CrimProf Blog

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

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Author Kevin Davis Releases "Defending the Damned"

Damned From Author Kevin Davis discusses his book, Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office. Davis shadowed Chicago's elite murder task force, the public defenders who represent accused rapists and serial killers who have the deck — and often the evidence — stacked against them. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 21, 2007 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Gilles Monnier Discusses Difficulty of Convicting Website Makers

MonnFrom Two Muslims stood trial Wednesday accused of running Internet sites calling for holy war and supporting a criminal organization.It is the second trial in the Swiss Federal Court about possible terrorist involvement since the September 11 attacks.

According to Lausanne University CrimProf Gilles Monnier, the difficulty of securing a conviction in this case is to prove how much the accused knew what was going on.

"If a person who manages a forum filters the comments on a regular basis, it is hard to claim that they didn't know what was going on," he told swissinfo. "On the other hand, if there is no surveillance, you can also say there is no responsibility." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 21, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

States Realize Zero Tolerance Policies are Overbroad

From Fifth-graders in California who adorned their mortarboards with tiny plastic soldiers last week to support troops in Iraq were forced to cut off the toys' miniature weapons. A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students. In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school so he could cut cookies.

It's all part of "zero tolerance" rules, which typically mandate severe punishments for weapons and drug offenses regardless of the circumstances.

Lawmakers in several states say the strict policies in schools have resulted in many punishments that lack common sense, and are seeking to loosen the restrictions.

"A machete is not the same as a butter knife. A water gun is not the same as a gun loaded with bullets," said Rhode Island state Sen. Daniel Issa, a former school board member who worries that no-tolerance rules are applied blindly and too rigidly.

Issa sponsored a bill requiring school districts to decide punishments for alcohol, drug and non-firearm weapons violations on a case-by-case basis. It passed the Senate and House and now heads for the governor's desk.

Some have long been aware of the problems of zero tolerance. For the last decade, Mississippi has allowed local school districts to reduce previously mandatory one-year expulsions for violence, weapons and drug offenses. Utah altered its zero-tolerance policy on drugs so asthmatic students can carry inhalers. The American Bar Association has recommended ending zero-tolerance policies.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 20, 2007 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Breath Tests and Psych Exams for the NYPD

From The New York City Police Department is moving to require officers to take breath tests for alcohol if they shoot someone and to undergo a psychological screening when they become candidates for undercover work, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced yesterday. Both measures are among the recommendations of a panel created after a Queens man was fatally shot in November in a volley of 50 bullets fired by officers.

Mr. Kelly, who set up the panel in December, said he had accepted all 19 of its recommendations, which included hiring actors to help train officers in their undercover roles as gun dealers or narcotics traffickers and creating programs to teach the public about the need for such operations.

He said he would send the recommendations to senior commanders for feedback and hoped to have the changes in place quickly after he heard from them. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 20, 2007 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Kenneth Gaines Said Judge Broke the Law

GainesFrom A judge broke South Carolina State law by not notifying the victim’s family of a bail hearing for the man accused of driving the getaway car in last week’s killing at Columbiana Centre, a victims’ rights group and a USC CrimProf Kenneth Gaines said Monday.

The family of shooting victim Robert Bell was angered at being left out of Saturday’s hearing, but a Columbia Municipal Court official said the court wasn’t required to notify them.

Laura Hudson, spokeswoman for the S.C. Victim Assistance Network, said the state constitution doesn’t give the judge any choice.

“There’s no law that says you contact some victims and you don’t contact others,” she said. “Our state constitution says it’s every crime, every time.”

But USC CrimProf Kenneth Gaines said he knew of no court cases that would support the Judge's position. “I would certainly think the victims’ rights group would have a pretty strong argument,” he said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 20, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

28 States Allow Juveniles to Appear in Court in Chains

From The U.S. Supreme Court has said repeatedly that the sight of shackles on a defendant in a courtroom can unfairly influence a jury. Adult defendants may appear in court in shackles, but not in front of a jury that decides their fate.

In almost all juvenile proceedings, though, a defendant's fate is in the hands of a judge, not a jury. Juvenile court procedures vary among the states and even within counties, so it's unclear precisely how many juvenile courts routinely shackle young defendants. But USA TODAY has found that in 28 states, some juvenile courts routinely keep defendants in restraints during court appearances.

