Friday, December 31, 2004
We previously blogged on posthumous pardons. A USA Today columnist writes in support of a pardon for boxer Jack Johnson. NYLS LawProf Denise Morgan has an excellent paper on Johnson, Jack Johnson and the American Racial Hierarchy, in Race on Trial (Oxford 2002), and from what I understand, he may deserve a pardon. But I'm not sure I agree with the suggestion that Tiger Woods has a special obligation to lend his name to the case, any more than any other American. [Jack Chin]
Amherst College professor (and surely entitled to be called an honorary CrimProf) Austin Sarat writes on the decline of clemency in capital cases on Findlaw. Sentencing Law and Policy has an updated clemency post. [Jack Chin]
NPR reports: "Starting in January, the state of Georgia will have a new system of providing public defenders. The statewide system will replace a previous patchwork of county policies." To listen to the story, click here. [Mark Godsey]
Massachusetts is one of the twelve states without the death penalty, but MA Governor Mitt Romney is preparing to file a bill in early 2005 to bring capital punishment back to the state. Romney hopes the new death penalty bill will become a model for other states to follow, because he believes, "[t]he weakness in the death penalty statutes in other states...is the fear that you may execute someone who is innocent." But Romney believes this bill will eliminate the possibility by requiring DNA testing and limiting the sentence to the "worst of the worst" crimes including terrorism, the murder of police officers and murder involving torture and the killing of witnesses.
Romney appointed a death penalty panel to research and develop this bill to bring capital punishment back to Massachusetts as one of his central campaign pledges to win the gubernatorial race, but the Democrat-controlled MA Legislature is skepitcal that reaching 100% certainty regarding a suspect's guilt is ever possible. For the full story, click here or to read Talkleft's coverage of this story, click here. [Mark Godsey]
Law enforcement organizations reported that 154 police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2004. About half of the deaths were traffic-related accidents while nearly one-third resulted from shootings. Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, stated that better driver training, safer automobiles, the increased use of bullet-resistant vests and less-lethal weapons are just a few of the measures that must be taken to reduce the number of officer deaths in the line of duty. While the 154 deaths is a 6% increase from 2003, the number of officer deaths in the line of duty from 1995-2000 averaged 159 deaths yearly. Further details about these statistics... To read an interesting commentary contrasting the danger police officers face to the danger inherent in the jobs of farming, truckdriving, etc., see the Grits For Breakfast blog here. [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Canada's deputy prime minister reports that Canandian organized criminals are moving in to the kiddy porn industry. In addition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reports that criminal supergroups are forming in prison: "Canada's prisons are creating sophisticated new criminal networks among the country's top gangsters -- dubbed "supergroups" -- that are making current policies on organized crime obsolete, warns a federal position paper on the future of the mob."
"Prisons today are a 'melting pot' and we, unintentionally, are facilitating the overt networking of some of the most capable predators in our society," says a paper prepared for the RCMP and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, which was obtained by the National Post." Here'e the full report. [Jack Chin]
CrimProf and Findlaw columnist Sherry Colb of Rutgers Law School in Newark published a commentary on the two-week old case out of Kansas in which Lisa Montgomery reportedly cut open a pregnant woman's womb and stole her baby, killing the woman in the process. Colb contrasts Montgomery's culpability to the culpability of an attacker who incidentally kills a fetus and an attacker who beats a pregnant woman with the intention of injuring her fetus.
Colb writes: "Unlike the unborn child of Laci Peterson, another pregnant murder victim whose case has lately been in the news, Bobbie Jo Stinnett's baby survived. In fact, the woman charged with murdering Stinnett intended for the baby to survive and become her own child. Shortly after the kidnapping, Montgomery was showing off the newborn as hers at a Kansas restaurant. Yet this fact does not seem to mitigate our perception of the severity of her crime. Indeed, it appears only to make it worse. Why?...
Montgomery chose Stinnett because she was pregnant with a child that Montgomery wanted to take. The killer killed, in other words, purely to gain access to the child who was living inside the victim's body.
Montgomery's actions thus represent the extreme of regarding another person as a mere means of serving one's own interests. Montgomery treated her victim as a vessel carrying loot that she could plunder. Not simply a means to the killer's own objectives, the victim here became a container. The killing was accordingly an absolute assault on Stinnett's personhood." Colb continues by comparing this case to Keeler v Superior Court, a California Supreme Court case involving a man who beat his pregnant ex-wife's abdomen with the intention of killing the fetus inside her. For Colb's full commentary, click here. [Mark Godsey]
From MSNBC.com: "Thomas Umphrey, 43, was sentenced to death in 2000 for kidnapping and killing a woman in Illinois. In January 2003, outgoing Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of the state’s 167 death row inmates to life in prison because of grave doubts about Illinois’ criminal justice system. Authorities believe that six days before the slaying in Illinois, Umphrey killed his boss at a foam rubber factory in St. Louis.
