body of law,” he said, and, unlike constitutional doctrine, “it is one that Congress could change any time if it wanted to.”
The cases are Kelsay v. Ernst, U.S., No. 19-682, review denied 5/18/20; Jessop v. City of Fresno, U.S., No. 19-1021, review denied 5/18/20; and Clarkston v. White, U.S., No. 19-1093, review denied 5/18/20.
To read more CLICK HERE


Monday, May 18, 2020

Ohio has a new prison hot spot for COVID-19

Belmont Correctional Institution is emerging as Ohio’s latest prison hot spot for the coronavirus as COVID-19 cases soar and conditions at the minimum-to-medium security facility in eastern Ohio deteriorate, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
But the public may never know it because the state has stopped the mass testing that showed prisons in Marion and Pickaway counties were the top COVID-19 hot spots in the nation.
Since Belmont’s first positive case of an inmate on April 13, 132 inmates and 66 staffers have tested positive, up from 30 inmates and one staff member just two weeks ago. And on Tuesday, Belmont reported its first COVID-19 fatality with the death of inmate Ronald Wanyerka, 62, of Cuyahoga County.
Statewide, 58 inmates and two prison employees have died.
Those on the front lines say the virus almost certainly is more widespread than reported because the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is no longer conducting widespread testing in prisons. Instead, the state is primarily testing inmates exhibiting symptoms of the disease.
Corrections officers at Belmont complain that they aren’t given adequate personal protection equipment, no longer have space to keep sick inmates apart from healthy ones, and are forced to go to a drive-through facility in nearby West Virginia to be tested themselves.
Scott Stevens, who has worked as a corrections officer at Belmont in St. Clairsville for 24 years and is chapter representative for the Ohio Civil Services Employees Association, the union representing 8,000 prison employees statewide, said Belmont consists of 10 dorm-style facilities, each housing more than 200 inmates who sleep in bunk beds and share kitchen and bathroom facilities.
Once five inmates in a facility test positive, the whole dorm is considered to have the coronavirus. But unless someone needs medical treatment, they remain in the dorm to recuperate, he said, adding that from one to five inmates are being sent to the hospital each day because their conditions have worsened.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mississippi has tested 44 state prisoners for COVID-19

Mississippi leaders have said that they are testing early and thoroughly for COVID-19, but the state’s Department of Corrections has so far failed to test most of its employees and people in its custody. As of last week, 44 prisoners out of more than 14,000 have been tested for the novel coronavirus at DOC prisons and detention centers—a rate of 0.4 percent, according to The Appeal.
The nearly 20,000 staff members and incarcerated people form a population greater than 43 percent of counties in Mississippi. Yet they are being left out of the state’s testing push, which Governor Tate Reeves has touted as “aggressive” in recent press briefings. 
“Testing is critical to manage this disaster,” he said on April 6, “and that’s one thing that we in Mississippi are very fortunate of, is we became very aggressive very early on testing.”
During a May 6 briefing, The Appeal asked Reeves about the low testing rate inside prisons. He responded, “We haven’t had large numbers of individuals in our prison system that have had symptoms.” The DOC has succeeded in avoiding “major, catastrophic spreading” because of early interventions, he said.
“Much like President Trump was very, very early by cutting off travel to China, in Mississippi we were very early in cutting off visitation in the Department of Corrections,” Reeves said at the same briefing. As of Monday, the DOC reported that 10 incarcerated people and seven employees had tested positive for COVID-19. 
He added that temporarily banning prisoners from doing road work across the state has helped taper the spread, too.
Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center in Mississippi, said that low rates of testing are not indicative of low disease rates. “The surest way to have zero confirmed cases in your facility is to conduct zero tests,” he said. 
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, May 16, 2020

GateHouse: The High Court may finally reconsider qualified immunity

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court was sitting in an unprecedented “virtual” conference. At the May 15 conference, the Court decides which cases to accept for review. A case needs only four votes to be placed on the docket.
The issue of the day appears to be qualified immunity. The Supreme Court will review 13 cases that deal with the judicial doctrine that shields the police and other state officials from liability for misconduct.
This country’s primary federal civil rights statute can be found in Title 42 of the U.S. Code. “Section 1983” - as it is commonly referred to - provides that any state actor who violates a person’s constitutional rights “shall be liable” to the party injured.
Section 1983 grew out of the Civil Rights Acts of 1871. The Act was passed after the Civil War to prevent public officials and the Ku Klux Klan from violating the constitutional rights of former slaves.
Section 1983 provided relief - in the form of money damages - to claimants whose constitutional rights had been violated by a police officer or public official acting under state authority. The Act provides that a wrongdoer “shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.”
About 100 years after the Civil Rights Act the Supreme Court established qualified immunity, a potential defense to wrongdoers. About a decade later, the High Court further refined qualified immunity. The Court ruled a state actor would be immune from liability if at the time of the harm, the conduct “was not clearly established” as a civil rights violation. The Court continued, “An official could not reasonably be expected to anticipate subsequent legal developments, nor could he fairly be said to ‘know’ that the law forbade conduct not previously identified as unlawful.”
Demonstrating “clearly established” conduct has proven difficult for plaintiffs. For a claimant to prevail in the face of a qualified immunity defense she would have to show that the harm inflicted was established as a civil rights violation in a prior case with identical facts. It is not unusual for a court to tell a Plaintiff that her civil rights were violated but there is no similar case on point - so you lose.
One of the 13 cases to be reviewed by the Supreme Court is out of Michigan and was brought by Joshua Brennan. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted immunity to a sheriff’s deputy who went to extreme lengths to attempt to administer an alcohol breath test to Brennan who was on probation. The deputy parked his patrol car in front of Brennan’s house turned the lights and sirens on for over an hour; circled the man’s house numerous times, peering into and knocking on windows; and covered the home’s security camera with tape.
Brennan filed a 1983 action against the deputy, the sheriff, and the County. The lower Court held that this warrantless invasion of Brennan’s property violated the Fourth Amendment, but nevertheless granted immunity due to a lack of “clearly established law.”
Such decisions seem to fly in the face of the very purpose of Section 1983. In fact the Supreme Court has said as much. The Supreme Court has suggested the remedy created by Section 1983 exists not just to provide a remedy for citizens whose rights are violated, but also - “to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly.”
It will be interesting to see what direction the Supreme Court goes. Left-leaning Justice Sonia Sotomayor and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas have recently criticized qualified immunity and the court’s role in expanding it.
In a 2018 dissent, Sotomayor wrote that a decision favoring the police tells officers that “they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
Thomas wrote, in a 2017 concurring opinion, ”(T)he ‘clearly established’ standard is designed to ‘protect the balance between vindication of constitutional rights and government officials’ effective performance of their duties.’” He lamented, that decision is for the legislature not the courts.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the Column CLICK HERE

