CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, October 21, 2006

DNA Databank is Also Helping Solve Property Crimes

From The national database of criminals' DNA, designed by the FBI to help solve rapes and murders, increasingly is being used to identify suspects in unsolved burglaries and other property crimes, a USA TODAY review of state crime lab records shows.

In 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin — the total number of DNA matches in property-crime cases has exceeded the number of matches in violent crimes, the review indicates.

Other states also are reporting increases in property-crime matches: Of Georgia's first 171 matches, only 13 involved DNA from the scenes of unsolved burglaries. Of the 300 matches that followed, 79 were in burglary cases. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 21, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 20, 2006

CrimProf Spotlight: Ibrahim Gassama

Igassama_1This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights University of Oregon School of Law CrimProf Ibrahim Gassama.

Professor Gassama has been heavily involved in issues surrounding human rights, foreign policy, and international economic development. These issues led him to recruit and train observers of elections in Haiti and South Africa, including South Africa's first all-race democratic election. In some cases, he served as an observer himself. Afterward, he supervised reports from the governmental agencies involved in the elections. Gassama has also worked as a staff attorney for the Legal Action Center in New York, representing clients on employment discrimination issues.

From 1985 to 1990, Gassama worked on human rights, foreign policy, and international economic development issues for TransAfrica, the African American lobby for Africa and the Caribbean. In 1994 Gassama coordinated the recruitment, training, and deployment of U.S. based nongovernmental observers participating in South Africa's first all-race democratic election. Gassama supervised the preparation of reports on the work of the South African Independent Electoral Commission and participated in two election-observer delegations composed of American and African lawyers.

Gassama's academic interest focuses on problems of international order; the changing role of international institutions in the post Cold War era; and the interrelationships among human rights, environmental degradation, and economic development.

October 20, 2006 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

$15 Million in Grants for Texas Anti-crime Programs & Criminal Justice Systems

Texas anti-crime and justice programs will receive nearly $15 million in grants to be shared by 53 Crime Stoppers programs and 122 other programs that concentrate on reducing crime and improving the Texas criminal and juvenile justice systems. The money is available under the state's Crime Stoppers Assistance Fund and the Criminal Justice Planning Fund. More from the Star-Telegram. . . [Michele Berry]

October 20, 2006 in Cost of Crime, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Crime-solving Goes Topsy Turvy with Technology: Non-DNA for Violent Crimes & DNA for Non-violent Crimes

Topsy turvy in a good way.  Hearing about the prevalence and expansion of DNA-analysis and DNA technology in crime labs isn't suprising these day, but I still love to hear about it.  Then again, there's still some brazen reluctance about using DNA even when it can definitively prove guilt or innocence. But here are a couple new trends that are shaking up the crime-solving scene as technology expands: digital crime labs and the expansion of DNA analysis to solve property crimes. 

Digital Crime Labs to Solve Violent Crime: Increasingly, criminals are leaving behind digital traces of their activities — on computers, cell phones, BlackBerries and other electronic devices. This week, the FBI announced it’s setting up a Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Louisville that will examine digital evidence from law enforcement agencies across Kentucky. The lab, one of 14 nationwide managed by the FBI, will be staffed by one officer each from Louisville Metro Police, the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Bureau of Investigation and Lexington Police, in addition to two FBI agents. Just as the Kentucky State Police forensic lab does when it accepts blood and DNA evidence from other departments, the new lab will analyze materials and provide a report to police, and then have experts testify about the analysis at trial. More from the . .

Expansion of DNA Analysis to Solve Property Crimes: According to a USA today review, in 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin — the total number of DNA matches in property-crime cases has exceeded the number of matches in violent crimes.  And it's all because DNA testing has become more sophisticated. DNA analysts (at national labs) can draw genetic profiles from evidence left at burglary scenes — palm prints, cigarette butts, sweat stains on gloves and masks — nearly as easily as they can get profiles from blood or semen at the scenes of violent crimes. And government grants for testing evidence, initially limited to violent crimes, now can be used to analyze DNA from property crimes. Critics say using DNA to solve non-violent crimes could raise privacy concerns by dramatically expanding the database. Some question spending millions of dollars to probe such crimes citing concern for civil liberties. But supporters of expanded DNA testing say burglars often go on to commit more serious crimes. In Alabama, about 80% of the rapes solved via DNA databasing in the past five years were linked to criminals whose DNA was taken after a burglary conviction. More from . . [Michele Berry]

October 20, 2006 in Law Enforcement, News, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Seven Funeral Homes Charged With Stealing Human Tissue

From Helping to bolster and expand an investigation of a human tissue harvesting operation, seven funeral home directors have pleaded guilty to criminal charges, agreeing to cooperate, and 14 more bodies have been found surgically plundered, Brooklyn prosecutors said yesterday.

Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, declined to identify the cooperating funeral home directors or to disclose the charges against them. He has alluded in court papers to an operation spanning the Northeast, and the new accusations formally broaden the case to include mortuaries in Manhattan, the Bronx and Rochester.

The case has been publicized worldwide. Macabre headlines styling the original defendants as “Body Snatchers” dominated New York tabloids for months as the case developed. In December, more publicity was generated when it was disclosed that the body of the British journalist Alistair Cooke, who died at his home in Manhattan in 2004, had been surgically plundered.

“It is clear,” Mr. Hynes said at a news conference yesterday, “that many more funeral home directors were involved in this enterprise.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 19, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

L.A. City Council Passes Lost Gun Report Ordinance

From In an attempt to prevent gun sales to criminals, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that requires residents report the loss or theft of their guns to police within 48 hours.

The ordinance, which goes into effect next month, also requires anyone who had a gun stolen or lost in the last five years to report the loss. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's press office said he supports the measure and would allow it to become law.

Residents who fail to report a loss of their weapon face a misdemeanor charge and up to one year in jail. The ordinance applies to all guns, including rifles and shotguns.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 19, 2006 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Two States Lead the Nation Towards Legalizing Marijuana

From Colorado and Nevada could become leaders in the movement to legalize marijuana, when voters decide Nov. 7 whether to remove all penalties for adults 21 or older possessing up to an ounce of the drug.

Alaska is the only state that allows penalty-free possession of marijuana, the result of a court decision in August striking down part of a state law that made it a misdemeanor for adults to have less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

In addition to the two statewide ballot measures, at least five cities are letting voters decide whether to direct police to make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority. Those towns: Missoula, Mont.; Eureka Springs, Ark.; and three California communities — Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 19, 2006 in Drugs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

The Right to Silence Questioned in New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Police Association is calling for the right to silence to be reviewed and possibly revoked so that the police can compel people to talk. (I don't know if their proposal calls for a change in the law that would allow the right to silence to be used against people who invoked it--ie. to infer guilt--or if the New Zealand police would be allowed to use more aggressive "techniques," so to speak, to compel people to talk...probably the former, but the full story doesn't elaborate).

Two recent child homicide cases in New Zealand, in which the police say parents have refused to be interviewed, spurred the Police Association's call for review of the right to silence. Full story. . .

Mark Godsey's most recent article (Reformulating the Miranda Warnings in Light of Contemporary Law and Understandings) has a portion discussing how, internationally, inferring guilt from one's assertion of the right to silence (if a right to silence even exists) isn't an uncommon phenomenon.  In fact, many people in the U.S. think that invoking the right to silence will be used against them in some way, even though such inferences of guilt are unconstitutional.  [Michele Berry]

October 19, 2006 in Confessions and Interrogation, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

We've Got the Juice!

Juice_1Apples, oranges, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco. They've got the juice.  And so do we, the CrimProf Blog...

CrimProf Blog has a 5.7 "Blog Juice Rating," (#10 rank) determined by:

  • Number of Bloglines subscribers (1,595)
  • Alexa rank (83,758)
  • Technorati ranking (34,281)
  • Number of inbound links via Technorati (264)

Here are the Blog Juice Ratings for various law professor blogs. . .Thanks for supporting us! [Michele Berry, happy birthday dad]

October 19, 2006 in About This Blog | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Chicago Tribune Editorial: "Leaving DNA on the Shelf is a Crime"

Here is an editorial from the Chicago Tribune about prosecutors' reluctance to allow post-conviction DNA testing:  For a prosecutor, DNA analysis can be the best thing in the world. Nothing facilitates a conviction more than biological evidence irrefutably connecting the defendant to the crime through blood, saliva or semen. But DNA analysis can also be the worst thing in the world for prosecutors. It can prove that someone accused of a crime--or even convicted of a crime--could not possibly have done what he's accused of doing. Wait a minute. How can it be a bad thing for prosecutors to discover the crucial facts about a crime, even years later? No sensible state's attorney wants to put an innocent person in jail and let a guilty one go free.

