Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Police departments are solving far fewer crimes than they did before pandemic

The F.B.I. released data this fall that gives us a glimpse of how policing in America has changed since the disruption of the pandemic years. The evidence is clear: Police departments across the country are solving far fewer crimes than they did before 2020, reported The New York Times.

The clearance rates — essentially the percentage of crimes leading to arrests — for violent or property crimes have dropped to their lowest levels since the F.B.I. started tracking them in the 1960s (though lower arrest standards probably drove the high clearance rates in the 1960s and 1970s).

In 2022 police departments, on average, solved only 37 percent of violent crimes, just over half of murders and nonnegligent manslaughters and only 12 percent of property crimes.

While headlines tend to focus on falling clearance rates in large liberal cities, the decline occurred nationwide in both red and blue cities, counties and states. The violent crime clearance rate, for example, fell considerably between 2019 to 2022 in big cities, which tend to be led by Democrats, as well as in small cities and suburban and rural counties, which tend to be led by Republicans.

Rising crime rates are unlikely to be the culprit. More crime could certainly lead to lower clearance rates — if a department makes the same number of arrests but crime doubles, then the clearance rate would fall as a matter of mathematics — but in fact, the F.B.I. reports that violent crimes fell between 2020 and 2022.

The exact causes of the decline in arrests are difficult to pinpoint, but the timing is clearly tied to the summer of 2020, suggesting that changes in policing and America’s dwindling confidence in law enforcement since the killing of George Floyd played a role.

Sentencing and judicial reform tend to make up the bulk of our policy responses to crime and policing, but this new data suggests that increasing the share of crimes that are solved — especially violent crimes — should be a major focus of policymakers nationwide.

Studies of crime and punishment have shown that a police force’s ability to solve crimes is more effective in deterring crimes than the severity of punishment.

If you were considering stealing a car, the primary factors guiding your choice probably aren’t the charges you’d receive or the time you’d serve if convicted. Instead, you’d be more concerned with the immediate question of witnesses, anti-theft devices and cameras that might bring the police to your doorstep. Moreover, imprisonment may even increase the chance a person will go on to commit crimes after being released.

Unfortunately, police departments are struggling in their efforts to improve their crime-solving abilities.

Many police departments — especially in cities — are much smaller than they were before the pandemic. Low morale and extreme stresses in the departments have led to high levels of resignations among older and more experienced officers and significantly fewer recruits to replace them. This year the number of police officers in New Orleans reached its lowest level since the 1940s, and the numbers in Los Angeles and Seattle declined to levels not seen in decades.

Having fewer officers available to respond to the scene of a crime means fewer clues, fewer witnesses and fewer tips for detectives to go on. It also means significantly longer response times, leaving clues to grow stale and witnesses to disappear before officers arrive.

Staffing shortages also trickle down to the investigative work that happens in offices and labs long after a crime has been committed. For a long time, conventional wisdom pointed to factors beyond the control of law enforcement — such as whether a witness was present or whether physical evidence was left behind — as the primary drivers of solving crimes. The work of the investigator was perceived to matter less.

But newer research from a criminologist, Anthony A. Braga, presents a clear connection between the amount of investigative resources dedicated to a crime and the likelihood of its being solved. It may seem obvious, but it takes bodies, time and sustained effort to work a case.

Another important factor is the change in national attitude toward the police in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s murder in 2020. Polling from Gallup shows that public support for the police has fallen significantly over the past few years. This year only 43 percent of people said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the police — a 10 percentage point drop from 2019.

The solution to this problem is not as simple as hiring more police officers, especially considering the challenging hiring environment for police departments. Agencies should consider improving their clearance rates by employing more current officers as investigators.

Some agencies have also begun to hire more civilians to help. Civilians can respond to low-level incidents that don’t require an officer, take reports over the phone and aid investigators in solving cases. Civilians are easier and cheaper to hire than officers. They reduce officers’ workloads, allowing agencies to dedicate more time to improving investigations.

An unsolved crime cuts twice: It erodes people’s trust in law enforcement and could encourage others to commit similar offenses. It should be in the interest of all Americans for as many crimes as possible — especially heinous violent crimes — to be solved. It’s unclear whether the recent decline in clearance rates will be permanent, but we should consider the drop to be an early warning sign that police effectiveness nationwide may be in decline.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, December 4, 2023

Anti-doxxing law could interfere with outing right-wing extremist

Arguably the most powerful weapon of anti-fascist groups in the Northwest is information, reported Oregon Capital Chronicle. 

Anonymous squads of amateur detectives — parts of groups with names like Stumptown Research Collective, FashFreeNW and Corvallis Antifa — spend months trying to sniff out the identities of those they consider right-wing extremists. 

They pore through photos looking for clues — a ring on a finger, a flash of a recognizable tattoo — and match them with old social media accounts or other sources. And then they “dox” them — short for “releasing documents — exposing their real identities, along with a variety of personal information online. 

In May, for instance, a coalition of anti-fascist groups throughout the West Coast posted to their website an extensive dossier on the man they claim is the heavily tattooed neo-Nazi leader of Evergreen Active Club, a hate group in eastern Washington. 