Routine shackling is a better-safe-than-sorry approach, many juvenile justice officials say. Teenage impulsiveness can lead to an escape attempt or an attack on a lawyer, judge or spectator, they say, and outdated security in some courtrooms and inadequate manpower heighten the risk.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 19, 2007 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Deborah W. Denno is One of the 50 Most Influential U.S. Women Lawyers

DdennoFordham University School of Law CrimProf Deborah W. Denno, J.D.,has been selected as one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.

“Debby Denno is absolutely tireless in her work as a teacher, a scholar, and as an advocate,” said William M. Treanor, dean of the Law School. “She is a truly outstanding lawyer and professor with a commitment to making a real difference in her field. This is a well-deserved recognition for an extraordinary professor.”

Denno, who has taught at the Law School since 1991, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on lethal injection and the death penalty. She is frequently consulted by the news media and her work is often cited by the courts. Her 2002 article, “When Legislatures Delegate Death: The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses of Electrocution and Lethal Injection and What It Says About Us,” published in the Ohio State Law Journal, was an unprecedented examination of the ways in which states carry out lethal injection.

Rest of Story. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 19, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Upholds Rights of Passengers

Supreme_court_20From A passenger as well as a driver has the right to challenge the legality of a police officer’s decision to stop a car, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously today in Brendlin v. California, No. 06-8120.

The ruling came in the case of Bruce E. Brendlin, who was a passenger in a car that was stopped by a deputy sheriff in Yuba City, Calif., on Nov. 27, 2001. The deputy soon ascertained that Mr. Brendlin was an ex-convict who was wanted for violating his parole. An ensuing search of the driver, the car and Mr. Brendlin turned up methamphetamine supplies.

Eventually, Mr. Brendlin pleaded guilty to a drug charge and drew a four-year prison sentence. But he continued to appeal on the issue of whether the evidence of drugs found on him resulted from an illegal search and should have been suppressed because of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The California Supreme Court found that, consitutionally speaking, only the driver had been “seized” by the stop, and that therefore Mr. Brendlin had no basis for challenging the search that turned up the drugs. The State of California made that argument again when the case was heard before the United States Supreme Court on April 23.

But Mr. Brendlin’s lawyer, Elizabeth M. Campbell, argued that when an officer makes a traffic stop, “he seizes not only the driver of the car, but also the car, and every person and every thing in that car.”

The justices agreed. “When police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and so may challenge the stop’s constitutionality,” Justice David H. Souter wrote for the high court.

Most federal and state courts have ruled that passengers in a traffic stop are also “seized,” legally speaking, and thus may challenge the legality of the stop. But the state courts in Washington and Colorado, as well as California, had held otherwise until today.

The justices rejected the state of California’s contention that, if they found in favor of Mr. Brendlin, it would mean that passengers in buses and taxis would also be “seized” if the driver were pulled over for, say, running a red light. “The relationship between driver and passenger is not the same in a common carrier as it is in a private vehicle, and the expectations of police officers and passengers differ accordingly,” the ruling said.

Although today’s ruling overturns the California Supreme Court’s ruling against Mr. Brendlin, it does not necessarily end his legal troubles. Justice Souter said that it will now be up to the state courts to determine whether the drug evidence should have been suppressed. Prosecutors may try to show that the search was justified on other grounds, in part because Mr. Brendlin was a parole violator and the subject of an outstanding warrant.  Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 19, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Forensic Science Director Gary Wells Discusses Ways to Help Stop Mistaken Witness IDs

Wells1002From  According to a recent article by  Iowa State Psych Prof and Forensic Science Director Gary Wells, mistaken eyewitness identification is the most common cause of the conviction of innocent people. Since 1992, there have been 200 definitive exonerations of people whose convictions were overturned using forensic DNA testing, and mistaken eyewitness testimony was involved in 154 of those cases.

Scientists who study psychology have examined the mistaken identification problem and made recommendations regarding critical safeguards when conducting police lineups that can help prevent these mistakes.

Although eyewitness identification evidence will never be totally free of error, eyewitness scientists have made a strong case that a substantial portion of eyewitness identification error is attributable to the ways that lineups are conducted. There are no laws dictating how police should conduct eyewitness identification procedures. Instead, each police jurisdiction (there are over 14,000 independent law enforcement agencies in the U.S.) sets its own policies and procedures. Many police agencies have no written procedures or policies for how lineups should be conducted.

