Death Penalty Comment No. 5
Let's assume that the death penalty is broken, what would you do to fix it?
President Biden signed a bill making lynching a federal crime, for the first time explicitly criminalizing an act that had come to symbolize the grim history of racism in the United States, reported The New York Times.
“Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal,” Mr. Biden said, speaking to civil rights leaders and others in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Moments after Mr. Biden signed the law — named for Emmett Till, the Black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 — he described the atrocity that he said was carried out against 4,400 Blacks between 1877 and 1950.
“Terror, to systematically undermine hard, hard fought civil rights. Terror, not just in the dark of the night, but in broad daylight. Innocent men, women and children hung by nooses from trees,” he said. “Bodies burned and drowned and castrated. Their crimes? Trying to vote, trying to go to school, to try and own a business or preach the gospel.”
The president’s signature ended more than 100 years of failed efforts by the federal government to specifically outlaw lynching. The bill, which makes lynching punishable by up to 30 years in prison, was passed by the House in February with only three lawmakers opposed, and passed the Senate without objection.
Legislation to criminalize lynching was first introduced in 1900, and again in subsequent years, but it was repeatedly blocked, including by Southern senators during the Jim Crow era. Lawmakers failed more than 200 times to get it passed. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for that record.
“It failed again and again and again and again,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday, noting the history-making moment.
Ms. Harris sponsored the new law with Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, when she was still in the Senate. But she also praised Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina; and Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois, who had spent years on the effort.
Both Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris gave credit to Ida B. Wells, a Black journalist who fought lynching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and became one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of her descendants spoke at the event Tuesday.
“She carefully chronicled names, date, locations and excuses used to justify lynchings. She wrote articles and pamphlets and gave speeches about the atrocities,” said Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ms. Wells. “Despite losing everything, she continued to speak out across this country and Britain about the violence and terror of lynching.”
Ms. Duster recounted how Ms. Wells had visited President William S. McKinley in the White House in 1898 to urge him to make lynching a federal crime — to no avail.
“We finally stand here today, generations later, to witness this historic moment of President Biden signing the Emmett Till anti-lynching bill into law,” she said.
Mr. Biden said he hoped the law would help in the fight against hate and racism in the country. But he acknowledged that it would be an ongoing fight.
“Hate never goes away,” he said. “It only hides. It hides under the rocks. Given just a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it is all of us, not a few. All of us have to stop it.”
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The Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would ban the death penalty on individuals diagnosed with specific mental illnesses, reported Jurist.
Under House Bill 269, defendants who show a documented history of mental illness at the time of the offense are immune from capital punishment. The defendant must show a diagnosis from a mental health professional. The mental illnesses included are schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and delusional disorder.
The bill’s primary sponsor is State Representative Chad McCoy. The Kentucky House of Representatives passed the bill by a 76 to 19 vote on February 9. The bill was then approved by a 25 to 9 vote in the Republican majority Senate on Friday.
This bill comes in the midst of many other state actions regarding the death penalty. In 2021, Ohio passed House Bill 136, which abolished capital punishment for those with the same mental illnesses listed in the Kentucky bill. Also in 2021, Kentucky became the twenty-third state and the first Southern state to ban the death penalty completely. Currently, 27 states still practice capital punishment.
The bill will now be sent to Governor Andy Beshear.
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Marc Bookman executive Director of The Atlantic Center for Capital Representation writes in "The Practical Lawyer":
President John Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald "never had a trial, a sentence or appeal. A look back at what might have been is a reminder of how arbitrary an d capricious capital punishment is." What would have Oswald's trial have look like?
Bookman's article looks a the potential impact that mitigation may have played in Oswald's sentence had he been convicted and whether or not Oswald would have been around long enough to benefit from the United State Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia.
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Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur from birth to age 17. A new study examined the effect of ACEs on jurors' sentencing decisions in hypothetical death penalty cases. The study found that defense testimony elicited jurors' leniency, largely through their responses to ACE evidence, reported the Justice Quarterly.
The study, by researchers at Minnesota State University (MSU), Mankato and St. Edwards University, appears in Justice Quarterly, a publication of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
"The role of adverse childhood experiences in death penalty trials merits special attention," says Tyler J. Vaughan, associate professor of criminal justice at MSU, Mankato, who led the study. "Though a significant body of research has examined the impact of mitigating evidence and the role of culpability, as well as anger, on sentencing decisions, ACE evidence is unique because it can elicit different emotional responses from jurors."
Criminologists are increasingly focusing on ACEs as risk factors for criminal and violent behavior. Traumatic childhood events—childhood maltreatment; emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; exposure to violence, mental illness, and substance abuse; and parents' abandonment, incarceration, or separation—have been found to have profound consequences for future criminal behavior. Although research on defendants in death penalty trials and death row inmates is limited, childhood abuse and neglect is common in this group.
In this study, researchers recruited nearly 1,500 participants to take part in mock juror tasks in which defendants' exposure to ACEs as mitigating evidence was manipulated. Participants were similar demographically to jurors in the Capital Jury Project (a consortium of university-based studies on jurors' decision making in U.S. death penalty cases): primarily non-Hispanic and female and with an average age of 37.