They directed their readers to the phone number for the construction company he works for. (“Let them know they are employing a Nazi gang leader.”) They pointed to not only his home address, but the emails and phone numbers for his partner’s mom and stepfather. (“Please reach out to them to make sure they know their daughter is a Nazi.”)

Even on the left, doxxing can be controversial — some argue it’s vigilantism, while others see it as the most effective nonviolent weapon they have to fight back against extremists. 

But thanks to a new Washington state law, this type of activism may run the risk of getting anti-fascists sued by the very neo-Nazis they’re exposing. This legislation was pushed by another group dedicated to exposing racists and antisemites — the Anti-Defamation League, a national anti-hate organization. 

“The Anti-Defamation League had witnessed extremists using doxxing tactics to intimidate and harass,” said the law’s sponsor, Washington state Sen. Drew Hansen. “I asked how I could be helpful in efforts to fight back against antisemitism and hate, and this was a proposal that they had been working on.” 

Hansen’s bill, which took effect this July, doesn’t charge doxxers with a crime. It allows people to sue a doxxer if they were harmed — stalked, injured, threatened or criminally harassed — potentially winning $5,000 per violation, plus damages and attorney fees. 

Hansen believes the bill is written narrowly enough that it shouldn’t worry anyone whose intentions aren’t malicious. 

“My bill deals with doxxing only where you actually intend that someone is going to use the information to harm the person or you recklessly disregard that threat,” said Hansen, a Bainbridge Island Democrat. 

Additionally, unlike the similar law passed in Oregon in 2021, Washington’s anti-doxxing law contains explicit protections for journalists. But it’s also notably broader than Oregon’s, allowing people to sue for showing “reckless disregard” of the risk of harassment for publishing personal information, instead of just malicious intent. 

“It seems to me it very well could limit what you call ‘research into extremism,’” Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh, now the state Republican Party chair from Aberdeen, told the ADL during a hearing about the legislation. 

Stephen Paolini, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Pacific Northwest office, told InvestigateWest that groups like his are safe. But he said it is possible that tactics like “‘you should call this person or show up at their house and tell them why you hate Nazis’” could create the kind of harassment that could get you sued under the law. 

He doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. 

“As much as I may align with the goal of calling out Nazis, if you’re doing it in a way that’s opening people up to death threats, or bodily injury or stalking, that’s a problem,” Paolini said. 

In Washingon and Oregon, Paolini said, the anti-doxxing bills had support from “labor unions, advocates for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, law enforcement, marginalized communities groups, and many others.” 

Still, some activists worry that these laws will be weaponized against those trying to expose extremists or oppose politicians. 

Portland-based journalist Shane Burley, editor of a recent collection of essays from anti-fascist researchers, said the anti-doxxing laws are “scary” and “irresponsible.” 

“It’s a profound misunderstanding of the problem,” he said. “And it will be used against journalists and activists.”

To read me CLICK HERE

Sunday, December 3, 2023

No presidential immunity for Donald Trump

The federal judge overseeing former US President Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case ruled that Trump cannot dismiss the four criminal charges pending against him through a claim of presidential immunity, reported Jurist. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan refuted Trump’s claim that, as US president, he enjoyed “absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions performed within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his official responsibility.” Chutkan instead found that “[f]ormer Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability.”

Trump initially filed a motion to dismiss the case based on presidential immunity on October 5. In his motion, Trump claimed that he enjoyed “absolute immunity” from criminal prosecution for any official conduct he undertook as president. Under that argument, Trump claimed that his actions on January 6, 2021 lay “at the heart of his official responsibilities as President.” Trump argued, “[T]he prosecution does not, and cannot, argue that [his] efforts to ensure election integrity, and to advocate for the same, were outside the scope of his duties.” The government responded, disputing Trump’s claims, in their motion on October 19.

In her Friday decision, Chutkan disagreed with Trump’s reading of the law and denied the motion to dismiss.

Chutkan began by addressing Trump’s argument that a reading of the US Constitution supports presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Trump’s claims rested—in part—on an argument that, under the Impeachment Judgment Clause of the US Constitution, he could only be charged on crimes that he has also been impeached and convicted of in Congress. Chutkan disagreed with this assertion, finding that “nothing in the Constitution’s text supplies the immunity that [Trump] claims.” Chutkan explained, “There is no evidence that any of the Constitution’s drafters or ratifiers intended or understood former Presidents to be criminally immune unless they had been impeached and convicted, much less a widespread consensus that the Impeachment Judgment Clause would have that effect.”

Trump also raised concerns about the “chilling effect personal liability would have on the President’s decision-making” and the potential criminal prosecutions former presidents could face from federal, state and local officials. He argued that a president might be distracted or hesitant in carrying out his official duties if he knew of such a threat of prosecution.

But Chutkan dismissed his concerns because of the context of the case. Specifically, she said, “Those concerns do not carry the same weight in the context of a former President’s federal criminal prosecution.” In support of her finding, Chutkan referenced prior Supreme Court rulings from the Nixon era and emphasized that “a President ‘of integrity and reasonable firmness’ will not fear to carry out his lawful decision-making duties.”

Chutkan also found no merit to Trump’s claims that denying presidential immunity in this case would “open the floodgates” to further litigation. As Chutkan reasoned, her decision on the applicability of presidential immunity to this case applies to this case—and this case alone.

