March 17, 2007
The Difficulty of Prosecuting Voter Fraud
From NPR.com: Allegations of voter fraud are not only difficult to prove, they're likely to prompt bipartisan debate.
And how voter fraud complaints were handled is one the issues emerging from the growing furor over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Some of the attorneys who were dismissed were accused of failing to aggressively pursue Republican complaints of voter fraud. The White House concedes it passed along such complaints to the Attorney General's office.
John McKay, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle, said he was accused of mishandling voter fraud when he interviewed at the White House for a federal judgeship. The specific question: why he had mishandled the investigations into voter fraud connected to Washington's very close 2004 gubernatorial election. That election was won by a Democrat. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 16, 2007
CrimProf Spotlight: Markus Dubber
After attending Harvard College and Stanford Law School, Markus D. Dubber served as a judicial clerk for Gerard Bard Tjoflat, then chief judge of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. After a year as a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago, he began teaching at SUNY in 1993. In 2000-2001, he held a Humboldt Research Fellowship at the Institute of Legal Philosophy, University of Munich, and spent the fall of 2001 as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School.
Dubber is the founding director of the Buffalo Criminal Law Center and the founding editor of the Buffalo Criminal Law Review. He is a member of the American Law Institute and of the Editorial Board of the Law & History Review. [Mark Godsey]
March 15, 2007
Study Results: Nearly Half of College Students Binge Drink or Abuse Drugs Once a Month
From USATODAY.com: Nearly half of America's 5.4 million full-time college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month, according to a new study that portrays substance and alcohol abuse as an increasingly urgent problem on campuses across the nation.
Alcohol remains the favored substance of abuse on college campuses by far, but the abuse of prescription drugs and marijuana has increased dramatically since the mid-1990s, according to the study released today by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
CASA, which called on educators to move more aggressively to counter intensifying drug and alcohol use among students, first studied students' drug and alcohol habits in 1993. Today's report — the center's second on the subject — involved a survey of 2,000 student and 400 administrators as well as analyses of six national studies. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Brenda Blom Organized The First Community Justice Symposium
For University of Maryland School of Law Clinical CrimProf Brenda Bratton Blom, instilling respect for public service and access to justice is the building block of a legal education. To that end, Blom organized the first national conference on community justice, held at the law school.
The symposium attracted close to 300 academics, judges, lawyers, and representatives of nonprofit, community, and faith-based organizations to share innovative approaches to addressing crime and providing an effective alternative to the traditional criminal justice system.
"The symposium is about supporting a larger conversation in our society about criminalizing poverty," said Blom, associate professor at the School. "When we send someone to prison for a minor drug offense, can we live with that choice?"
"We're teaching students how to prosecute analytically and to look at the courtroom and ask who's coming through and what communities are being impacted," Blom added. "We're asking, 'What are the lawyer's skills that make a difference in a community's capacities to solve problems?'"
The morning keynote speaker, Elijah Anderson, PhD, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, described how people living in dense urban areas sometimes view the world differently.
"Murder is so common in black neighborhoods that it barely makes the newspaper," he said. "You'll find the story in the back, back section of the paper. Black people say,'Well, when a white person is killed, that's front page news.' They see a huge discrepancy between how crime is covered in their neighborhood. And this really supports the idea of alienation in the inner city and the code of the street."
Anderson said many black men, poor and undereducated, search fruitlessly for work.
"We have so many people competing for jobs-white, black, immigrants, young, old-that the poor inner city male doesn't stand a chance," he said. "They're thrown back on the streets. The question a young man asked me many years ago still rings in my ears: 'Dr. Anderson, why is it so hard for me to get a job but so easy for me to sell drugs?'" Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Clinical Law Student Featured on CBS Show on Sex Offender Restrictions
From CBS News.com: Salmon Chase College of Law clinical student Margie Slagle was featured on the CBS Early Show's story about sex offender residency restrictions. Watch Now. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 14, 2007
Journalist Jeffrey Rosen Discusses NeuroLaw
From NPR.com: Journalist Jeffrey Rosen is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine. His article titled "The Brain on the Stand: How neuroscience is transforming the legal system" appeared in the March 11 issue.