Participants were given several pieces of information: 1) vignettes of death penalty trials featuring one of four hypothetical crimes (murder of police, murder of children, murder of multiple victims, murder in the course of a robbery); 2) details of defendants' criminal history and ACEs (a control group did not receive the ACE information); 3) testimony by expert witnesses about the relationship between childhood adversity and decreased ability to reason; 4) photos of the defendants, some of whom were Black and some of whom were white.
Participants who received information about defendants' ACEs were 35% to 50% less likely to vote for the death penalty than participants who were not given that information, with even steeper reductions in the likelihood of sentencing to death when the hypothetical defendant was exposed to more childhood adversity. Sentencing decisions were affected by estimations of blameworthiness, future dangerousness, and sympathy, the study found.
"Practically speaking, our findings suggest that investigating ACEs and presenting this evidence are critical in eliciting leniency in death penalty cases," notes Lisa Bell Holleran, assistant professor of criminal justice at St. Edwards University, who co-authored the study. "They also have implications for the constitutionality of capital punishment in cases where the defense presents ACEs as mitigating evidence."
Specifically, to fulfill the Supreme Court's mandate to narrow the application of the death penalty to the most culpable defendants, the authors argue, jurors need more guidance in how to use mitigating evidence within the confines of a meaningful culpability inquiry. "Although we found some indication that mock jurors consider culpability in deciding the appropriate sentence, we found sympathy to be far more important," Holleran says.
Because the study is based on a simulation, the validity and generalizability of its findings are limited, the authors note. Also, the study's participants differed in several ways from jurors in actual death penalty trials, including that they received less evidence and testimony, and that they made their sentencing decisions alone.
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From The New York Times:
What explains the crime wave? There is no fully satisfying answer, but experts point to several plausible partial explanations. They include: Social isolation and frustration caused by the pandemic. A sense of lawlessness stemming from police violence (like the murder of George Floyd). Police officers’ timidity in response to recent criticism of them. And a rise in gun sales during the pandemic.
Yet the crime wave seems both too broad and too distinctly American for any one of these factors to be a tidy explanation.
Gun crime isn’t the only kind of violent crime that is rising, for example. Nor are the crime increases limited to places where police brutality has been worst. As for the pandemic, if it were the only cause, you would expect crime to have surged in many countries. Instead, it has held fairly steady in Britain, Canada, France, Japan and elsewhere.
The closest thing that I have heard to a persuasive answer comes from history. Criminologists and historians who have studied past crime waves — like Gary LaFree, Richard Rosenfeld and Randolph Roth — point out that they often occur when people are feeling frustrated with society, government and their fellow citizens. This frustration can feed a breakdown in societal norms and a rise in what the sociologist Émile Durkheim called “anomie.”
Roth, looking at homicide rates in the U.S. and Western Europe over the past 400 years, argues that crime tends to increase if people lose trust in society’s institutions and basic fairness. When empathy for other citizens — or “fellow feeling,” as Roth and others call it — declines and anomie rises, crime also rises. The American crime increases of the 1960s and ’70s were a good example, criminologists say.
Most citizens do not commit crimes, of course. But social alienation makes some people more willing to break the rules and act violently. A broader sense of disorder can create a so-called moral holiday, as The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood has written.
When I was talking about this idea with colleagues yesterday, German Lopez — who’s written about the crime wave in this newsletter — pointed out that the anomie theory can feel unsatisfying because it is ephemeral and unprovable. But it also fits the facts better than any alternative, German added.
By many measures, Americans are feeling frustrated with their government, their economy and their fellow citizens. Nearly 80 percent are dissatisfied with the country’s direction, according to Gallup. People spend hours screaming at one another on social media. Many Americans consider people with opposing political ideas to be so wrong that they don’t deserve the right to express their views. Polls also show an alarming degree of skepticism about democracy and openness to political violence.
Along with these signs of alienation, a wide range of behavior has deteriorated. Alcohol abuse and drug overdoses have increased. Americans’ blood pressure is up, and measures of mental health are down. Vehicle crashes have surged.
In each of these cases, the pandemic seems to be playing a role: The trends either began or accelerated shortly after Covid overwhelmed daily life in the spring of 2020. But the pandemic appears to be only part of the story. This country’s recent dysfunction is bigger than Covid. It is a dark new form of American exceptionalism.
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Death Penalty Comment No. 4
The murder rate has risen about 30 percent over the last year. The death penalty has been in decline in recent years with fewer executions and fewer death sentences. Do you think the decline in the death penalty is influencing the rise in murder? Explain you opinion.
Watch my interview on Court TV with Ashley Willcott discussing the trial of Billy Ray Turner convicted of murdering former NBA player Lorenzen Wright.
To watch the interview CLICK HERE
Most adults and of-age teens in the United States go through the same process of getting licensed to drive: classroom or online instruction, as many as 100 hours of practice behind the wheel, and a skills test.
Far fewer people have that experience when seeking a license to carry concealed weapons, reports the Washington Post.
Recently Ohio became the 23rd state to enact a law eliminating permits as a requirement for concealed carry. The Buckeye State closely followed Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey signed a similar law on March 10.
