November 29, 2008
New trial ordered in 1991 Buddhist temple killings
A federal court of appeals on Thursday overturned the conviction of a West Valley man found guilty of killing nine people at a Buddhist temple west of Phoenix in 1991.
Jonathan Doody was one of two youths convicted of the infamous temple murders, and he has been serving nine life sentences in state prison since his conviction in 1994.
But, on Thursday, a panel of three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office forced a confession from Doody. The judges sent the case back to Maricopa County Superior Court for a new trial.
"They used every trick in the book," his attorney, Alan Dershowitz, said. "They denied him the right to have a parent there. They created all the circumstances for false confession and they got it - a false confession."
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who has represented such high-profile clients as O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, Michael Milken and Claus von Bulow, said that he will seek to have Doody, now 34, released from prison pending his retrial.
But Kent Cattani, who handles appeals for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said that he will ask the appellate court to reconsider the case en banc, that is by a larger panel of appeals court judges. And if that fails, the office will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, Cattani said.
But those courts can turn down the request, requiring the case to be retried.
"It's always difficult to retry a case 15 or so years down the road," said Assistant Attorney General Joseph Maziarz, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit.
In August 1991, nine people were found dead at Wat Promkunaram, a Thai Buddhist temple west of Luke Air Force Base. They had been arranged in a circle and shot in the head execution-style. [Mark Godsey]
November 28, 2008
A chance for sensible gun laws
WIth the historic election of Barack Obama, the nation finally has an opportunity to enact sensible national gun policy. Obama should look to big cities, especially Boston, for guidance.
Big-city mayors know all too well the devastating impact a failed national gun policy has had on people living in urban America. Most of the 83 Americans who die every day from gun violence live in cities. The average annual US death toll from guns is 34,000 Americans. Comparatively, over the past 30 years, 1,035,000 Americans have died from guns in the United States versus 655,000 US service men and women killed in all foreign wars combined.
In 1999, with active support and funding for cities and the hard work of law enforcement, the United States experienced its lowest violent-crime rate in 30 years. Since George W. Bush took office in 2000, funding for community policing and economic opportunities for the poor have been curtailed and mayors across the country have struggled with the repercussions of a Congress and president unwilling to stand up to the powerful special-interest gun lobby.
Consequently, cutbacks in inner-city programs and law enforcement, comgined with the gun lobby being allowed to dictate gun police, have resulted in unrestricted access to guns and a prohibition on police sharing critical crime-gun trace data even among law enforcement.
No surprise that gun violence has risen steadily over the past eight years. There isn't even a law requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales in 32 states, and criminals and terrorists have been proven to exploit this dangerous loophole in federal law. Is it any wonder why America is the gun violence capital of the world and US urban areas have become war zones? [Mark Godsey]
U.S. war on drugs has failed, report says
The United States' war on drugs has failed and will continue to do so as long as it emphasizes law enforcement and neglects the problem of consumption, a Washington think tank says in a report co-chaired by a former president of Mexico.
The former president, Ernesto Zedillo, in an interview, called for a major rethinking of U.S. policy, which he said has been "asymmetrical" in demanding that countries such as Mexico stanch the flow of drugs northward, without successful efforts to stop the flow of guns south. In addition to disrupting drug-smuggling routes, eradicating crops and prosecuting dealers, the U.S. must confront the public health issue that large-scale consumption poses, he said.
"If we insist only on a strategy of the criminal pursuit of those who traffic in drugs," Zedillo said, "the problem will never be resolved."
The indictment of Washington's counter-narcotics campaign comes in a report released this week by the Brookings Institution that advocates closer engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. U.S. influence in the region has slipped dramatically during the eight years of the Bush administration, and the report suggests an incoming Democratic government led by Barack Obama can open opportunities for better ties and communication. [Mark Godsey]
Guilty verdict in MySpace suicide case could chill Internet speech
A high-profile Internet legal case that just concluded here will have a chilling effect on users of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook if the verdict holds up on appeal, legal experts say.
A Los Angeles jury on Wednesday convicted Lori Drew – the defendant in the so-called "MySpace Suicide Case" – of three counts of illegally accessing computers. But the six-man, six-woman panel could not reach a unanimous verdict on the single count of conspiracy.
The case drew national attention because Ms. Drew had created a phony MySpace profile of a teenage boy who criticized a 13-year-old girl who subsequently hung herself.
"What happened to Megan Meier was a tragedy, not a crime," says Andrew Grossman, senior legal policy analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "This case should never have been brought. The strongest evidence for the prosecution had nothing or little to do with the charges. This verdict is a loss for civil liberties and leaves all Internet users at risk of prosecution under federal law. It is a prime example of overcriminalization."
