Sunday, December 31, 2023

Mangino provides trial analysis on Law and Crime Network

Watch my interview with Michel Bryant on the Law and Crime Network discussing the Kowalski civil trial.

 To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Trump will remain on the Callifornia ballot

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber  included former President Donald Trump’s name on the list of candidates certified to run in the state’s presidential primary, bucking several other blue states that are seeking to bar him from running, reported Politico.

Weber’s release of the list of candidates Thursday evening means Trump will appear on the ballot in California’s presidential primary on March 5. Weber’s decision came the same day that Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows declared him ineligible to run for president because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, and a week after Colorado’s Supreme Court reached the same conclusion.

Several elected Democrats had tried to remove him from the California ballot, including Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who sent Weber a letter last week urging her to “explore every legal option” to keep him off. Weber had pushed back on Kounalakis’ letter, telling her that “it is more critical than ever to safeguard elections in a way that transcends political divisions.”

Democratic state Sen. Dave Min, an Orange County congressional candidate, had said he would introduce a bill letting California residents sue to block ineligible candidates — although given the legislative calendar, it is all but impossible for such a measure to be passed and take effect in time to apply to the March 5 presidential primary.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had signaled wariness of the attempts, issuing a statement last week warning fellow Democrats of getting ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is almost certain to be the final arbiter of whether Trump can serve as president again.

“There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a threat to our liberties and even to our democracy,” he said, “but in California, we defeat candidates at the polls. Everything else is a political distraction.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, December 29, 2023

Homicide rates take a tumble in 2023

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions . . . that urban downtowns are out of control 

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s, reported The New York Times. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

In a country awash in guns, the normal that many cities are returning to is still a violent one, with the biggest still enduring hundreds of fatal shootings a year. And some cities are bucking the positive trend, including Washington, where the murder toll continues a grim multiyear climb. The homicide tally this year is the highest in two decades, and there have been more than 900 carjacking incidents.

Washington is an exception this year even in the Mid-Atlantic region. Baltimore is on track to report the fewest murders in nearly a decade, and Philadelphia to post a homicide count more than 25 percent below its 2021 record of 562.

Several community activists in Philadelphia attributed the surge of violence in recent years to the sudden vacuum of civic resources at the onset of the pandemic. “We got to see what happens when there are no programs available,” said Jonathan Wilson, who runs the Fathership Foundation, a nonprofit in southwest Philadelphia.

Schools, recreation centers and libraries were closed, and grass-roots groups like his were not equipped to fill the gaps. But the city’s budget last year included more than $150 million for anti-violence efforts, some of it in the form of grants to organizations that could match teenagers with jobs or provide safe places for students after school.

The city of Detroit is on track to record the lowest number of homicides since 1966, a remarkable milestone even given its substantially smaller population today. Local officials credited an aggressive effort to jump-start the criminal justice system, which had largely stalled in the pandemic.

“We know why violent crime soared in America,” said Mayor Mike Duggan at a news conference this month. “The criminal courts shut down. You couldn’t put 12 jurors in a room.”

Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department said that while he was encouraged to see such steady declines in violent crime — murder and rape are down markedly and robbery is down slightly this year — the city was struggling with property crime. Burglaries, car thefts and personal theft are all up substantially.

In Los Angeles, much of the decline in murders comes from a drop in the number of killings of homeless people; in both 2021 and 2022, more than 90 homeless people were killed, according to Crosstown, a nonprofit news outlet. So far this year, 35 fewer homeless people have been killed, a 55 percent reduction, according to Chief Moore. While the trend is encouraging, he said, violence in L.A., like in many cities, is still up compared with just before the pandemic.

“We still have far too much violence and we have more work to do when we look at the pre-Covid period,” he said.

To read more CLICK HERE


Thursday, December 28, 2023

The 'Trump bump' influences true-crime podcasts

True crime is among the most popular genres in podcasting. One of the biggest stories in the coming months is the wave of criminal charges facing former President Donald J. Trump, reported The New York Times.

The result: a boomlet of podcasts dedicated to the criminal cases against him.

MSNBC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, Vox Media and The First TV, an upstart conservative media company, have all introduced or are about to start new shows examining Mr. Trump’s courtroom travails as he campaigns to win back the White House.

On MSNBC’s “Prosecuting Donald Trump,” the legal commentators Andrew Weissmann and Mary McCord offer analysis gleaned from their years serving as prosecutors. A recent episode of “Breakdown,” from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, includes a newsy interview with Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney. Recently on “Trump’s Trials,” the NPR host Scott Detrow discussed whether Mr. Trump could claim presidential immunity.

The criminal charges against Mr. Trump — brought by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia, as well as in two federal indictments — involve allegations of election interference, his role in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, his handling of sensitive documents and payments to cover up a sex scandal. Mr. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Many of the hosts interviewed by The New York Times cited the newsworthiness of the story — a former president and a leading candidate for the office is facing a legal onslaught while battling for the White House — as the impetus to go wall to wall with dedicated podcasts.

“He is the far and away front-runner to the nomination and has a real chance of being president again,” Mr. Detrow said. “That, to me, is an enormous legal story, an enormous political story.”

