September 2, 2006
Cali SC Rules that Public May Not Have Access to Police Discipline Records
Latimes.com: Police disciplinary records will become more secret under a far-reaching ruling Thursday by the California Supreme Court.
The court ruled 6 to 1 that the public may not have access to police discipline records filed during administrative appeals, including the names of officers who have been terminated, unless the officers waive their rights to privacy.
The decision is expected to shut down public access to information about officers who come before civil service commissions, civilian review boards and other panels that hear police discipline cases.
The ruling does not, however, automatically close records in cases that go to Superior Court. "That will be the next battleground," said Deputy San Diego County Counsel William H. Songer, who represented the county in a lawsuit brought by the media. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 1, 2006
Weekly CrimProf Spotlight: Raquel Aldana-Pindell
This week, the CrimProf Blog spotlights CrimProf Raquel Aldana-Pindell of William S. Boyd School of Law of the University of Nevada.
Professor Aldana earned her J.D. degree in 1997 from Harvard Law School, where she served as articles editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
Prior to coming to the Boyd School of Law, Professor Aldana worked for the Center for Justice and International Law representing victims of gross human rights violations in the Inter-American System on Human Rights.
She also taught a seminar in human rights at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Prior to that, she was an associate at the law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C. Professor Aldana teaches Immigration Law, Criminal Procedure, International Human Rights, and International Public Law.
August 31, 2006
TX Police Launch Bait Car Program
From Star-Telegram.com: Arlington, TX police officials announced results Monday from their two-month "bait car" program, where unlocked cars equipped with tracking devices and video cameras are placed in areas commonly targeted by thieves.
Arlington has arrested five people, including two juveniles, since the department began the program in July, officials said Monday. Fort Worth police officials, who started the program in April, have arrested 37 people accused of attempting to steal vehicles.
The program is popular because police departments don't have to dedicate an officer to watch the cars for 24 hours, said Arlington Police Chief Theron Bowman. "It's just like a call for service," he said. "Whenever there's a call, the officer in the area responds."
Arlington's effort is part of the National Insurance Crime Bureau Covert Organized Bait, Recovery and Apprehension, or COBRA, program and funds are provided through the bureau, the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, and local and federal grants. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
AZ Tests Automatic License Plate Scanners
Police Officials Urge Federal Govt to Help Combat Increasing Violent Crime
From NY Times.com: Mayors and top police officials from around the nation urged the federal government on Wednesday to engage in a more coordinated effort to combat a recent increase in violent crime.
Violent crime increased last year for the first time in four years, up 2.5 percent from 2004. The biggest increases in murder were reported in medium-size cities and the Midwest. At a meeting organized by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and public policy group, the officials said a spike in the rate of violent crime, for aggravated assaults, robberies and murders, reflected a growing crisis.
“This administration is tone deaf to what is going on,” Seattle Police Chief Kerlikowske said. “Rightly so, they’ve been focused on terrorism. But this is a wake-up call to begin rebuilding partnerships.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Defense Attorney Caught Drunk in Court
Via TaxProf Blog, here is an incredible video of a criminal defense attorney who raised the judge's suspicions because he was slurring his speech. The judge forces him to take a blow test, and he blows a .075. The defendant in the case was facing life. Mistrial, of course.
August 30, 2006
Lawmakers try to Reduce DNA Backlog Instead of Other Forms of Data
From Stateline.org: State and federal lawmakers are trying to reduce backlogs in unanalyzed DNA evidence even as more common forms of forensic data are being neglected, crime lab directors say.
"Analysis of DNA evidence accounts for only about 5 percent of most crime labs’ work,"said Earl Wells, director of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) and head of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s forensic services unit. "Lab scientists spend much more time analyzing other forensic evidence such as controlled substances and fingerprints," he said.
State and federal legislators have focused their attention on the elimination of DNA backlogs because DNA “happens to be the hot topic today,” Wells said. At the same time, non-DNA evidence sits unexamined in most of the nation’s estimated 350 publicly funded crime labs, Wells said – slowing down all forensic analysis. More than 200 of those labs are state or regional facilities. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Brenda V. Smith Comments on U.S. Bureau of Justice Stats on Prison Sexual Impropriety
From TimesDispatch.com: American University's Washington College of Law CrimProf Brenda V. Smith recently commented on the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics that roughly half of all sexual impropriety reported in U.S. prisons and jails last year was perpetrated by correctional staff, not inmates.
