September 20, 2008
Patricia W. Bennett Professor of Criminal Law Mississippi College of Law
U.S. Court Is Now Guiding Fewer Nations
WASHINGTON — Judges around the world have long looked to the decisions of the United States Supreme Court for guidance, citing and often following them in hundreds of their own rulings since the Second World War.
But now American legal influence is waning. Even as a debate continues in the court over whether its decisions should ever cite foreign law, a diminishing number of foreign courts seem to pay attention to the writings of American justices.
“One of our great exports used to be constitutional law,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “We are losing one of the greatest bully pulpits we have ever had.”
From 1990 through 2002, for instance, the Canadian Supreme Court cited decisions of the United States Supreme Court about a dozen times a year, an analysis by The New York Times found. In the six years since, the annual citation rate has fallen by half, to about six.
Australian state supreme courts cited American decisions 208 times in 1995, according to a recent study by Russell Smyth, an Australian economist. By 2005, the number had fallen to 72.
The story is similar around the globe, legal experts say, particularly in cases involving human rights. These days, foreign courts in developed democracies often cite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School. In those areas, Dean Koh said, “they tend not to look to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The rise of new and sophisticated constitutional courts elsewhere is one reason for the Supreme Court’s fading influence, legal experts said. The new courts are, moreover, generally more liberal than the Rehnquist and Roberts courts and for that reason more inclined to cite one another. [Mark Godsey]
September 19, 2008
Cell Phone Cameras and Crime Reporting
One morning last month, a 28-year-old woman was struggling up the stairs at the Dyckman Street elevated station on her way to work. Normally, she would hold her skirt around her legs, but that day she was juggling a cup of coffee, a gym bag and her purse.
She sensed the presence of someone too close to her on the stairs. She turned and saw a man peering into his cellphone. A passer-by confirmed her suspicion: The man had taken photographs under her skirt.
“I said I had to do something,” the woman said on Thursday. “Since he is taking pictures of me, I am going to take pictures of him.”
She said she followed the man onto the southbound No. 1 train, walked through several cars and found him on a seat. She prepared her cellphone camera. He looked at her and mumbled something. “And I told him ‘smile’ because I am going to the police,” she said.
he took a picture, e-mailed it to the police and filed a report. On Tuesday, an officer at the 110th Street subway station at Central Park West approached a man matching the photograph, the police said. According to the police, the man, identified as Aaron Olivieri, 36, told the officer, “I hope I am not the person you are looking for.” Then he said he knew why he was being stopped: because a woman on a train had taken his picture and accused him of a crime.
Mr. Olivieri was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful surveillance, attempted sexual abuse and harassment, a criminal complaint said. A man who answered the phone at his apartment referred calls to Mr. Olivieri’s lawyer, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.
On crowded subways and streets, women have long been targets of deliberate jostling, groping, obscene photography and indecent exposure. In 2006, a police sting netted 13 men charged with groping or flashing, and other men have been arrested in recent years after being identified by cellphone pictures. One Web site, hollabacknyc.com, encourages people to share their stories and cellphone photographs. “Send us pics of street harassers!” the Web site says.
On Sept. 9, the police started tapping into the ubiquitous technology by inviting people who witness crimes to take pictures with their cellphone cameras, if safety permits, and to send them along when they make 911 calls.
Read article here. [Brooks Holland]
The Challenges of Sentencing Young Drug Offenders
How much misery was appropriate to inflict on a promising 19-year-old, who himself had inflicted misery on society by dealing drugs, the judge asked himself out loud.
“It’s almost an impossible calculus,” said Justice Farber, who sits in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The young man, Yiskar Caceres, had been arrested four times in roughly 15 months for selling or possessing cocaine, and Justice Farber already had given him an opportunity to wipe his slate clean before his most recent arrest, in April.
Now, Justice Farber said, he had no choice but to sentence Mr. Caceres to state prison. But even in doing so, the judge showed some compassion: he gave Mr. Caceres four and a half years in prison, half the maximum sentence that prosecutors had sought. Because Mr. Caceres has already served 11 months and will be eligible for a drug-treatment program, he could be out in as little as two years.
“I have not given up hope in you,” Justice Farber said, adding that he hoped Mr. Caceres would see how drugs had destroyed some of the inmates’ lives, “see the connection between what you do and what they become.”
