Saturday, June 21, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
A public hearing – in which murder suspect Marco Antonio Topete was to be formally charged Wednesday in the slaying of a Yolo County sheriff's deputy – was closed to just about everyone except the slain deputy's survivors and his law-enforcement colleagues.
A citywide campaign encouraging residents to report crimes was launched Wednesday with community leaders unveiling a new billboard conveying the message: "It's not snitching -- it's caring."
The billboards are a key component of Peace in the Streets, a movement started in 2004 by a group of young people affiliated with Christamore House in an effort to curtail violent crimes in the city through marketing initiatives such as armbands and T-shirts.
Filed at 10:19 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that criminal
defendants with a history of mental illness do not always have the
right to represent themselves, even though they have been judged
competent to stand trial.
The justices, by a 7-2 vote, say states can give trial judges
discretion to prevent someone from acting as his own lawyer if they
are concerned that the trial could turn into a farce.
The decision comes in the case of an Indiana man who was convicted of
attempted murder and other charges in 2005 for a shooting six years
earlier at an Indianapolis department store.
The case is Indiana v. Edwards, No. 07-208. NACDL filed and amicus
curiae brief in support of neither party arguing that if an
unrepresented defendant is incapable of presenting a reasoned defense
due to mental infirmity, then he is not competent to represent
himself. The opinion is here:
NACDL's amicus brief, authored by Keven P. Martin, Abigail K. Hemani
and Dahlia S. Fetouh, of Goodwin Proctor LLP in Boston, and William F.
Sheehan in Washington, is here:
Georgia Law Professor Erica Hashimoto's article Defending the Right of Self-Representation: An Empirical Look at the Pro Se Felony Defendant, 85 N.C. L. Rev. 423 (2007), is cited on p.13 of today's slip op. in Indiana v. Edwards. Kudos!
The Supreme Court decided Indiana v. Edwards today. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the standard for competency to stand trial is not the same as the standard for competency to waive counsel and go to trial pro se.
For many of the reasons discussed by Justice Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas) in dissent, I think it is a pretty poor decision. While the Court tells us that a State does not necessarily deprive a competent defendant of the right to self-representation by forcing him to accept counsel, the Court provides no guidance as to what the standard is to determine competence to go pro se. I think that the upshot of this will be, as the dissent predicts, that trial judges will routinely reject a defendants' requests to go pro se whenever he has any kind of mental illness.
The Court invokes fairness -- that a competent but mentally ill defendant will suffer an unfair trial if he is allowed to represent himself -- but it seems to me that the decision is more about efficiency. The question is: how can we process as many mentally ill criminal defendants through the system as possible? The Court has hit upon the answer: find them competent to stand trial but incompetent to act as their own attorneys. Though my own experience representing the mentally ill is brief and anecdotal, it has always struck me that the standard for competence to stand trial is simply too low.
And that is the real problem with today's decision: the standard for competence to go pro se should be the same as the standard for competence to stand trial, but the latter should be higher than it is currently. [Mike Mannheimer]
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
An inmate who confessed a 14-year-old Knoxville slaying was in a mental health facility at the time of the killing, according to records unearthed by a defense attorney.Ronald E. Greene faces a second-degree murder charge for a 1994 slaying committed while Greene was in the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute undergoing a court-ordered evaluation, records obtained by defense attorney Steve Sams show.
DALLAS — A DNA sample that freed a wrongly convicted man who spent nearly 23 years behind bars implicated another man already in prison who has confessed to the crime, Dallas County prosecutors said Tuesday.DNA evidence collected after the 1985 rape of a Richardson woman matches convicted felon Kenneth Wayne Woodson, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office said. Thomas McGowan was originally convicted of the crime and served nearly 23 years in prison before being released in April."The truth is out there. There's no more doubt about anything," McGowan told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Police, frustrated by an uncooperative suspect, get a court order for his DNA. They throw on a pot of coffee, and, before the first cup is gone, the lab has results: a perfect match to the atom-sized sample collected at the crime scene. A full confession will be coming right after these messages.Too bad it's not that easy in real life. Ideally, forensic scientists would test every fiber, every drop of blood they find at a crime scene. But if they did, it would be all they did. A DNA case, for example, can take up to 60 days to close because of the screening, extraction and replication process -- a far cry from TV-land testing.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The defense said it wanted to do more extensive testing than that performed by the prosecution.