Chutkan ultimately concluded, “Every President will face difficult decisions; whether to intentionally commit a federal crime should not be one of them.” If she were to grant Trump’s request to dismiss, Chutkan reasoned, the public’s interest in “promoting respect for the law, deterring crime, protecting itself, and rehabilitating offenders” would be thwarted. For those reasons, Chutkan denied Trump’s motion to dismiss, resuming the push towards the March 4, 2024 trial date.

This case is one of four criminal trials—spanning 91 criminal charges—that Trump faces. He is charged with four obstruction charges for conspiring to and participating in efforts to overturn the 2020 US presidential results. He previously pleaded not guilty in August, and he continues to deny the charges.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, December 1, 2023

Mangino appears on Law and Crime Network discussing YNW Melly trial

 Watch my interview on Law and Crime Network CLICK HERE

DPIC issues end of the year report on the death penalty

 (Washington, D.C.) This year marked the ninth consecutive year where fewer than 30 people were executed (24) and fewer than 50 people were sentenced to death (21) as of December 1, 2023, the lowest number of states that executed and imposed new death sentences in 20 years. The majority of states, 29, have now either abolished the death penalty or have paused executions by executive action.   

The increase in executions from 18 in 2022 to 24 in 2023 can be attributed to Florida’s return to executions after a lengthy pause as its governor launched a presidential campaign. Florida’s six executions were the state’s highest number since 2014, and it imposed five new death sentences, the highest number of any state this year. 

Read “The Death Penalty in 2023: Year End Report” here:

For the first time, the Gallup poll reported that more Americans (50%) believe that the death penalty is administered unfairly than fairly (47%). Relatedly, a growing number of conservative state lawmakers and some pro-death penalty elected officials publicly supported prisoners with innocence claims, including Richard Glossip in Oklahoma, and raised new concerns about the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty itself. 

“The data show that most Americans no longer believe the death penalty can be imposed fairly,” said Robin M. Maher, DPIC’s executive director. “That important change can also be seen in the unprecedented show of support for death-sentenced prisoners from conservative lawmakers and elected officials this year, some of whom now oppose use of the death penalty in their state.”  

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away most petitions from death-sentenced prisoners, even those with strong claims of innocence, focusing attention on the need for adequate state procedures. Three death row prisoners were exonerated in 2023. With DPIC’s ongoing research uncovering two additional exonerations, the number of U.S. death row exonerations since 1972 rose to 195. 

The death penalty continues to be geographically isolated with only five states -- Alabama (2), Florida (6), Missouri (4), Oklahoma (4), and Texas (8) -- conducting executions this year, tying 2016 with the lowest number of states in 20 years. Together, Texas and Florida accounted for more than half of this year’s 24 executions. 

Only seven states -- Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas -- sentenced people to death, also tying the lowest number of states of the past 20 years. The federal government secured its first new death sentence since 2019 (Robert Bowers), but another federal capital trial resulted in a life sentence (Sayfullo Saipov). 

Most of the prisoners who were executed in 2023 would likely not have been sentenced to death if tried today due to significant changes in the law, prosecutorial decision-making, and public attitudes over the past few decades. Today, they would have powerful arguments for life sentences and decisions from juries who better understand the effects of mental illness, developmental impairments, and severe trauma. 79% of the people executed this year had at least one of the following impairments: serious mental illness; brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the range considered intellectually disabled; and/or chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect and/or abuse. One-third or eight of the people executed had all three. At least three prisoners were under the age of 20 at the time of their crimes. 

As has been historically true, prisoners of color were overrepresented among those executed and cases with white victims were more likely to be executed. Nine of the 24 prisoners executed were people of color. The vast majority of crimes for which defendants were executed this year (79%) involved white victims. 

Also today, DPIC released “Compromised Justice: How A Legacy of Racial Violence Informs Missouri’s Death Penalty Today” at It is the third in a series of reports detailing how histories of racial injustice inform the current use of capital punishment in an individual state. 

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to serve the media, policymakers, and the general public with data and analysis on issues concerning capital punishment and the people it affects. DPIC does not take a position on the death penalty itself but is critical of problems in its application.

Oklahoma carries out the 24th and final execution of 2023

 The 24th Execution of 2023

Oklahoma executed 59-year-old death row inmate Phillip Hancock on November 30, 2023. He was sentenced to death for the 2001 double murder of Robert Jett and James Lynch, according to CNN

Hancock – who had claimed the killings were done in self-defense – was pronounced dead at 11:29 a.m., the statement from corrections director Steven Harpe said.

Hancock’s execution went ahead Thursday morning after Gov. Kevin Stitt declined to halt it despite a recommendation by the state’s parole board that he receive clemency, Hancock’s attorneys said in a statement.

CNN has reached out to the governor’s office for comment. Stitt was not bound by the recommendation of the board, which voted 3-2 in favor of clemency at a hearing earlier this month.

On Thursday, following the execution, Jett’s brother said the families felt they had finally received justice after more than two decades.

“Our families have been waiting 22 years. Two families,” Ryan Jett said, according to CNN affiliate KOCO. “We’ve waited a long time for justice to be served, and it was served.”