The back-to-back wins for gun-rights advocates who want to see fewer restrictions on the Second Amendment signal how partisan divides and relentless activism at the state level are significantly reshaping the landscape around gun possession.
“This is the latest front in the battle over gun rights in America,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and an expert in gun policy and the Second Amendment. Winkler sees a broader takeaway in the changes to Alabama and Ohio’s gun laws.
“The lesson is: It’s coming to you,” Winkler said. “It’s a rising tide of reform, and it’s a wave we’ve seen before.”
Seventeen of the 23 states that allow permitless carry passed their laws in the past seven years. By contrast, concealed carry wasn’t even legal in every state until 2013, when Illinois lifted its longtime ban decades after most other states.
The push to end restrictions on concealed carry is reminiscent of one made by lobbyists and gun rights activists 30 years ago with “shall issue” permitting. States adopted laws that held authorizing agencies shall issue concealed-carry permits to anyone who meets the basic requirements set by the state, such as completing a training course or passing a background check — a shift that rapidly expanded who could carry a concealed weapon.
Before the advent of “shall issue” permitting, most states would let individuals concealed carry only if licensed; the permits, Winkler said, were hard to get and required applicants to demonstrate a justification for carrying a concealed firearm.
“The NRA has been incredibly effective in loosening gun laws at the state level and have completely transformed how individuals can carry guns in public since the 1980s,” Winkler said in reference to the National Rifle Association.
Winkler said energy for gun control that often swells after shooting incidents — including calls for change at the federal level — but that such energy obscures the on-the-ground reality.
“Nothing has changed since Newtown,” Winkler said, referring to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 27 people, including 20 first-graders. “If you think that [it has], you’re looking in the wrong place: The states are a hotbed of activity of gun reform these days, and it’s mostly gun-rights advocates that are winning the battles.”
The primary group that lobbied for Ohio’s permitless carry law was the grass-roots Buckeye Firearms Association. Executive Director Dean Rieck, in a recent podcast episode, described its strategy as “moving the Overton window” from a place where the public was largely wary of anyone with a gun to a place where opponents welcomed licensing laws.
“You get to the point where there’s enough trust to pass a law like this,” Rieck told The Washington Post in an interview. “I think we’ll find the dire predictions in passing this law don’t come true.”
Opponents of permitless carry argue that the law decreases public safety by eliminating the requirements attached to permits, such as background checks, safety training and, in Ohio, an application through a local sheriff’s office.
Gary Wolske, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, the state’s largest police union, said the FOP believes in the right to carry a weapon — but also in background checks.
“Last year, an estimated 2,000 were denied permits,” Wolske said of Ohio concealed carry applicants. “But going forward, when this becomes law, there’s no more requirements for anything. You don’t have to know how to turn on the safety, how to carry your weapon or even know which end of the gun goes ‘bang.’ ”
Anyone who purchases a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer is vetted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which screens for disqualifications such as felony convictions, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility or dishonorable military discharge.
But the databases on which the government relies are often flawed, outdated or incomplete; such was the case in the 2017 massacre in Texas at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The gunman, who killed 26 people and injured nearly two dozen others, was never flagged in the NICS because the Air Force repeatedly failed to submit records that would have disqualified him from purchasing three of the four weapons he used in the rampage.
Rieck argued that licensing laws end up stopping only law-abiding citizens from fully exercising their Second Amendment rights, since lawbreakers won’t submit to restrictions whether they exist or not.
“The kind of people who have criminal intent or have a record that would prevent them from carrying a firearm aren’t going to go to a sheriff’s office and get a background check,” he said. “It’s sort of self-selecting.”
Training is another issue. While Rieck said groups like his advocate for people to get as much training as they can, they don’t want training to be a barrier.
“There’s a difference between recommending training and mandating training,” he said.
Jake Pelletier, who owns Raven Firearms Training in New Hampshire with his wife, Crystal, offered a comparison he has heard others make in states that make training a hard-and-fast requirement of concealed carry: “I’ve heard it put that it’s like saying you can exercise your right to free speech as long as you take a communications course.’”
At the same time, the Pelletiers said it’s easy for someone to underestimate the training needed to safely use a gun in a defensive situation.
“They have no idea how difficult it is to use your weapon in a use-of-force situation for defense safely, legally and while avoiding collateral damage,” Jake Pelletier said. He estimated that beginners need a baseline of roughly 32 hours of high-quality training.
“We stress to our clients, if you put out a round, you own that round,” Crystal Pelletier added. “That’s not easy to do if you haven’t trained — especially if you haven’t trained.”
Although New Hampshire hasn’t required concealed-carry permits since 2017, the Pelletiers saw an uptick in customers seeking safety classes following protests and riots that emerged in parts of the country following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in 2020.
Despite public polling that indicates a majority of Americans favor more gun control, gun-control advocates have been losing ground for years because of activism at the state level in part because of increased political polarization, according to Sean Holihan, state legislative director for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The number of states where the legislative chambers and the governorship were carried by different parties has shrunk.
“Increasingly, you’re seeing a trifecta and the needs of the most active members of the party are being met,” Holihan said.