Note that most lineups are actually done with photographs, not live lineups. When live lineups are conducted, they often are of a “confirmatory” type in the sense that the eyewitness has already identified the suspect from a photo lineup and hence are mere formalities.

In general, reform procedures that mesh science and practice include the following features:

  • Instructions to the eyewitness prior to the lineup that stress the fact that the actual perpetrator might not be in the lineup and that they should not guess. (Thereby helping relieve the witness of the natural pressures to make an identification.)
  • The use of a minimum of five lineup fillers who fit the description of the perpetrator. (Thereby helping assure that the person the police suspect does not stand out as the obvious choice.)
  • The use of a lineup administrator other than the case detective, a procedure known as a double-blind lineup. This independent administrator is someone who does not know which person is the person of interest and which ones are fillers. (This important feature of a properly-administered lineup assures that the person who administers the lineup to the eyewitness does not inadvertently cue the witness as to the “correct” choice or influence the certainty of the eyewitness.)
  • A formal securing of a statement from the witness as to how certain s/he is at the time of the identification. This certainty statement, secured at the time of the identification by the independent administrator, remains a matter of record that is discoverable at trial. (The natural tendency is for eyewitnesses to become highly certain later about their identification (e.g., at trial) after being briefed by police and prosecutors. Their certainty, however, should be based on their own assessment of their memory at the time of identification, not by pressures that occur later.)
  • Clear records must be maintained with regard to all lineups, not just those that result in a witness identifying the person who was the focus of the investigation. (In many cases there are multiple witnesses and police fail to fully document what the non-identifying witnesses said or did when they viewed the lineup.)

At this time, it is estimated that less than 15% of police jurisdictions have made substantial changes to their lineup procedures to align those procedures with the best science and practices. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 18, 2007 in Eyewitness Identification | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rwanda Abolishes the Death Penalty

From On Friday, Rwandan lawmakers voted to abolish capital punishment. Once law, it could encourage the transfer of war crimes suspects to face trial back home in Rwanda.

The move comes as the international war crimes tribunal for Rwanda, sitting in neighboring Tanzania, nears the end of its mandate next year. As many as 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were massacred during Rwanda's 100-day genocide in 1994. The tribunal — which has been hearing most of the high-profile genocide cases, but has a huge backlog — is beginning to wrap up business.

The Rwandan government has been frustrated at the slow pace of genocide trial proceedings in Tanzania. But the existence of the death penalty on the statute books has been a major concern for the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, as well as for countries holding genocide suspects or fugitives, believed to be at large in North America, Europe and West Africa.

The decision by the Rwandan parliament to scrap capital punishment would also mean that death sentences on 800 death row suspects within the country would be automatically commuted to live imprisonment. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 18, 2007 in International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf William E. Hellerstein Testifies for DNA Bill

WhellersteinnewsRecently, Brooklyn Law School CrimProf William E. Hellerstein testified at a New York State Assembly joint committee legislative hearing in Albany on a bill by Governor Elliot Spitzer proposing an expansion of the State’s use of DNA evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent. The bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, has drawn fire for including a proposal to set a deadline of for convicted criminals to challenge their convictions, except for claims of newly discovered evidence, like DNA, proving innocence.

Professor Hellerstein, teaches Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law and directs the Law School’s Second Look Clinic. Before joining the Brooklyn Law School faculty, he served as Chief of the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society of New York for 16 years. In his testimony before the Assembly’s joint committee, he argued against several proposals in Governor Spitzer’s bill, including the proposed one-year limit on challenging convictions, the limit to a single filing of a challenge on behalf of a defendant, and the creation of an Office of Wrongful Conviction Review within the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“While I applaud provisions in the bill that facilitate access to DNA database and ease the way in several other respects with regard to DNA,” Professor Hellerstein said, “The provisions in the bill which place new limitations on a defendants ability to challenge his conviction on the basis of constitutional violations such as prosecutorial misconduct and the denial of the right to the effective assistance of counsel, are unfair, unwise, and internally inconsistent with a legislative program that ostensibly is concerned with reducing the incidence of wrongful convictions, not adding to it.” [Mark Godsey]

June 18, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

California Supreme Court Upholds Knock and Talk Rule

From SignOnSan The California State Supreme Court decided yesterday that police don't have to corroborate information from an anonymous tip before asking a homeowner's permission to search a residence.