But some prosecutors show a curious reluctance to learn what DNA could tell them. Once a defendant has been tried and convicted, some of them resent the notion that the verdict should ever be re-examined. Having concluded someone is guilty, they shield their eyes from anything that might suggest otherwise.

Take the case of Johnnie Lee Savory, charged in a double murder committed in Peoria in 1977, when he was 14 years old. He disavowed a confession that police extracted after a prolonged interrogation, but an appeals court ruled it inadmissible and threw out his conviction. After that, the prosecutors said they had no other evidence tying him to the killings. But he was convicted in a second trial, thanks partly to testimony that a hair recovered at the scene may have been his. In those days, sophisticated DNA technology was not available. It is now, and Savory, who has always maintained his innocence, has asked for tests on several items introduced in his trial, at his own expense. But the prosecutor has fought the request, arguing it conflicts with the public's interest in "finality."

When the case came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit last month, the prosecutor's office tried to justify the refusal on all sorts of technical grounds. It may be true that the law doesn't require allowing testing of the items. But it's hard to see any good reason why the prosecutor shouldn't go along regardless.  The prosecutors say that even if the tests come back negative for Savory, they wouldn't matter because there was other evidence against him. Wouldn't matter? Imagine, if you can, a prosecutor who wouldn't introduce DNA evidence supporting his theory--no matter how good his other evidence might be. In any case where a criminal has left biological traces at the crime scene, DNA matters a whole lot. It trumps just about everything.

It may be that DNA analysis would come out in Savory's favor. But it's also possible it will confirm the verdict against him...In about half of all such cases, that's what happens.

Most prosecutors are upright public servants who have no desire to punish people who don't deserve it...No fewer than 41 states have passed laws to let inmates petition for testing.  But some government lawyers still take any request as an invitation to run screaming from the room...Like football coaches, stock analysts and newspaper columnists, prosecutors are human and sometimes screw up. They should welcome a tool that helps uncover devastating errors. When a prosecution has gone wrong, it's never a mistake to get it right. Full column by Steve Chapman. . . [Michele Berry]

October 19, 2006 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Public Defender Files Suit Contending Pedophile-Free Zones

From In a bid to prevent a 76-year-old sex offender and his mentally ill wife from being forced out of their home a week from today, the state Public Defender's Office filed a lawsuit yesterday contending municipalities have no power to establish "pedophile-free zones."

If successful, the lawsuit could invalidate dozens of local ordinances restricting where sex offenders may live. Alpha, Bloomfield, Cranford, Freehold, Middletown, Mount Olive, Phillipsburg, Pohatcong, Sayreville and Washington Borough are just a few of at least 46 municipalities that have adopted such restrictions.

The lawsuit contends municpalities are not allowed to impose their own restrictions on sex offenders because they are pre-empted by Megan's Law, the comprehensive state regulation of sex offenders. That law allows parole officers to dicate where a sex offender may live. It also argues the sex-offender ordinance adopted by Franklin Township in Gloucester County is so vague and sweeping that it is unconstitutional. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Finishing School for Girls in Trouble

From Girls in trouble with the law in Orange County are being taught how to act, dress and even salsa as part of an ambitious project to boost their self-esteem and provide them with the basic social skills and support they will need to lead productive lives.

The Orange County Probation Department, in concert with a coalition of nonprofit groups, on Tuesday announced the launch of the "Mission Possible" program, which authorities and advocates hope will stem the rising crime and recidivism rates among girls ages 12 to 18.

"It's an exploding population," said Thomas G. Wright, the chief deputy probation officer in charge of the county's juvenile facilities.

Wright estimated that there had been an average of about 200 girls in custody at any given time over the last year. And although the population dipped to an unusually low 117 this week, he added, it's still a big jump from the 20 or so girls he was handling five years ago. The majority are accused of burglary and car theft, followed by prostitution and drug offenses, he said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 18, 2006 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Law Curtails Habeas Corpus

From The military tribunals bill signed by President Bush on Tuesday marks the first time the right of habeas corpus has been curtailed by law for millions of people in the United States.

