April 3, 2008
Illinois May Monitor High Risk Restraining Orders With GPS Technology
From NPR.com: The Illinois legislature is considering a law that would allow police to monitor high-risk restraining-order subjects by using GPS technology. Harvard Law School lecturer Diane Rosenfeld, who proposed a similar bill that passed in Massachusetts last year, discusses the Illinois initiative. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
War Crime Charges Filed Against Embassy Bomber
From online.wsj.com: Military prosecutors filed war-crimes charges yesterday against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al Qaeda operative implicated in the simultaneous 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The case makes for another useful lesson in the post-9/11 military commissions process, and ought to provide a measure of justice for the atrocities, which killed more than 200 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands.
Currently incarcerated at Guantanamo, Ghailani procured the truck, TNT, detonators, and oxygen and acetylene canisters that comprised the suicide bomb that destroyed the Dar es Salaam embassy. He scouted for the attack and coordinated between his terror cell and the one in Nairobi. A day before the bombing, Ghailani fled to Pakistan, where he was captured in 2004 following a 10-hour firefight, part of a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation. At least 10 of the conspirators remain at large, including Osama bin Laden.
Ghailani confessed to his role in the plot during a 2007 hearing but claimed he was a dupe, for instance that he thought the TNT was "soap for washing horses." Yet Ghailani continued his service to al Qaeda after the bombing. He worked as an instructor at a terrorist training camp and forged documents, becoming at one point a bin Laden bodyguard. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
German Law Professor Sent to Prison for Accepting Kickbacks
From A judge has sentenced a German law professor to three years in prison for accepting kickbacks from doctoral students.
The Hannover university professor, whose identity was not revealed, confessed to accepting euro156,000 (US$240,000) to serve as a faculty adviser to 68 doctorate students between 1998 and 2005.
Court documents say an agency brokered kickback deals for him to serve as the students' adviser. Adviers can be difficult to find in German universities. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 2, 2008
Inmate Dies After Being Tasered
From latimes.com: An Orange County jail inmate who spent a week in a coma after a violent confrontation with sheriff's deputies has died, a deputy coroner said today.
Sheriff's deputies used Taser stun weapons to subdue Jason Jesus Gomez in his cell at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana. Gomez, 35, who was in jail for a probation violation, stopped breathing after the confrontation and was resuscitated by paramedics.
He spent a week in a coma at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. A deputy coroner who would not identify himself said today that Gomez had died. He would not say whether Gomez died last night or today and referred calls to the district attorney's office, which is investigating the incident.
The Orange County district attorney's office has opened an investigation into the violent struggle between sheriff's deputies and Gomez, who had a lengthy criminal record. The action is the latest setback to the Sheriff's Department as it struggles to recover from a series of allegations involving the treatment of inmates. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Question from the Past: Death for Rape?
From abajournal.com: It was 44 years ago this spring that the state of Missouri put to death Ronald Wolfe for the crime of rape. Though no one could know it then, his execution would prove to be the end of an era. Rape had been a capital crime for much of American history, and it remained so through the middle decades of the 20th century, almost exclusively in the South. About nine of 10 of those sentenced to death for rape during those years were black.
In 1977, a year after having restored the death penalty as a constitutional punishment for murder, the U.S. Supreme Court branded death a cruel and unusual punishment for rape. The justices overturned a death sentence for three-time rapist Ehrlich Coker and strongly suggested that only homicide qualifies as a capital crime. Coker’s victim was just 16 years old, but she was referred to as an “adult woman” in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584.
“We have the abiding conviction that the death penalty, which is unique in its severity and irrevocability, is an excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life,” wrote Justice Byron White.
On April 16, the court will reconsider that “abiding conviction” in the case of a convicted child rapist from Louisiana. Kennedy v. Louisiana, No. 07-343.
