CrimProf Blog

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

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Judges rule three-strikes sentence unconstitutional

California's three-strikes sentencing law suffered a blow Tuesday when a federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a 28-years-to-life sentence for a sex offender who failed to register with local police at the correct time of year.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case of Cecilio Gonzalez back to federal district court in Los Angeles for resentencing after finding his 2001 penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the 8th Amendment.

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December 31, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Emotions tested in a year of crime

The criminal landscape of 2008 reminded all of us how fragile — and strange — life can be.

It was a tragic year for police officers, with the Houston Police Department losing three to violent circumstances. As a result, Texas again led the nation for officer deaths in the line of duty.

2008 also was a tragic year for young children who apparently suffered at the hands of their parents — including a 3-month-old boy found stomped to death in a roadside ditch in Galveston and two Pasadena siblings whose burned bodies were found a week after they disappeared on Father's Day.

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December 31, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Girding for new marijuana law, state offers enforcement tips

Police officers should issue tickets, similar to a building code citation, to anyone possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, under an advisory released by the state yesterday recommending ways to manage the law decriminalizing possession of the drug.

The law is effective Jan 2.

Violators may appeal the citation - a civil infraction - in court within 21 days or pay the $100 fine set by the statute. Municipalities would be responsible for collecting the fines, according to the recommendations.

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December 31, 2008 in Drugs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

N.Y. High Court Bars Surrogate-Elect Over Campaign Contributions

The Court of Appeals on Monday barred Nora S. Anderson from becoming Manhattan surrogate on Jan. 1 pending the outcome of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau's prosecution of her for allegedly failing to accurately report contributions to her campaign this summer.

A 6-0 court suspended Anderson with pay effective Thursday, when the 10-year term she won earlier this year is to begin. The court gave no reasoning for its decision.

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye took no part in the deliberations.

Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau will designate an interim judge to fill the opening by early January, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration.

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December 30, 2008 in Political News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge-Elect, Indicted, Is Suspended by Court

The New York State Court of Appeals on Monday ordered the suspension of Judge-elect Nora S. Anderson while she faces criminal charges accusing her of committing financial fraud during her campaign to become a Surrogate’s Court judge in Manhattan.

The suspension will take effect on Thursday, the same day that Ms. Anderson was scheduled to take her seat on the bench, according to Gary Spencer, a spokesman for the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. A temporary replacement will be assigned by Ann Pfau, the state’s chief administrative judge.

The appeals court judges voted 6 to 0 to suspend Ms. Anderson, Mr. Spencer said. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye did not participate because she is going to retire from the court on Wednesday and will not be on the bench when the suspension takes effect.

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December 30, 2008 in Political News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Report: Police officer deaths down in 2008

Deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty fell sharply in 2008, with the number killed by gunfire reaching its lowest level in more than five decades, according to a report published Monday.

The statistics show 2008 has been "one of the safest years for U.S. law enforcement in decades," wrote two groups: the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors.

Based on preliminary data, the groups found that 140 law enforcement officers were killed in 2008 -- 86 of them accidentally and 54 intentionally.

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December 30, 2008 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Study: Houston leads in homicides by black youths

As violent crime nationally slows in growth or declines, the United States is facing a dramatic — but hardly noticed — increase in murders by and of young African-American men, a Northeastern University study released today reports.

Between 2002 and 2007, the number of black male juveniles murdered nationally increased by 31 percent and the number of black perpetrators by 43 percent. The increases were even greater, the report said, when guns were used as weapons.

Focusing on the period between 2000-01 and 2006-07, the study found Houston at the top of a list of 28 U.S. cities, with a 139 percent increase in the number of young African-Americans suspected in killings.

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December 29, 2008 in Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gov. Rod Blagojevich pardons 22 people

Marcus Lyons was so bitter after leaving prison in 1991 that he tried to nail himself to a wooden cross outside the DuPage County Courthouse.

On Friday, two decades after he was convicted of a rape he did not commit, Lyons was one of 22 people pardoned by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Lyons, 51, said he felt fortunate to have received clemency, knowing that a growing backlog has left hundreds of others waiting for decisions from the governor.