Both Ohio and Alabama state houses and governorships are controlled by Republicans overwhelmingly along partisan lines; in Ohio, the bill didn’t earn a single vote from Democrats in either chamber.
Winkler, the UCLA law professor, said a hidden factor driving looser gun laws is partisan gerrymandering.
“In an environment where there are very safe seats, you get candidates who, with an issue like gun control, try to outextreme the other candidate,” he said. “And in the Republican Party, it’s been especially pronounced; you don’t want your opponents to say you’re soft on guns, because that hurts you in the primary.”
Gun-rights advocates commonly invoke crime reduction and self-defense in their arguments, but Winkler said that loosening restrictions has shown to be driven more by politics than public safety. The data, he notes, is largely inconclusive.
Researchers have sparred for years over the question of whether easing gun restrictions lessens crime or fuels it. A 2021 analysis by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found states with looser concealed-carry laws had a higher homicide rate on average during a recent five-year period than the eight states with stricter permit laws — and that the role looser laws played in higher crime rates — if any — was unclear.
With a midterm election eight months away and major election year in 2024, experts expect more laws easing gun restrictions to pass. Already, bills to allow permitless carry are active in Indiana and Florida.
Holihan expects the expansion to stop after the remaining Republican-controlled states enact permitless carry.
“We’ll have states with moderate-to strong gun control police along the West Coast and some Great Lakes states, and other states where it’s much easier to get and carry a gun, they’ll move on to other issues like stand-your-ground,” Holihan said.
The result, he said, will be a picture with which the country is already familiar: two Americas, and one deep ideological divide.
Republicans are intensifying their attacks on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson after weeks of publicly reserving judgment on President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, ahead of historic hearings on the first Black woman to be put forward as a justice, reports The New York Times.
Republican leaders, wary of engaging in a potentially racially charged spectacle that could prompt a political backlash, have promised a more dignified review of the latest Supreme Court candidate, after a series of bitter clashes over the court. But in recent days, with the approach of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on her nomination that begin on Monday, their tone has shifted.
Last week, Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who sits on the panel and will question Judge Jackson, claimed his review of her judicial record had determined that she had been lenient in sentencing some sex offenders and those convicted of possessing child pornography. He also suggested that, as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, she worked to reduce penalties for those caught with child pornography. A detailed background paper prepared for the Judiciary Committee made a similar case.
At the same time, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, has doubled down on his suggestion that Judge Jackson’s experience as a public defender could influence her view of the law and lead her to favor criminal defendants.
“Her supporters look at her résumé and deduce a special empathy for criminals,” Mr. McConnell said in a lengthy floor speech in which he argued that her work on behalf of the accused was a blot on her record. “I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage.”
The increasingly hostile critiques of Judge Jackson suggest that her confirmation hearings might not be the sober, drama-free proceeding that many had anticipated when she was nominated to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who has announced he will retire at the end of the court’s current term this summer.
Her confirmation would not change the ideological composition of the court, which is tilted 6-3 toward conservatives. And Judge Jackson has previously been confirmed three times by the Senate for two judgeships and a spot on the sentencing commission. Nothing surfaced on those occasions to impede her approval. Republicans concede she has the legal experience and educational qualifications for the lifetime position.
Mr. Hawley, who is regarded as a potential Republican presidential contender and has not voted for a single Biden administration judicial nominee, was never considered a likely supporter of Judge Jackson. Still, his detailed takedown of her record on sex crimes has generated concern among Democrats, who worry it could deter some Republicans who are considering supporting her, or even rattle some senators in their own party, all of whom will likely be needed to win confirmation.
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The national think tank Third Way has published an interesting study of politics and the rise in homicides nationwide. Red states appear to have a homicide problem.
According to Third Way, the US saw an alarming 30% increase in murder in 2020. While 2021 data is not yet complete, murder was on the rise again this past year. Some “blue” cities, like Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, have seen real and persistent increases in homicides. These cities—along with others like Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis—are also in places with wall-to-wall media coverage and national media interest.
But there is a large piece of the homicide story that is missing and calls into question the veracity of the right-wing obsession over homicides in Democratic cities: murder rates are far higher in Trump-voting red states than Biden-voting blue states. And sometimes, murder rates are highest in cities with Republican mayors.
For example, Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat mayor, despite their comparable populations. In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Yet there is barely a whisper, let alone an outcry, over the stunning levels of murders in these and other places.
Third Way collected 2019 and 2020 murder data from all 50 states. (Comprehensive 2021 data is not yet available.) We pulled the data from yearly crime reports released by state governments, specifically the Departments of Justice and Safety. For states that didn’t issue state crime reports, we pulled data from reputable local news sources. To allow for comparison, we calculated the state’s per capita murder rate, the number of murders per 100,000 residents, and categorized states by their presidential vote in the 2020 election, resulting in an even 25-25 split.
Third Way found that murder rates are, on average, 40% higher in the 25 states Donald Trump won in the last presidential election compared to those that voted for Joe Biden. In addition, murder rates in many of these red states dwarf those in blue states like New York, California, and Massachusetts. And finally, many of the states with the worst murder rates—like Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas—are ones that few would describe as urban. Only 2 of America’s top 100 cities in population are located in these high murder rate states. And not a single one of the top 10 murder states registers in the top 15 for population density.