But there is a significant potential economic upside as well: capturing a slice of the $2.4 billion that advertisers are expected to spend on podcasts in 2024, according to the data firm eMarketer. For years, news organizations have benefited financially from the public’s interest in Mr. Trump — colloquially known as the “Trump bump.”

“The number of users is up, but the number of people vying for those users in terms of dollars is also way up,” said Chris Balfe, founder of The First TV.

Mr. Trump’s legal challenges present an unusual twist on the true-crime genre, which often focuses on grisly murders or dramatic heists. “Serial,” a podcast from the creators of “This American Life,” was a pioneer of the category, which has also included entrants like “Exit Scam” (about a vanished cryptocurrency mogul) and “Last Seen,” a suspenseful yarn about the theft of 13 irreplaceable artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (The New York Times Company now owns Serial Productions, maker of “Serial.”)

The Trump cases, by contrast, involve complicated questions about the Constitution and democracy. Adding to the complexity: They span state and federal jurisdictions in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Podcasts are an ideal format to explain the nuances to the public, because they give journalists the time and space to examine complicated issues at length, Mr. Balfe said. They also allow news organizations to create a listener destination for coverage quickly and relatively inexpensively, with two mics and a simple distribution feed for Spotify and Apple Podcasts, he said.

“You don’t have to go lease a beautiful studio on Sixth Avenue and hire a crew and all this other stuff,” Mr. Balfe said. “A podcast is a low-floor, high-ceiling way to start a new product. And if it works, it can be very successful, very quickly.”

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in Georgia, dedicated the latest season of its true-crime podcast, “Breakdown,” to the criminal investigation. Since then, it has been all Trump, all the time, with 22 episodes on the topic since August.

This year, the podcast garnered more than one million downloads, making it the newspaper’s most popular, finding audiences in Florida, California and New York, according to a spokeswoman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper also has three full-time reporters covering Mr. Trump’s case in Fulton County, where he faces 13 felony charges, including racketeering.

Tamar Hallerman, one of those reporters, co-anchors the podcast. She describes herself as a “recovering Washington correspondent.” (She was previously a reporter at Roll Call.)

“All of these legal cases that Trump is in the middle of are already creating a unique set of circumstances for a leading presidential candidate,” said Ms. Hallerman, who covered the 2016 presidential campaign. “This is absolutely not business as usual for the campaign press corps.”

Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has dedicated much of one of his three podcasts for Vox Media to the criminal investigations facing Mr. Trump. Mr. Bharara has covered Mr. Trump’s legal issues since 2018, saying, “There’s really been no shortage of legal-based news.”

Yet “the dam broke” in April, he said, after Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, brought the first criminal charges against Mr. Trump.

“Every month or two, there was another one,” Mr. Bharara said. “And it became clear that that was going to be a central focus.”

Political coverage of Mr. Trump should focus on the criminal investigations into the former president, rather than traditional horse-race coverage, said Timothy Crouse, whose 1973 book, “The Boys on the Bus,” about the media’s coverage of the previous year’s presidential campaign, became a classic of the genre.

Investigative reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, not campaign reporters, did the most enduring political journalism of that era, Mr. Crouse said. At the time, many campaign reporters were skeptical of those stories. He added that sustained exploration of Mr. Trump’s criminal charges would probably follow the same pattern.

“Fewer political reporters might be OK, but only if that decrease were to be balanced by an increase in investigative reporters,” Mr. Crouse said.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Pennsylvania will finally provide state funding for indigent defense

Pennsylvania will finally provide state funding for local public defenders, leaving South Dakota as the only state not to fund indigent defense, according to the Sixth Amendment Center.

Earlier in the year, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro included $10 million for indigent defense in the annual budget (subsequently decreased to $7.5 million). However, this new funding could not be used without the state legislature passing a fiscal code allowing for it.

On December 13, the final day of the 2023 session, the legislature passed the fiscal code creating an indigent defense advisory group within the existing Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The indigent defense advisory group is tasked with proposing minimum statewide standards on qualifications and data collection, providing training, and awarding grants.

Looking back, Pennsylvania has long been on notice for failing to ensure effective representation:

·        A 1995 ABA-sponsored report concluded that Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) prevented the public defender’s office from providing constitutionally adequate representation through underfunding and neglect. 

A    A 2011 ACLU report concluded Allegheny County achieved no improvements in the intervening 16 years.

A 2002 NLADA report found that Venango County’s public defender office was understaffed and underfunded.

A 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System report found serious indigent defense deficiencies, including a prevalence of flat fee contracts creating disincentives to effective advocacy.

A 2003 Juvenile Law Center report found serious deficiencies in the delivery of indigent defense to juvenile defendants statewide.

A 2011 Joint State Government Task Force on Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants report found that the problems identified in the 2003 Supreme Court Committee remained.

A 2021 Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report found that Pennsylvania public defender offices lacked caseload controls.

To To read more CLICK HERE



Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Merry Christmas! President Biden pardons thousands for possession of marijuana

President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia, the White House said, in his latest round of executive clemencies meant to rectify racial disparities in the justice system, reported The Associated Press.

