CrimProf Blog

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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Columnist Leonard Pitts Recieves Death Threats

From The FBI is investigating death threats against Leonard Pitts, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald, after a column he wrote about black-on-white crime triggered a furor on white supremacist Web sites.

Days after The Herald published Pitts' column, posted his address, his home phone number and his wife's name. Several other white supremacist Internet sites followed suit, and one gave directions to his house along with a satellite image of the neighborhood.

Pitts said that none of the threats was specific and that "nobody has come to the house." However, he said, someone leafleted his neighborhood with a flier attacking him for the column.

Pitts has received dozens of hostile phone calls at his home and about 400 e-mails, said Dave Wilson, the Herald's managing editor for news.

"An unsettling number of those were threats," Wilson said. The messages, which ranged widely in gravity, included death threats, he said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

June 23, 2007 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 22, 2007

CrimProf Spotlight: Diane Amann

Amann2This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights UC Davis School of Law CrimProf Diane Amann

Professor Amann's scholarship examines the interaction of national, regional, and international legal regimes in efforts to combat atrocity and cross-border crime. Recent works have focused on legal responses to U.S. policies respecting executive detention at Guantánamo and elsewhere, on the use of foreign and international law in U.S. constitutional decisionmaking, and on trials of deposed leaders in Iraq, Serbia, and West Africa.

Recipient of the law school's 2000 Distinguished Teaching Award, Professor Amann has taught Federal Jurisdiction, Transnational Criminal Law, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, Public International Law, Comparative Constitutional Law, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Criminal Law, and Constitutional Criminal Procedure.

      After receiving her Juris Doctor degree cum laude from the Northwestern University School of Law, she served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Prentice H. Marshall in Chicago and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and then practiced federal criminal defense law in San Francisco. Professor Amann has been a professeur invitée at the Faculté de droit, Université de Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), and a Visiting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland-Galway. She was graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and earned a Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

      Professor Amann has presented her work in North America, in Europe, and in South Africa. Fora have included: meetings of the American Society of International Law, American Society of Comparative Law, Law and Society Association, International Association of Constitutional Law, and Association of American Law Schools; the Collège de France in Paris; and numerous American law school symposia and faculty workshops.

      Her professional service includes the Board of Advisors of the National Institute of Military Justice; the Executive Committee of the American Society of International Law; and co-chairmanship of ASIL West, a pilot project designed to enhance the Society's regional presence. Professor Amann is an expert member of Réseau ID, a network of French and American scholars and judges studying the internationalization of law, and she wrote the U.S. national report as an expert member of a Paris-based comparative study of military and special tribunals. She helped advise the Serbian government on establishing a special war crimes court, and serves as an expert on a project, cosponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, to draft transitional criminal codes for use in postconflict situations.

      Professor Amann has been quoted and had her work cited in national and foreign media, among them the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, KCBS Radio, and the Australian Broadcasting Service. [Mark Godsey]

June 22, 2007 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

SCOTUS Decides Rita v US

Supreme_court_20In Rita v. United States, No. 06-5754, the SCOTUS ruled that federal appeals courts may apply a "presumption of reasonableness" to federal sentences that fall within the range of punishment recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Critics of this approach had argued that such a presumption effectively moved the guidelines system back toward the mandatory guidelines scheme that the court struck down in United States v. Booker [Mark Godsey]

June 22, 2007 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)