Before he was sentenced, Mr. Caceres read the judge a three-and-a-half-page letter he had drafted at the judge’s request, explaining what he was thinking when he committed his crimes.
“I first started selling drugs at the age of 16,” Mr. Caceres said. “I went from one day having nothing to the next day having over $300. It was an unexplainable feeling.”
He added: “While the money was coming in, so did the status of having money and the respect I received from the fact of me having money. All these things made me overlook the wrong I was doing to myself and others.”
Mr. Caceres’s lawyer, Mark I. Cohen, said that he had seen a promising maturation in his client since last year, when he represented Mr. Caceres in his third arrest.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
September 18, 2008
Limit on Gun Law Passes; Senate Vote Unlikely
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize semiautomatic rifles in the District and repeal its gun registration laws, but the bill's future appeared in doubt as a prominent senator announced she would try to block it.
The House bill passed 266 to 152, with the support of 85 Democrats. It was the second time in four years that the chamber had voted to overturn most D.C. gun laws. The 2004 measure died in the Senate, and a similar result is likely this time.
Nonetheless, the latest House action may have already had a tangible effect. The District announced Tuesday that it was further easing its gun restrictions to comply with the historic Supreme Court decision in June tossing out the city's 32-year-old handgun ban. House members said they were not impressed because the city had been so slow to act.
The House debate on the D.C. gun bill began Tuesday night and stretched past midnight, with fiery speeches about the city's crime rate and Second Amendment rights. But legislators from both parties charged that the vote was less about D.C. affairs and more about scoring points with constituents and the National Rifle Association, which had called the bill its top priority. [Mark Godsey]
After fatal call, judge should resign
She should call a news conference before the week is out, apologize for the pivotal role she played in a killing last week and tender her letter to the administrative judge of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.
Her apology should acknowledge that she was uniquely positioned to save the life of a 17-year-old Cleveland boy, who was shot five times Friday evening. She should acknowledge that instead, she gambled with the public's safety by releasing an increasingly dangerous teen hours before he killed.
Floyd should acknowledge that for inexcusable reasons, she rolled the dice on a violent juvenile, who had been aggressively working his way up to murder. She should acknowledge that she was the last person who could have prevented Demel Holiday's life from ending the way it did.
If Floyd truly cares about this community -- if she has any honor -- she will take ownership of a senseless death and demonstrate leadership by removing herself from the bench.
That would be a public service.
Most judges are not prescient. They're not expected to be. Like newspaper columnists and chimney sweeps, they are prone to missteps. They come equipped with no supernatural powers.
But judges are called judges for good reason. They are expected to listen intently, deliberate intensely and adjudicate wisely.
Floyd fails miserably on all counts. She's an inartful listener, which renders her ineffective and dangerous.
Furthermore, at some point she decided that her poor listening skills were virtues and that her own counsel superseded that of those positioned to help her.
That is the airtight case against her. That is why she should go.
Before releasing the 17-year-old delinquent charged with killing Holiday, a juvenile probation officer pleaded with Floyd to lock the boy up. She described the 17-year-old as a physical threat to the community. [Mark Godsey]
15 LAPD officers face discipline in May Day melee
The penalties mark a significant step in the Los Angeles Police Department's effort to recover from an incident that Bratton called "a phenomenal black eye." LAPD officers were videotaped wielding batons and shooting rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse a largely peaceful crowd. A scathing internal investigation into the incident blamed poor leadership and overly aggressive tactics by officers in the field.
In general, LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Perez said, officers were being punished for excessive use of force, failing to rein in other officers or lying to investigators during the inquiry. Citing personnel privacy rules, he and Bratton declined to name any of the involved officers or publicly elaborate on the officers' transgressions during a presentation Tuesday to the Police Commission, the department's civilian oversight board.
Four of the officers have been notified of Bratton's desire to fire them, Perez told the commission. Under the city's charter, the chief does not have the authority to summarily kick an officer off the force. Instead, Bratton must send the officer before a three-person disciplinary panel known as a Board of Rights. After considering the evidence in a case, the panel can find that the officer should be fired, suffer a less severe punishment or be vindicated. The chief can accept the panel's recommendation or impose a lesser punishment, but he cannot seek to increase the discipline. The four officers facing termination would remain on duty pending the disciplinary panel's decisions, which are probably months away, authorities said. [Mark Godsey]
Circuit Court Reinstates Convictions of Mob Cops
The racketeering convictions of two retired New York City detectives who helped to kill at least eight men in their role as mob assassins were ordered reinstated on Wednesday by a federal appeals court. It ruled that a trial judge wrongly overturned the jury’s guilty verdicts two years ago.