The categorical pardon builds on a similar round issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that pardoned thousands convicted of simple possession on federal lands eligible. Friday’s action broadens the criminal offenses covered by the pardon. Biden is also granting clemency to 11 people serving what the White House called “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

Biden, in a statement, said his actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality.”

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, December 22, 2023

Suspect can refuse to disclose cellphone passcode under Fifth Amendment

A suspect had a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to give police his cellphone passcode, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled, reported the ABA Journal.

In a Dec. 14 opinion citing that right, the state supreme court reversed the conviction of Alfonso Valdez for kidnapping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Prosecutors had elicited testimony at trial about Valdez’s refusal to provide his passcode and told jurors in closing arguments that the refusal undermined one of his defenses.

The Utah Supreme Court said prosecutors violated Valdez’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when they referred to his refusal, and the error was not harmless.

Ars Technica and the Salt Lake Tribune have coverage, while the Legal Profession Blog has highlights from the opinion.

Valdez’s ex-girlfriend told police that she agreed to meet Valdez outside her workplace after he said in a text he had some of her mail and wanted to give it to her. When the ex-girlfriend walked up to Valdez’s SUV, he pointed a gun at her and told her to get in his vehicle, she said. After she complied, Valdez allegedly assaulted her.

The defense claimed that the interaction was consensual.

Police weren’t able to locate the ex-girlfriend’s cellphone after the incident, but they seized Valdez’s cellphone to verify that he had sent the text. Police obtained a warrant to acquire the cellphone contents.

The Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination applies when a communication “is compelled, testimonial and incriminating,” the Utah Supreme Court said. On appeal, the state conceded that the password was compelled and incriminating but claimed that it was not testimonial in nature.

Providing a passcode, the state argued, is not a testimonial communication because it is like handing over a physical key, a nontestimonial act. The Utah Supreme Court disagreed.

Providing a cellphone passcode is testimonial and would explicitly communicate information from the suspect’s mind, making the revelation testimonial in nature, the state supreme court said.

The state also argued that, even if the password is testimonial, the Fifth Amendment does not apply under the “foregone conclusion” exception. It was a foregone conclusion that Valdez owned the phone and knew the password, the state argued, so turning over the passcode would disclose what police already knew.

But the foregone conclusion exception applies only in cases considering whether an “act of production,” such as turning over documents, has testimonial value, the Utah Supreme Court said. At issue is whether the act of production is testimonial in nature, as when producing the documents amounts to a concession that the documents exist and are controlled by the suspect.

“But here,” the Utah Supreme Court said, “we have a verbal communication that would have explicitly communicated information from Valdez’s mind, so we find the exception inapplicable.”

The state supreme court acknowledged that the “analytical framework” would be different if Valdez had been asked to hand over an unlocked cellphone, which would be a compelled act of producing evidence.

The Utah attorney general’s office told the Salt Lake Tribune in a statement that it is disappointed in the ruling and “is evaluating options for further review.”

In a post at the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin S. Kerr, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, said the decision “might be a good candidate for U.S. Supreme Court review” to clear up the “total mess” of lower court decisions on the issue. The state supreme court had cited Kerr’s law review articles in its opinion.

Weighing against cert, however, is that Valdez’s case concerns compelled disclosure of a password, rather than compelled unlocking of a cellphone. If the Supreme Court was to accept the case, “it might have to only answer the compelled disclosure issue, and then save the compelled unlocking issue for another day,” Kerr said.

The case is State of Utah v. Valdez.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Mangino talks with Nancy Grace on Crime Stories

 Listen to my interview with Nancy Grace on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace discussing the case of 13-year-old Derek Rosa accused of stabbing his mother to death.

 To listen in CLICK HERE

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

New York Parole Board denies 60 percent of eligible prisoners with little explanation

Over 10,000 people appear before New York’s parole board each year. Hearings are often rushed, lasting an average of 15 minutes. Commissioners are afforded wide discretion in how they decide cases, with little oversight or review. They decide to keep around 60 percent of parole seekers in prison.

New York Focus and Bolts reviewed dozens of parole board decisions and appeals. The decisions run as short as a single paragraph, providing parole seekers little guidance on how to win their release. Many repeat variations of the same vague phrases when denying release, many lifted directly from the state’s parole statute. Applicants are often informed that their release “is not compatible with the welfare of society,” for example, without explaining how the board arrived at that conclusion.

“They’re not giving people any clarity about what they can do to obtain parole the next time,” said Michelle Lewin, executive director of the Parole Preparation Project. “They’re not giving individualized reasons for denials, despite the fact that their own internal regulations demand that they do so.”

The parole board’s lack of transparency creates difficulties for applicants of all stripes. But it especially burdens parole seekers serving lengthy sentences for violent crimes. Despite decades of incarceration, these individuals face the very real possibility of dying in prison, even if they have demonstrated sincere growth and rehabilitation.

“I think it’s time that we gave people a chance to be productive citizens,” said Assemblymember David Weprin, a Democrat who has introduced legislation to increase the parole board’s transparency, “especially in the case when they’ve shown that … they’re not the same individuals that they were when they committed the crime 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”

Advocates for reform have sought to strengthen board oversight from every angle: legislation like Weprin’s, direct pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul, and cases before the Court of Appeals.