Other legal experts agree.
"The statute was never intended to cover this kind of conduct," says Michael Scott, professor of law at Southwestern School of Law, Los Angeles. "Lori Drew did not do the key acts that the prosecution alleged, but rather a third party did, so it seems strange that the person who pulled the trigger is not prosecuted but the one standing next to her is."
"What Drew really did was harassment and the fact that she used the Internet was just kind of an accident," says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wis. "A lot of people do things on the Internet that are not nice, but that doesn't mean they should all be criminalized." [Mark Godsey]
November 27, 2008
Police prepare for changes in marijuana possession laws
Local law enforcement officials are still in a haze about Question 2 as it winds its way through the bureaucratic process.
There are a number of logistical issues that stand between the ballot initiative that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and the enforcement of the new policy throughout the commonwealth. In the meantime, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is still a criminal offense, even though some districts are suspending their pursuit of such cases.
Wareham police aren’t changing their approach to criminal possession yet.
“I’m waiting to see logistically how it will be implemented,” Lt. Irving Wallace said.
Wallace suspected that it would be handled like any other bylaw or civil infraction, with the officer just issuing a ticket to the offender and someone following up to make sure the ticket was paid.
The Wareham lieutenant was also concerned about how officers would have to determine how much marijuana someone had on them. While most officers could eyeball either a very small or very large amount of marijuana it’s more difficult when it is just under or just over an ounce since most police cruisers don’t come equipped with a scale.
Law enforcement officials like State Attorney General Martha Coakley and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz spoke out strongly against the ballot measure when it was first proposed. They cited correlations between reported marijuana use and incidents of juvenile crime, as well as the fact that marijuana available today is allegedly nine times as potent as it was 30 years ago. [Mark Godsey]
Temple case still haunting
For nearly eight weeks in the late spring and summer of 1993, he was Juror No. 3 in the trial of a young man accused of the worse mass murder in Arizona history.
When deliberations ended on July 13, the eight-woman, four-man panel of which Richard Noel was a part found then 19-year-old Johnathan Andrew Doody guilty of the execution-style slaughter of nine people at a Buddhist temple west of Phoenix.
"We didn't talk to reporters afterwards," Noel told me. "We were so emotionally drained it was like everyone just wanted to go home and cry."
Noel was in his mid 40s then, an Air Force veteran. Now in his late 50s and semiretired, he said that he was shocked last week to learn that Doody's confession in the case had been thrown out by a federal court and that there may be a new trial.
Last week I wrote a blog for azcentral.com about the court's decision. Noel responded online to some of those who had posted comments about the case. That's how I reached him.
"People were commenting as if he (Doody) had gotten a raw deal," Noel said. "I guess he has the right to appeal. But it seemed to me that things were presented pretty fairly and easy to understand at the trial and things indicated that he was there. They can't prove that he shot anybody, but there was no doubt that he was there. Even without his confession, I still think there was enough evidence based on the testimony of Alex Garcia and other things."
The murders took place in August 1991. Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, a classmate with Doody at Agua Fria High School, pleaded guilty to nine counts of first-degree murder. He then agreed to testify against Doody in a deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty. [Mark Godsey]
Neighbor Guilty in MySpace Hoax Case
A suburban mother was found guilty today of minor misdemeanor charges for her role in an online hoax that prosecutors said led to the suicide of her teenage neighbor.
Lori Drew, 49, was convicted on three misdemeanor counts of unauthorized access to computers in a case that drew nationwide attention both for its novel use of a computer hacking law to combat alleged cyberbullying and for its tales of suburban neighborhood rivalries and teenage suicide.
The jury could not reach a verdict on a single felony conspiracy charge. Drew, who lives in a suburb of St. Louis, was acquitted of several felony counts of unauthorized access to computers in order to inflict emotional distress on 13-year-old Megan Meier.
Drew faces a possible sentence ranging from probation to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each misdemeanor count. She could have faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the felony charges.
Megan Meier committed suicide in October 2006 after the end of her online relationship with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Prosecutors said "Josh Evans" was the fictitious creation of Drew, her daughter and her assistant, who allegedly created the fake MySpace account to spy on Megan.
Legally, as Drew's lawyer Dean Steward repeatedly reminded the jury, the case was not about whether Drew caused Megan to commit suicide. Instead, Drew was accused of violating MySpace's terms of service by obtaining personal information to inflict emotional distress on the teen.
But the emotional pull, and much of the testimony in the trial in federal court in Los Angeles, centered on the suicide. "The tragedy in this case is not just Megan Meier's suicide. It's the fact that it was so preventable," U.S.attorney Thomas O'Brien said in his closing statement.
