June 16, 2007
Belgium CrimProf Tom Vander Beken Says Acquitted Pre-Trial Detainee Stats are Not Excessive
From expatica.com: 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 15, 2007
CrimProf Spotlight: Dwight Aarons
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 14, 2007
Federal Judge Reverses His Decision to Limit Police Public Gathering Videotaping
From NYTimes.com: 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]
Bush Adminstration Pushes for Mandatory Federal Prison Terms
From usatoday.com: 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]
SCOTUS Dismisses Appeal Because of 2 Day Late Filing
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 13, 2007
Report Calls for DNA Justice for All. . . or at Least 413
From chron.com: 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]
Judges Across the Nation are Mixing Punishment with Treatment
From philly.com: Across the nation, more judges embrace the concept of specialized courts, where the idea is to mix punishment with treatment in cases where criminal behavior is the result of addiction or mental-health problems.
Philadelphia - while perhaps better known for the old Eagles Court for unruly fans - has a range of special courts. There are a drug court, a truancy court, a treatment court for juveniles, a domestic-violence misdemeanor court, a "community court" for nuisance crimes, a gun court that emphasizes anger-management treatment, and, starting just last week, a DUI court. A mental-health court is being explored.
The region's counties also have begun to embrace the concept. Chester County has had a drug court since 1997, Delaware County is contemplating one, and Bucks County is mulling a hybrid court that would handle drug and DUI defendants and perhaps defendants with mental-health issues. Montgomery County's drug court began last year.
"Treatment courts are the rage now," said Bucks County Court Administrator Douglas R. Praul, adding that officials are still in the talking stage of how to proceed.
New Jersey has 24 drug courts, and there is a tax court. While there are landlord-tenant dockets in some places, and there has been talk about mental-health courts, the state has not otherwise embraced the idea of specialized courts. "We think it's a mistake to go into too much area of specialty," said courts spokeswoman Winnie Comfort, who added that the state shifted away from more fragmented courts after its 1947 re-examination of the judicial system. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Text Messaging 911 is Now Okay in LA
From LATimes.com: The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday announced plans to pursue improvements to the city's 911 system, saying callers in the future will be able to use text messages, photos and even video from cellphones to seek emergency assistance.
Officials told the L.A. Police Commission that they were beginning to seek money to install the new system, which they believe could aid crime fighting by providing callers with alternative ways to alert authorities and provide evidence swiftly.
"Sometimes a person calls 911 and says they just saw a robbery and they've snapped an image or video of the getaway car," said Sgt. Lee Sands. "We want to find a way to get that to officers in the field as fast as possible."
Officials said there are times when it's easier for someone in need to text for help rather than call. "There are circumstances when a person during a kidnap or robbery can't talk to an operator but they can message them," Sands said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
June 12, 2007
3 National Guard Members Charged With Human Smuggling
From NYTimes.com: Three members of the Texas National Guard helping patrol the Mexican border have been charged with human smuggling after federal agents found one of them in uniform driving a van crammed with 24 illegal immigrants north of Laredo, the Justice Department said Monday.
The guardsmen, including two sergeants, were assigned to Operation Jump Start assisting the Border Patrol and had run multiple smuggling trips at fees of $1,500 to $2,000 per passenger, according to the complaint by the United States attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Don DeGabrielle.
The complaint cited cellphone text messages exchanged among them like “24 will b tuff 2 fit but ill try.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
10 Years for Consensual Sex is "a Grave Miscarriage of Justice"
From NPR.com: Georgia judge called Genarlow Wilson's 10-year sentence for consensual teen sex "a grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered him released from prison. But the former high school football star and scholar remains behind bars pending a notice of appeal.
Wilson's sentence – along with the explicit details of his case – continues to stir national debate with supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter, who say his sentence was too severe. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProf Kenneth Gaines Discusses the Precedence of the Pittman Decision
From thestate.com: University South Carolina School of Law CrimProf Kenneth Gaines recently discussed the S.C. Supreme Court ruling Monday which upheld the double-murder conviction of teenager Christopher Pittman who claimed antidepressants led him to kill his grandparents and set their house on fire when he was 12.
USC CrimProf Kenneth Gaines said the other defendants could have an uphill battle on appeal if they pursues the involuntary intoxication issue, given the ruling in the Pittman case, such as in the case of Columbia estate lawyer H. Dewain Herring who claims that someone slipped him a “date rape” drug that led him to fatally shoot a strip-club manager in January 2006.
