December 30, 2006
Consolidating Screening Programs Lead to Privacy Problems
From NPR.com: The Department of Homeland Security is trying to coordinate all the identification and screening programs it runs. Business interests want them consolidated so they don't have to go through so multiple bureaucracies just to cross the border.
But privacy rights groups worry that the more consolidated these programs and databases are, the more threatening they are to individual rights. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 29, 2006
CrimProf Spotlight: Kate Bloch
This week the CrimProf Blog Spotlights University of California Hastings College of Law CrimProf Kate Bloch.
Kate Bloch received her undergraduate education at Washington University in St. Louis as an Arnold J. Lien merit scholar. Before departing Washington University, she completed an M.A. in French.
During her student days in St. Louis, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and played on an intramural inner tube water polo team. Once in California, Professor Bloch attended Stanford Law School where she was a Senior Note Editor on the Stanford Law Review.
Following graduation and the California Bar, Professor Bloch clerked for the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. Prior to joining the Hastings Faculty, she represented the People of the State of California as a Deputy District Attorney for the County of Santa Clara
Last Minute Efforts to Stay Saddam's Execution
From CNN.com: Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could face execution within hours, according to the latest reports from Baghdad...However, attorneys for Hussein are seeking a temporary restraining order in a U.S. court to block the execution. A civil suit against Hussein has been filed--one that could effect his estate. And his lawyers are arguing that Saddam should have a chance to respond. It could be a brilliant strategy. Story from CNN.com here: http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/29/hussein/index.html
7 Ton Pot Bust Highlights Houston as Narcotic Trafficking Hub
From chron.com: Authorities charged a truck driver with narcotics trafficking Thursday after seizing more than 7 tons of marijuana, highlighting what experts described as Houston's, in Harris County TX, leading role as a distribution center for illicit drugs.
An anonymous tip led drug agents to the drab warehouse in northwest Harris County late Wednesday, where they said they found one of the largest marijuana stashes they've seen in recent memory.
Inside wooden crates were 502 bundles of marijuana that had been wrapped in plastic and coated with calcium carbonate to mask the odor. Authorities said the 15,000-pound haul had a street value of $25 million to $40 million.
"We've always been a major hub for narcotics trafficking," said Houston Police Capt. Stephen Smith. "Almost everything from Mexico comes through Houston." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Decline in Domestic Violence: Silent Suffering or Steady Improvement?
From latimes.com: In a sweeping study of crime in the American household, the Justice Department reported Thursday that domestic violence, one of the most common offenses against women, has fallen by more than half since 1993.
Assaults, rapes, homicides and robberies against a current or former partner dropped from about 10 per 1,000 women in 1993 to four per 1,000 in 2004, researchers found.
The downward trend in violence by "intimate partners" — current and former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends — mirrors an overall national decrease in violent crime since the early 1990s, justice officials said. While the study did not attempt to explain the decline in domestic violence, some experts have credited more vigorous law enforcement, increased education and an expanded network of services for battered partners, said Shannan Catalano, a bureau statistician and the report's author.
But she and others emphasized that the report may not reflect the actual level of violence taking place behind closed doors. Indeed, the apparent decline could mean that women are choosing to suffer in silence rather than seek help. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 27, 2006
LA Prison Systems are in a State of Crisis
From latimes.com: A Times investigation has found that thieves, drug offenders and other repeat criminals are cycling in and out of jail faster than ever.
Since 2000, the number of people booked two or more times into jails in Los Angeles County in a single year has jumped 73%, reaching 61,646 last year, according to a Times analysis. Repeat offenders now account for 42% of bookings, up from 26% in 2000.
Once booked, defendants enter a justice system whose resources have not kept pace with demand, even as crime has dropped in recent years.
There are not enough prosecutors to try them. There are not enough courts to sentence them. There are not enough jail or prison beds to house them. And there is not enough treatment to help them.
Instead, repeat offenders drain limited justice resources and are quickly back on the streets to get arrested again, taking up the time of police, prosecutors, public defenders and judges. Patrol cops are frustrated. Victims feel forgotten.
"Under any other definition of crisis, this would be an emergency," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who runs the nation's largest network of jails. "The system is collapsing because of its volume." A solution, top law enforcement officials say, would require far more money than lawmakers have been willing to commit.
"We didn't cure malaria until we started draining the swamps instead of just swatting at the mosquitoes," said Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. "The resources have just not been committed to draining the swamps."
Washington Post Columnist Picks Mentally Ill Death Row Inmate As Person of the Year
From washingtonpost.com: Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen picks mentally ill death row inmate Gregory Thompson as his person of the year to call attention to the madness of the death penalty. Here is an excerpt from the article:
"Thompson, 45, is delusional. He is also paranoid, schizophrenic and depressed. For these ailments, he receives daily doses of drugs and, twice a month, anti-psychotic injections. The state of Tennessee wants very much to put him to death for the horrendous 1985 murder of Brenda Blanton Lane, of which there is no doubt about his guilt. There is grave doubt, though, about the constitutionality, not to mention the decency, of executing an insane man. Thus the 12 pills Thompson takes every day. The idea, according to a recent account of his case in the Wall Street Journal, is to make him sane enough to be put to death.
Shortly before Justice Harry Blackmun retired from the Supreme Court in 1994, he reversed himself on the death penalty. Blackmun had been a lifelong supporter, but finally had had enough. In words that were to become famous, he wrote, "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." It's as if Blackmun had Thompson in mind, for in his case the tinkering occurs on a daily basis.
Blackmun was not the only Supreme Court justice to change his mind about capital punishment. Lewis Powell did something similar. He never got to the point where he considered it unconstitutional or immoral -- he just concluded there was no way to get it right.