To read the report CLICK HERE
Death Penalty-Comment No. 3
The Tennessee legislature is considering abolishing the death penalty for killers with mental illness. What is is your opinion on the legislation? Do you support it, oppose it and would you limit its scope or expand those covered by the prohibition?
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro met with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, along with area police chiefs, on Tuesday to discuss an ongoing problem: a historic shortage of police officers, reported WHYY-FM.
“The fact is, and we see this, fewer young people are deciding to make law enforcement their career,” Shapiro said. “That’s a problem. And it’s going to lead to long-term negative consequences in our communities.”
Pennsylvania as a whole currently has 1,229 vacant police positions across the state.
In Philadelphia, Commissioner Outlaw said, a combination of staff shortages and rising crime have worn police increasingly thin.
In 2015, the Philadelphia Police Department had approximately 6,600 sworn officers and 800 civilian personnel — that’s well above this year’s staffing numbers with 5,900 sworn officers and 600 civilian personnel.
In an attempt to triage the situation, Outlaw said, the PPD has been shifting officers from special units and administrative assignments to patrol duties in an effort to increase police presence in crime hotspots.
“But the truth is these efforts are just pulling from the same diminishing pool of resources,” Outlaw said, adding that they need more detectives to investigate cases — but they also need patrol officers to aid in preventing crime.
“To put it plainly, we’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said, “We know that rapidly increasing caseloads and reduced staffing equals lower case clearance rates, and lower clearance rates aren’t just about numbers or percentages. We’re talking about finding justice for victims and bringing closure to loved ones. It’s about healing our communities and about living freely without fear.”
Shapiro added that staff shortages have had a detrimental effect on police departments’ ability to build crucial relationships with the communities they work with — forcing officers to choose between walking their beat or engaging with the community in ways that help build confidence and trust.
“And that confidence really matters because having it leads to more tips from the public, more cooperation in solving crime, and it leads, importantly, to safer streets,” Shapiro said.
In the closed-door meeting with local police leaders that preceded public remarks, Shapiro said they discussed the origin of the problem, and possible solutions.
“It’s not just pay or pay differences or the inability to pay a competitive wage,” Shapiro said. “Oftentimes, would-be applicants are choosing not to apply because police feel beaten down in our communities.”
He called for elected officials and the media to express stronger support for law enforcement, along with funding to invest in recruitment, training for officers, crisis intervention teams, and mental health units to work with the police. Shapiro also suggested incentives, like $6,000 signing bonuses for new officers in Pennsylvania, and $1,200 “hero pay” to keep existing officers on their beat.
“Unfortunately, it has not moved in Harrisburg,” Shapiro said. “It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to come together and invest in policing here in Pennsylvania. I want to hire 1,000 new police officers in the Commonwealth right away. We have the funds to do that. We have the leadership that wants to do it. It’s time for the politicians to act.”
In response to questions about how the effort jibes with ongoing calls to defund the police, Outlaw took a balanced stance.
“We have to swing the pendulum back,” she said. “We have to let folks know that these are not either/or conversations. We can be supportive of the police and hold us accountable at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
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Watch my guest appearance on The Daily on Law and Crime Network.
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Two former inmates are challenging a Connecticut law that has, since 1997, allowed the state to impose a debt on inmates for each day of their incarceration.
In a putative class action lawsuit filed in a Connecticut federal court on Monday, the former inmates are asking the court to declare their prison debt invalid and the statute permitting the collection of such debt to be null and void, reported the Courthouse News Service.
As of Monday, the daily incarceration fee in Connecticut is $249, or $90,885 annually. The statue claims this fee is meant to recoup the state's expenditure in feeding and sheltering inmates, but the suit alleges it traps former inmates in an oppressive debt cycle — a second incarceration — from which there is no escape.
"For people in prison, Connecticut’s prison debt laws mean that the state can collect against nearly all their property at any time. Once a person is released, prison debt follows them for decades, decimating inheritances from deceased loved ones, proceeds from lawsuits (even for injuries sustained in prison), and, ultimately, anything a person leaves upon their death," the 21-page lawsuit state. "Even after a person serves their designated sentence, the prison debt laws punitively and arbitrarily impose an additional sentence, just in a different form."
The plaintiffs in the suit are Teresa Beatty and Michael Llorens, former Connecticut inmates representing a putative class of over 30,000 other people.
"Ms. Beatty’s case is not unique. Under Connecticut’s prison debt law, the state currently charges people $249 per day, or $90,885 per year, for the cost of their incarceration — more than what an in-state student would owe for 2.5 years’ attendance at UCONN, including housing, food, and books," a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut reads.
The suit was submitted on the plaintiffs' behalf by David A. Slossberg of Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff in Mitford, and Dan Barrett with the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut.
The complaint names Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong as defendants due to the power both individuals have over the state's Department of Corrections. It seeks to enjoin Lamont, as the state's chief executive, from enforcing the statute, and Tong from filing collection actions against people who owe prison debt.