The unanimous decision stems from a January 2004 arrest of an Oceanside man, Juan Rivera, and centers on a common police tactic known as “knock and talk.”

That is where police go to a home, knock on the door and ask the residents if they can come in and conduct a search. If consent is given, police don't have to obtain a search warrant. Also, it allows them to act on anonymous information without first confirming it.

The Supreme Court ruling is believed to be the first time the high court has formally said that the “knock and talk” technique doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment as long as the homeowner allows police in.

Federal courts and some lower state courts have come to the same conclusion, but Rivera's case is the first time the California Supreme Court addressed the issue.  Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 17, 2007 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge Uses the Beatles to Help a Beer Thief

From A judge sentencing a Beatles-loving beer thief quoted 42 of the band’s song titles in his verdict. Andrew McCormack, 20, was asked to recommend to a US court what his sentence should be for stealing beer.He wrote: “Like the Beetles say, Let It Be”. But his cheeky quip did not impress Gregory Todd, a 56-year-old district court judge in Montana.

In a sentencing memorandum Judge Todd first corrected McCormack's misspelling and then gave the defendant a lesson in The Beatles discography.

He replied: “Mr McCormack, you pled guilty to the charge of Burglary. To aid me in sentencing I review the pre-sentence investigation report. “I read with interest the section containing Defendant’s statement. To the question of ‘Give your recommendation as to what you think the Court should do in this case’, you said, ‘Like the Beetles say Let It Be'.

“While I will not explore the epistemological or ontological overtones of your response, or even the syntactic of symbolic keys of your allusion, I will say Hey Jude, Do You Want to Know a Secret? The greatest band in rock history spelled their name B-e-a-t-l-e-s. I interpret the meaning of your response to suggest that there should be no consequences for your actions and I should Let it Be so you can live in Strawberry Fields Forever. "

"Such reasoning is Here, There and Everywhere. It does not require a Magical Mystery Tour of interpretation to know The Word means leave it alone. I trust we can all Come Together on that meaning. If I were to overlook your actions and Let It Be, I would ignore that Day in the Life on April 21, 2006. Evidently, earlier that night you said to yourself I Feel Fine while drinking beer.

“Later, whether you wanted Money or were just trying to Act Naturally you became the Fool on the Hill on North 27th Street. As Mr Moonlight at 1.30am, you did not Think for Yourself but just focused on I, Me, Mine. Because you didn't ask for Help, Wait for Something else or listen to your conscience saying Honey Don't, the victim later that day was Fixing a Hole in the glass door you broke."

Judge Todd went on: "After you stole the 18 pack of Old Milwaukee you decided it was time to Run For Your Life and Carry That Weight. But when the witness said Baby it's You, the police responded I'll Get You and you had to admit that You Really Got a Hold on Me."

"You were not able to Get Back home because of the Chains they put on you. Although you hoped the police would say I Don't Want to Spoil the Party and We Can Work it Out, you were in Misery when they said you were a Bad Boy. When the police took you to jail, you experienced Something New as they said Hello Goodbye and you became a Nowhere Man.

"Later when you thought about what you did you may have said I'll Cry Instead. Now you’re saying Let it Be instead of I'm a Loser.  As a result of your Hard Day's Night you are looking at a Ticket to Ride that Long and Winding Road to Deer Lodge. Hopefully you can say both now and When I'm 64 that I Should Have Known Better." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 17, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Raimo Lahti Discusses EU's Attempt to Harmonize Criminal Law and Sanctions

RaimoUniversity of Helsinki CrimProf Raimo Lahti recently discussed how the attempts of the European Union to harmonise criminal law and criminal sanctions in the European Union is leading to an approach that contains elements foreign to Nordic criminal policy.

European culture has traditionally set great store by democracy, human rights and rule of law. In practice, however, these have had varying manifestations in the different legal systems of Europe. “All EU Member States have signed the European Convention on Human Rights and are therefore bound by it. Problems arise from the divergent implementation of the Convention. It is usually a matter of details, for example evidence can be treated differently in different countries, and in some Member States sentences may also be passed in absentia,” says CrimProf Raimo Lahti.