Last month, Appellate Advocates, a non-profit organization of public defenders, argued before the state’s highest court that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision should release the training documents it provides to board members. The documents include hypothetical decisions and sample language — all materials that parole advocates say could help incarcerated individuals understand how the board makes decisions and how to make the strongest case for release.

doccs has resisted, and argued in court that it should be allowed to shield the documents, in a dispute that has dragged on for over five years.

Jose Saldaña, the director of the Release Aging People in Prison campaign, described a similar experience with the board. He spent decades incarcerated in New York, in his case for the attempted murder of a New York City police sergeant when he was 27 years old. Though he had earned his associate degree and led several restorative justice and victim awareness programs, the parole board denied his release four times.

“We discussed these vague reasons … ‘Releasing you at the time would so deprecate the nature of the crime as to undermine respect for the law,’” Saldaña said. “What does that really mean?”

“Nobody knows what that means,” Steven Zeidman, director of the City University of New York School of Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic, told Bolts and New York Focus. Not even parole commissioners. Zeidman said commissioners apply the same language differently from one another, even when evaluating the same individual. “What’s the message to people inside preparing? How do you prepare?”

NEW YORK LAW requires board members to consider many enumerated factors in their decisions, but the commissioners frequently emphasize the nature of the parole seeker’s offense over their rehabilitation and growth while incarcerated. Their cases are often dismissed with terse lines like, “Your positive programming to date is noted.”

Reform-minded lawmakers have long supported Weprin’s bill, the Fair and Timely Parole Act, which would reduce the board’s opacity and limit some of the commissioners’ discretion. The legislation would eliminate the vague statutory language cited in board decisions and require commissioners to explain in “detailed, individualized, and non-conclusory terms” exactly why they decided to deny release. It would also require the board to issue a quarterly report that includes the reasons for each denial, which commissioners were assigned to each case, and how they voted.

The bill would establish a presumption that the board would grant parole once an applicant has served their minimum sentence. To deny release, parole commissioners would have to clearly articulate how a parole seeker threatens public safety.

Weprin first introduced the bill in 2017. Since then, three separate iterations have died in committee, where the 2023 version now sits. Dixon attributes the icy reception in Albany to upstate conservative legislators, whose constituents disproportionately benefit from employment opportunities in the prison system. “Upstate districts have a vested interest to keep this no-sense institution going,” he said.

Senator Patrick Gallivan, the chamber’s Republican minority whip, is a former parole commissioner who opposes the Fair and Timely Parole Act. His district encompasses Erie County’s Collins Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison employing hundreds of people. But he said his opposition to the bill has nothing to do with protecting upstate jobs.

Gallivan said the bill would limit the board’s ability to consider negative aspects of the parole seekers’ applications, such as their institutional records. He agrees with reformers that the Board of Parole has too much discretion — but he sees them stretching the rules to grant release, rather than keeping people in prison. Gallivan said that when he was a parole commissioner, he tried to set his biases as a former sheriff and state trooper aside and vote according to the law. He said he wants everyone on the board to do the same. Some commissioners say at their confirmation hearings that they will abide by the law, he said, but “the minute that they got sworn in, they said, ‘I don’t care what the law is. I’m here to release people and I’m going to.’”

Reform advocates have repeatedly called on Hochul to reform the parole system. As New York Focus and Bolts have previously reported, the board features zombie commissioners serving long past their terms have expired and a medical parole system that leaves most terminally ill people to die behind bars. The vacancies on the board have long afforded Hochul the opportunity to staff it with reformers. But Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative, said she does not expect Hochul to expend any of her political capital on the issue. Under Republican pressure, she noted, Hochul has supported other rollbacks to criminal justice reforms in recent years.

Hochul has pointed to fluctuations in crime and rearrest rates when backing down from other reforms. But Bertram claims that lenient parole policies don’t undermine public safety. She points to a federal study showing that people who commit violent offenses are the least likely to be rearrested after release. “The safest person you can release from prison is a murderer, especially someone that served 10 to 20 years,” said Bertram. “That’s just what the data shows.”

Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

FRUSTRATED BY New York’s legislative and executive branches, parole reformers have turned to the judiciary. The state’s courts have limited power to modify parole board decisions, but advocates hope they will at least compel the board to be more transparent.

At a November 15 Court of Appeals hearing, Appellate Advocates argued that the state’s Freedom of Information Law mandates the release of the board’s training documents.

doccs revealed the existence of the training materials in 2020 when they told Appellate Advocates they were withholding certain documents in response to a records request. Michael Higgins, assistant director of the University at Buffalo Law School Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic, says that administrative agencies routinely prepare interpretations of the law that govern what they do, but they often keep the interpretations secret. “Basically, they make up rules that are written down in their training documents or in manuals that the public can’t access,” he said. He says foil requires the release of those documents upon request.