“If they gave the same (jury instructions) as they did in Pittman, it doesn’t look very promising for Mr. Herring,” Gaines said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
June 11, 2007
CrimProf Robert Talbot Discusses Flaws in Murder Case
From Foxnews.com: As a murder trial gets under way Monday in the disappearance of Nina Reiser, a 31-year-old mother of two missing since September, University of San Francisco CrimProf Robert Talbot discusses the difficulties of the case.
The absence of a victim places an added burden on prosecutors, who must rely on circumstantial evidence to persuade jurors not just that her husband committed a homicide, but that a murder was even committed, says CrimProf Robert Talbot.
"Whenever there isn't a body, there's just lots of arguments that are wide open," said CrimProf Robert Talbot. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
SCOTUS Decides Fry v. Pliler
The court prescribed a standard of harmless-error review for federal courts to use in habeas corpus proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §2254 to evaluate the prejudicial effect of constitutional errors in state trials. A federal court is to apply the "substantial and injurious effect" standard of Brecht v. Abramson on habeas review, regardless of whether the state court recognized the error and reviewed it under Chapman v. California 's "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, the court held. [Mark Godsey]
SCOTUS Grants Review To Discuss Deviation From US Sentencing Guidelines
The U.S. Supreme Court June 11 granted review in a criminal case that raises a sentencing issue similar to that presented in a case that the court dropped last week due to the death of the petitioner.
The question presented in Gall v. United States, No. 06-7949, is as follows: When determining the "reasonableness" of a district court sentence under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 76 CrL 251 (2005), is it appropriate to require district courts to justify a deviation from the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines with a finding of extraordinary circumstances?
The court also agreed to review a case involving federal sentencing judges' authority to impose a sentence below the guidelines range on the basis of a disagreement with the guidelines' disparate treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses, Kimbrough v. United States, No. 06-6330.
June 10, 2007
CrimProf Bruce Jacob Discusses Bigamy
From sptimes.com: Stetson University College of Law CrimProf Bruce Jacob discusses bigamy with regards to Rev. Ledell Adrice Carr, who had recently married a woman in 2007. It was later discovered in fact that he hadn't divorced his first wife of 32 years, and in the decades since, court records show he had asked three other women for their hand in marriage.
Bigamy isn't uncommon, said Bruce Jacob, a professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law."Sometimes, it's a kind of a technical thing when a person might think they have a valid divorce," Jacob said.
But, he added, "There are people out there that deliberately marry more than one woman and shuttle back and forth, or they marry one and leave her and marry again, without bothering to get a divorce."
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Cuomo Is Not Done With Student Loan Industry
From NPR.com: In congressional testimony this week, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he will broaden his investigation into the student-loan industry to examine what criteria lenders use in determining interest rates.
On Wednesday, two more university financial aid directors left their positions in response to the recent exposure of unethical financial relationships between universities and private lenders. Robert Siegel talks with Cuomo. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
CrimProfs Jody Armour and Stan Goldman are Questioning the Judge in Paris's Case
From postchronicle.com: Loyola University School of Law CrimProf Stan Goldman and USC School of Law CrimProf Jody Armour are asking whether Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer was valid when he overruled Sheriff Lee Baca's decision to transfer Hilton to house arrest after just three full days in jail for what was originally a 45-day sentence, reports Josh Grossberg of E!
"It's really bizarre that the most frivolous person in the western world in the most frivolous case in which she didn't know she has a license to drive might end up creating precedent that could affect thousands of prisoners and where they're housed and how they're housed for years to come," said Stan Goldman, professor of criminal law at Loyola University Law School.
Reportedly, Goldman and others agree that the latest decision by Judge Sauer, to send Hilton back to jail, creates a legal quandary as to whether or not the judge overstepped his bounds and if in fact, Sheriff Baca's decision should have stood.
"The judge attempted to impose control over the sentence," said Jody Armour, professor of law at the University of Southern California. "The sheriff doesn't have discretion to do anything willy-nilly, but once the custody of an inmate has been given over to his department, the sheriff is given a lot of latitude. But with one huge exception."
Judge Sauer's sentencing specifically forbade Paris from being placed on home confinement. "The judge was trying to limit the discretion of the sheriff, and the sheriff was saying this is our domain," Armour said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]