But Lyons, now living in Indiana, said he is still upset with police officers from Woodridge, where the crime took place in 1987. He said Friday's pardon can't return the one thing he wants most.

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December 29, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

State senators study case of innocent man who died in prison

Legislators may change state law to recognize the innocence of a Fort Worth man convicted in Lubbock more than 20 years ago.

State Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, may clarify how the state compensates and exonerates wrongfully convicted inmates who die in prison.

The work, along with recognition by Texas courts, could bring closure after 22 years to the family of Timothy Brian Cole and formally recognize what could be the country's first posthumous exoneration.

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December 29, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pa. public-records law changing

Pennsylvania state, county and local governments will be operating under a new set of rules in 2009 when a new Right-To-Know Law goes into effect.

“The big difference is the burden of proving a record is not public is on the agency, rather than on the members of the public,” said Chambersburg Borough Secretary Tanya Mickey, who has been named the borough’s open records officer.

That will be another difference, with governments designating to whom those records should go, Mickey said. The borough’s updated policy and a form to request information soon will be available on Chambersburg’s Web site (www.borough.chambersburg.pa.us), she said.

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December 29, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Money for future Dallas DNA testing lost in Madoff scandal

Panic ensued at the Innocence Project of Texas when a powerful Wall Street investor was arrested this month and accused of swindling investors out of $50 billion.

One of the organizations that had invested with Bernard Madoff was the JEHT Foundation, which funds post-conviction DNA tests for Dallas County inmates who claim they are innocent. Without the funding, the Innocence Project would be faced with trying to raise capital in a bad economy and those seeking tests could face indefinite delays, if the testing could be done at all.

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December 26, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Feds consider searches of terrorism blogs

Homeland Security Department may soon start scouring the Internet to find blogs and message boards that terrorists use to plan attacks in the USA.

The effort comes as researchers are seeing terrorists increasingly use the Internet to plan bombings, recruit members and spread propaganda. "Blogging and message boards have played a substantial role in allowing communication among those who would do the United States harm," the department said in a recent notice.

Homeland Security officials are looking for companies to search the Internet for postings "in near to real-time which precede" an attack, particularly a bombing. Bombings are "of great concern" because terrorists can easily get materials and make an improvised-explosive device (IED), the department said.

"There is a lot of IED information generated by terrorists everywhere — websites, forums, people telling you where to buy fertilizer and how to plant IEDs," said Hsinchun Chen, director of the University of Arizona's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Chen's "Dark Web" research project has found 500,000,000 terrorist pages and postings, including tens of thousands that discuss IEDs.

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December 26, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

How To Prosecute a Shoe-Thrower

Muntadar al-Zaida, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, will stand trial Dec. 31, the BBC reported Monday. He's being charged with "aggression against a foreign head of state," which carries a prison term of between five and 15 years. If a reporter here in the United States flung his footwear at, say, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, would he do time?

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December 26, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Border Patrol grows and so do concerns

Shortly after riding a U.S. Border Patrol dune buggy in Arizona's high desert 2½ years ago, President George W. Bush initiated a beefed-up border-security policy that some say has infringed on civil liberties -- and led to crackdowns around Port Angeles and Bellingham.

"We want our borders shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals and drug dealers and terrorists," declared Bush, who ordered the Border Patrol to hire 6,000 more agents by the end of this year.

In Blaine, at the U.S.-Canada border, the Border Patrol has nearly quadrupled in size -- from about 50 agents eight years ago to about 190 today. It's using its wealth of manpower to throw up roadblocks on highways and search buses dozens of miles from the nearest border.

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December 25, 2008 in Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jewish group leader complains about Rubashkin treatment

A leader of one of the country’s most prominent Jewish groups complained to the U.S. attorney general Wednesday about the treatment of a former Iowa meatpacking executive.

The complaint centers on the government’s decision to deny bail to Sholom Rubashkin, the longtime leader of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Ia.

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December 25, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is the Bush administration criminally liable for its lawlessness?