The suit also aims to wipe out Beatty's and Llorens' current debt, which between the pair is over $356,000. As with many other states in the union, Connecticut's prison population is majority Black and Latino. The ACLU of Connecticut argues the 1997 statute is part of the United States' history of systemic racism.
“Connecticut’s prison debt laws inflict a form of extreme punishment that locks people, especially Black and Latinx people, into unbelievable debt that can haunt them and their loved ones even after their deaths," said ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Barrett. "The law also rewards the state’s own bad behavior by collecting money from payouts in prison brutality lawsuits and funneling that money right into the general fund."
Connecticut is not the only state that profits off its inmate population. Every state in the union except Hawaii allows for the collection of daily "pay-to-stay" fees. Similarly, all states make use of prison labor programs in which inmates are compelled to work public and private jobs for mere cents an hour, if they are paid at all. The practice began after the Civil War, when southern state prisons began to lease their inmates — mostly Black men — out to private companies. This was and is allowed by the wording of the Thirteenth Amendment, which expressly forbids all forms of involuntary labor, except as punishment for a crime.
Beatty said she hopes the suit will change this system for those who come after her.
“I am speaking out because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through. It’s not just about me, it’s about the tens of thousands of people coming out after me,” Beatty said in a statement.
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According to the FBI, 73 law enforcement officers were intentionally killed in the line of duty last year. That's almost 16 more than the average for the last five years, 27 more than in 2020 and the most since 2001, reported the KUSA-TV.
Despite the significant increase in the number of officers intentionally killed, COVID was, by far, the leading cause of the 520 line of duty deaths last year nationwide. More than 350 officers died of the virus in 2021.
Tim Jeffrey says he can't explain the recent increase in officers being murdered, and he does not see an end in sight.
"It's a societal problem," Jeffrey said. "There was a slogan that we had, God please let this be the last one, but we know, unfortunately, it's not."
So far in 2022, according to Dan Abrams on News Nation, 75 police officer have been shot and 10 have died.
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To watch to the interview CLICK HERE and scroll to war crimes video.
Two months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a plan for a powerful elections police force that would answer to him, state lawmakers passed a watered-down version that barely resembles what the governor asked for but still worries voting rights advocates reported the Washington Post.
DeSantis (R) had asked for nearly $6 million to hire 52 people, including sworn officers, to investigate alleged violations of elections laws. The GOP-led House and Senate instead gave him about $2.5 million for the new Office of Election Crimes and Security.
The agency will be the first of its kind in the nation. Its staff of 25 will be part of the Department of State, which answers to DeSantis. Both chambers approved its creation by wide margins after debate that had Democrats invoking the name of the late civil rights leader John Lewis and a Republican representative making reference to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The governor has indicated he will sign the measure into law.
“It’s drastically improved from what the governor wanted, but I don’t believe we should have an elections police force at all,” said Joe Scott, the elections supervisor in Broward County. “These are people who will be looking for crimes where there are none. That has the potential to intimidate a lot of voters and the organizations who try to help voters.”
The bill also includes harsh repercussions for some voting practices that were common in the state until last year, when the legislature, at the governor’s behest, passed sweeping changes to state elections laws.
One of the most controversial penalties is for “ballot harvesting.” The 2021 law made it a misdemeanor for anyone to have more than two ballots, which impacts efforts at churches and community centers to have volunteers gather ballots and deposit them at an elections office or in a drop box. The bill passed this week raises that to a felony, punishable with a fine of up to $50,000 and five years in prison.
“So now we’re criminalizing certain acts around the elections process that most folks, particularly in the Black community, have long held as a way to assist those in need,” said Genesis Robinson, political director of Equal Ground, a voting rights advocacy group. “To spend time in jail for simply trying to be a good neighbor, that’s a problem.”
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There is a loud and growing chorus of calls for the International Criminal Court to pursue Vladimir Putin. On March 2, the court said it would immediately proceed with an active investigation of possible war crimes following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, reported CNN.
The US Embassy in Kyiv said two days later that Russia committed a war crime by attacking a nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
"It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant," the embassy said on its official Twitter feed. "Putin's shelling of Europe's largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further."
Russia's suspected use of cluster bombs and so-called vacuum bombs in dense areas with many civilians has also been described as a war crime.
"I want to be very clear about this, that Mr. Putin is a war criminal," former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Council on Foreign Relations recently. "He has to sit behind the bars in International Criminal Court."
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A judge in Chicago sentenced Jussie Smollett to five months in jail on Thursday, ordering that the actor be incarcerated for falsely reporting to the police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019, reported The New York Times.
At the end of a hearing that lasted about five hours, Judge James B. Linn excoriated Mr. Smollett from the bench, saying that he had concluded that the actor had premeditated the hoax and that despite his and his family’s admirable past work in social justice, he had an arrogant, selfish side and had planned the stunt because he “craved the attention.”
In the searing speech, the judge said that Mr. Smollett’s name had become synonymous with lying, that he had sought to throw a “national pity party” for himself and that Mr. Smollett’s conduct had undermined other victims of hate crimes at a sensitive time, as America was trying to climb out of its painful history of racism.
