January 1, 2005
Canadian Serial Killer Trial Delayed for Years
A Canadian pig farmer charged with murdering fifteen women has been granted a trial delay until 2006 to give his counsel time to review tens of thousands of pages of pretrial discovery materials; he was arrested in 2002. Invesitgation has so far connected him to at least 30 of 69 missing women in the area. 100 officers are working on the case; 10 are assigned full-time to providing discovery. [Jack Chin]
Murder Rates Down in '04 in Most Big Cities
2004 saw a decline in murders in most urban areas, including Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. Chicago saw one of the biggest drops, at 445 compared to 600 in 2003. Exceptions to this trend include St. Louis, Detroit and Baltimore, which saw murders go up in 2004. Story and stats here. [Mark Godsey]
Santa Clara CrimProf Gerald Uelman and Stanford CrimProf George Fisher are quoted in this article about a request for dual juries in a California case where two defendants are jointly being tried for rape and murder. Evidently, the defendants may point the finger at each other. When I read the headline, I thought that a single defendant was going to ask for two juries for his own antagonistic defenses, so that he would be acquitted if Jury A accepted the alibi defense OR if jury B bought self-defense. [Jack Chin]
Case Western CrimProf Michael Scharf Trains Iraqi Tribunal Judges to Preside Over Saddam Hussein's Trial
Michael Scharf, Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at Case Western Law School is one of five international experts who trained the Iraqi Special Tribunal Judges who will preside over Saddam Hussein's trial. The Washington Post featured Scharf's editorial, "Can This Guy Get a Fair Trial?" in which Scharf explains his transition from believing that Saddam could never get a fair trial to believing Saddam's trial will be fair after all. Scharf bases his transition in part on the Iraqis' contribution to the Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) statute; over U.S. objection the Iraqis insisted on including a provision enabling the IST to prosecute Hussein for the crime of aggression, which has not been prosecuted since the Nuremburg Trials in 1945.
The Associated Press and several national TV and radio programs have featured Scharf's work. For links to Washington Post's follow-up chat with Scharf and a tape of his appearance on NPR's Morning Edition, click here. [Mark Godsey]
Wisconsin Attorney General Criticized For Personally Prosecuting the "Hunter Killer" Case
Shawn Johnson of NPR reports that Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager plans to personally prosecute the State's case against Chai Vang, the man charged with killing 6 hunters (we previously blogged the case here and here). Lautenschlager hasn't prosecuted a case since she took office in 2002. Her decision to prosecute the case has been widely criticized as a tactic to redeem herself after her drunk driving arrest last February and to gain political favor, since she announced her decision the same day she announced her intention to run for re-election. To listen to NPR's report from December 29, click here, or to read Talkleft's criticism of Lautenschlager, click here. [Mark Godsey]
December 31, 2004
Jack Johnson Pardon
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]
Austin Sarat of Amherst on Death Penalty
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]
Georgia Creates New Public Defender System
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 Governor Seeks Return of Death Penalty
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]
154 Cops Killed in Line of Duty in 2004
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]
DOJ Issues New Memo on Torture
The AP story is here. [Mark Godsey]
December 30, 2004
CNN: When to Have your Client Testify
Julie Hilden of FindLaw has a column in CNN proposing that Scott Peterson should have testified, either at trial or at the sentencing phase. [Jack Chin]
Canadian Organized Crime
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 Sherry Colb's Commentary on Murdering a Woman to Steal her Fetus
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]
Stupidest Crimes and Misdemeanors of 2004
From a would-be bomb-maker's attempted escape on a lawnmower to a drug-addict's mistaken call to her parole officer instead of her drug-dealer, check out CourtTV's list of Stupidest Crimes and Misdemeanors of 2004. [Mark Godsey]
Death Row Inmate Pardoned by Former Illinois Governor Ryan Faces Death Penalty Again
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]
December 29, 2004
Victim as Party
Female Gangs on the Rise
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]
Texas Considers Reducing Penalties for Small Amounts of Marijuana.
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]