The decision means that the two highly decorated detectives — Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa — will now face sentencing for their convictions in one of the most spectacular cases of police corruption in city history.
The two men seem certain to spend the rest of their lives in prison. In 2006, after they were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, the trial judge, Jack B. Weinstein of United States District Court in Brooklyn, issued but did not officially impose life prison sentences for each man.
Then, saying the five-year statute of limitations for racketeering had run out, the judge overturned the convictions despite what he called “overwhelming evidence” that the two men were “heinous criminals” who were guilty of the “most despicable crimes of violence and treachery.”
But in a 70-page opinion released on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, concluded that Judge Weinstein’s view of the conspiracy was too narrow, and that it had continued to exist within five years of when the men were charged.
Although murders and other serious crimes that the men were accused of occurred in Brooklyn in the 1980s and 1990s, prosecutors used more recent and less serious charges — money laundering and narcotics distribution in Las Vegas in 2004 and 2005 — to bring the earlier acts under the umbrella of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
Judge Weinstein, in throwing out the men’s convictions, had found that the recent crimes were “singular, sporadic acts of criminality,” and could not be considered part of the earlier conspiracy, which included kidnapping, bribery and obstruction of justice. Because the older crimes dated back more than five years, the men, thus, could not be prosecuted for them.
“The government’s case against these defendants stretches federal racketeering and conspiracy law to the breaking point,” Judge Weinstein wrote.
Judge Weinstein had also decided that the earlier conspiracy ended when the two detectives retired and left the New York area and other co-conspirators were arrested.
But Judge Amalya L. Kearse, writing for the appellate panel, said Judge Weinstein’s views of the criminal enterprise were too restrictive, given the evidence presented at the trial.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Video from 11th Circuit Excessive Force Case Finds Way to YouTube
When Judge Beverly B. Martin this month dissented to a federal appeals decision in favor of a sheriff's deputy accused of civil rights violations for using a Taser on a handcuffed man, she urged that a video of the events in question be published with the opinion.
The suggestion of Martin, a district court judge sitting by designation with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, went unheeded. But James V. Cook, the Tallahassee, Fla., attorney representing plaintiff Jesse Daniel Buckley, apparently took Martin at her word.
On Monday Cook placed a copy of a video shot by a squad car camera on YouTube. The six-minute video can be found under the term "Buckley v. Haddock." Cook said Tuesday he is preparing a motion for an en banc rehearing.
The video shows how Florida sheriff's deputy Jonathan Rackard three times used a Taser on Buckley, who had been stopped for speeding and then refused to sign the traffic citation. Buckley is handcuffed, sobbing and sitting cross-legged on the ground. Each Taser jolt administered a five-second, 50,000-volt electric shock, according to the 11th Circuit decision.
In the majority opinion, Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson found that Rackard's actions were "not outside the range of reasonable conduct under the Fourth Amendment." Judge Joel F. Dubina concurred, although he wrote separately that Rackard's third use of the Taser against Buckley was unconstitutional.
Martin disagreed, writing "that the Fourth Amendment forbids an officer from discharging repeated bursts of electricity into an already handcuffed misdemeanant -- who is sitting still beside a rural road and unwilling to move -- simply to goad him into standing up."
Article from Law.com available here. [Brooks Holland]
Officials unite to fight marijuana initiative
Law enforcement officials statewide are uniting against a referendum question they fear will increase marijuana use among teenagers and generate more crime across the state.
The state's 11 district attorneys are unanimously opposing Question 2 and are being joined by police chiefs and some community groups, fearing it will undo years of effort to reduce drug use among teenagers. Governor Deval Patrick's administration also is opposed, according to a spokesman.
"Teenage marijuana use is down, and this is a good thing," said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. "This is a bad, bad message for our kids."
But supporters of Question 2, who are organized under the name Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, are striking back. Today, they plan to announce that they have applied for criminal complaints against unnamed district attorneys for alleged campaign law violations, according to Whitney Taylor, the group's executive director.
Taylor refused to be more specific about the allegations, which will be the subject of an 11 a.m. press conference outside Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston, about three hours before prosecutors and police hold their own at the State House.