At the hearing, doccs argued that foil does not extend to the training materials because a parole board lawyer prepared them, shielding them from disclosure under attorney-client privilege. (doccs declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.) Appellate Advocates countered that attorney-client privilege covers legal advice on real world scenarios, not abstract training documents.

While the Court of Appeals has shown signs of a leftward shift on some criminal-legal issues, it’s unclear whether the newly reconfigured court will flex its power on behalf of parole seekers. During oral argument, Associate Judge Shirley Troutman, a Hochul appointee, expressed concerns that ruling for Appellate Advocates would foist an “unreasonable burden upon trial courts” handling future disputes over attorney-client privilege. Even Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, the court’s liberal leader, said Appellate Advocates’ arguments had “frightening” implications for attorneys. The court scarcely touched on how its decision would impact incarcerated individuals.

For advocates like Dixon, obtaining the release of these documents would only be a first step. Achieving a truly transparent parole system would require wholesale changes, from data disclosure to board appointment procedures.

“The matrix itself needs to be dismantled,” Dixon said. “The system has to change because it is criminal what is happening.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Justice Thomas threatened to quit the Court and then the gifts rolled in

Interviews and newly unearthed documents by ProPublica reveal that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, facing financial strain, privately pushed for a higher salary and to allow Supreme Court justices to take speaking fees.

Congress never lifted the ban on speaking fees or gave the justices a major raise. But in the years that followed, as ProPublica has reported, Thomas accepted a stream of gifts from friends and acquaintances that appears to be unparalleled in the modern history of the Supreme Court. Some defrayed living expenses large and small — private school tuition, vehicle batteries, tires. Other gifts from a coterie of ultrarich men supplemented his lifestyle, such as free international vacations on the private jet and superyacht of Dallas real estate billionaire Harlan Crow.

Precisely what led so many people to offer Thomas money and other gifts remains an open question. There’s no evidence the justice ever raised the specter of resigning with Crow or his other wealthy benefactors.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, December 18, 2023

Cardinal sentenced to prison following Vatican criminal trial

Inside the high walls of the Holy See, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu — former head of the office of “miracles” that minted saints — was considered papabile, a possible next pope.

Then his career collided with church prosecutors, who charged the 75-year-old Italian and nine other officials with corruption, setting up the Vatican’s trial of the century, reported the Washington Post.

On Saturday, Becciu — the first cardinal to be tried by the Vatican’s little-known criminal court — was found guilty of three counts of embezzlement and sentenced to five years and six months in a verdict read out in a converted quarter of the museum that houses the Sistine Chapel. He was acquitted of charges of money laundering, abuse of office and influencing a witness.

Becciu’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision. But the ruling put the cardinal closer to one of Vatican City’s handful of jail cells — a result that amounts to both an affirmation of accountability and an embarrassment for an institution that has struggled for decades to root out corruption.

Becciu was barred from holding any Vatican office and fined 8,000 euros (around $8,700).

The trial, a hodgepodge of charges heard over a marathon of 86 courtroom hearings, offered an unusual glimpse into the murky world of Vatican finances and Pope Francis’s campaign for accountability — even, critics argued, at the cost of due process.

Eight of Becciu’s co-defendants — Vatican officials, Italian business executives, consultants and brokers — were found guilty of financial crimes or abuse of office. A ninth was acquitted of all charges.

But the star defendant was Becciu, a papal confidant before a surprise 2020 meeting during which Francis dramatically confronted him with the accusations against him.

In response, Becciu resigned as head of the Vatican department that leads the canonization process. Francis stripped him of his privileges as cardinal before any finding of guilt. Later, some of those rights were unofficially reinstated.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Mangino analyzes the prosecution of YouTubers Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt for Law and Crime Network

Watch my one-on-one interview with Sierre Gillespie of Law and Crime Network about the upcoming hearing on YouTubers  Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Friday, December 15, 2023

An examination of prosecutorial misconduct in Ohio criminal courts

Columbia Journalism Investigations and its partners examined hundreds of state appellate decisions to identify claims of prosecutorial misconduct in Ohio, reviewed hundreds of pages of police records and personnel files, and interviewed dozens of criminal justice experts, legal scholars, judges and defense attorneys from around the United States, along with prosecuting attorneys, and defendants whose cases were affected by the wrongdoing, reported NPR.

Among the findings:

  • Of the scores of criminal trials from 2018 to 2021 in which appeals courts found that prosecutors acted improperly, most were for failing to disclose evidence and making inappropriate comments in closing arguments — violations that could have affected the defendants' ability to get a fair trial. Nearly 80% of the errors were ruled not egregious enough to warrant a reversal, which experts say enables prosecutors to make repeated mistakes with near impunity.
  • None of the prosecutors involved in repeated improper-conduct cases was sanctioned by the Ohio Supreme Court, the body ultimately charged with doling out attorney discipline.
  • All of the prosecutors found to have repeatedly acted improperly have continued to practice as attorneys, with some moving into more powerful positions, including two who became judges tasked with ensuring fair trials.

The findings are a first-ever attempt to pull back the curtain of anonymity shielding Ohio prosecutors from public scrutiny when appeals courts affirm claims of improper conduct. They also show a systemic failure to hold prosecutors accountable that experts say is not exclusive to Ohio.