Megan killed herself after "Josh" told her the world would be better off without her, prosecutors said. The assistant, 20-year-old Ashley Grills, testified under a grant of immunity that she was the one who sent the final message. Drew's daughter Sarah was also not charged. [Mark Godsey]
November 26, 2008
Judges stay Dec. 3 execution of Wash. inmate
The separate stays were issued Tuesday by judges in federal court in Yakima and in Clallam County Superior Court.
U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko issued his order in a conference call with lawyers. State Attorney General Rob McKenna said his office was asking an appeals court to vacate Suko's order and allow the execution to proceed as scheduled.
Stenson's lawyers this week asked Suko for a temporary restraining order blocking the execution on the grounds that the state last month revised its procedure for administering lethal injections, without previously announcing any changes or going through a rule-making process.
Furthermore, they argued that their client has Type 2 diabetes with veins that are difficult to access, making it more likely that he would suffer pain that constitutes unlawful cruel and unusual punishment.
Without the judge's intervention, they argued, Stenson "will die at the hands of an unreviewed, untested, never-before-implemented lethal injection policy which is likely to cause him severe pain."
McKenna argued that Stenson is "using every means at his disposal to avoid execution." [Mark Godsey]
Complaint filed over Long Island police policies
Hispanic advocates claimed Tuesday that the Long Island police department that investigated the killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant fails to adequately investigate crimes committed by whites against Latinos.
Police and county officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but they have repeatedly said since the Nov. 8 killing of Marcelo Lucero that crime victims are not asked about their residency status.
Seven Long Island teenagers have pleaded not guilty to charges including gang assault after police say they surrounded Lucero and another man near a train station. The men were targeted by the group because they were Hispanic, police said, and were only the latest victims in what authorities believe was a marauding spree by the teenagers.
Lucero's companion fled and called for help, but the 37-year-old laborer was killed when he was stabbed once in the chest. The 17-year-old accused of inflicting the fatal blow is being held without bail, charged with murder as a hate crime.
Latino Justice also criticized Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, for advocating various initiatives they contend created a hostile environment for Hispanics in Suffolk County. Levy has signed legislation requiring contractors doing business with the county to verify their employees are in the country legally. He also has supported crackdowns on overcrowded housing, which opponents contend unfairly targeted Hispanics.
A spokesman for Levy said the complaint "is coming from the same Cesar Perales who said that the county was engaging in racial politics when the county started to notify the federal government about those here illegally who had committed major crimes in Suffolk." [Mark Godsey]
In Cities, the Fight Against Terrorism Walks the Beat
In May, a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer stopped a car for speeding. He noticed that the driver was sweating and gripping the steering wheel nervously, while refusing to answer basic questions. In May, a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer stopped a car for speeding. He noticed that the driver was sweating and gripping the steering wheel nervously, while refusing to answer basic questions.
It's nothing fancy, and that's the point. Ever since 9/11, the connect-the-dots problem has preoccupied law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. The 9/11 Commission noted that stopping the hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon would have been much easier if someone had connected the reports of suspicious men taking flying lessons.
Yet efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, newly created after 9/11, and others have failed to integrate communications among disparate agencies. The federal government has made multiple efforts to link databases and often found itself snarled in technology messes.
Last month, the White House asked the department to put on hold new spending on an alert system that carries a price tag of more than $150 million. The system was supposed to provide threat information to local officials, but government reports suggested it was too hard to use.
Now the LAPD is trying to build a system from the ground up. The eight-month-old program has generated 1,000 suspicious-activity reports using a common template and already nabbed several people who provided critical information to federal terrorism investigations, LAPD officials say. [Mark Godsey]
November 25, 2008
Criminal justice affected by budget cut
Due to a projected $90 million shortfall for 2009 in the King County General Fund, criminal justice agencies in the county are experiencing a blanket 11.4 percent budget cut.
The budget cut has caused a change in filing and disposition standards and the way the King County prosecutor's office prosecutes crimes.
According to a letter from King County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Satterberg to county police chiefs and commanders, the cut is equivalent to 41 of the 190 deputy prosecutors paid for by the general fund.
"I had 27 more people working for me in April than I do now," Satterberg said.
The changes forced by the budget crunch went into effect Oct. 6 and affect the line between felonies and misdemeanors in property and drug crimes.
Property crimes with damages less than $1000 will no longer be considered felonies and will be sent to the municipal prosecutor, not the county prosecutor. [Mark Godsey]
Tracing a crime suspect through a relative
Most were black women or girls, the youngest just 14. The latest was found last year, shrouded in a garbage bag.