Hancock’s attorneys and his advocates – including two GOP state legislators – had argued he killed Robert Jett and James Lynch in a clear-cut case of self-defense, alleging the two victims were known outlaws who attacked an unarmed Hancock and tried to force him into a cage at Jett’s home in Oklahoma City. In a physical altercation, Hancock managed to get control of Jett’s gun and then fatally shot the two men, according to Hancock’s clemency petition.

“We are profoundly sad that Oklahoma executed Phil for protecting himself from a violent attack,” Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Hancock, said in a statement Thursday. “This was a clear case of self-defense and the Governor and the state ignored a wealth of evidence showing that Phil was fighting for his life.”

Hancock’s execution is Oklahoma’s fourth in 2023, per a tally by the Death Penalty Information Center. The state originally intended to execute as many as nine death row inmates this year as part of a broader plan to execute 25 inmates over the course of about two years, beginning in August 2022.

That plan has not come to fruition as envisioned, however: In January, incoming GOP Attorney General Gentner Drummond asked the courts to slow the pace of executions, calling the initial schedule “unsustainable in the long run, as it is unduly burdening the DOC and its personnel,” given the training they need for it.

Additionally, several inmates had their execution dates rescheduled as a result of ongoing court proceedings, Richard Glossip chief among them. Glossip claims he’s innocent of the killing for which he’s supposed to be executed, and his supporters include a bipartisan group of dozens of Oklahoma state legislators, including GOP Reps. Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey.


Dugle and Humphrey had also backed Hancock’s self-defense claim. And while they say they support the death penalty, they have raised questions about whether it is being administered fairly. Indeed, for the first time in at least two decades, more Americans believe the death penalty is applied unfairly than it is fairly – 50% to 47%, respectively – polling published this month by Gallup showed.

“I am a person who believes in your right to defend yourself,” Humphrey said at a news conference at the state capitol in October to bring attention to Hancock’s case. He described it as one in which an unarmed person was attacked and fighting for his life when the killings occurred.

“From southeastern Oklahoma, we call that self-defense,” Humphrey said, adding it should not have resulted in Hancock being charged with murder. “We let you loose, we don’t even charge you … We as Oklahomans have a right to defend ourselves.”

Hancock’s conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal, and representatives for the state attorney general’s office argued against clemency at the parole hearing, KOCO reported. The evidence, they said, disproved Hancock’s self-defense claim.

“His unwillingness to recognize that fact and move towards forgiveness for the two lives he stole away should submit his fate,” Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett said.

Hancock testified that he had “no choice” but to defend himself, according to footage of the hearing provided by his attorneys.

“I was absolutely terrified for my life. I’ve never felt so alone,” Hancock told the board, calling that moment a “life-or-death situation I did not provoke in any way, whatsoever.”

“I absolutely regret with all of my heart that those men died as a result of the nightmare situation that they themselves created,” he said. “I did what I had to do to save my life.”

Members of both victims’ families testified to urge the parole board not to recommend clemency. Jett’s late parents were never the same after his killing, Ryan Jett told the board, adding, “I don’t claim that my brother was an angel by any means, but he did not deserve to be hunted down in the backyard and killed like a dog.”

Despite the board’s recommendation, Lynch’s brother was confident the execution would proceed as scheduled.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

LAPD uses Israeli company's technology to bolster surveillance

 LAPD has bolstered its online surveillance operations by adding another piece of technology to its roster. LAPD’s newest surveillance partner, Cobwebs Technologies, gathers data from your phone and social media activity and turns it into intelligence, reported KnockLA. The Israeli company’s surveillance software, which outsources much of their surveillance work to AI and machine learning, gives police warrantless access to your personal information. 

Cobwebs Technologies was founded in 2015 by former IDF special operatives Omri Timianker, Shay Attias, and former Mossad official Udi Levy. The company is part of the controversial billion-dollar surveillance industry in Israel, where the technology is often tested on Palestinians before being implemented elsewhere in the world. During a 2014 trip to Israel, LAPD’s top brass saw firsthand how Israel used drones, social media surveillance software, and automatic license plate readers. Within five years of the trip, the department would be using all three. This year, Cobwebs was acquired by private equity firm Spire Capital, which owns the surveillance companies GeoTime and PenLink. The company currently has several contracts with local and federal agencies including the Texas Department of Public Safety (who use it to track migrants), the IRS, and the Department of Homeland Security

LAPD purchased the nearly $200,000-per-year subscription to the technology in 2022 with the help of a $600,000 DHS grant that focuses on terrorism prevention in urban areas. Part of the purchase was a suite of over 50 digital tools, including surveillance and investigative software built by other companies. In the grant proposal for the technology,  LAPD said it would make it easier to share intelligence with federal police agencies. 

Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, banned accounts used by Cobwebs and labeled it a surveillance-for-hire company. In a 2021 report, Meta found that Cobwebs was being used to target activists, opposition politicians, and government officials in Hong Kong and Mexico. The report pushes back against the surveillance company’s claims that it tracks only criminals and terrorists.

It is not news that LAPD monitors your social media and surveils your online activity. It is also not news that your phone and computer are doing the same, sending you targeted ads based on the links you click and apps you use. Cobwebs can combine all of this data and turn it into intelligence for police with the help of two platforms: Tangles and Webloc. 