“You took some scabs off some healing wounds and you ripped them apart,” the judge said. “And for one reason: You wanted to make yourself more famous.”
Given the chance to address the court before the sentencing, Mr. Smollett declined. But after Judge Linn read his sentence, the actor defiantly stood up and declared, “I did not do this, and I am not suicidal,” adding that “if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself.” As he was taken into custody to begin his jail sentence, Mr. Smollett raised his right fist. His lawyers immediately said they planned to appeal.
During the hearing, the defense and prosecution presented sharply different views of Mr. Smollett’s offense. Prosecutors framed it as a calculated plan to deceive law enforcement and the public at a time when hate crimes were on the rise. Mr. Smollett’s lawyers portrayed it as a minor low-level felony that had been subjected to an outsize amount of prosecutorial attention.
“Why are we jumping up and down and acting like this is a murder case?” said Nenye Uche, a lawyer for Mr. Smollett. “It’s not.”
Daniel K. Webb, the special prosecutor who handled the case, argued in court that Mr. Smollett had made matters worse for himself by declaring his innocence in front of the jury.
The judge ultimately sided with the prosecution.
At trial, Mr. Smollett had been found guilty of felony disorderly conduct, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. The judge decided on a shorter sentence, to be served in a local jail, and also gave Mr. Smollett a term of more than two years of probation and a fine of $25,000. He was also ordered to pay more than $120,000 in restitution for the cost of Chicago’s police investigation of his case.
Before the sentencing, well-known figures like the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, the actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson; and Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., wrote letters to the judge asking him to forgo prison time. Supporters argued that Mr. Smollett had no previous felonies on his record and that he had suffered reputational damage after the police accused him of orchestrating a hoax assault.
On Thursday, Mr. Webb recommended that Mr. Smollett be incarcerated for an unspecified amount of time, arguing that his misconduct was serious, that he lied to the jury and that he had shown no contrition.
“What Smollett did in this case is he denigrated, degraded true hate crimes and he marginalized the people who are true victims of hate crimes,” Mr. Webb told the judge.
The sentencing caps more than three years of twists and turns in a case that inflamed political divisions and stirred up controversy among Chicago officials. For days, Mr. Smollett was viewed as a victim, someone who had been beaten and targeted with racial and homophobic slurs. Even after the authorities challenged his version of events, it seemed as though Mr. Smollett would avoid significant criminal punishment. Prosecutors dropped the charges against him in March 2019. But in 2020, Mr. Smollett was indicted again after Mr. Webb revived the investigation into what happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019.
The case was closely followed nationally, and in Chicago the issue became particularly potent, as prosecutors’ decision to drop the charges divided their office and the Police Department; the issue also became a central vein of criticism against Kim Foxx, the county’s top prosecutor, during her recent campaign for re-election.
During the trial, the prosecution told the jury that Mr. Smollett had instructed two brothers, Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo, to attack him near his apartment in Chicago, where they placed a rope around his neck like a noose and yelled, “This is MAGA country.”
The Osundairos each testified at length, explaining how Mr. Smollett took them through a “dry run” of the attack and asked one of them to “fake beat him up.”
Mr. Smollett, 39, who in 2019 was best known for starring in the music-industry drama “Empire,” maintained his innocence during seven hours of testimony over two days, telling the jury that he had been the victim of a real hate crime. His lawyers argued in court that the Osundairo brothers relished their proximity to fame and that they wanted to scare Mr. Smollett enough to get him to hire them as his security detail.
The lawyers also highlighted homophobic comments by Olabinjo Osundairo, suggesting the attack could have been motivated by bias against Mr. Smollett, who is gay. (On the stand, Mr. Osundairo repeatedly denied being homophobic.)
The prosecution's evidence included video surveillance of the men meeting up for what the brothers said was the “dry run” and Instagram messages from Mr. Smollett to Abimbola Osundairo shortly before the attack in which the actor provided updates on the timing of his flight back to Chicago.
The defense disputed that Mr. Smollett had planned the attack, arguing that both the messages and the footage were evidence that he had been interacting with Abimbola Osundairo because he had been providing the actor with fitness training.
The 12-person jury in December found Mr. Smollett guilty of five out of six counts of felony disorderly conduct related to his police report.
Judge Linn announced his decision after denying the defense’s bid to have the conviction thrown out or for the actor to gain a new trial.
Much of the hearing was devoted to efforts by the defense to argue that Mr. Smollett deserved a new trial and that he certainly should not be jailed. The courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse contained several members of his family, including his older brother, Joel Smollett Jr., and other supporters, such as a former musical director for “Empire,” Rich Daniels. Mr. Daniels took the witness stand to speak to Mr. Smollett’s character, giving examples of what supporters described as a generous and humble spirit.
“Incarceration of any kind would send the wrong message,” said Joel Smollett Jr., as Jussie Smollett wiped tears from his eyes, “especially in a time in which we as a nation have expressed, in a bipartisan plurality, the desire to see real criminal justice reform.”
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The status of executions across the country has been in turmoil for more than a decade, ever since pharmaceutical companies began halting their delivery of the most widely used drugs for executions, reports The New York Times. State prison systems were left to create cocktails of the drugs they could still get their hands on, often relying on one sedative in particular, midazolam, to start the execution process.