On Dec. 14, Umphrey was moved from an Illinois prison to the St. Louis city jail and charged with murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty." Full story here. [Mark Godsey]
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The "Knockout Honies" and the "Most Wanted Honeyz" are two examples of a new phenomenon--"girl gangs"--that have cropped up in major cities across the United States in recent years. Some gangs have as many as 200 members, and fight rival gangs in traditional male-gang style with baseball bats, thrown bricks and knives. Washington Post story here. Sociological analysis of this phenomenon here. Listen to NPR story here. [Mark Godsey]
The Attorney General of Florida has issued a report on hate crimes that occurred in the state during 2003. The report states that hate crimes fell by more than 10 pecent in 2003, and was the second lowest total since reporting began in 1991. The report also shows, however, an increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and 2003 saw a higher number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation than any other year. In the last four years, more hate crimes were recorded based on sexual orientation than in the first eight years of reporting combined.
In an another hate-crimes story, a Missouri man who claimed that he was the victim of a hate crime, and that his attackers stabbed him in the stomach and attempted to cut the word "Fag" on his forehead, admitted that he cut himself and fabricated the charges. [Mark Godsey]
From the newswire: "An independent commission of prominent and diverse experts in criminal justice has begun a two-year project to review and reform the Illinois Criminal Code. Former Governor James R. Thompson and former Illinois Appellate Court Justice Gino L. DiVito will co-chair the Criminal Law Edit, Alignment and Reform (CLEAR) Commission. The 22-member commission, which met for the first time Monday, includes four legislators chosen by Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and a designee of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Other members of the commission are prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and law enforcement officers.
'For the past 40 years, the Illinois Criminal Code has been changed in piecemeal fashion, and today's lengthy code is far more complex, confusing and sometimes inconsistent,' Thompson said. 'Not only is it difficult for most citizens to follow, but even experienced lawyers and judges can find it hard to comprehend. We must make the code more readable, understandable, consistent and just.'
'The complexities of the Illinois Criminal Code increase the likelihood of lengthy appeals that are expensive to defendants and to government,' Justice DiVito said. 'We must reform the code and reduce the likelihood that technical mistakes will allow criminals to escape punishment and reduce the chance that innocent people will be incarcerated.'
The CLEAR Commission will identify redundancies and inconsistencies in the code and will make recommendations for a simpler, balanced Code. The Commission expects to complete its work by December 2006. It will operate independent of state government and the court system and is funded through grants and in-kind donations.
For the full newswire report click here. [Mark Godsey]
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Arbitrary and Capricious blogs the remarkable case of a California public defender (and former DOJ attorney and 8th Circuit Clerk) who, although a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was apparently never admitted to the bar. You might think that this would be unusual, but it happens so often that there is an ALR on the topic. See Jay M. Zitter, Criminal Defendant's Representation by Person Not Licensed to Practice Law as Violation of right to Counsel, 19 A.L.R.5th 351. Occasionally prosecutors also don't bother to get admitted. See, e.g., People v. Carter, 77 NY2d 95 (1991). Some false lawyers are outright con artists, especially, it seems, in New York, although this convict on supervised release operated his fake law firm from Florida, and there are fake solicitors in Britain. Better than being a fake lawyer, obviously, is being a fake partner in a big firm. More interesting are the people who are really trying in spite of a lack of legal training, or those who can't pass the bar, such as (presumably) this Wilson Sonsini associate. My recommendation: Ignore any law blog entry unless you can verify the author's bar admission. [Jack Chin]
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned Brandon Hutchinson's death sentence in a case where co-defendant Freddy Lopez received 10 years based on ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase. However, the court also noted that during the trial, Lopez's sister won the lottery, and used $230,000 of her winnings to settle a wrongful death action with the victims' family, in exchange for their agreement to recommend that the prosecutors accept a 10 year sentence. According to the court, which found no error on this ground, "Under the settlement agreement entered into evidence at the hearing, Lopez would pay the victims' family $230,000.00 if: the family recommended to the prosecutor that Lopez receive no more than ten years in prison and the judge actually sentenced Lopez to a prison term not to exceed ten years." The prosecution and court went along; Lopez got 10 years, Hutchinson was sentenced to death. Some people can afford to hire better lawyers than others, and the sentence can turn on that, but can it really be that death can turn on how much you have to pay the family? Here's the decision. [Jack Chin]
According to TechNewsWorld, "Phishing" is a new type of internet fraud that aims to "deceive consumers into going to phony Web sites through forged or 'spoofed' spam e-mails. Once there, consumers unwittingly input personal financial information such as credit card numbers and passwords, because they think they are on a legitimate financial Web site." The "Phishermen" then use the financial information to rip-off the unwary. The FBI and Secret Service have teamed up with top banks and internet service providers to create Digital Phishnet, which "creates a single, unified line of communication between industry and law enforcement. It enables both groups to gather and distribute the critical data needed to fight phishing in real time."
"'The key to stopping phishers and bringing them to justice is to identify and target them quickly,' said Dan Larkin, unit chief at the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Phishers create and dismantle these phony sites very, very fast, stockpiling credit card numbers, pass codes and other personal financial information over the course of just a couple of days, in order to avoid detection.
He said Digital PhishNet is a powerful response to this type of online fraud because it facilitates critical data collection between a large number of the targets of these crimes. This information pipeline will let law enforcement agencies identify phishers before they have time to disappear back into the anonymity of cyberspace.
Participants in Digital PhishNet are actively and aggressively seeking out phishing Web sites and identifying the origins of the spam e-mails designed to deceive consumers into visiting these phony Web sites."
For the full story, click here. [Mark Godsey]