It's about an emerging field of study called "neurolaw," which combines neuroscience and the law. He writes about how evidence from brain-scanning technologies are being used in the courtroom to explain away criminal behavior.
Rosen is also the author of the book The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
Racial Discrimination is at Issue With Kentucky Juries
From courier-journal.com: While the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear -- lawyers can't use race to pick a jury -- in Jefferson County, Kentucky, prosecutors are removing African-American jurors at a higher rate than white jurors, especially when the defendants are black. And defense lawyers are removing whites at much higher rates than blacks, in part because they say they are trying to even the playing field, a Courier-Journal analysis shows.
This is occurring while a commission of judges, lawyers and citizens tries to find why African Americans are underrepresented on Jefferson County juries.
The commission's works follows a 2005 Courier-Journal series that found that people who live in predominantly African-American areas of Jefferson County are less likely to serve on juries than those who live in mostly white areas.
University of Iowa law professor David Baldus said the data suggest "systemic racial discrimination" in how Jefferson County prosecutors and defense attorneys are choosing jurors.
"It's the same old story: Blacks are not welcome in the eyes of prosecutors and welcome in the eyes of defense attorneys," said Baldus, who has written extensively on the subject and consulted for courts on racial issues. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Reports Founder in Which White House Originally Suggested Firing All U.S. Attorneys
From WashingtonPost.com: The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 U.S. attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today.
The dismissals took place after President Bush told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October that he had received complaints that some prosecutors had not energetically pursued voter-fraud investigations, according to a White House spokeswoman.
Gonzales approved the idea of firing a smaller group of U.S. attorneys shortly after taking office in February 2005. The aide in charge of the dismissals -- his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson -- resigned yesterday, officials said, after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress.
Lawmakers requested the documents as part of an investigation into whether the firings were politically motivated. While it is unclear whether the documents, which were reviewed yesterday by The Washington Post, will answer Congress's questions, they show that the White House and other administration officials were more closely involved in the dismissals, and at a much earlier date, than they have previously acknowledged.
Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7 and another was fired months earlier, with little explanation from the Justice Department. Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 13, 2007
CrimProf George Dix Criticizes Texas Proposed Stand Your Ground Bill
From the monitor.com: University of Texas CrimProf George Dix recently criticized Texa's New bill that would allow private citizens to take whatever means necessary to defend their lives and property from criminal intrusion — including the use of deadly force. The state legislature is currently considering the bill
The proposed law, which is likely to breeze through the state Legislature later this session, would protect private citizens from criminal prosecution or civil liability if they kill or injure an intruder threatening their home, business or vehicle. Currently, law only allows a property owner to use deadly force if all other ways of escaping the intruder have been exhausted.
Cases like this demonstrate that the “stand your ground” bill is an unnecessary piece of legislation, said CrimProf George Dix.
“I find it hard to believe that any Texas grand jury would indict someone who could legitimately claim self defense,” he said. “When you’re thinking about whether to shoot someone or not, I don’t think you’re considering the letter law.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Alan N.Young Discusses The Ongoing Drama in Canada's Longest Murder Case
From lawtimesnews.com: Osgoode Hall CrimProf Alan N. Young recently discussed the the attorney general’s decision to refuse to re-screen the central witness in Canada’s longest running and most expensive murder trial even though he committed perjury, concocted evidence, and hinted that his ability to recall information in a looming retrial would hinge on how much he got paid for it.
This isn’t the first murder case that has dragged on for years before someone eventually puts it out of its misery, says CrimProf Alan N. Young.
Part of the problem is that prosecutors and police develop fixed, subjective opinions about a suspect’s guilt and then scrape the bottom of the barrel to find evidence even when they can’t objectively succeed because they believe the suspect is guilty.