Taylor said that if Question 2 passes, marijuana will still be an illegal drug. And, she said, the new approach will increase parental involvement in marijuana cases for those under 18 years old because police will be required to notify parents about the civil matter. She said those under 18 must complete drug awareness training and do 10 hours of community service.
Parents "are brought right in, and they get to focus on the young people," she said. "We do not promote or condone marijuana use." [Mark Godsey]
Fewer police shootings in '07 called a good trend
There were two police shootings in Portland in 2007, the fewest in a decade.
At the same time, police discipline is up, indicating that Portland officers are being held more accountable, according to an annual report by the city's Independent Police Review Division.
Division director Mary-Beth Baptista, who will release the 61-page report today, called the numbers a positive trend.
"This is a good indication we're on the right track," she said.
The report also shows that the number of citizen complaints to the police oversight agency has continued to drop since 2004, with 660 in 2007. Most of the complaints involved rudeness or excessive force, and were lodged against precinct officers. In 2007, IPR declined 58 percent of the complaints, finding those "unprovable or non-meritorious."
The oversight agency says it remains concerned that the Portland Police Bureau has sustained only one citizen allegation of excessive non-lethal force in the past six years.
The report provides a much rosier view of police oversight than an outside consultant's assessment in January. It concluded that the rate of complaints sustained against Portland police -- less than 1 percent from 2002 to 2006 -- was substantially lower than in other cities with similar oversight systems. The consultant's report also said complaints were down because residents don't know how the oversight system works and have lost confidence in it.
The Independent Police Review Division was set up in 2001 as the intake center for complaints against police.
The division can dismiss a complaint, refer it to the Police Bureau's internal affairs division, a police supervisor as a "service complaint," a mediator or investigate it itself. The nine-member Citizen Review Committee hears citizens' appeals of the police findings.
Last year, there were two officer-involved shootings, one fatal and one resulting in injuries. This is down from seven officer-involved shootings in 2006, and nine in 2005. [Mark Godsey]
September 17, 2008
Senate backs early release for nonviolent Pa. criminals
After making minor changes to the bill, regarded as the biggest change to the state's criminal-justice system in many years, the Senate approved it yesterday, 48-2.
Under its key provisions, nonviolent drug offenders in prison could be resentenced to an addiction-treatment program, and nonviolent offenders who behaved well and completed certain programs could be paroled more quickly.
All senators from the Philadelphia area voted for the measure. The House, which has approved previous versions of the bill in recent months, is expected to give final approval next week.
Gov. Rendell has pressed for the changes, and a Corrections Department spokeswoman said officials there supported the bill.
The hope is that with rehabilitation, fewer convicts would return to crime after their release, and that the state could slow the growth of a prison population that has quadrupled in the last quarter-century to 46,800.
Mandatory-sentence laws that were passed in the 1990s to punish violent criminals inadvertently sent nonviolent offenders away for long sentences, too, said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery).
"They were important bills, and they dealt with violent offenders, but it's having a broader effect than we anticipated, and it's important that we step forward and acknowledge that," said Greenleaf, a former county prosecutor who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
The bill also would divert to the state prison system hundreds of the approximately 30,000 convicts now serving their sentences in county jails, easing a financial burden on counties. [Mark Godsey]
O.J. Simpson jury selection renews questions of race
LAS VEGAS -- As testimony in O.J. Simpson's trial on robbery charges gets underway this week, one thing is already abundantly clear: When the former football star enters a courtroom, so does a debate about race.
In jury selection last week, defense attorneys repeatedly tried to dismiss the mostly white jury pool and accused prosecutors of systematically excluding blacks. The allegation prompted Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger to insist that his choice of jurors had "nothing to do with race."
What effect, if any, the absence of African Americans on the jury will have remains to be seen. The charges Simpson faces have no obvious racial overtones. Few prospective panelists, black or white, mentioned the issue during intense questioning about Simpson. But some experts say race is sure to play some role in the jury room.
"If it's just a simple robbery case, then it really doesn't matter if the jury is all white," said Osvaldo Fumo, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney who has been monitoring the case. "But the problem is it's O.J. Simpson. And then it does matter."
Simpson's 1995 trial over the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman was televised and watched by millions -- leaving enduring, racially tinged images, including that of a handcuffed Simpson and of Los Angeles Police Department Det. Mark Fuhrman getting caught using racial slurs. The defense turned on allegations of discrimination by law enforcement and possible evidence-tampering, and a predominantly black jury acquitted Simpson. [Mark Godsey]
Missouri leads the nation in juvenile justice reform
"It's a blessing," says Terrell, 17, fingering the ring he earned for passing his GED exam with 1,000 points to spare.