Tangles is Cobwebs’ marquee platform. It uses AI and machine learning to automate its surveillance capabilities. The software’s AI is continually searching, scraping, and extracting information from the public’s online activity. This includes monitoring geotags of geographic locations, social media posts, and online communities, including those on the dark web. 

Tangles allows police to create extremely detailed dossiers on people, either targeted by police or found by Cobwebs while scraping personal and online data. Per the company’s promotion material, the information it provides to police includes “locations, context, internal relations, group structures, [and] hierarchies,” as well as the influence of the target’s “social communities.” This data-driven profiling, as Cobwebs describes it, can infer a person’s social network, whether they are “likely perpetrators of violence,” and monitor changes in a person’s sentiment. Cobwebs says it can help police “prevent events before they occur.”

Cobwebs’ AI can also profile a person by using its deep image analysis to make “connections” the company claims are “invisible to the naked eye.” The software scans photos and videos to find connections in people’s faces and intentions in text and labels within those photos, labeling anything it deems suspicious. Cobwebs doesn’t elaborate on what connections the software makes or how it can assert intentions from an image. 

 To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Texas executes a man for 2001 murder of 5-year-old

 The 23rd Execution of 2023

Texas executed David Renteria on on November 16, 2023, for the 2001 murder of 5-year-old Alexandra Flores. Renteria, 53, was the eighth person executed in Texas this year and the second execution of day following the Alabama execution of Casey McWhorter, reported The Texas Tribune.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a late petition from Renteria's legal team just before his execution that alleged the El Paso District Attorney’s Office violated Renteria’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over case documents. Other legal efforts failed to halt the scheduled execution.

At 7 p.m., Renteria was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. He died 11 minutes later.

“To the victims of the family, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about that fateful event of that day and what transpired,” Renteria said as part of his final statement. “To the people that have shown compassion and that have been there for me you are my true family and I have been pleased. I am a man of many faults for those I have hurt and caused pain in their life, I beg for forgiveness.”

Cecilia Esparza, Renteria's sister, and three friends were present at the execution, according to the El Paso Times.

In 2003, Renteria was convicted of killing Alexandra while he was on probation for indecency with a child. Security camera footage showed a man who appeared to be Renteria leading the child out of an El Paso Walmart on Nov. 18, 2001, according to court documents. The girl was Christmas shopping with her family when she disappeared.

The next day, her partially-burned body was found in an alley 16 miles away from the Walmart. An autopsy found she was hit twice in the head and strangled by hand before being set on fire.

Alexandra's family, including her sister, Sandra Frausto, and brother, Ignacio Frausto, also attended the execution, according to the El Paso Times.

A jury sentenced Renteria to death. Five years later, after an automatic appeal resulted in the same conviction from an appeals court, Renteria again received a death sentence.

Renteria claimed Barrio Azteca gang members forced him to kidnap the child and dispose of her body, according to court documents, but he maintained that he did not murder the girl. Renteria said he feared for his family’s safety if he refused to help the gang members, whom he alleged murdered Alexandra.

After the El Paso District Attorney’s Office declined to turn over case files related to the murder to Renteria’s lawyers earlier this year — which the office had done for a previous capital case — his legal team asked District Court Judge Monique Velarde Reyes to postpone the execution. The El Paso District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Renteria’s attorneys argued that declining to produce documents related to the case, which they suspected contained information about the involvement of gang members in the crime, violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

On Aug. 29, Reyes granted that request, ordering the district attorney’s office to produce the documents and postponing Renteria’s Nov. 16 execution date indefinitely.

El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks appealed Reyes’ order, questioning if the district court judge has the authority to postpone the execution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest criminal appeals court — heard the appeal and overturned Reyes’ order, rescheduling Renteria’s execution date.

“Without a pleading before [Reyes] invoking a legitimate source of district-court jurisdiction, [Reyes] had no freewheeling jurisdiction to seek to safeguard Renteria’s Fourteenth Amendment rights," the appeals court wrote in its September order.

Renteria’s lawyers subsequently filed a petition for removal to bring the case in front of federal courts. Last month, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo denied Renteria’s motion.

 “We are basically saying we have been shut out of this equal protection claim that the El Paso district judge found had merit,” said Humphreys McGee, an assistant federal public defender in the Capital Habeas Unit, who represented Renteria.

Before his execution, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the motion on Thursday.

Renteria had another petition against the state over its use of expired drugs to kill prisoners. That petition was in front of the Criminal Court of Appeals.

The ongoing controversy has not stopped the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from extending the use-by dates of its lethal doses of pentobarbital, the only drug used in Texas executions, after retesting their potency levels. Similar legal challenges to halt executions in light of the practice have been unsuccessful this year.

To read more CLICK HERE

Mangino appears on Court TV to discuss the leading trials of the day

Watch my interview with Julie Grant on Court TV discussing the latest developments in the Alex Murdaugh case  and the coming trial of Richard Allen in the Delphi murders.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

Monday, November 27, 2023

No-Knock Raid: Castle Doctrine or Murder? Texas jury provide an answer

A jury in Texas convicted a man of murdering a local police officer in a case that pitted no-knock raids against the right to self-defense, reported Reason Magazine.