Then when the court of appeal quashes the conviction and sends it back for a new trial, they don’t decide that they might not have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but simply try harder.
“There’s a very distinct standard of proof in criminal law,” says Young. “If the police and prosecutors don’t believe they meet that standard, even if they believe the person is guilty, the only solution is to walk away. You can’t have perfect justice. This is not the heavens. It’s the criminal courts.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Marc Falkoff Reveals that Yemeni Detainees Should Have Been Released Years Ago
From yementimes.com: A U.S. lawyer and Northern Illinois University School of Law CrimProf Marc Falkoff revealed that the U.S. military decided years ago that some Yemeni detainees were eligible for release from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, but they remain in prison until today.
“Some of your countrymen were cleared for release by the U.S. military years ago. Just days ago, after we threatened legal action, the Pentagon revealed previously classified information to us – the names of Yemeni prisoners at Guantánamo who are eligible for immediate transfer back to Yemen, including three of my clients. Some of the men on the military’s list were eligible to return to their home countries at least as early as June 2004,” noted CrimProf Falkoff, who for the past three years has represented 17 Yemenis being detained by the U.S. military at Guantánamo Bay.
According to a list the Yemeni government received from the U.S., approximately 107 Yemenis remain at Guantánamo; however, lawyers and human rights activists say 150 Yemeni detainees remain at the camp.
“Fully one-third of the Saudis are back in Saudi Arabia, more than half of the Afghanis are home with their families and every single European national has been released from Guantánamo. Yet, more than 100 Yemenis remain at the prison – sitting in solitary confinement on steel beds, deprived of books and newspapers, slowly going insane,” Falkoff confirmed.
He added, “The U.S. doesn’t hear the voices of the Yemeni people. You aren’t speaking loudly enough to your representatives, pressuring them to reach an agreement with the U.S. for the repatriation of your citizens. With respect, some of us are concerned that your politicians don’t feel obliged to negotiate the return of your sons and brothers.”
Falkoff criticized the Yemeni government, which so far has failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. to return the Yemeni detainees. “We lawyers have been frozen out of the process, so we can’t tell you exactly what the hold-up has been, but the Yemeni government appears to be anxious that a handful of these more than 100 detainees don’t have adequate proof that they are Yemeni citizens.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 12, 2007
New Study States that Over Confident Witnesses Can Hurt More than the Under Confident
A new study authored in part by a University of California Professor Robert J. MacCoun of public policy and law throws cold water on a common theory that a confident witness who errs in trial testimony is still more credible than a less confident witness who similarly slips up.
The researchers concluded that self-assured witnesses who make a mistake - even on issues of little importance - undermine their credibility by raising doubts about their competency, their ability to judge their own abilities and their motivations.
"People giving testimony, or advice, or opinions should therefore be careful to express appropriate degrees of confidence in their assertions," the researchers write in a summary of their report in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science. "Otherwise, the 13th stroke of the clock will cast the other 12 in doubt."
The researchers included Robert J. MacCoun of UC Berkeley, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and at the School of Law (Boalt Hall); Elizabeth Tenney, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Virginia; Barbara Spellman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia; and Reid Hastie, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.
MacCoun said the team's findings challenge the frequent tendency of attorneys to pressure their witnesses to project a strong sense of confidence and to minimize the use of hedges like "I think" or "maybe." Academic experts encounter similar pressures when asked to testify before policy makers, he said. But this first-of-its-kind study shows that such a strategy can backfire if a cocky witness gets caught in a mistake. Rest of Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
Police Brutality on the Streets of Zimbabwe
From NYTimes.com: Police assaulted and tortured Zimbabwe's most prominent opposition leader after breaking up a protest prayer meeting, leaving him with deep gashes on his head and shoulders, colleagues said Monday.