Legal scholars say the number of known misconduct cases is a vast undercount. About 3% of criminal cases make it to trial, and a fraction of those are appealed. Defendants often lack resources to challenge convictions, or they face procedural barriers that prevent them from doing so.

In Ohio, there were roughly 4,700 criminal trials statewide between 2018 and 2021. Nearly 450 appeals — about 10% of those trials — included an allegation of prosecutorial misconduct during that four-year period, CJI and NPR's analysis shows.

Appeals involving prosecutorial misconduct are rare, but in Ohio about 1 in 4 claims ended in a ruling of improper conduct in that time — a ratio that suggests a systemic problem, experts said.

Former prosecutor Bennett Gershman, who now teaches at Pace University's School of Law in New York, called the pattern of prosecutors who repeatedly act improperly in cases in Ohio a "microcosm" of the criminal justice system in states across the country.

In Tennessee, the Shelby County prosecutor was rebuked at least twice by higher courts in several murder cases for withholding key evidence or improper opening remarks, records show. Two of the convictions were overturned, and a new trial was ordered in one case. Voters ousted her last year.

In St. Charles County, Missouri, the state appeals court admonished a prosecutor in two cases for his "brazen use of propensity evidence" and in a third case for withholding evidence from the defendant, court records show. The attorney retired this year.

And in Monroe County, N.Y., which includes Rochester, the courts reprimanded a prosecutor in three sex crime cases for misrepresenting evidence and deals with jailhouse snitches, and for trying to slip inadmissible evidence into the record by asking the defendant to read it, according to court records. She is now a judge in a nearby county.

"Once you start focusing on these prosecutors, you can learn a lot about the prosecutorial mentality and why prosecutors engage in unethical behavior and why they consistently get away with it," said Gershman, one of the nation's preeminent scholars on the topic. "You'll find other jurisdictions in America which are equally shocking."

He said the Ohio statistics "show a shocking disregard for ethical behavior."

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Thursday, December 14, 2023

Felony-murder: 'A distinctly American innovation'

What makes a murderer? Intent is often assumed to be a factor. But, for hundreds of years, the felony-murder doctrine has muddled this conceit, writes Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker.

In 1716, the legal theorist William Hawkins argued that a crime like robbery “necessarily tends to raise Tumults and Quarrels . . . and cannot but be attended with the Danger of personal Hurt.” Any resulting death, he posited, was tantamount to murder. Such notions began being applied in British courts later in the eighteenth century, and, almost from the beginning, Britons were questioning whether the felony-murder doctrine was just.

The question came to a head in 1953, when, despite widespread pleas for clemency, a nineteen-year-old Londoner named Derek Bentley was executed because his sixteen-year-old accomplice in a burglary killed a policeman during the crime. Four years later, the U.K. abolished the doctrine, and other Commonwealth nations followed suit. The United States, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction.

According to Guyora Binder, of the University at Buffalo School of Law, the modern felony-murder doctrine is best understood as “a distinctly American innovation.” Although it was first applied early in the nineteenth century, use of the charge surged in the nineteen-seventies, when the era of mass incarceration began. Fifty years later, Binder contends, no country relies on the doctrine more.

In Tulsa, two men attempted to steal some copper wire from a radio tower and accidentally electrocuted themselves. One of them died and the other was charged with first-degree murder while recovering from his burns in the hospital; the girlfriend of the deceased was also charged with murder, for having driven them to the tower. In Topeka, a twenty-two-year-old made the mistake of hiding his gun atop his girlfriend’s refrigerator; he was charged with first-degree murder several days later, when a child inadvertently fired it at a thirteen-year-old girl. In Minneapolis, a sixteen-year-old girl who sat in the car while two older men killed someone in a robbery was charged with felony murder. Deemed too young to enter the adult prison population after her conviction, she was placed in solitary confinement for months, purportedly for her own safety. In Somerville, Tennessee, last May, three teen-age girls overdosed on fentanyl in their high school’s parking lot before a graduation ceremony. Two of them died, and the surviving girl was charged with murder.

For prosecutors, the felony-murder rule offers an efficient path to conviction: winning a case is much easier if you don’t need to prove a person’s mens rea—“guilty mind”—or even, in some cases, to establish that the accused was at the scene of the crime. Forty-eight states now have some version of the statute. Charlie Smith, the president of the National District Attorneys Association, told me that the tool is particularly useful in cases with vulnerable victims, such as an elderly woman in a wheelchair who gets assaulted in a purse-snatching incident and dies. “The community would feel it’s not reasonable if the old lady’s death was just a simple misdemeanor assault,” he said. Prosecutors often employ felony murder when a death results from an armed robbery—a category of crime that Smith contends, in the spirit of Hawkins, carries death as a foreseeable outcome.

Another benefit to prosecutors is that the steep penalties often attached to felony murder—including life sentences—compel defendants to plead guilty to a lesser charge. “We shouldn’t underestimate how many plea bargains occur in the shadow of felony-murder charges across the country,” Ekow Yankah, a law professor at the University of Michigan, told me. “It is one of those quiet drivers of mass incarceration we never acknowledge.”