He was awarded the ring at a cap-and-gown ceremony last month in the facility's gym, where he was cheered on by 29 other teens also serving sentences for serious and sometimes violent crimes.
Terrell's adolescence took a textbook journey into juvenile delinquency: an impoverished childhood, skipping high school, smoking drugs, stealing, ignoring the juvenile court, packing a gun, and the first-degree armed robbery that sent him to Hogan Street.
But what happened to Terrell after he entered the custody of Missouri's Division of Youth Services was something that's also becoming textbook: Instead of being imprisoned like a criminal, he became a kid again.
Instead of cell bars and handcuffs, he was given a tidy dorm room, stuffed animals and even a pet turtle. Instead of shame, he was given group therapy, school work, job training and a support group of 10 peers led by a therapist — not a prison guard.
It is that approach to juvenile delinquency, dubbed the "Missouri Model," that garnered the Missouri Division of Youth Services last week the 2008 Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System of Reform. The award, administered by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, comes with a $100,000 prize to promote the model. [Mark Godsey]
Prison push offers skills to prevent repeat visits
Anew, privately owned medium-security prison in Shelby County that is scheduled to be dedicated today by Gov. Bob Riley will try to do something public prisons can't: Keep inmates from coming back.
The prison, built in an old factory in Columbiana at a cost of at least $8 million, will provide life coaching and job-skills training to inmates near the ends of their sentences.
"It's a very intensive program," said Alabama prisons Commissioner Richard Allen. "From the time they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night, they're busy."
New Jersey-based Community Education Centers Inc. built the prison in the former Elastic Corp. of America factory in Columbiana - within view of the Shelby County Courthouse dome - and will be paid $5.8 million a year for three years to operate it, according to its contract with the state.
Called the "Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility," the prison has more than 350 inmates, who are called "residents," and is large enough to house 700. Located among businesses in an industrial neighborhood, the facility has an exterior that looks little like a traditional prison.
William Palatucci, senior vice president and general counsel for CEC, said inmates are assessed upon entry and receive customized services. Among the services and programs available:
Cognitive and life skills development, including programs meant to improve decision making and the management of emotions.
Substance abuse counseling and support groups.
Instruction in job skills including welding, masonry, carpentry, barbering, cosmetology, office information systems, electrical, plumbing and automotive. [Mark Godsey]
September 16, 2008
Violent Crime Reported Down in 2007
Data released Monday by the FBI show violent crime dipped slightly nationwide in 2007. That ended two years of increases in murders, robberies and other kinds of the worst crime in U.S. cities.
An estimated 1.4 million violent crimes were reported across the country last year - about 10,000 fewer, or a 0.7 percent drop, than 2006.
The number of burglaries, car thefts, arsons and other property crimes also dropped by 140,000, or 1.4 percent. That marked the fifth year of property crime decreases, the FBI said.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the decline is the result of crackdowns on gangs, drug dealers and gun crimes, and he used the drop to call on Congress for $200 million in additional funding to continue such efforts.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Brain test could be next polygraph
A Seattle scientist who has developed an electronic brain test that he says could improve our ability to force criminals to reveal themselves, identify potential terrorists and free those wrongly convicted may have finally broken through the bureaucratic barriers that he believes have served to stifle adoption of the pioneering technique.
"There seems to be a renewed surge of interest in this by the intelligence agencies and the military," said Larry Farwell, neuroscientist and founder of Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories based at the Seattle Science Foundation.
Contrary to the Hollywood image of law enforcement always employing the latest science to track down the bad guys, Farwell's years of struggle suggest that law enforcement and intelligence agencies are just about as reluctant to change as any other entrenched government bureaucracy.
"There is always this ignorance, inertia and active resistance by those who benefit from the status quo," Farwell said.
The technique he calls "brain fingerprinting" is an electronic test of a specific kind of brain wave that he says can identify incriminating information despite an individual's attempt to conceal the knowledge.
"The lack of acceptance has been more about turf than science," said Drew Richardson, a former top anti-terrorism investigator with the FBI in Virginia who teaches forensic science and also consults with Farwell. "If this had just been about the science, I think this technique would have advanced much more quickly."