Although debate focused on trials at Guantanamo Bay, the new law also takes away from noncitizens in the U.S. — including more than 12 million permanent residents — the right to go to court if they are declared "unlawful enemy combatants."

Before Tuesday, the principle of habeas corpus meant that anyone thrown into jail in the U.S. had a right to ask a judge for a hearing. They also had a right to go free if the government could not show a legal basis for holding them. The Latin term for "you have the body," habeas corpus is considered one of an accused person's most basic rights. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

L.A. City Council Approved Gun Loss Report Ordinance

From LATimes: In an attempt to prevent gun sales to criminals, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that requires residents report the loss or theft of their guns to police within 48 hours.

The ordinance, which goes into effect next month, also requires anyone who had a gun stolen or lost in the last five years to report the loss. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's press office said he supports the measure and would allow it to become law.

Residents who fail to report a loss of their weapon face a misdemeanor charge and up to one year in jail. The ordinance applies to all guns, including rifles and shotguns.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Private Sector's Role in Combatting Crime in South Africa

Here's an article about the private sector's (specifically the group Business Against Crime (BAC's)) involvement in combatting crime in South Africa, most recently through leadership courses for the South African Police Services (SAPS) to improve its managment processes.  SAPS officials admit, the South African criminal justice system isn't just hindered by inadequate resources, but also, by a general lack of accountability--people just not doing their jobs and not working together.  But BAC and SAPS are working together to change that.

The partnership between BAC and SAPS isn't a new one.  In the past, BAC and SAPS have met behind closed doors, trying to avoid media interference, to implement several successful projects, including among others, the establishment of special anti-hijacking units and persuading car manufacturers (Nissan and Toyota) to employ cutting-edge micro-dot technology to prevent car theft and hijackings

BAC seeks to motivate everyday citizens to fight crime, as BAC's acronym has been used to stand for another of its latest missions, one with a pretty colorful title--(B**** About Crime).  By encouraging citizens to go ahead and, complain to the police about the criminal justice system's shortcomings and crime in general, BAC hopes the citizens and the police will, in time, always feel comfortable communicating and otherwise cooperating with each other on daily basis. [Michele Berry] 

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Justice Policy, International, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Alaska Mayor Puts the Kebosh on Gang-Related Crime

Anchorage Alaksa Mayor Mark Begich is urging the state legislature to take a proative rather than reactive crackdown on crime, particularly violent and gang-related crime, by adopting a number of proposals. His proposals include: 1) laws making ankle bracelets mandatory for known gang members awaiting trial, the removal of which would send them back to jail; 2) greater data sharing between the court system and the Anchorage Police Department, so each can learn what the other knows about criminals (such as bail status or domestic violence writs); 3) an increased number of judges to streamline the court system; 4) creating a top 10 list of Anchorage's most crime-ridden neighborhoods for monitoring purposes; and 5) a strict "three strikes" policy for multiple traffic offenders--the mayor wants to make three or more violations a felony for repeat offenders.  Finally, a high-profile gang summit will be held in Anchorage November 15.  More. . .  [Michele Berry]

October 18, 2006 in Criminal Justice Policy, Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

Sex Offender Residency Restriction Laws, Ripe for Supreme Court?

California's Proposition 83, or "Jessica's Law," is like other sex offender restriction laws.  It includes stiffer punishment, longer parole terms and tighter monitoring for future sex criminals, and a controversial residency restriction, prohibiting anyone required to register as a sex offender from "living within 2,000 feet of any public or private school or park where children regularly gather."  If California voters pass Jessica's Law this November, California will be the 18th state to pass residency restrictions on sex offenders.  Lessons learned from the previous 17 states have shed light on the legislation's key causes for concern among legal scholars and critics, including:

Whether Prop. 83 would apply to already convicted sex offenders -- the thousands now behind bars, on probation or parole, or even the tens of thousands who have been free of the criminal justice system for years, living in the community, some of them homeowners.

That it would too broadly restrict where all registered offenders can live, including those whose convictions were for sex crimes against adults.

That it would cross a constitutional line into public banishment if registered offenders could find nowhere to live in most of the state's population centers -- as maps produced by the state Senate suggest.

Sex offenders could argue that Jessica's Law would strip them of protected liberties.  But a challenge of that nature to overturn the Iowa law restricting sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and day care centers, failed.  The Eighth Circuit ruled that there is no right to live where you want to live if the state has compelling reasons otherwise.