Now, from Powell's point of view, matters have even worsened. The death penalty has become so necessarily cumbersome to implement, so full of essential safeguards, that it not only sometimes cannot be done -- note the recent suspensions of executions by lethal injection -- but it takes forever to do it. Thompson, you might have noticed, has been awaiting execution for nearly 22 years -- arguably cruel and unusual punishment in itself." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 26, 2006
New Justices Break Tradition By Talking to the Public
From USATODAY/AP: Many Supreme Court justices prize the anonymity that comes with their lifetime appointments and camera-free courtroom. Unrecognized, justices have snapped pictures for tourists in front of the court or been asked to move out of the way of a shot. On rare occasion, a justice might consent to an interview on the C-SPAN cable network to discuss a recent book or be shown addressing a lawyers' gathering somewhere.
Lately, however, some members of the court have been popping up in unusual places — including network television news programs — and talking about more than just the law.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer recently debated their competing views of the Constitution. Breyer and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have talked publicly and repeatedly about threats to judicial independence. Justice Samuel Alito proudly affirmed his membership in the conservative Federalist Society, speaking in a packed ballroom at its recent convention.
Perhaps most noteworthy, though, has been the media-friendly attitude adoped by new Chief Justice John Roberts, in contrast to his predecessor William Rehnquist. Roberts recently was featured on ABC News' Nightline discussing both his view of the court and his son Jack's Spiderman imitation at Roberts' introduction by President Bush.
"Roberts is putting a smiley face in the center chair," said Hutchinson, who recalled earlier eras in which chief justices rigorously avoided the press and looked askance at their colleagues who consented to the rare interview. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
High Powered Afghan Heroin Leads to Many American Deaths
From latimes.com: Supplies of highly potent Afghan heroin in the United States are growing so fast that the pure white powder is rapidly overtaking lower-quality Mexican heroin, prompting fears of increased addiction and overdoses.
Heroin-related deaths in Los Angeles County soared from 137 in 2002 to 239 in 2005, a jump of nearly 75% in three years, a period when other factors contributing to overdose deaths remained unchanged, experts said. The jump in deaths was especially prevalent among users older than 40, who lack the resilience to recover from an overdose of unexpectedly strong heroin, according to a study by the county's Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology.
According to a Drug Enforcement Administration report obtained by The Times, Afghanistan's poppy fields have become the fastest-growing source of heroin in the United States. Its share of the U.S. market doubled from 7% in 2001, the year U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban, to 14% in 2004, the latest year studied. Another DEA report, released in October, said the 14% actually could be significantly higher. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Republicans and Democrats May Work Together to Give Prisoners a Second Chance
From NYTimes.com: Not too long ago, you could tell whether an election was under way by watching prime-time television and counting the number of ominous recitatives about prisoners and ex-prisoners in the commercials. This fall, however, the seven million Americans who are in the custody of the state — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — did not loom large on nightly TV; in fact, as has been the case for nearly a decade, they barely received any notice at all. Prisoners are no longer the charged political symbols and campaign-season scapegoats they once were.
This may be due to a change of heart bythe Republican Party. A sign of this change of heart is the fact that the former Republican-controlled Congress came tantalizingly close to passing the Second Chance Act, a bill that focuses not on how to “lock them up” but on how to let them out. The bill may become law soon, if Democrats continue to welcome the new conservative interest in rehabilitation.
By some measures, the Second Chance Act is a small bill. It authorizes less than $100 million over two years to address a significant problem: about 700,000 ex-offenders (the population of a good-size American city) will leave prison in 2007 — and two-thirds of them are likely to be rearrested within three years. The bill would provide states with grants to develop model programs for prisoners returning to society. Those states that accept the grants will be asked to re-examine any laws and regulations that make it unreasonably difficult for ex-offenders to reintegrate themselves into their communities — the classic example is the ban on allowing felons to receive a barber’s license. The bill also provides money to faith-based organizations and other nonprofits for prisoner-mentoring programs. Finally, it requires states to measure how well their programs achieve the bill’s main goal: reducing the rate of recidivism among recently released prisoners.
No one expects the Second Chance Act to solve the prisoner-re-entry problem overnight. The bill’s authors are probably too confident that drug treatment, education and housing assistance can reduce recidivism on their own. Such services, many criminologists say, are effective only when paired with the tight supervision of ex-offenders. Some researchers point to the “broken windows” response to crime and suggest trying a similar approach with prisoner re-entry: quickly punish any small violations of the terms of a prisoner’s release with graduated sanctions while returning ex-offenders to prison only for new crimes, not for technical parole violations like missing a meeting with a probation officer. The Second Chance Act does nothing to support this sort of approach.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Robert Batey Comments on Nanny Cams
The discussion of Nanny Cams arose due to a Palm Coast case headed for trial in February, in which Brandon Jaffe, 16, was charged earlier this year with felony molestation after a hidden camera filmed him molesting two children he was baby-sitting, according to court documents.
Barbara Kline, who matches nannies with high-powered couples in Washington, D.C., through her agency White House Nannies, wrote about a sitter who becomes upset after finding out her employer hid a nanny cam in her bathroom and bedroom to spy on her. Her website, childcare.about.com, states baby sitters often don't necessarily oppose the videotaping, they'd just like to know about it as a matter of trust and deception.
My first reaction to that is that he could have no constitutional objection to that," CrimProf Robert Batey said during a phone interview in St. Petersburg. Batey said that when Jaffe went into his employers' home, a personal space, he ran the risk that somebody might be videotaping him in that space. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]