CrimProf Blog

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

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Joseph T. Thai

Jthai Professor Joseph Thai joined the law faculty in 2003. He teaches Supreme Court decision making, First Amendment, criminal procedure, and criminal law, and writes in related areas.

Thai has served as law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice Byron R. White of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Judge David M. Ebel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Thai has practiced in the Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts, where he handled criminal and civil appeals in state court, and habeas and Section 1983 litigation in federal court. Prior to joining the law faculty, Thai worked at Gable & Gotwals in Oklahoma City, where he litigated trial and appellate matters in state and federal courts and administrative agencies. He currently engages in pro bono litigation on constitutional matters, including those before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2005, and again in 2008, Thai was named the outstanding faculty member of the College of Law by its students. In 2005, Thai was also named the university-wide outstanding faculty member by students across campus. In 2007, he received the President's Associates Presidential Professorship. [Mark Godsey]

September 27, 2008 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Taser Use in Man’s Death Broke Rules, Police Say

The firing of a Taser stun gun that led an emotionally disturbed man to fall from a Brooklyn building ledge to his death on Wednesday appeared to have violated departmental guidelines, the police said on Thursday.

The guidelines tell officers that when possible, the Taser, which fires barbs that deliver thousands of volts of electrical current, should not be used in situations when a person could fall from an elevated surface.

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September 27, 2008 in Taser Use | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Change of the Guard in Corrections Department

28guardsspanIn her 19 years as a corrections officer on Rikers Island, Barbara Williams has been trapped in a mess hall with rioting inmates and thrown against an iron gate by a man twice her size who left her with a fractured shoulder. But nothing makes her wince like remembering the time an inmate commented on the way her hips swayed ever so slightly beneath her boxy blue uniform, back when she first came on the job.

“He said: ‘Damn! You remind me of a pantyhose commercial,’ ” recalled Ms. Williams, who is in her late 40s and has a compact build and a deep, raspy voice. “The feeling I had all that day was as if he had touched me or something.”

She spoke of the episode one recent afternoon at Horizon Academy, a high school for male inmates that is in the George Motchan Detention Center, one of eight jails on the island holding inmates awaiting trial. Ms. Williams cited the man’s comment as a crucial moment in her career.

“I saw right off that I have to change my demeanor: I have to be more forceful; I have to harden myself,” said Ms. Williams, a single mother of two grown daughters. That very night, she went back to her apartment in Jamaica, Queens, and practiced stiffening her walk in front of a mirror.

“It’s like I tell my daughters: In life, you have to know when to be a woman and when to be a lady,” she said. “I don’t feel that ladies belong in jail. So, that softer part of me, I try to leave outside. I walk in here, and I try to be 110 percent woman.”

Women have worked in the city’s Department of Correction for decades, but never in such large numbers as they do today. Women make up 45 percent of about 9,300 uniformed employees of the department, according to the agency. From guards to wardens to the four-star chief, Carolyn Thomas, they fill almost every rank. And in many respects, they are changing the culture of the city’s jails.

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September 27, 2008 in Criminal Law, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

N.Y. Law Treats Child Prostitutes as Crime Victims not Offenders

Ending years of debate and delay, Gov. David A. Paterson on Friday signed into law a bill shielding sexually exploited girls and boys from being charged with prostitution.

The law, known as the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, will divert children under the age of 18 who have been arrested for prostitution into counseling and treatment programs, provided they agree to aid in the prosecution of their pimps.

It has been the subject of intense debate in the State Legislature and beyond, and was opposed by some law enforcement officials and by the Bloomberg administration, which argued that the bill would make it harder to crack down on prostitution.

But the bill’s backers said it was wrong to treat under-age prostitutes — many forced into the sex trade and kept there with physical threats and abuse — as criminals rather than victims.

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September 27, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2008

FBI did not analyze anthrax from biodefense lab

The FBI never examined anthrax samples from the 2001 contamination of a biodefense lab that was covered up by their lead suspect in the anthrax mailings — a decision that one of the FBI's leading anthrax experts calls "weird."

Researcher Bruce Ivins in 2002 confessed to cleaning up the office contamination without telling anyone during an Army investigation at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Ivins became a suspect in 2005 in the mailings that killed five and sickened 17.

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September 26, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

North Charleston police take step into the future

The day when police can swipe a suspect's finger through a device and check him instantly against a nationwide criminal database, all while standing on a city street, may not be far off.

North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt said a new handheld device his department acquired this week is a step in the right direction. The gadget looks like a BlackBerry wireless device and allows an officer to check a national database for warrants and vehicle information. Until now, police had to call dispatchers, costing valuable minutes.

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September 26, 2008 in Cost of Crime | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mo. prison program fosters family ties behind bars

VANDALIA, Mo. — The crayons, construction paper and toddlers scattered on the floor suggest a typical daycare center or kindergarten classroom. The armed guards and surveillance cameras reveal a painful reality.

The handful of inmates gathered for the monthly program at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center include some of the state's most notorious female convicted murderers.

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September 26, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rape reports jump 40% in S.F., police say

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 7, there have been 130 reported rapes in the city, compared with 94 over the same period last year, according to statistics presented at City Hall this week.

Police officials said they did not know what exactly is driving the numbers, but believe it is an increase in reports of acquaintance rapes, such as date rape.

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September 24, 2008 in Race | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

In the New Term, High Stakes for the High Court

Following a blockbuster term involving guns, Guantanamo Bay and the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court opens its doors to a new term with less drama, more cases initially and many challenges having potentially major implications for business, the environment, injured consumers, job bias victims and law enforcement.