Remarkably, no one knows how many people in the United States have been imprisoned for the crime. So in 2022, working with students and colleagues at the Yale Investigative Reporting Lab, I decided to try to get a sense of the scale. We started by filing public-records requests to state corrections departments and other agencies across the country; to our surprise, most told us that they weren’t keeping track. “The records do not exist,” an official at the Virginia Department of Corrections wrote, in a typical response. In most states, a felony-murder conviction gets lumped in with other types of murder, clouding the data. It was as if the extent of felony murder in America were hidden by design.

 When we eventually secured robust data from eleven states, our lab’s analysts discovered that racial disparities for felony-murder convictions were higher—sometimes far higher—than the already disproportionate rates of Black incarceration over all. In Wisconsin, where Black individuals account for less than seven per cent of the population, the data show that they make up seventy-six per cent of those incarcerated for felony murder. In St. Louis, every felony-murder conviction between 2010 and 2022—a total of forty-seven people, according to the State of Missouri—was of a Black person.

To identify cases in other states, we worked with analysts at the nonprofit organization Measures for Justice, and with several law-school clinics, to obtain previously unpublished data. Thus far, we’ve documented more than ten thousand felony-murder convictions nationwide. We’ve also scoured trial records, appeals, and news clips, finding and scrutinizing more than two hundred cases, like Baxter’s, in which the defendant neither killed nor intended to kill the victim. Women were sometimes charged for driving getaway cars for abusive partners, or performing other tasks under duress; some of the women served longer jail terms than their partners who’d committed the killing. And, time and again, young people were prosecuted for what an acquaintance, to their shock, had decided to do. In the past two years, I travelled from Alabama to California to Michigan to meet some of the individuals who have served time on the charge—along with crime victims’ families, prosecutors, public defenders, and others—to consider how a doctrine so widely critiqued, and rejected elsewhere in the world, has proved stubbornly resilient in the United States.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

SCOTUS fast tracks Trump's immunity claim

Special Counsel Jack Smith asked SCOTUS to intervene

Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, asked the Supreme Court  to rule on Mr. Trump’s argument that he is immune from prosecution. The justices quickly agreed to fast-track the first phase of the case, reported The New York Times.

Mr. Smith’s request was unusual in two ways: He asked the justices to rule before an appeals court acted, and he urged them to move with exceptional speed.

“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former president is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office or is constitutionally protected from federal prosecution when he has been impeached but not convicted before the criminal proceedings begin,” Mr. Smith wrote.

On Monday evening, just hours after Mr. Smith filed papers in the Supreme Court, the justices granted his initial request: to put their consideration of whether to hear the case on a fast track. The court ordered Mr. Trump’s lawyers to file their response to the petition seeking review on an abbreviated schedule, by Dec. 20.

Mr. Smith’s filings represented a vigorous plea to keep the trial on track by cutting off an avenue by which Mr. Trump could cause delays.

A speedy decision by the justices is of the essence, Mr. Smith wrote, because Mr. Trump’s appeal of a trial judge’s ruling rejecting his claim of immunity suspends the criminal trial. The proceeding is scheduled to begin on March 4 in Federal District Court in Washington.

Any significant delays could plunge the trial into the heart of the 2024 campaign season or push it past the election, when Mr. Trump could order the charges be dropped if he wins the presidency.

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request,” Mr. Smith wrote. “This is an extraordinary case.”

The trial judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, rejected Mr. Trump’s sweeping claims that he enjoyed “absolute immunity” from the election interference indictment because it was based on actions he took while in office.

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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Mangino discusses Lori Vallow Daybell on Court TV

Watch my interview with Julie Grant on Court TV discussing the prosecution of Lori Vallow Daybell for conspiring to murder her fourth husband Charles Vallow and her nieces ex-husband.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Saturday, December 9, 2023

In 23 years Chicago has paid out $700 million in cases were police framed suspect

Multimillion-dollar payouts come before the Chicago City Council on an almost monthly basis, with the largest sums typically going to victims of police misconduct. Since 2000, the city has paid out nearly $700 million in 300 cases in which people said they were framed by Chicago police, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.

Of that, $138 million went to outside lawyers who defended the city.

The tally covers only federal lawsuits and does not include fees awarded to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Also not included are police-related lawsuits alleging misconduct such as false arrest and excessive force, or for crashes and fatal shootings.

“The city is looking at, easily, a billion-dollar liability over the last 23 years, with plenty more on tap,” said Andrew M. Stroth, a civil rights attorney whose nonprofit organization, Truth, Hope & Justice, collaborated on the report with the global law firm Ropes & Gray, the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance and Chicago-based insurance and risk management firm Aon.

Stroth is currently representing James Gibson in a lawsuit against the city, alleging he was tortured by former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge into a false confession that landed him in prison for nearly 30 years.

“As far as I can tell, they have no strategy for how they evaluate these cases,” Stroth said. “And that is delaying justice for men like James Gibson at phenomenal costs to taxpayers.”