Whatever its other legacies, the Bush administration will be remembered for its contemptible disregard for the law in the post-9/11 war on terrorism. From the wiretapping of Americans without a court order to the waterboarding of suspected terrorists to the refusal to abide by the requirements of the Geneva Convention, many of the administration's policies can fairly be described as lawless.

But were they also criminal? Should officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, be put on trial, either in a court of law or in a forum like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission? As the Bush administration nears its end, calls for such a reckoning are coming from civil libertarians and some supporters of President-elect Barack Obama. Some even argue that President Bush should be indicted.

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December 25, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New NYPD system alerts officers on the mentally ill

A day after the NYPD used a stun gun on an emotionally disturbed man, Iman Morales, volunteers meticulously cleaned blood from the sidewalk. Morales died when he fell from the second floor ledge in Brooklyn. (Newsday Photo / Ari Mintz / September 25, 2008)


The New York Police Department has a new alert system that lets officers know if they are responding to locations where police have previously been sent to deal with the mentally ill, an initiative sparked by the fatal 2007 shooting of a man who confronted officers with a broken wine bottle.

Under terms of the month-old initiative, a 911 dispatcher handling a "triggering incident" -- anything from a "shots fired" call to an assault in progress -- checks the address to see if it has been the scene of three previous incidents involving an emotionally disturbed person in the preceding 365 days, according to an internal NYPD order.

If so, the dispatcher tells responding officers about the previous incidents and sends to the scene an ambulance and the Emergency Service Unit, whose officers are best-trained to deal with the mentally ill.

A police patrol supervisor, who is usually armed with a portable Taser, is also sent to the scene. [Mark Godsey]

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December 24, 2008 in Mentally Ill | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

As Economy Dips, Arrests for Shoplifting Soar

Recently laid off from a job building trailers in Elkhart, Ind., Mr. Johnson came up a dollar short at Martin’s Supermarket last month when he went to buy a $4.99 bottle of sleep medication. So, “for some stupid reason,” he tried to shoplift it and was immediately arrested.

“I was desperate, I guess,” said Mr. Johnson, 25, who said he had never been arrested before. As the economy has weakened, shoplifting has increased, and retail security experts say the problem has grown worse this holiday season. Shoplifters are taking everything from compact discs and baby formula to gift cards and designer clothing.

Police departments across the country say that shoplifting arrests are 10 percent to 20 percent higher this year than last. The problem is probably even greater than arrest records indicate since shoplifters are often banned from stores rather than arrested.

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December 24, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Is the Bush administration criminally liable for its lawlessness?

Whatever its other legacies, the Bush administration will be remembered for its contemptible disregard for the law in the post-9/11 war on terrorism. From the wiretapping of Americans without a court order to the waterboarding of suspected terrorists to the refusal to abide by the requirements of the Geneva Convention, many of the administration's policies can fairly be described as lawless.

But were they also criminal? Should officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, be put on trial, either in a court of law or in a forum like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission? As the Bush administration nears its end, calls for such a reckoning are coming from civil libertarians and some supporters of President-elect Barack Obama. Some even argue that President Bush should be indicted.

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December 24, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

NYPD's "Operation Impact" Credited with Success in Tough Precincts

Along Linden Boulevard in East New York, the officers of Operation Impact patrol the Pink Houses with all the rigor of a military patrol, a clannish band of partners whose uniforms shout authority even when they do not speak.

They tread the maze of eight-story buildings, inspect the interior staircases, aim their flashlights into the nighttime darkness of rooftops and — on a recent frigid night — coat their lips with layers of ChapStick.

The police officers in this outpost in the eastern end of Brooklyn are part of a mini crime-suppression operation, one reliant on money, manpower and labor. They are the tip of the New York Police Department’s crime-fighting spear.

“We feel really proud of the job we’re doing here,” Officer Kevin Martinez, 24, said as he walked his beat in the Louis H. Pink Houses, a public housing project of 1,500 apartments in 22 buildings.

“When they see us here, they feel safe,” he said.

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December 24, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)