Opening national borders has made crime more international and at the same time has placed pressure on harmonising European regulations of criminal offences and sanctions. Organised crime, such as drug trafficking and money laundering, is already commonplace, and from the perspective of the EU, the protection of its financial interests is also significant.

“It is also much easier for criminals to escape to another country. The European Arrest Warrant is a means by which countries have endeavoured to make it easier to extradite criminals to the country where the offence took place. Here, as well as in all questions related to criminal law, efficiency and individual rights are juxtaposed, and we are seeking to strike a balance between the two,” says Lahti.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 17, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Belgium CrimProf Tom Vander Beken Says Acquitted Pre-Trial Detainee Stats are Not Excessive

From In Belgium, over the past four years, 579 people who never should have been held in custody spent time in prison. This has emerged from figures from the Board of Procurators General, requested by MP Guido De Padt (Open VLD), Het Laatste Nieuws reported on Thursday.

Justice Minister Onkelinx (PS) did not want to disclose how many people the Belgian state was required to pay damages to because of unlawful detainment. The question remains of whether the justice department is not throwing too many innocent people in prison unnecessarily.

"1 in 20 people are acquitted; that is not excessive," says University of Ghent CrimProf Tom Vander Beken. "Especially when you know that there is a great deal of criticism of the justice department for keeping people in pre-trail custody too often. An acquittal does not mean there were no grounds for someone to be held: it is possible that there was enough evidence of guilt. Someone can also be acquitted if the statute of limitations has expired." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 16, 2007 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 15, 2007

CrimProf Spotlight: Dwight Aarons

Aaronsdwight1006 This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights University of Tennessee School of Law CrimProf Dwight Aarons.

Professor Dwight Aarons earned his B.A. degree in 1986 and his J.D. degree in 1989, both from UCLA. He was the editor-in-chief of the National Black Law Journal during his third year of law school. Immediately after graduation from law school, he served for two years as a Staff Attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and then from 1991 through 1993, he was a law clerk to the Honorable Lawrence W. Pierce of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Professor Aarons' particular area of scholarly interest has been the death penalty. At the College of Law, Professor Aarons has been honored as the recipient of the 2003 Harold C. Warner Outstanding Teacher Award; the 2003-04 Forrest W. Lacey Award for Outstanding Contribution to the U.T. College of Law Moot Court Program; and the 2001 Carden Award for Outstanding Service to the Institution.

Professor Aarons has engaged in numerous service activities, including legislative efforts on behalf of the University's professors regarding the changing of course grades, the restoration of voting rights for felons, and the regulation of aerial spraying of pesticides. Professor Aarons has consulted on capital cases in California and Tennessee , and has written amicus briefs to Tennessee appellate courts on criminal law issues.

Some of Professor Aarons' service activities beyond the College include his current service, since 2003, as the Tennessee Assessment Team leader of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, which is collecting data on how the death penalty operates within the state, as part of a national study. Professor Aarons served on the Implementation Committee of the Tennessee Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Gender Fairness (1998-2001); the Tennessee Bar Association's Young Lawyers' Division Commission on Women and Minorities in the Profession (1993-1996), and on the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division, Minorities in the Profession Planning Board (1992-1996). On behalf of The University of Tennessee, Professor Aarons served on the executive board of the AAUP chapter, and from 1996-1999 he served as a faculty senator in the campus Faculty Senate.

Among his activities at the College of Law , Professor Aarons is the faculty advisor to the Black Law Students Association and the coach of the Frederick Douglass Moot Court team. Locally, Professor Aarons serves as a development consultant a local nonprofit organization after school program in East Knoxville . He has also served as an executive board member of a local community group that monitors and documents complaints of police misconduct.  [Mark Godsey]

June 15, 2007 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Federal Judge Reverses His Decision to Limit Police Public Gathering Videotaping

From In a startling legal reversal, a federal judge in Manhattan decided yesterday to vacate his own order that had greatly limited the New York police in videotaping people at public gatherings. He said the reversal was based partly on new information.

In February, the judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., issued what seemed an ironclad, somewhat scathing rebuke of the police, ruling that its surveillance teams could videotape protesters only if there was an indication that unlawful activity might be under way.