Law Department spokeswoman Kristen Cabanban said Wednesday that “the city is keenly aware of the complexity and special challenges presented by reversed conviction cases and continues to give careful attention to these cases both individually and as a group.

“However, the Law Department cannot comment publicly on ongoing litigation or provide litigation assessment,” she added. “Nor do we authorize the firms we engage to comment because doing so is inconsistent with our professional obligations and could jeopardize efforts to resolve these matters in a way consistent with the city’s best interests.” 

Rivera was one of the first people to be exonerated based on claims of misconduct against former Chicago police Det. Reynaldo Guevara. The report lists 11 active lawsuits involving claims against Guevara.

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Friday, December 8, 2023

Gentrified neighborhoods have significantly higher firearm injury rates

City dwellers have long noticed that gentrifying neighborhoods report more gun violence, reported The Guardian. Now, a study, published in Jama Surgery earlier this year and conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard Medical School with Brigham and Women’s hospital, shows just how much – and could suggest new ways to combat gun violence.

The report found that the firearm injury incidence rate was 62% higher in neighborhoods that had gentrified between 2014 and 2019 than in non-gentrifying neighborhoods with similar sociodemographic characteristics. On top of that, it found that the gunshot injury rate was an additional 26% higher in neighborhoods that were actively gentrifying. (The study didn’t specify who was committing the violence.)

Molly Jarman, a researcher and professor at Brigham and Women’s hospital and one of the co-authors on the study, says that the social disruption and residential displacement associated with gentrification might explain the findings.

“There’s evidence that communities with good social cohesion have less violence,” she said, such as when people who live near each other go to the same schools, offices or churches. But rising home prices that force longtime residents to relocate can disrupt that cohesion. “It means people who have known each other for a very long time and seen each other and understand and respect and get along are no longer seeing each other every day.”

Gentrification – the process where wealthier people move into poor urban areas, raising housing prices, bringing new businesses and often displacing previous residents – is rampant in California. According to a 2020 study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, five of the country’s 20 most intensely gentrified cities are located in the state: San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Reading the study felt like “a validation of what we’ve been saying for decades”, said Jose Bernal, the organizing director at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based advocacy organization focused on prisons, policing and community development.

In his work, Bernal regularly speaks with residents who are contending with rising housing prices in neighborhoods they’ve long called home – and ensuing cultural changes, like grocery stores that stop carrying certain hair care products or restaurants that no longer serve longtime favorites.

“It creates a lot of anxiety, uncertainty, and it creates a lot of stress for the community who is trying to hold on and try to stay there,” said Bernal.

The study’s researchers used US census data to identify gentrifying neighborhoods, then cross-referenced that data with statistics from the Gun Violence Archive – a non-profit that collects and verifies firearm incidents from law enforcement, government and media resources.

Jarman says the study adds an important element of “when” to a conversation that’s long been about “where”.

“We understand that there are some neighborhoods that have more firearm injuries than other neighborhoods,” she said. “But even within the neighborhoods that have a lot of injuries, it changes over time. And so there may be weeks or months where there are no firearm injuries and then suddenly there is an outbreak.”

George Tita, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine, says that “there’s an enormous body of literature on how gentrification impacts crime”, going back more than a hundred years to 19th-century Paris. Theories from that literature include the concept of social disruption, as well as the idea that policing – and therefore arrests – increase in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Studies looking at gentrification in ChicagoSan FranciscoNew Orleans and Washington DC all noted that police stops and arrests – especially for unhoused people and sex workers – increase during gentrification. One 2020 study from researchers at Rutgers University found that misdemeanor policing increased in neighborhoods experiencing the real estate reinvestment typical of gentrification: as property values increased, new residents were more likely to call police to report loitering or disorderly conduct. The Gun Violence Archive data that researchers used for this study includes information on officer-involved incidents.

Tita believes it is key that researchers “look at specific kinds of violence so that we can formulate interventions”. Much of his own research, for example, has looked at the relationship between gentrification, gang violence and homicide.

“There is no such thing as a gun violence problem. There is domestic violence that involves guns. There’s gang violence that involves guns. There’s interpersonal, friends getting into an argument that involves guns. There is the accidental discharge of firearms. There is suicide,” he said. “Without knowing the categorization of that violence, it’s really hard to come up with policies to combat and address and try to reduce gun violence.”

Although California has the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, according to the Giffords Law Center and Everytown for Gun Safety, the total number of gun homicides remains high in regions like Los Angeles and the East Bay (although the per capita rate is higher in some non-urban counties).

Jarman and her co-authors say that strategies to curb gun violence in the US must address both the availability of guns and the social dynamics of poverty. They hope their research might support policies to reduce the displacement of longtime residents when neighborhoods gentrify or the introduction of violence intervention programs in areas expected to gentrify or ones that are currently gentrifying.

Bernal and his colleagues at the Ella Baker Center say that investing in prevention is key, pointing to Oakland’s department of violence prevention, which was founded in 2017 as an alternative to the police department, as an example.

“To me, the solution is not complicated,” said Bernal. “It’s invest in people, invest in futures, invest in the youth, invest in resources that are going to keep people safe. And that’s it.”

To read more CLICK HERE