Now Los Angeles Police Department investigators want to search the state's DNA database again -- not for exact matches but for any profiles similar enough to belong to a parent or sibling.
The hope is that one of those family members might lead detectives to the killer.
But the idea of scrutinizing families based exclusively on their possible genetic relationship to an unknown suspect makes privacy advocates and legal experts nervous. They argue that it effectively expands criminal databases to include every offender's relatives, a potentially unconstitutional intrusion.
"There is kind of a queasiness about having the sins of your father come back to haunt you," said Stanford University law professor Hank Greely, who supports familial searching despite those concerns. "It feels like we're holding people responsible for the crimes of their family."
Because the technology isn't perfect, families with no connection to the perpetrator inevitably will be investigated, some scientists and legal experts say.
The FBI and California law enforcement officials long resisted the approach, fearful of inciting legal opposition and a public backlash. They yielded only after aggressive lobbying by prosecutors, who pointed to some dramatic successes. [Mark Godsey]
Butchering Statutes: the Postville Raid and the Misinterpretation of Federal Law
On Monday, May 12, 2008, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement led an immigration raid at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The local U.S. Attorney's Office pursued criminal complaints against approximately 300 migrant workers. The raid at Postville remains the nation's largest criminal immigration raid. I aim to provide a detailed and accurate account of the investigation of Agriprocessors, the raid, the criminal prosecutions, the sentencings and the aftermath. In so doing, I argue that a confluence of factors explain the number of individuals arrested and the accelerated criminal proceedings.
I describe how the investigation of Agriprocessors led to the raid and criminal prosecutions. I show that the defendants, though not technically coerced, were the victims of systemic coercion. Such systemic coercion produced prompt resolutions of their cases, which propelled the guilty pleas and sentencings.
I then argue that the accelerated process was premised upon two flawed interpretations of federal law, without which the guilty pleas and removal orders could not have been achieved. First, the USAO employed section1028A(a)(1) of Title 18, aggravated identity theft, which imposes a two-year mandatory, consecutive sentence to any defendant convicted under it, to leverage expedited plea agreements. [Peter Moyers] [Mark Godsey]
November 24, 2008
2nd Circuit Upholds Warrantless Extraterritorial Searches of U.S. Citizens
A federal appeals court in Manhattan upheld the convictions on Monday of three Al Qaeda operatives in a ruling that bolsters the government’s power to investigate terrorism by holding that a key Constitutional protection afforded to Americans does not apply overseas.
The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holds for the first time that government agents may obtain admissible evidence against United States citizens through warrantless searches abroad.
The searches must still be reasonable, as the Constitution requires, Judge José A. Cabranes wrote, adding that the government had met that standard in its search of the home and monitoring of the telephone of one defendant, Wadih El-Hage, a close aide to Osama bin Laden, who was a naturalized American citizen living in Nairobi, Kenya.
“The Fourth Amendment’s requirement of reasonableness — but not the Warrant Clause — applies to extraterritorial searches and seizures of U.S. citizens,” the judge wrote.
Mr. El-Hage and two other defendants had appealed their convictions for participating in a terrorism conspiracy, led by Mr. bin Laden, to kill Americans around the world. The conspiracy included the 1998 bombings of two American embassies, in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people and wounded thousands. They were convicted in Manhattan federal court in 2001 in the last major terrorism trial in the United States before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The two other defendants whose convictions were upheld were Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-’Owhali and Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. A fourth defendant, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, did not appeal his conviction. The men were convicted in a federal trial in Manhattan in early 2001. All four men are serving life sentences in the so-called Super Max prison in Florence, Colo.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Georgia Supreme Court Promotes Marriage to Fight Crime
A dozen billboards around the state that urge Georgians to "Get Married, Stay Married" are sponsored not by a church or family-values group but by the Supreme Court of Georgia through its Commission on Children, Marriage and Family Law.
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears said that the 48-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall billboards are one of the few things a jurist can do to battle high crime rates, high divorce rates and low numbers of fathers raising their kids.
Along with the "Get Married, Stay Married" slogan, each sign shows a happy-looking mother, father and child and one of two messages: "Children do better with parents together" or "For Children's Sake."
"We paid $50,000 to get about $500,000 worth of billboard space to send this vital message," Sears said, noting that the costs of the billboards themselves were paid by the Georgia Bar Foundation and "not state money." The billboard space was donated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia, which donates unused billboard space to charitable, civic and governmental organizations.