When Patrick Kennedy, a black man, was sentenced to die for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter, he was the only person on death row in this country for a crime other than murder. In 1995, Louisiana became the first state to restore capital punishment for the rape of a child under 12. Since then, four other states—Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas—have authorized capital punishment for child rape, albeit for a second conviction for sexual assault of a child. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Third Circuit Grants New Sentencing for Mumia Abu-Jamal
From the Philadelphia Inquirer online, Mar. 28, 2008: "At least for now, execution is off the table for the world-famous death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal following a federal appeals court decision yesterday that left intact his conviction in the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
"A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Abu-Jamal must be sentenced to life in prison for killing Daniel Faulkner or get a chance with a new Philadelphia jury that would decide only whether he should get life or be sentenced - again - to death." Read the rest of the article here. [Mike Mannheimer]
April 1, 2008
SCOTUS Rejects the Reopening of a Dual Murder Case Against an Mexican Citizen
From reuters.com: Mexico protested on Monday a U.S. Supreme Court ruling rejecting the reopening of a dual-murder case against a Mexican on death row.
The court rule last week that U.S. President George W. Bush exceeded his authority when he directed Texas to comply with a World Court ruling mandating the review of the cases of Jose Medellin and 50 other Mexicans in U.S. prisons awaiting execution.
Mexico's Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic letter to the U.S. State Department expressing its unhappiness.
"Mexico is concerned with the decision taken last March 25 by the United States' highest court," the ministry said in a statement, adding it would do everything in its power to have the World Court's ruling upheld.
The Hague court in 2004 ordered the United States to review Medellin's case, and those of the other Mexican death row inmates, on the grounds that his Vienna Convention right to talk to consular officers after his arrest had been violated.
Bush in 2005 decided to comply with the World Court's ruling.
Medellin has been on death row since 1994. [Mark Godsey]
LA Council Tries to Paa a 40 Hour Homicide Ban
From latimes.com: Los Angeles City Council members -- who in the past have tried with mixed results to ban gas-powered leaf blowers from backyards, lap dances from strip clubs and fast food restaurants from South Los Angeles -- plan to vote today on a 40-hour moratorium on homicide, a symbolic gesture that comes as the city has seen an uptick in killings in recent months.
If it passes, the ban would begin on Friday at 6:01 p.m. to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
The ban, which would also apply to other forms of violence, was proposed by Los Angeles author and political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who was so alarmed by the city's recent spike in gun violence that he urged its elected leaders to make a bold statement.
"It's an educational vehicle to drive home the point that we're losing too many lives," said Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "If this works, then the next logical thing is: if a city like Los Angeles can go 40 hours without one homicide, then why not 40 days?"
Hutchinson hopes the nonbinding resolution will also secure the backing of the Los Angeles Unified School District board of education, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the state legislature. Still, some say the council should focus on more substantive solutions to the city's homicide rate -- and not waste time on symbolic gestures.
"I'm sure that the people who are doing the killing will hear that the council is calling for a moratorium and then cease and desist," said a sarcastic Joe Hicks, who once served as executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission. "It's more silliness from our wonderful City Council."
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 31, 2008
New Bill Passed in VA to Notice to Convicts when DNA Evidence is Found in Old Labs
From inrich.com: A state budget amendment would require the Virginia Forensic Science Board to notify felons when biological evidence is found in their old lab files.
More than 530,000 files from 1973 through 1988 -- before DNA testing was widely used in criminal cases -- have been searched in recent years to find biological material that might exonerate those wrongfully convicted.
The amendment, passed by the General Assembly, must be signed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine next month to take effect. It was drafted by Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission and a member of the forensic science board.
Albo, a lawyer, said he believes no one notified will request testing because it would only confirm their guilt.
However, he added, if there is a chance that even one person is innocent, the effort must be made to make sure he or she knows of the newly discovered evidence.
At its January meeting, the board, which oversees the Department of Forensic Science, voted against a proposal to notify felons when biological evidence that may be suitable for DNA testing is found in their files. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
New Hampshire Agreed to Pay 1.85 Million to 30 Female Inmates
From concordmonitor.com: The state has agreed to pay $1.85 million to 30 female inmates and a
corrections employee who accused former prison sergeant Douglas Tower
of raping, assaulting or sexually harassing them.
The women will receive checks ranging
from $6,000 to $228,000, said Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown
yesterday. The payments settle the women's lawsuits against the state.
They do not settle any claims brought against Tower personally.
Nor do they affect the 11 criminal trials
Tower, 63, still faces over the sexual and physical assault of female
inmates. Tower has already been convicted of six counts of rape and
sexual assault against one female inmate and of physically assaulting
Those assaults happened at Shea Farm halfway house in Concord. Tower is serving 20 to 40 years for the rape conviction alone.