"I'm looking for somebody who's a leader in one of these agencies to come out strong and say this is absolutely intolerable . . . and the silence is deafening," said CrimProf Smith, who is also a member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
"There has to be very concrete steps to get past the code of silence that exists in these facilities," she said. "And it's a code of silence not only for inmates . . . it's also for staff.
According to the findings, female staff were the offenders in two-thirds of the prison cases, and two-thirds of the victims of prison staff were male inmates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Preventable Factors Lead to High Number of College Students Killed in Off-Campus Fires
From USATODAY.com: According to a USA TODAY study, 54 college students killed in off-campus fires since 2000. Though such devastating fires are infrequent, they follow patterns that largely are preventable.
One-quarter of these fires followed a party, and in 59% of them, at least one of the dead students had been drinking, the USA TODAY analysis found. In 21 cases in which an autopsy report showed the deceased's blood alcohol content, the median level was .12%, and the highest was .304%. A person with an alcohol reading of .08% is considered by the nation's traffic laws to be too drunk to drive.
Deliberately set fires were a common thread in the incidents studied by USA TODAY. They played a role in one-fifth of all fires studied and one-fourth of the 54 off-campus deaths.Also, in at least 28% of the fatal fires studied, smoke detectors were either missing or disconnected. Investigators suspect that number is higher, but because infernos destroy the devices, whether the smoke detector sounded could not be determined in more than half of the fires that killed college students.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Report: Male Surplus Causes Crime
From inthenews.co.uk: "The process of active sex selection in many developing nations creates social tensions which contribute to the rise of organised crime and terrorism, it has been claimed. A report published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seeks to establish a link between demographic trends and crime levels, based on the premise that single men without the calming influence of a responsibility to wife and children are more likely to turn to crime. Dr Therese Hesketh of the UCL Institute of Child Health and Dr Zhu Wei Xing from the Zhejiang Normal University in China argue that these circumstances already exist in some developing countries. With male births still preferred in many countries, the disparity between high numbers of female abortions and the rarity of male abortions creates a demographic imbalance which leaves not enough women for the remaining men. As a result the percentage of females who marry remains very high but the proportion of single men grows and grows to between 12 and 15 per cent – most of whom will be "rural peasants of low socioeconomic class with limited education". "This trend could lead to increased levels of antisocial behaviour and violence, as gender is a well-established correlate of crime, and especially violent crime," the report warns. "Gender-related violent crime is consistent across cultures. Furthermore, when single young men congregate, the potential for more organised aggression is likely to increase substantially, and this has worrying implications for organised crime and terrorism." rest of article...
Judge Tjoflat on the Causes of Crime
From the Jacksonville Daily Record: "Federal Judge Gerald Tjoflat says the recent spike in violent crime in Jacksonville — and across the country, for that matter — is the result of several factors at work within the socioeconomic dynamic. However, he believes the root of the problem can be traced to the late 1960s, when the Baby Boomers grew up and young Americans began to revolt against war and race and sexual discrimination. “Things changed in the late 1960s, 1968 in particular,” said Tjoflat, who spoke to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville Monday at the Omni. “People were upset about Vietnam and there were revolutions against all sections of society. It was the launch of the ‘me’ generation and the beginning of the era of no responsibility.” Rest of article ...
Drug Gangs Taking New Orleans by Storm
August 29, 2006
GAO Report Says Anti-Drug Advertising Campaign Does Not Work
From USATODAY.com: A $1.4 billion anti-drug advertising campaign conducted by the U.S. government since 1998 does not appear to have helped reduce drug use and instead might have convinced some youths that taking illegal drugs is normal, the Government Accountability Office says.
The GAO report, released Friday, urges Congress to stop the White House's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign unless drug czar John Walters can come up with a better strategy. President Bush's budget for 2007 asks Congress for $120 million for the campaign, a $20 million increase from this year.