Sears' comments came in an interview last week at a more substantive part of her crusade -- a two-day conference on marriage for about 250 lawyers, social workers, clergy people and therapists. The event was sponsored by the high court's commission and the New York-based Institute for American Values, which calls itself a "private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that contributes intellectually to strengthening families and civil society in the U.S. and the world."
Sears said the summit was the first event of its kind sponsored by the Georgia high court.
The costs were borne by private foundations, "with very little state money," she added, although she did not specify how much. Participants paid fees to attend, and the Institute for American Values paid speakers' honoraria and transportation costs.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Budget cuts hamper abilities of prosecutors across U.S.
The cuts include treating drug-related felony crimes as misdemeanors, dismantling specialty units that prosecute domestic violence and child abuse, and placing prosecutors and staff on unpaid leave to save money.
"It's pretty universal," says Tom Sneddon, interim executive director of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA). "The money may go away, but the caseloads won't."
Florida's 20 state attorneys have written to the Legislature, asking for relief from further budget cuts, says Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are furloughing attorneys to save money. "We are at the breaking point," he says.
Prosecutors elsewhere also feel pinched as states adjust their budgets to declining revenue:
• In King County, Wash., prosecutor Dan Satterberg is down 20 lawyers after a 12% budget cut. He's treating most felony drug cases as misdemeanors, which can entice defendants to accept plea bargains and avoid costly trials. "It's the first of many bad choices that we're going to have to make in the next couple of years if we don't get on better fiscal footing," he says. [Mark Godsey]
Experts: Bad Economies Don't Cause Crime Waves
There are few outlaws in the United States as famous as Bonnie and Clyde — a young couple, with no jobs or prospects, driving across the country robbing banks and killing police officers to make ends meet during the Great Depression.
It's an indelible image of what people will do during desperate times. For a while, Bonnie and Clyde were almost American heroes.
There's only one problem: The Depression years had very little crime.
With the economy's current troubles, many people assume a crime wave is just around the corner. But criminologists say that's just an American myth.
Just look at the 1920s, says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention at John Jay College of Criminal Studies.
"It was a period of booming economic prosperity, the roaring '20s, and very high crime," he says.
The 1950s and '60s were the same. The economy was great, but crime rates rose every single year.
Experts say there will always be some people who take to robbing liquor stores in tough times. But those people were already likely to rob stores even in good times, making it a statistical wash. And there's something else: When the economy goes bad, many people move in with parents or relatives, and they stay home more — both of which appear to have a calming effect, experts say
But Kennedy warns it's not all good news. [Mark Godsey]
Boy's constitutional rights forgotten during interview
The video of the now-infamous 8-year-old in St. Johns is chilling.
"Did you shoot your dad?" a sheriff's deputy asks the pajama-clad boy, at the end of an hourlong interview in which he was led ever-so-gently down the primrose path.
The boy rubs his eyes and he covers his face. "I think so," he says softly.
I want to thank the prosecutors in Apache County for releasing the tape of the child's supposed confession to the world this week. I, for one, learned a few things about the criminal-justice system in Arizona.
I learned that it's a place where little children don't have any constitutional rights. How else could police keep at the kid for over an hour, while his mother was told to wait outside, and never offer the boy any adult help?
I learned that it's a place where it is apparently OK to apply the same interrogation techniques to a third-grader that you would to a 30-year-old.
A place where you may get a confession.
But will you get the truth?
At the time of that interview, the boy was accused of killing his father and a second adult male living in the house. [Mark Godsey]
November 23, 2008
Professor Hoffman Criminal Law Professor
Professor Hoffmann is an award-winning scholar and law teacher. He holds the Harry Pratter Professorship, and is a past recipient of the Law School Gavel Award and the university-wide Outstanding Young Faculty Award. In addition to courses in criminal law and procedure and seminars on death penalty law and the psychology of criminal law, Hoffmann teaches seminars on the law and society of Japan and Asia.
A nationally recognized authority on the death penalty, he has also written extensively about criminal procedure and habeas corpus law. Hoffmann is a co-author of one of the leading casebooks in criminal procedure law, Comprehensive Criminal Procedure (Aspen 2nd ed. 2005) (with Allen, Livingston, and Stuntz). He served as Co-Chair and Reporter for the Massachusetts Governor's Council on Capital Punishment, and has spearheaded successful death penalty reform efforts in Illinois and Indiana. Professor Hoffmann is also on the faculty of the National Judicial College, where he teaches about death penalty law.
Hoffmann has been a Fulbright Professor in 1996 at the University of Tokyo, and in 1997-98 was a Visiting Professor at its International Center for Comparative Law and Politics. In 2003-04, he was a Fulbright Professor at the Universities of Erlangen and Jena in Germany.