Friday, May 15, 2020

Nearly one in five mothers with young children say their children are not getting enough to eat

New research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent, reported the New York Times. Among mothers with young children, nearly one-fifth say their children are not getting enough to eat, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution, a rate three times as high as in 2008, during the worst of the Great Recession.
The reality of so many Americans running out of food is an alarming reminder of the economic hardship the pandemic has inflicted. But despite their support for spending trillions on other programs to mitigate those hardships, Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps — a core feature of the safety net that once enjoyed broad support but is now a source of a highly partisan divide.
Democrats want to raise food stamp benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis, arguing that a similar move during the Great Recession reduced hunger and helped the economy. But Republicans have fought for years to shrink the program, saying that the earlier liberalization led to enduring caseload growth and a backdoor expansion of the welfare state.
For President Trump, a personal rivalry may also be in play: In his State of the Union address in February, he boasted that falling caseloads showed him besting his predecessor, Barack Obama, whom Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, had derided as “the food stamp president.” Even as the pandemic unfolded, the Trump administration tried to push forward with new work rules projected to remove more people from aid.
Mr. Trump and his congressional allies have agreed to only a short-term increase in food stamp benefits that omits the poorest recipients, including five million children. Those calling for a broader increase say Congress has spent an unprecedented amount on programs invented on the fly while rejecting a proven way to keep hungry people fed.
 “This program is the single most powerful anti-hunger tool that we have and one of the most important economic development tools,” said Kate Maehr, the head of the Chicago food bank. “Not to use it when we have so many people who are in such great need is heartbreaking. This is not a war that charity can win.”
The debate in Congress is about the size of benefits, not the numbers on the rolls. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are also known, expands automatically to accommodate need.
“SNAP is working, SNAP will increase,” said Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the program. “Anyone who qualifies is going to get those benefits. We do not need new legislation.”
Mr. Conaway noted that Republicans have supported huge spending on other programs to temper the economic distress, and increased benefits for some SNAP recipients (for the duration of the health emergency, not the economic downturn). Democrats, he said, want to leverage the pandemic into a permanent food stamp expansion.
To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Judge appoints former judge to oppose DOJ decision to drop Flynn case

The federal judge overseeing the case against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn appointed a hard-charging former prosecutor and judge to oppose the Justice Department’s effort to drop the case and to explore a perjury charge against Mr. Flynn, reported the New York Times.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s appointment of the former judge, John Gleeson, was an extraordinary move in a case with acute political overtones. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty twice to lying to investigators as part of a larger inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Flynn later began fighting the charge and sought to withdraw his guilty plea. Then last week, the Justice Department abruptly moved to drop the charge after a long campaign by Mr. Trump and his supporters, prompting accusations that Attorney General William P. Barr had undermined the rule of law and further politicized the department.
Judge Sullivan also asked Judge Gleeson to explore the possibility that by trying to withdraw his pleas, Mr. Flynn opened himself to perjury charges.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Judge Gleeson did not respond to a request for comment. Judge Sullivan had said on Tuesday that he would consider briefs from outsiders known as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” who opposed the government’s request to dismiss the case against Mr. Flynn.
While judges do sometimes appoint such third parties to represent an interest they feel is not being heard in a case, Judge Sullivan’s move was highly unusual, said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at Duke University.
Judge Sullivan, he said, is essentially bringing in an outsider to represent the point of view of the original prosecutors, who believed Mr. Flynn had committed a crime before Mr. Barr intervened and essentially replaced them with a prosecutor willing to say he had not.
“This is extraordinary for the judge to appoint somebody to argue against a prosecutors’ motion to dismiss a criminal case,” Mr. Buell said. “But it’s extraordinary for a prosecutor to move to dismiss this sort of criminal case.”
 “What the Justice Department did in the first case is, as far as any of us can figure out, unprecedented,” he added. “So the fact that this is pretty unprecedented too is not that surprising.”
It was not immediately clear what Judge Sullivan was focused on with his request for input on whether to essentially accuse Mr. Flynn of criminal perjury.
Mr. Buell said he doubted it would qualify as perjury for Mr. Flynn to embrace the Justice Department’s claim that he committed no crime because his admitted lies were purportedly immaterial to a proper investigation — whether or not that legal theory is true. But, Mr. Buell said, there could be a legitimate issue if Mr. Flynn were to claim that he did not lie after all — a notion the Justice Department’s filing also hinted at — despite previously telling judges that he had.
To read more CLICK HERE