Citing two events in 2005 — an antiwar march in Harlem and a protest by homeless people in front of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s town house — the judge ruled in February that the police had broken their own guidelines for political surveillance by videotaping people who were lawfully exercising their right to free speech.

But in yesterday’s ruling, Judge Haight, of United States District Court, somewhat reluctantly set that order aside, saying he had received fresh accounts of the demonstrations from city lawyers that directly contradicted accounts provided by lawyers for the plaintiffs. The new accounts suggested that unlawful activity might indeed have been occurring, with protesters becoming unruly. “Given these conflicting accounts, the descriptions of these events in the court’s 02/07 order cannot be regarded as findings of fact by the court in areas where the facts are disputed,” he wrote.Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 14, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bush Adminstration Pushes for Mandatory Federal Prison Terms

From The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by pushing legislation that would require prison time for nearly all criminals.

The Justice Department is offering the plan as an opening salvo in a larger debate about whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory.

Judges, however, were livid over the proposal to limit their power.

"This would require one-size-fits-all justice," said U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell, chairman of the Criminal Law committee of the Judicial Conference, the judicial branch's policy-making body.

"The vast majority of the public would like the judges to make the individualized decisions needed to make these very difficult sentencing decisions," Cassell said. "Judges are the ones who look the defendants in the eyes. They hear from the victims. They hear from the prosecutors."

The debate, pitting prosecutors against jurists, has been ongoing since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared the government's two decades-old sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. The ruling in United States v. Booker said judges are not required to abide by the federal guidelines -- which set mandatory minimum and maximums on sentences -- but could consider them in meting out prison time.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 14, 2007 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Dismisses Appeal Because of 2 Day Late Filing

Supreme_court_20From The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of a convicted murderer from Ohio Thursday because he filed it two days late, even though he met a separate deadline set by a judge.

The judge mistakenly told the prisoner, Keith Bowles, 34, that he could file court papers by Feb. 27, 2004. Under federal rules, however, the deadline was Feb. 24. Bowles filed on Feb. 26.

The high court typically adheres strictly to deadlines and this case was no exception.

The 5-4 decision, the 16th this term, fell along conservative-liberal lines and also provoked a strong dissent from Justice David Souter.

Writing the opinion for the court's majority in this case, Justice Clarence Thomas said the judge's error did not alter the 14-day time limit set in federal law and legal rules. He said Congress could relax the deadline if it wishes.

Bowles was convicted of murder in Ohio for his role in a group beating of an unarmed man, who later died. The beating was in revenge for an earlier beating that day to a relative of a member of the group in Painesville, about 30 miles northeast of Cleveland, court records showed.

Bowles was given 15 years to life in prison. Early in 2004, a federal judge gave Bowles additional time to tell the court he intended to appeal, mistakenly noting a 17-day deadline.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Bowles' appeal was untimely.

Souter said Bowles' case cries out for an exception to the rule.

“It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch,” Souter said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 14, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Report Calls for DNA Justice for All. . . or at Least 413

From DNA testing should be provided free to prisoners in at least 413 cases in which substandard or incomplete serology work was originally performed by the Houston Police Department's crime lab, according to a report released today by the special investigator hired to examine HPD's much-maligned forensic work in thousands of cases.

The document, the final report filed in the $5.3 million independent investigation into the crime lab, also suggests that a special master be appointed to further review more than 180 of those serology cases in which "major issues" have been discovered.

The findings are included in Michael Bromwich's final report on the only comprehensive investigation of problems at the Houston crime lab, which have unfolded over the past 4 1/2 years, casting doubt on thousands of convictions and unsettling the criminal justice system in Houston and beyond.

The scandal also forced the city to conduct retesting of DNA evidence in 414 cases. Bromwich's team reviewed 135 of those cases, and found "major problems" in 43 — or 32 percent. The cases include those of four death row inmates: Franklin Dwayne Alix, Juan Carlos Alvarez, Gilmar Alex Guevara, and Derrick L. Jackson. With HPD's approval, the independent investigation forwarded information about each of these DNA major issue cases to the Innocence Project network that is exploring what additional steps, if any, should be taken on behalf of these defendants, according to a press release by Bromwich.

In his latest report, Bromwich recommends further testing in two of the 43 DNA cases — that of defendants Ronald Cantrell and Lonnie Van Zandt, both sexual assault cases. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 13, 2007 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)