The report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, confirmed the results of a $43 million, government-funded study that found the campaign did not work. That evaluation, by Westat Inc. and the University of Pennsylvania, said parents and youths remembered the ads and their messages. But the study said exposure to the ads did not change kids' attitudes about drugs and that the reduction in drug use in recent years could be attributed more directly to a range of other factors, such as a decline in high school dropouts. The Westat study also said youths could interpret the ads to suggest that marijuana use is more common than it actually is.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf James Jacobs Talks About NY Mayor-ATF Dispute
From nysun.com: New York University School of Law CrimProf James Jacobs recently commented on NYC Mayor Bloomberg's supposed discrepancy with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
"Law enforcement rarely discloses anything," CrimProf James Jacobs, said. "The mayor is showing a kind of unprecedented vigor in promoting the interests of the city ... but the inability to work with a federal agency seems disappointing. ATF has the legal responsibility for regulating this system and for investigating and even taking away the licenses of irresponsible federally licensed firearm dealers."
More than three months after Mayor Bloomberg's announcement that he had sent private investigators into five states to catch gun dealers making illegal sales, he is refusing to turn over the evidence they've gathered to the ATF until the ATF signs an evidence-sharing agreement that would prohibit the agency from "publicly disclosing evidence without notice and consent from the city." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
New Article Spotlight: Systemic Changes that Could Reduce the Conviction of the Innocent
From SSRN.com: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law CrimProf Arnold H. Loewy recently published Systemic Changes that Could Reduce the Conviction of the Innocent. Here is the abstract.
In an ideal world, juries would always reach the correct result. In theory, we believe that the second best choice is to err on the side of acquitting the guilty rather than convicting the innocent. We say that it is better to acquit ten guilty men than convict one who is innocent. But I'm not sure that we really believe it. Would we really let ten child molesters walk the street to avoid convicting one innocent one? I have my doubts.
Although we think the system is tilted to protect defendants, it may not be. Juries may not really believe in the “presumption of innocence.” Furthermore the prosecutor usually has far more resources than the defense. Searches have to be reasonable, but at least the government can conduct them. The defense cannot. More generally, the prosecution has a professional police force investigating for it, and greater access to forensic testing. If the prosecutor wishes to frame a suspect (which fortunately is not the norm) it may not be all that difficult.
It's hard to know which way juries in fact err more. Some high profile cases (John Hinckley, O.J. Simpson) may be instances in which a guilty man was acquitted. But recent studies have identified a huge number of wrongful convictions. I'm not persuaded that we really are acquitting more guilty people than convicting those who are innocent. There is probably no value in redefining reasonable doubt, but we can examine and try to minimize the causes of wrongful conviction.
False identification is one of the largest problems. Of course, we can't disallow eye-witness identification. But we can alter procedures to make them more reliable. One is to show pictures and suspects individually so that the witness will not assume that the array includes the culprit. Another is to have the lineup conducted by someone who doesn't know who the suspect is to avoid intentional or unintentional tipping of the witness.
False confessions are another problem. Perhaps the best remedy is to videotape all confessions so that defense counsel and the court (jury?) can see how the confession was obtained, and perhaps defense counsel can expose its probable inaccuracy.
Bad forensics can be either intentionally or unintentionally done. In the former case, severe sanctions should be available, and, of course, the conviction so obtained should be set aside. With unintentional botched forensics, defense counsel simply need to be trained to spot the problem and counter the bad forensics with their own better forensics.
Perhaps the most pernicious source of false convictions are so-called jailhouse confessions. These occur when an inmate claims to have overheard the defendant describe and confess to the crime. The informant is usually paid in the form of cash, dropped charges, and/or a reduced sentence. Obviously the probability of perjury is extremely high in such a circumstance. I would seriously consider disallowing this type of testimony entirely because of the high likelihood that it is false. Short of that, I'd at least require a cautionary instruction to the jury to be wary of the probability of falsity.