Marvin Guy, who waited in jail for over nine years before his trial, was found guilty of murdering Detective Charles Dinwiddie, whom Guy said he mistook for an intruder after a SWAT team in 2014 smashed his bedroom window and tried to break into his home with a battering ram during a 5:45 a.m. drug raid. The panel declined, however, to convict him of capital murder and instead opted for murder, meaning they did not agree—at least not unanimously—that Guy knew he was shooting at law enforcement.

The raid was the product of a no-knock warrant, which police pursued in response to a tip that Guy had been dealing cocaine, and which allowed them to break into Guy's apartment without first identifying themselves.

On May 9, 2014, before the sun rose, about two dozen officers arrived at Guy's residence. The team struggled to fully penetrate the door with their battering ram; something was blocking it from behind. One officer accidentally detonated his stun grenade, inflaming what was already a raid rapidly going awry.

Guy, who lived in a high-crime area, said he was woken up and assumed the police were criminals trying to break into his home. He had allegedly been on edge about such a situation: One of his neighbors had reportedly been victimized similarly a week before when an intruder choked her after forcing entry by way of her first-floor window. Guy allegedly hit four officers, killing Dinwiddie and prompting police to fire over 40 rounds in return.

The prosecution, however, theorized that Guy had somehow come to know the police were coming and that he'd set a trap to "ambush" them. "One man's ambush is another man panicked, being scared his home is being broken into," countered Jon Evans, Guy's defense attorney.

Key to the defense's case were the frenzied circumstances characteristic of many no-knock raids—namely that it was set in motion without warning and before dawn, when the target is likely to be disoriented. A witness for the government testified the first day that during such raids it was department policy to shine a light into the home so police could see in but the subject couldn't see out.

The prosecution concluded their case on Thursday with testimony from Dinwiddie's widow, Holly, in what was effectively a victim impact statement. "He had a zest for life," she said. "He woke up happy." The defense rested the same day after calling one witness: retired Killeen Police Department Commander Scott Meads, who conducted an administrative review of the raid and identified several tactical errors and concerns, including that the officers were confused over the apartment's layout.

Texas has the Castle Doctrine, the legal principle that entitles someone to stand their ground in their home if they perceive a deadly threat. That protection evaporates, however, if the person is engaged in illegal activity. Law enforcement allegedly found traces of white powder on Guy's apartment floor, in his car, and in the trash, though the government did not charge him with a drug crime.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Forced sterilization still utilized in much of Europe and U.S.

Forced sterilization, with its history of racism and eugenics, is banned under multiple international treaties, reported The New York Times. Thirty-seven European nations and the European Union have ratified the Istanbul Convention, which declares, without exception, that nonconsensual sterilization is a human rights violation.

The United States has signed but not ratified a separate treaty on the issue and sterilization laws vary by stateThere are many laws in the United States that allow forced sterilization of disabled people. Today, 31 states and Washington, D.C., have laws allowing forced sterilization of disabled people. Under these laws, a judge can decide whether to sterilize someone. This happens when the judge thinks the disabled person cannot make the decision on their own. The judge can order the sterilization if they think it is the best choice for the disabled person.

But a New York Times investigation found over a third of those countries have made exceptions, often for people that the government deems too disabled to consent. Some countries have banned the practice but not actually criminalized it. And records show that the Istanbul treaty’s official watchdog has repeatedly criticized governments for not doing enough to protect disabled people. 

The result is that people with intellectual disabilities — mostly women — are still being sterilized, even when it is not medically necessary.

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Saturday, November 25, 2023

Pennsylvania's 'Compassionate Release' law anything but compassionate

The current compassionate release statute in Pennsylvania purports to provide sick and aging incarcerated people with a way to spend the end of their life free from prison. In reality, it is so narrowly written that only 48 people have successfully used it in 14 years, according to Spotlight PA.

The law grants release only to those who are sick or older, cannot walk, and have less than a year to live.

Because of the narrow criteria, the state has received very few petitions since the legislature established the process in 2009. And in many cases, petitioners have died before their petitions came before a judge.

The process is obscure even to lawyers such as Trama who regularly defend clients in civil rights and defense cases. Before Caliman’s case, the attorney had never heard of it, much less represented an incarcerated person in a petition. Trama received a “huge lift,” she said, from ALC attorney Rupalee Rashatwar.

“I was terrified the entire time that we were going to be one day too late,” Trama said.

Rashatwar and the firm have driven the uptick in successful petitions in recent years. There were 24 petitions granted between 2009 and 2020, before ALC began its focused practice. Courts have granted release to 24 people in the past three years alone, with ALC representing nearly half of them. The firm now partners with Pennsylvania University law students to help file petitions.

But the small rise in successes still represents a fraction of the aging population receiving costly medical care for chronic and serious health conditions inside state prisons.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections incarcerates 10,300 people over the age of 50 who are considered elderly because lack of access to health care and atypical living conditions age them at a faster rate than those on the outside, according to state officials. These people account for more than a quarter of Pennsylvania’s prison population and there is a financial as well as human cost to keeping them incarcerated.

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Friday, November 24, 2023

Federal court strikes down Maryland's gun licensing law

 A U.S. appeals court declared that Maryland's licensing requirements for people seeking to buy handguns were unconstitutional, citing a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that expanded gun rights, reported Reuters.