The organizers of the ''Save Zimbabwe'' meeting -- an alliance of opposition, civic, church leaders and student and anti-government groups -- said lawyers reported that Morgan Tsvangirai fainted three times after being beaten by police. The Save Zimbabwe Campaign also said another opposition leader, Lovemore Madhuku, was taken to the main Harare hospital early Monday after collapsing from police assaults. He was reported in serious condition.
At least four other opposition and civic leaders were beaten and tortured in custody, the campaign said.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said his wife was allowed to see him Monday in a suburban jail and reported the wounds. Susan Tsvangirai reported her husband was heavily bandaged, said his deputy, Movement for Democratic Change vice president Thoko Khupe. Some of the wounds were sutured and an eye was badly swollen.
''This is not consistent with the normal police brutality we have witnessed. The injuries were deliberate and an attempt to assassinate him,'' said Eliphas Mukonoweshure, another top opposition official. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Pressure Builds in Crack vs. Coke Controversy
From USATODAY.com: Momentum is building in Congress to ease crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, which the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics say have filled prisons with low-level drug dealers and addicts whose punishments were much worse than their crimes.
Federal prison sentences for possessing or selling crack have far exceeded those for powder cocaine for two decades. House Crime Subcommittee chairman Robert Scott, D-Va., a longtime critic of such sentencing policies, plans to hold hearings on crack sentences this year. In the Senate, Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama is drawing bipartisan support for his proposal to ease crack sentences.
"I believe that as a matter of law enforcement and good public policy that crack cocaine sentences are too heavy and can't be justified," Sessions says. "People don't want us to be soft on crime, but I think we ought to make the law more rational."
The mandatory federal sentencing guidelines passed by Congress in 1986 require a judge to impose the same sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack as for 500 grams of powder cocaine: five years in prison.
Congress passed the sentencing laws just after the fatal crack overdose of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias on June 19, 1986, and as crack was emerging in urban areas, says Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who researches crime. Crack cocaine was associated with violent, open-air drug markets, he says.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Questioning the Constitutionality of Sentencing Sex Offenders to Death
From chron.com: Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle's declaration that there's a "one in a million" chance her bill expanding the death penalty for repeat child sex offenders is unconstitutional might be optimistic, according to legal scholars and death penalty experts who have reviewed the measure.
They point to previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court barring the death penalty for adult rape that does not end a life and banning its use for offenders who are mentally retarded or younger than 18 at the time of the crime.
"One could think rather confidently that this would not be upheld," said Lino Graglia, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas known for his conservative views, citing precedent on the issue and recent decisions limiting the scope of the death penalty even for convicted killers.
Death penalty experts, moreover, note that of the five states allowing the death penalty for child rape, only one handed that sentence down. And it is the case of pedophile Patrick Kennedy, making its way through Louisiana state courts, that could render the issue moot before Texas ever sends a child rapist to death row. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Questioning Sting Operations With Conspiracy Charges
From NPR.com: The FBI has made several terrorism cases against defendants who conspired with undercover agents — not actual terrorists. The Justice Department recently saw fit to defend the sting-operation strategy in relation to the sentencing of two men the FBI targeted.
Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf David Moran Explains Problems With Foreign Witnesses
From detnews.com: Wayne State University CrimProf David Moran recently explained the difficulties in returning a foreign witness to the United States for trial.
"Foreign witnesses can only get here voluntarily," said CrimProf David Moran. "You can transmit a subpoena to somebody overseas and ask him or her to show up, but it's up to them."
In those cases, federal authorities would help provide a subpoena to foreign officials, who would give it to the witness, Moran said.
Stephen Grant called the family's 19-year-old German nanny Verena Dierkes several times on the night police say he killed his wife, according to phone records.
Investigators questioned her about the wife Tara Grant's disappearance before Dierkes returned to Germany on Feb. 20. At that time, investigators had not yet secured the phone records, a source said.On March 2, police found Tara Grant's torso in the family garage. Stephen Grant, 37, was charged with first degree murder Tuesday after police say he admitted strangling his wife with his hands, dismembering her at his father's shop and scattering her remains in Stony Creek Metropark.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]