Saturday, May 3, 2008
From the New York Times: HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — Here in the nation’s leading death-penalty state, and some of the 35 others with capital punishment, execution dockets are quickly filling up.
Less than three weeks after a United States Supreme Court ruling ended a seven-month moratorium on lethal injections, at least 14 execution dates have been set in six states between May 6 and October.
Tennessee director of clinical programs Ben Barton raised $200 for summer public interest fellowships by auctioning off the right to shave his head into a mohawk. Yikes, makes my karaoke offer seem like chicken-shit now (although it usually raises a couple hundred).
American University CrimProf Ira Robbins has posted Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
The middle finger is one of the most commonly used insulting gestures in the United States. The finger, which is used to convey a wide range of emotions, is visible on streets and highways, in schools, shopping malls, and sporting events, in courts and execution chambers, in advertisements and on magazine covers, and even on the hallowed floor of the United States Senate. Despite its ubiquity, however, as a number of recent cases demonstrate, those who use the middle finger in public run the risk of being stopped, arrested, prosecuted, fined, and even incarcerated under disorderly conduct or breach of peace statutes and ordinances.
This Article argues that, although most convictions are ultimately overturned on appeal, the pursuit of criminal sanctions for use of the middle finger infringes on First Amendment rights, violates fundamental principles of criminal justice, wastes valuable judicial resources, and defies good sense. Indeed, the Supreme Court has consistently held that speech may not be prohibited simply because some may find it offensive. Criminal law generally aims to protect persons, property, or the state from serious harm, but use of the middle finger simply does not raise these concerns.
Article here. Be sure to read footnote 34.........
Thursday, May 1, 2008
From abcnews.com: Florida police are investigating the apparent suicide of a woman they believe to be the so-called D.C. Madam, who was found dead in the Florida mobile home of the madam's mother Thursday.
The madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, was recently convicted on federal charges stemming from operating a prostitution service in the Washington, D.C. area with a number of high-profile clients. She was scheduled to be sentenced July 24. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
From star-telegram.com: After seeking the release of two wrongfully convicted men in about two weeks, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he will lobby in Austin for criminal justice changes, including establishment of conviction integrity units across the state.
Watkins talked about the need to double-check the veracity of the system after a court hearing Tuesday in which James Lee Woodard, 55, was set free after serving more than 27 years behind bars for a murder in 1980 that he did not commit.
"This is a perfect time to do it," Watkins said. "We have to look at it. We have to balance that time when we are being a politician, and when we are a human being."
If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees to vacate Woodard's sentence, he would be the 17th inmate to be cleared in Dallas County by DNA evidence since 2001 and the longest-serving inmate in the country to be cleared by additional testing of evidence.
Watkins this month asked for a similar resolution for Thomas McGowan, 49, who served 23 years behind bars for a sexual assault and burglary he did not commit.
Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, which investigated Woodard's case, said other reforms should include a public defender's office, punishment of prosecutors who break the rules and opening the courts to inmates pursuing innocence claims.
"We like to pretend the system in this state works," Blackburn said. "But we've got to stop lying to each other." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
From The School Law Blog: A federal appeals court has rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that restricts, and in some cases bars, students with drug convictions from participation in federal college aid programs.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation v. Spellings that the controversial sanctions do not violate the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th Amendment.
From the New York Times: About 1,100 people have been executed in the United States in the last three decades. Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, accounts for more than 100 of those executions. Indeed, Harris County has sent more people to the death chamber than any state but Texas itself.
Yet Harris County’s capital justice system has not been the subject of intensive research — until now. A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising.
From NPR.com: As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put renewed focus on the issue of veterans' mental health, a judge in Buffalo, N.Y., has created a special court to assist veterans who wind up in the criminal justice system.
Monday, April 28, 2008
From associated press: Federal researchers say they've developed a human identification test that's faster and possibly cheaper than DNA testing. It would be a handy new weapon in the arsenal for detectives, forensic experts and the military, though no one expects it to replace DNA analysis — and its promoters say it is not intended to. The new method analyzes antibodies. Each person has a unique antibody bar code that can be gleaned from blood, saliva or other bodily fluids. Antibodies are proteins used by the body to fend off viruses or perform routine physiological housekeeping. "DNA is a physical code that describes you ... and in many ways so are your antibodies," said Dr. Vicki Thompson, a chemical engineer at the Idaho National Laboratory who's been working with other researchers to perfect the test for the past 10 years. Rest of story here. [Mark Godsey, hat tip Marty Yant]
Sunday, April 27, 2008
From seattlepi.com: After a series of reports criticizing the handling of evidence at Washington crime labs, the state's Forensic Investigations Council has weighed in, agreeing that an employee who falsely certified test results cast "a cloud of doubt" over the workings of the entire laboratory system.
But after making six recommendations for improvement, the group of local government representatives and pathologists who make up the council praised the majority of lab workers as "dedicated, hard-working" and honest.
They "certainly did not deserve to have the actions of two people affect the public perception of their work," the report concludes.
Doubts about the accuracy of the lab's breath-test results surfaced last summer, when toxicology lab manager Ann Marie Gordon was accused of signing off on scientific tests in cases she hadn't actually done.
Another employee, Evan Thompson, made technical errors and violated lab procedures when analyzing a bullet's trajectory.
Both have since resigned.
From daily.stanford.edu: Stanford CrimProf Jeff Fisher is no stranger to the Supreme Court — he’s argued before the high court nine times. But when he stepped in front of the nine justices last week to argue the case of a convicted child rapist hoping to avoid the death penalty, the stakes were higher than they ever have been before.
Fisher, the co-director of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, is representing Patrick Kennedy, a Louisiana man who has been sentenced to death for raping his eight year old stepdaughter. If his death sentence is upheld, Kennedy will become the first rapist to be executed in America since 1964.
According to Fisher, such a ruling would open the door to the expansion of the death penalty as punishment for a variety of other crimes, and increase the number of inmates eligible for the ultimate penalty fivefold.
“This was definitely one of the very biggest [cases] that I’ve done, in terms of the intensity and importance,” Fisher said. “The constitutional cases always have a weightier air in the room because the Court really has the final say.”