Several scholars have said the strongest legal attack is the "ex post facto" angle.  If a city tried to apply Jessica's Law to sex offendes who were convicted before the law took effect, the sex offender could challenge the eviction on the basis of the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws.  That's what has happened in Ohio.  The Ohio Justice & Policiy Center, under David Singleton, has about a dozen cases pending, but they're yet to stop an eviction. 

That probably has something to do with the fact that the constitutional ban on "ex post facto" laws only applies to punitive laws, not civil regulations with a clear public policy rationale.  As UCLA CrimProf Eugene Volokh points out, a government takings claim probably won't work either.  "If the person is a tenant, there's no property being taken...Even if he owns the property, it's not that the person is being barred from or denied the right to own the property. He can resell it, rent it out. He could make money off it." 

As more and more states pass these laws, the key question is whether the courts view the 2,000 foot rule (or in the case of Ohio, 1,000) as punishment for past crimes, rather than a civil law intended to protect the public.  That's the only way the ex post facto attack could work, but the Supreme Court has set a high bar for proving that a civil law has crossed the line to punishment, insisting on "only the clearest proof."

While some legal scholars say the residency restrictions will invariably pass constitutional muster, other say the 2003 SCOTUS case challenging Meghan's law left the door open for a successful challenge to Jessica's law and others like it.  But through all the debate, the concensus is, as more of these laws pass, the stronger the likelihood that the Supreme Court will have to step in and give an opinion on the constitutionality of these state laws.

Read the full story from with opinions from several legal scholars including William & Mary CrimProf Wayne Logan; UC Hastings LawProf and director of the Center for State and Local Government David Jung, Stanford LawProf and executive director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center Derek Shaffer, David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, and UCLA CrimProf Eugene Volokh.  [Michele Berry]

October 18, 2006 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, CrimProfs, Sex | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Expunged Criminal Records Remain Accessible in the Digital Age

From In 41 states, people accused or convicted of crimes have the legal right to rewrite history. They can have their criminal records expunged, and in theory that means that all traces of their encounters with the justice system will disappear. But enormous commercial databases are fast undoing the societal bargain of expungement, one that used to give people who had committed minor crimes a clean slate and a fresh start.

Most states seal at least some records of juvenile offenses. Many states also allow adults arrested for or convicted of minor crimes like possessing marijuana, shoplifting or disorderly conduct to ask a judge, sometimes after a certain amount of time has passed without further trouble, to expunge their records. If the judge agrees, the records are destroyed or sealed.

But real expungement is becoming significantly harder to accomplish in the electronic age. Records once held only in paper form by law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections departments are now routinely digitized and sold in bulk to the private sector. Some commercial databases now contain more than 100 million criminal records. They are updated only fitfully, and expunged records now often turn up in criminal background checks ordered by employers and landlords.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 17, 2006 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Hold On To Your Butt" Hotlines are Helping Stop Litter

From States and cities are deputizing their residents to report motorists who toss cigarette butts and other trash out the window.

Iowa and Louisville have joined the campaign in the past month by setting up littering hotlines. Someone whose license number is phoned in to the lines gets a warning letter and something else: a plastic litter bag.

At least 10 other states have call-in lines. A proposal to set one up in New Jersey, sought by state Sen. Nicholas Asselta, is pending in the Legislature. Other local governments have jumped in, too, including San Diego County. There, the "Hold On To Your Butt" hotline began in 2004.

"It's empowering people. We make everyone an enforcer," says Gerry Schnepf, executive director of Keep Iowa Beautiful, a private group that launched the hotline jointly with the Iowa state patrol. He says many people have "pent-up frustration" about litter and want to help. The state spends $13.5 million annually to clean up trash, he says.  Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 17, 2006 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Hit and Runs are On the Rise

From The number of pedestrians killed by hit-and-run drivers has jumped 20% since 2000 and is at its highest level in a decade.

The increase compounds the problems of investigating hit-and-run cases, which investigators say are among the most difficult crimes to solve because they often happen at night with no witnesses.

Of the 4,881 pedestrians killed last year, 974 died in hit-and-runs, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show. The total number of pedestrians killed nationwide increased by about 2% since 2000, but hit-and-run deaths increased at almost 10 times that pace, the USA TODAY analysis found. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

October 17, 2006 in Reports | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)