Law enforcement and other investigatory agencies still routinely use the standard lie detector "polygraph" stress test today even though most scientific organizations (including the National Academy of Sciences) have found the polygraph to be highly unreliable -- a finding that makes it legally inadmissible in court.
The disturbing news that some in the military and intelligence community have resorted to waterboarding or other forms of "physical" interrogation of prisoners appears to have provided a potential breakthrough for brain fingerprinting. [Mark Godsey]
Suburban police accused of racially profiling of Latinos
But two weeks before the Aug. 15 event, Robinson police detained Mr. Vielma and his brother, Alberto, both undocumented Mexican immigrants. They now face deportation.
The brothers were taken into police custody after an employee at Kohl's department store accused Alberto Vielma of shoplifting. He called Eduardo Vielma, who came to the store with his boss from nearby Pizza Milano.
Robinson officers asked both Vielma brothers for identification, even though Eduardo Vielma hadn't been accused of anything, according to a police report. Officers didn't ask Eduardo Vielma's boss, Ercan Yali, for identification.
The Vielmas admitted to being in the country illegally, the report said. Robinson Officer Matthew Maritz called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and turned the pair over.
Local immigrant advocates describe the case as a blatant example of racial profiling involving some Allegheny County police departments and the region's small but growing Latino community. They argue that local police shouldn't contact federal authorities unless they are doing a background check on a criminal suspect -- and Eduardo Vielma was not a suspect at the time of his arrest.
"Only the brown person was asked for ID," said Jacqueline Martinez, a Downtown immigration attorney who is representing Eduardo Vielma and Ms. Luchuck. "The police have no business asking anyone about immigration status unless they ask everyone." [Mark Godsey]
States Restore Voting Rights for Ex-Convicts
Striding across a sweltering strip-mall parking lot with her clipboard in hand, Monica Bell, a community field organizer in Orlando, Fla., was looking for former convicts to add to the state’s voter rolls.
Antonious Benton, a gold-toothed 22-year-old with a silver skull-shaped belt buckle, a laconic smile and a criminal record, was the first person she approached.
“I can’t vote because I got three felonies,” Mr. Benton told Ms. Bell. He had finished a six-month sentence for possession of $600 worth of crack cocaine, he said. But Ms. Bell had good news for him: The Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, changed the rules last year to restore the voting rights of about 112,000 former convicts.
“After you go to prison — you do your time and they still take all your rights away,” Mr. Benton said as he filled out a form to register. “You can’t get a job. You can’t vote. You can’t do nothing even 10 or 20 years later. You don’t feel like a citizen. You don’t even feel human.”
Felony disenfranchisement — often a holdover from exclusionary Jim Crow-era laws like poll taxes and ballot box literacy tests — affects about 5.3 million former and current felons in the United States, according to voting rights groups. But voter registration and advocacy groups say that recent overhauls of these Reconstruction-era laws have loosened enough in some states to make it worth the time to lobby statehouses for more liberal voting restoration processes, and to try to track down former felons in indigent neighborhoods.
“You’re talking about incredible numbers of people out there who now may have had their right to vote restored and don’t even know it,” said Reggie Mitchell, a former voter-registration worker for People for the American Way. In Florida, “we’re talking tens of thousands of people,” he said. “And in the 2000 election, in the state of Florida, 300 people made the difference.”
A loose-knit group of national organizations working to restore voting rights includes the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn (Ms. Bell’s employer); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Two other groups, the Sentencing Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, said they had given briefings to officials for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign about how to register former felons. But the Obama campaign has been reluctant to acknowledge any concerted effort. [Mark Godsey]
September 14, 2008
Political Crimes: Left Wants To Prosecute the Bush Administration
With “Bush derangement syndrome” having infected large swaths of the Left, it is no surprise that their fever dreams feature the prosecution of Bush Administration heavies for their “crimes against humanity” and the U.S. Constitution.
This weekend, the otherwise unremarkable Massachusetts School of Law at Andover will host a conference to that end. “This is not intended to be a mere discussion of violations of law that have occurred,” says dean Lawrence Velvel, but “a planning conference at which plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth.”
Even the Obama campaign has latched onto the idea, and that support has been a major sop for the hard-left disenchanted since the campaign began its pivot to the center for the general election.
Those planning up in Andover this weekend have a clear vision in mind. “For Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo to spend years in jail or go to the gallows for their crimes would be a powerful lesson to future American leaders,” says Velvel.