I conclude with four suggestions that are predicated on the reality that wrongful convictions happen. (1) There should be innocence commissions set up similar to the British model. (2) Defenses should not be artificially limited. For example, pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case, a State can (and some do) deny the defendant the opportunity to present evidence that somebody else committed the crime. (3) As long as we know there are mistakes, capital punishment should be abolished (as most of the civilized world has). And (4) parole should not be contingent on a person's admitting his guilt. This presents an untenable dilemma for an innocent person, and may actually cause him to spend more time in prison than a similarly-situated guilty one.
Court Overturns Mom's Conviction for Son's Suicide
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (AP) -- The Connecticut Supreme Court on Monday overturned a mother's conviction on charges that she contributed to her 12-year-old son's suicide by creating an unsafe and unhealthy home. Judith Scruggs of Meriden was convicted of risk of injury to a minor in 2003, a year and a half after her son, J. Daniel, hanged himself with a necktie in his closet. Legal experts said it was thought to be the first time a parent had been convicted over a child's suicide. Rest of article....
August 28, 2006
CrimProf Christopher Slobogin Discusses Defense Attorneys When Faced With Death Penalty Cases
From sptimes.com: University of Florida Levin College of Law CrimProf Christopher Slobogin recently discussed with the St. Petersburg Times the extremes defense attorneys will go to to save their client fro the death penalty and how differnt judges react to these extremes.
"One of the concerns about the death penalty (is) that the stakes are so high, defense attorneys pull out all the stops," said CrimProf Slobogin. "So there's a real tension between the defense attorney's desire to explore every avenue and the court's desire to get an efficient resolution of the case."
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
New Article Spotlight: Furman Fundamentals
For the first time in a long time, the Supreme Court's most important death penalty decisions all have gone the defendant's way. Is the Court's newfound willingness to protect capital defendants here to stay? Or is it a passing fancy that will dissipate in less hospitable times?
At first glance, history allows for optimism. Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 landmark that invalidated the death penalty, provides a seemingly perfect example of the Court's ability and inclination to protect capital defendants when no one else will. Furman looks countermajoritarian, scholars have claimed it was countermajoritarian, and even the Justices saw themselves as playing a heroic, countermajoritarian role in the case.
But the lessons of Furman are not what they seem. Rather than proving the Supreme Court's ability to withstand majoritarian influences, Furman teaches the opposite - that even in its more countermajoritarian moments, the Court never strays far from dominant public opinion, tending instead to reflect the social and political movements of its time.
This Article examines the historical context of Furman v. Georgia and its 1976 counterpart, Gregg v. Georgia, to highlight a fundamental flaw in the Supreme Court's role as protector of minority rights: its inherently limited inclination and ability to render countermajoritarian change.
In theory, the Court might protect unpopular minorities, but in practice it is unlikely to do so unless a substantial (and growing) segment of society supports that protection. Even then, Furman reminds us that the Court's “help” may do more harm than good. If the past truly is a prologue, Furman portends that the Court's current interest in restricting the death penalty will not last forever. Like the fair-weather friend, the Court's protection will likely be there in good times but gone when needed the most.
CrimProfs Douglas W. Godfrey and Bill Schroeder Comment on Prosecution Bringing Charges Against Prominent Lawyer
From belleville.com: Chicago-Kent College of Law CrimProf Douglas W. Godfrey and Southern Illinois University Carbondale CrimProf Bill Schroeder both commented in a recent Belleville News Democrat Article about the potential of prosecutors filing charges against well-known Madison County, Illi. lawyer L. Thomas Lakin for supposedly having sexually abused minors during cocaine parties
Both CrimProfs say that if prosecutors file any charges against well-known Madison County lawyer L. Thomas Lakin, they'll first make sure they have an airtight case.
Godfrey, who previously prosecuted sex crimes and homicides, said a prominent attorney such as Lakin is likely to hire "one of the top five criminal defense attorneys in the country. They will fight this tooth-and-nail. He's got the money and he's got the acumen."
CrimProf Schroeder said: "My guess is that given the high visibility of the case and the prominence of the Lakin Law Firm, they are being extra careful. I agree they are much quicker to act in the ordinary case." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Karr Cleared in JonBenet Ramsey Case
Story . . . [Mark Godsey]