The prison did not admit wrongdoing in the
settlement reached yesterday. But Jeff Lyons, prison spokesman, said
the prison has made several changes in light of the Tower
All office doors now have windows, so
staff and inmates cannot be out of view. There are more cameras at Shea
Farm, which has winding halls and remote living spaces. The department
doubled security staff at Shea Farm and now has at least one female
officer assigned to every shift, Lyons said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
The women will receive checks ranging from $6,000 to $228,000, said Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown yesterday. The payments settle the women's lawsuits against the state. They do not settle any claims brought against Tower personally.
Nor do they affect the 11 criminal trials Tower, 63, still faces over the sexual and physical assault of female inmates. Tower has already been convicted of six counts of rape and sexual assault against one female inmate and of physically assaulting another inmate.
Those assaults happened at Shea Farm halfway house in Concord. Tower is serving 20 to 40 years for the rape conviction alone.
The prison did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement reached yesterday. But Jeff Lyons, prison spokesman, said the prison has made several changes in light of the Tower investigation.
All office doors now have windows, so staff and inmates cannot be out of view. There are more cameras at Shea Farm, which has winding halls and remote living spaces. The department doubled security staff at Shea Farm and now has at least one female officer assigned to every shift, Lyons said.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Kansas Supreme Court Rules Arrest Warrants Strikes Down DNA Based John Doe Warrants
From kansas.com: The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the arrest warrants in seven rape cases -- the first in the nation to charge someone's DNA with a crime -- weren't specific enough to meet legal standards.
The ruling means death-row inmate Douglas Belt won't be tried for the rapes. But the opinion offered hope for both sides.
The court didn't completely strike down the DNA-based "John Doe" warrants.
Those arrest warrants are now commonly used when prosecutors have someone's DNA, but can't match it with a name within the five-year statute of limitations for bringing a rape charge.
The state joins California, Wisconsin and Ohio, which have seen the warrants survive appeals.
"This is actually a good day for law enforcement," said Marc Bennett, an assistant Sedgwick County district attorney who argued the state's case before the Supreme Court.
No one had tried to charge someone's DNA with a crime before McPherson County Attorney Ty Kaufman filed an arrest warrant in 1991 against the nameless defendant.
Kaufman wanted to preserve the five-year statute of limitations for charging someone with rape. He didn't know the suspect's name, but he had a DNA sample.
Yet the court ruled in Belt's case that the arrest warrants were invalid because they didn't fully describe the makeup of his DNA profile.
"The bottom line of the ruling is that even John Doe warrants have to describe an individual in specific detail," said Rebecca Woodman, who argued Belt's case.
The Supreme Court ruling does not preclude prosecutors from drawing up an arrest warrant in the future based on a person's DNA. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Angola 2 Finally Out of Solitary Confinement
From NPR.com: Two former Black Panthers imprisoned in Louisiana are out of solitary confinement for the first time since the 1970s. State corrections officials say Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were moved into a "maximum security dormitory" earlier this week. Louisiana prison officials once said the men, known as the Angola 2, would never be moved. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 30, 2008
There is No Way to Know How Many Innocent People are in Prison
From NYTimes.com: A couple of years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring in a Supreme Court death penalty decision, took stock of the American criminal justice system and pronounced himself satisfied. The rate at which innocent people are convicted of felonies is, he said, less than three-hundredths of 1 percent — .027 percent, to be exact.
That rate, he said, is acceptable. “One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly,” he wrote. “That is a truism, not a revelation.”
But there is reason to question Justice Scalia’s math. He had, citing the methodology of an Oregon prosecutor, divided an estimate of the number of exonerated prisoners, almost all of them in murder and rape cases, by the total of all felony convictions.
“By this logic,” Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in a response to be published in this year’s Annual Review of Law and Social Science, “we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who’ve used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who’ve been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League — and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well.”
Joshua Marquis, the Oregon prosecutor cited by Justice Scalia, granted the logic of Professor Gross’s critique but not his conclusion.
“He correctly points out,” Mr. Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., said of Professor Gross, “that rape and murders are only a small percentage of all crimes, but then has absolutely no real data to suggest there are epidemic false convictions in, say, burglary cases.”
What the debate demonstrates is that we know almost nothing about the number of innocent people in prison. That is because any effort to estimate it involves extrapolation from just two numbers, neither one satisfactory. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]