It couldn't. The blood evidence had already been discarded by doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina. It had been stored for about two years but was trashed because the medical school needed the storage space.
No one knows if the conviction of Wesley Smith in his homicide-by-child-abuse trial would have been affected had the tests been performed. No one knows if it would have proved the defense's contention that maybe Smith's 4-month-old baby's 17 fractured ribs resulted from a rare disease that causes brittle bones. MUSC said the baby likely didn't have the disease, but it didn't test for it.
WASHINGTON -- Can a man who admitted killing his girlfriend, but who claims he did so in self-defense, prevent a jury from hearing her prior reports to the police that she feared for her life? The Supreme Court is due to decide that question in a Los Angeles case that has alarmed advocates for victims of domestic violence. They fear that the justices, determined to protect the fair-trial rights of defendants, are in danger of creating an incentive to kill.
Call it the age of the Loaded Word. A steadily increasing number of courts across the United States are prohibiting witnesses and victims from uttering certain words in front of a jury, banning everything from the words "rape" to "victim" to "crime scene."
Monday, June 16, 2008
From N.Y. Times.com: WICHITA, Kan. — Opponents of Dr. George Tiller and his clinic here, one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions, have tried many ways to stop him over three decades. They have held protests, lobbied lawmakers and complained persistently to state regulators and prosecutors. There have also been several acts of violence, including one in which Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms.
Now his opponents are using a legal tactic that some find startling and others consider inspired. They have turned to an unusual state statute, adopted in 1887, that allows ordinary citizens who gather enough signatures on a petition to demand that a grand jury investigate an alleged crime, a decision usually left to a prosecutor.
Inside a courthouse along Main Street here, 15 grand jurors have been meeting for months, convened under the statute by ordinary Sedgwick County residents to investigate whether Dr. Tiller’s clinic has illegally performed second- and third-trimester abortions. Their deliberations are scheduled to end next month.
A new approach to parole in Arizona began with thousands of colored pushpins and a large state map. In 2003, prison officials set out to find new ways to keep released inmates from going back behind bars. So they began to map where the more than 30,000 Arizona inmates had lived before they were locked up and where they might return.
The study compared traditional crime solving to biological evidence techniques in hundreds of cases where biological evidence was available. When conventional investigative techniques were used, a suspect was identified 12 percent of the time, compared to 31 percent of the cases using DNA evidence. In eight percent of cases built on traditional evidence alone a suspect was arrested, compared to the 16 percent arrest rate in DNA cases. The average added cost for processing a single case with DNA evidence was about $1,397. Each additional arrest—an arrest that would not have occurred without DNA processing—cost $14,169.
One in five New Yorkers stopped by police in 2006 encountered some use of force, from simple restraint to facing a drawn service weapon, a Daily News analysis of new data found. In 102,000 of the more than 500,000 police stops - about 20% - cops did things such as restrained people, threw them to the ground or against a wall or pointed a gun at them, the newly released data show.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Faced with what they call severe budget shortfalls, several public defender offices across the country say they may soon begin turning away thousands of poor criminal defendants. Statewide public defenders in Kentucky and Minnesota and local offices in cities such as Atlanta and Miami say budget cuts are forcing them to fire or furlough trial lawyers, leaving the offices unable to handle misdemeanor and, in some instances, serious felony cases.
Baca sees major link with racial hatred, Bratton urges perspective. Los Angeles' two top lawmen are increasingly at odds over the extent to which gang violence is being fueled by racial hatred.
Police Chief William J. Bratton and his top deputies have long cautioned that race-motivated violence remains fairly rare and that gang feuds over turf and drugs are the leading causes of such violence. But over the last few months, Sheriff Lee Baca has publicly voiced a more ominous view of violence between Latino and black gangs. This week, he went further than ever, saying in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that "some of L.A.'s so-called gangs are really no more than loose-knit bands of blacks or Latinos roaming the streets looking for people of the other color to shoot."