A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote blocked enforcement of a 2013 Maryland law that required people to undergo training and background checks before applying for licenses to buy handguns, saying it violated the right to "keep and bear arms" under the U.S. 

The Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen required gun laws to be "consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation" in order to survive a Second Amendment challenge.

"Maryland has not shown that this regime is consistent with our nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation," U.S. Circuit Judge Julius Richardson, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

Richardson called the Maryland law an "additional, preliminary step" that subjected law-abiding people to a 30-day waiting period before they could begin the usual process to acquire a firearm through a separate background check system.

Randy Kozuch, the executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legal Action, its lobbying arm, called it "a significant ruling for the Second Amendment and every American who cherishes our constitutional freedoms."

The NRA backed the lawsuit that challenged the law and covered the legal costs of the litigation, an NRA spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Andrew Brown, a Democrat who is defending the law, said his office was "weighing options for next steps in this case."

At issue was a handgun qualification licensing requirement adopted as part of Maryland's Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a broader gun control measure.

Prospective handgun buyers were required to submit fingerprints for a background investigation and take a four-hour-long safety training course. They would then wait up to 30 days before undergoing the rest of the usual process to buy a gun.

A gun rights group called Maryland Shall Issue sued in 2016 along with two individuals and a gun store, arguing that the restrictions violated the Second Amendment. But a lower court judge twice rejected their claims, prompting the appeal.

Richardson on Tuesday said the Supreme Court in 2022 "effected a sea change in Second Amendment law" when it struck down New York state's limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The test set out under that ruling has led to a series of court decisions striking down federal and state restrictions on firearms.

Maryland had said its law mirrored historical limitations on "dangerous" people owning firearms. But Richardson said no historical laws worked by "preemptively depriving all citizens of firearms to keep them out of dangerous hands."

U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, an appointee of Democratic former President Barack Obama, dissented, saying the court majority's reasoning "would render presumptively unconstitutional most non-discretionary laws in this country requiring a permit to purchase a handgun."

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Thursday, November 23, 2023

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving was actually not really celebrated as a regular national holiday until the Civil War, and even then, there was a lot of contention surrounding where and when that Thanksgiving actually happened, according to Before then, a national day of giving thanks was declared by the president of the United States.

What can be considered the first U.S. Thanksgiving holiday came in 1777, as a celebration for the Continental Army's surprise victory against the British at the Battle of Saratoga. At the request of the Continental Congress, George Washington declared the day in December.

In April 1789, Washington became the first president of the United States, and by October, he declared Nov. 26 to be the country's first Thanksgiving Day to celebrate God's assistance in the war for independence. He would declare another in 1795, during his second term.

Future presidents adopted the right to declare days of Thanksgiving. James Madison declared a national Thanksgiving to recognize the end of the War of 1812. By 1846, a movement of Americans began to call for a permanent national Thanksgiving holiday, a movement that didn't catch on until a large part of the country was trying not to be part of the country.

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. It was a means of thanking the almighty for what success that Union cause saw as the war began to turn in its favor. He was also grateful that foreign powers had not intervened for the southern cause.

The new holiday took the place of Evacuation Day, which was celebrated nationally despite not being an actual recognized holiday. It began as a local celebration of the British evacuation from Manhattan Island.

But even though Thanksgiving was a holiday intended to bring Americans together, it initially ignited a culture war before Lincoln even made it a holiday. One of the staple foods of the movement to create the new holiday was pumpkin pie, a New England tradition. Southerners saw pumpkin pie as an act of aggression to impart northern values on the South.

After the war, President Ulysses S. Grant made Thanksgiving a national holiday for Washington but left it to governors to declare the holidays in their states. Few former Confederates forgot the North's pumpkin-pie aggression, and many refused to acknowledge it. It took a long time for Thanksgiving to catch on. Still, U.S. presidents would declare the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving year after year.

What finally bridged the divide between North and South on Thanksgiving Day? Football. Although the Green Bay Packers wouldn't be founded until 1919 and the Detroit Lions wouldn't appear until 1929, it was high school and college football rivalries toward the end of November that finally made the South give in to giving thanks. That tradition brings us together to this day. 

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the most infamous crime of the 20th Century

Just minutes after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot as his motorcade rolled through downtown Dallas, Associated Press reporter Peggy Simpson rushed to the scene and immediately attached herself to the police officers who had converged on the building from which a sniper's bullets had been fired, reported ABC News.

“I was sort of under their armpit,” Simpson said, noting that every time she was able to get any information from them, she would rush to a pay phone to call her editors, and then “go back to the cops.”

Simpson, now 84, is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination on Wednesday.

“A tangible link to the past is going to be lost when the last voices from that time period are gone,” said Stephen Fagin, curator at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which tells the story of the assassination from the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald's sniper's perch was found.

“So many of the voices that were here, even 10 years ago, to share their memories — law enforcement officials, reporters, eyewitnesses — so many of those folks have passed away," he said.

Simpson, former U.S. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill and others are featured in “JFK: One Day in America,” a three-part series from National Geographic released this month that pairs their recollections with archival footage, some of which has been colorized for the first time. Director Ella Wright said that hearing from those who were there helps tell the “behind the scenes” story that augments archival footage.