If the docket thus far appears to lack possible landmark cases, the term's drama level could change quickly after the justices hold their summer conference meeting on Sept. 29 in which they generally add cases from more than a thousand filed during the summer months. They also continue to add cases to the term's argument docket until about mid-January.

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September 24, 2008 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FBI Opens Probe of Finance Giants

The FBI is investigating whether fraud played a role in the troubles at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and American International Group, bringing to 26 the number of bureau investigations of institutions tied to the mortgage debacle, according to two sources familiar with the developments.

At the same time, the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened more than 50 investigations into disclosure and valuation of housing-related investments at banks, insurers and credit-rating agencies, Chairman Christopher Cox told the Senate Banking Committee yesterday.

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September 24, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bernard Kerik Claims Selective Prosecution

041213_kerik_vmedwidecDisgraced former NYPD boss Bernard Kerik doesn't think it's fair for him to face criminal charges for not paying nanny taxes when other top officials skated for similar offenses.

Kerik's lawyers cited one-time U.S. attorney general nominee Zoe Baird and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman as high-profile tax deadbeats in a 94-page document that seeks to quash perjury, tax fraud and illegal payoff charges.

"It is a matter of public record that prospective appointees to high political office are rarely if ever charged criminally for such issues," Kerik lawyer Barry Berke wrote.

Kerik is set to go on trial next year in White Plains Federal Court. Aside from Baird and Whitman, Berke cited former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and deputy attorney general candidate Charles Ruff as others who've sidestepped criminal charges for domestic tax lapses.

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September 24, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Political News | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court delays execution of Ga.

ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court gave a reprieve to a Georgia inmate less than two hours before his scheduled execution Tuesday for the 1989 slaying of an off-duty police officer.

Family and advocates of 39-year-old Troy Davis have long urged he deserves a new trial as seven of the nine witnesses who helped put him on death row have recanted their testimony. His supporters erupted into cheers and tears when the stay was announced at about 5:20 p.m. ET.

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September 23, 2008 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Innocent Until Reported Guilty

Prison_cell__article As guards led Ellen Reasonover to the van that would transport her to prison, she could not comprehend that a St. Louis County, Mo., jury had just found her guilty of a cold-blooded murder. A 24-year-old single mother of a baby daughter, Reasonover had no history of violence, yet she stood convicted of killing a 19-year-old gas station attendant in the neighborhood where she lived.

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September 23, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scavenging - and theft of recyclables - on rise

Less than five minutes into Lisa Poston's shift, the San Diego code-enforcement officer spotted a scraggly man on a bicycle that had been modified to carry garbage cans.

Poston pulled her unmarked car next to him and politely explained that he was breaking the law by taking items from curbside recycling bins. The man, who refused to give his name, wheeled away as Poston warned that she would issue him a ticket the next time.Less than five minutes into Lisa Poston's shift, the San Diego code-enforcement officer spotted a scraggly man on a bicycle that had been modified to carry garbage cans.

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September 23, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Searches of old criminal records end school jobs

The impact has been especially evident among nonteaching employees who, until this year, did not have to undergo the kind of comprehensive background checks done for teachers.

Now, staffers such as custodians, secretaries and cafeteria workers may face dismissal for newly unearthed offenses committed years ago.

John Reccord, a night supervisor for the Orange school district, has worked there for nearly two decades. But he stands to lose his job for an offense to which he pleaded guilty 35 years ago and was sentenced to probation.

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September 23, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Public defender wants alternatives to juvenile detention

Pd Nashville's new public defender says she is most proud of two things: the good work her office does in representing the city's poor and being the city's first woman to hold the office.

Dawn Deaner, a 12-year veteran of the office, was appointed by Metro Council Tuesday night to lead the office until 2010. She'll be completing the term of Ross Alderman, who was killed last month in a motorcycle accident.

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September 23, 2008 in Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


A federal panel of experts looking into the reliability of CSI tests has heard damning evidence against some of the most common techniques used to convict killers, rapists and other criminals, The Post has learned.

The analysis of fingerprints, tire tracks and bite marks isn't nearly as reliable as researchers once believed, crime-scene specialists told the panel. Some even called it junk science.

Many said major changes would be necessary if crime labs want to continue using the evidence.

The National Academy of Sciences report isn't due out until December, but forensic expert Barry Scheck predicted the study could have blockbuster implications.

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September 23, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

At Sentencing, Youth Bares Soul, and Judge Bares His Pain

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.

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September 21, 2008 in Juveniles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Anxiety-detecting machines could spot terrorists

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — A scene from the airport of the future: A man's pulse races as he walks through a checkpoint. His quickened heart rate and heavier breathing set off an alarm. A machine senses his skin temperature jumping. Screeners move in to question him.

Signs of a terrorist? Or simply a passenger nervous about a cross-country flight?

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September 21, 2008 in Homeland Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Police tactics in '75 murder case debated

Three weeks out of a mental hospital, Curtis Jasper Moore spent the night of Jan. 8, 1975, at the Emporia police station asking for his mother.

He sang "The Ballad of Paladin," the theme song of an old television Western, and his focus wandered. According to a transcript of the interrogation, Greensville County Sheriff Earl D. Sasser kept telling him, "Look at me. Look at me."

Losing his patience, Sasser said: "You're not half as damn nuts as you act like you are, you know that? You know what happened last week, don't you? Huh?"

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September 21, 2008 in Confessions and Interrogation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)