But the lethal new formulations have led to legal challenges across the country, with death row prisoners and their lawyers arguing that the sedative now in use in about half a dozen states is ineffective at its primary purpose: keeping prisoners from feeling pain as they die.
The first full trial on the challenges to midazolam played out this past week in Oklahoma, where a prisoner vomited and shook for several minutes after he was injected with the sedative during an October execution. In the case before Judge Stephen P. Friot of the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, a group of prisoners on death row argued that the mix of drugs that awaits them in that state has the potential to cause so much pain as to be “constitutionally intolerable.”
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the use of midazolam in a 2015 ruling in the same Oklahoma case, but the current trial has allowed for additional expert testimony and presentations of detailed research about the real-world use of the drug in execution chambers.
The case, one of several legal challenges to execution drug protocols filed across the country, could have broad implications for the 27 states with capital punishment, several of which use midazolam.
The governors of three states have issued moratoriums on the death penalty, and only 14 states where capital punishment is currently legal have carried out an execution in the last decade, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The federal government executed 13 people under President Donald J. Trump, the first time it carried out executions in 17 years, but the Biden administration has since reintroduced a moratorium.
With a week full of excruciatingly detailed testimony over how the human body may react to the drugs used in Oklahoma, the case is an example of how the battle over the death penalty has shifted from the legality of capital punishment to increasingly nuanced debates over how it is carried out. The courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of many methods of execution, yet states have increasingly been unable to carry them out as pressure from regulators, medical associations and groups that oppose the death penalty have made it harder to obtain the lethal drugs.
“This is the biggest issue in the realm of capital punishment: how we do executions,” said Maria Kolar, an assistant professor at the Oklahoma City University School of Law who studies the death penalty.
“We wouldn’t just go drown someone or burn someone at the stake,” Ms. Kolar said. “But if midazolam is not capable of maintaining that insensate state, we may well be producing the same feeling in the person being executed.”
Oklahoma’s execution formula calls for an initial dose of midazolam, which state prison officials say renders a prisoner unconscious and impervious to pain. Once the drug takes effect, two other drugs are administered to induce paralysis and then stop the heart — a process that might be excruciating for someone who was not fully sedated.
Prison officials have argued that the sedative is a “tried-and-true” way to make executions painless, and at this week’s trial, each side called on doctors whose testimony bolstered its case.
Dr. Ervin Yen, an anesthesiologist and former Republican state senator now running as an independent for governor, testified for Oklahoma after witnessing three recent executions. He said the mixture of drugs currently in use allowed the state to execute people “in as humane a way as possible,” according to The Oklahoman.
In contrast, Dr. Gail Van Norman, an anesthesiology professor at the University of Washington who was called by the public defenders representing the prisoners, said she was “virtually certain” that the current drug combination had caused several men extreme pain, the newspaper reported.
In the 2015 ruling against the need for a preliminary injunction to immediately halt use of midazolam, a majority of Supreme Court justices also said that the prisoners challenging the sedative’s use had failed to identify an alternate means of execution that would reduce the likelihood of suffering.
The death row prisoners have now identified three alternatives that they argue are readily available and preferable, including two possible combinations using fentanyl, a powerful opioid, or scrapping lethal injections altogether in favor of a firing squad.
At least two states that once used midazolam for executions have stopped doing so in recent years. Florida began using a different drug after it was unable to get more midazolam from its supplier, and Arizona did so as part of a settlement after a 2014 execution using the drug lasted for nearly two hours, one of the longest in American history.
Oklahoma’s history of killing prisoners has been particularly plagued by errors.
In 2014, Clayton D. Lockett appeared to writhe in pain after the medical staff failed to make sure that the midazolam sedative flowed into his bloodstream; his execution was called off but he nonetheless died 43 minutes later of a heart attack. In the state’s next execution, of Charles F. Warner in 2015, officials mistakenly used the wrong drug to stop his heart. The combination of mistakes led to a six-year pause on executions in the state before the problematic execution of John Marion Grant in October.
Mr. Grant, who had been convicted of fatally stabbing a prison cafeteria worker, appeared to vomit or regurgitate and, in the account of reporters who witnessed his death, convulsed about two dozen times after being injected with midazolam. At the time, the state’s prisons chief, Scott Crow, said that the execution was “not pleasant to watch” but that he believed it was nonetheless humane.
A ruling in favor of the prisoners would, at least temporarily, block Oklahoma from carrying out additional executions using the current combination of drugs, but would not halt other states from doing so. About half a dozen states used midazolam as part of the lethal injection mixture in their most recent execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. If the plaintiffs are successful, Oklahoma would almost certainly appeal the ruling, sending the case to an appellate court, and potentially to the Supreme Court.
The state has executed three people with the use of midazolam over the past three months, none of whom reacted similarly to Mr. Grant. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they expected that a ruling in Oklahoma’s favor would lead the state to quickly schedule executions among the 40 people currently on death row.
The judge was not expected to issue a ruling for at least a month, after an additional brief from lawyers on each side.
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