“We wanted people to really understand what it felt like to be back there and to experience the emotional impact of those events,” Wright said.

People still flock to Dealey Plaza, which the presidential motorcade was passing through when Kennedy was killed.

“The assassination certainly defined a generation," Fagin said. “For those people who lived through it and came of age in the 1960s, it represented a significant shift in American culture.”

On the day of the assassination, Simpson had originally been assigned to attend an evening fundraising dinner for Kennedy in Austin. With time on her hands before she needed to leave Dallas, she was sent to watch the presidential motorcade, but she wasn't near Dealey Plaza.

Simpson had no idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened until she arrived at The Dallas Times Herald's building where the AP's office was located. Stepping off an elevator, she heard a newspaper receptionist say, “All we know is that the president has been shot," and then heard the paper's editor briefing the staff.

She raced to the AP office in time to watch over the bureau chief's shoulder as he filed the news to the world, and then ran out to the Texas School Book Depository to track down more information.

Later, at police headquarters, she said, she witnessed “just a wild, crazy chaotic, unfathomable scene.” Reporters had filled the hallways where an officer walked through with Lee Harvey Oswald 's rifle held aloft. The suspect's mother and wife arrived, and at one point authorities held a news conference where Oswald was asked questions by reporters.

“I was just with a great mass of other reporters, just trying to find any bit of information,” she said.

Two days later, Simpson was covering Oswald's transfer from police headquarters to the county jail, when nightclub owner Jack Ruby burst forth from a gaggle of news reporters and shot the suspect dead.

As police officers wrestled with Ruby on the floor, Simpson rushed to a nearby bank of phones “and started dictating everything I saw to the AP editors,” she said. In that moment, she was just thinking about getting out the news.

“As an AP reporter, you just go for the phone, you can’t process anything at that point,” she said.

Simpson said she must have heard the gunshot but she can’t remember it.

“Probably Ruby was 2 or 3 feet away from me but I didn’t know him, didn’t see him, didn’t see him come out from the crowd of reporters,” she said.

Simpson's recollections are included in an oral history collection at the Sixth Floor Museum that now includes about 2,500 recordings, according to Fagin.

The museum curator said Simpson is “a terrific example of somebody who was just where the action was that weekend and got caught up in truly historic events while simply doing her job as a professional journalist."

Fagin said oral histories are still being recorded. Many of the more recent ones have been with people who were children in the '60s and remembered hearing about the assassination while at school.

“It's a race against time really to try to capture these recollections,” Fagin said.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Trump wins another 14th Amendment ballot challenge

After several days of trial involving multiple witnesses and other evidence, a Colorado state court became the fifth to reject an effort to keep Donald Trump off a state presidential ballot under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, a post-Civil War addition to the Constitution ratified in 1868, reported The Bulwork. It provides: “No person shall . . . hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath . . . as an officer of the United States . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Because the Colorado case involved lengthy testimony and detailed findings of fact and rulings on the meaning of Section 3, the 102-page decision is worth summarizing at some length. Clearly, Colorado District Judge Sarah B. Wallace wrote with an expectation that judges at higher state courts and likely even the U.S. Supreme Court would wind up studying her analysis on an appeal petition.

Here’s what other courts have ruled thus far about Trump and Section 3:

  • Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a bid to keep Trump off the state’s primary ballot, but for a different reason than Wallace’s: that “there is no state statute that prohibits a major political party from placing on the presidential nomination primary ballot . . . a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.” Translated, the Republican party is fully in charge of who gets on the primary ballot. Yet Minnesota Chief Justice Natalie Hudson noted that the plaintiffs could file another suit later to keep Trump off the general election ballot should he win the Republican primary in Minnesota.
  • In Michigan, Court of Claims Judge James Redford took a different route altogether, ruling that courts have no business deciding what Section 3 means because it’s a “political question” that exclusively belongs to Congress. (The political question doctrine is a made-up rule the Supreme Court uses if it just doesn’t want to wade into sticky political issues like crafting the technical rules governing an impeachment trial, for example.) However, if Trump wins the general election, Redford added, his eligibility under Section 3 could be revisited, and if he’s then determined ineligible, the Twentieth Amendment—which provides for the vice president-elect to become president if a president-elect dies before taking the oath of office—could somehow kick in.
  • In New Hampshire, a federal judge ruled in October that John Anthony Castro, an unknown presidential candidate from Texas who has initiated over two dozen Section 3 lawsuits across the country, did not have standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution—meaning he lacked a sufficient injury to bring the matter within Article III’s “case” or “controversy” requirement that gives federal courts jurisdiction in the first place. The judge wrote: “Castro has not established that he has or will suffer a political competitive injury arising from Trump’s participation in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.” In addition, he agreed with the Michigan state court judge that the matter is probably a “political question” that’s for elected politicians—not judges—to decide.
  • Finally, in Florida, another federal judge dismissed a case for lack of standing in September. The plaintiff in that case was an individual citizen who, the judge ruled, had no legal basis to complain about another person’s running for office. A “generalized interest” in the election outcome is not enough of an injury to invoke the power of the courts.

All these cases will undoubtedly be appealed.

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