CrimProf Blog

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

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mental health system ailing

Shannon Harps, a young Sierra Club worker, devoted her life to improving her community before she was killed last New Year's Eve. But her death may spur major mental health system reforms that could result in improved public safety, better care for the severely ill and tighter control over dangerous offenders.

A task force convened by the King County Prosecutor's Office and state Department of Corrections has completed a nearly yearlong investigation into the mental health and criminal justice systems that let James Williams roam the streets homeless and hallucinating in the hours before he allegedly chose Harps at random and stabbed her with a kitchen knife.

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December 6, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 5, 2008

European Human Rights Court Rules to Remove Innocent People's DNA Samples from UK Database

From Hundreds of thousands of DNA and fingerprint samples face being removed from police national databases after a court ruled today that holding details of people with no criminal convictions breaches human rights laws.

The European Court of Human rights said in a landmark judgment that retaining the fingerprints and DNA samples of people acquitted of crime, or when proceedings are dropped, breaches a person's right to respect for private life.

Ministers have until March to decide how they will implement the judgement and no samples or fingerprints will be removed from the two datasbases until then.

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December 5, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prosecutors warn against more budget cuts

Kentucky prosecutors warned yesterday that further state budget cuts could significantly disrupt prosecution of crimes and leave the state's court system in shambles.

"It's going to be chaos,'' said Christian County Attorney Mike Foster, a member of the Prosecutors Advisory Council, which held an emergency meeting in Frankfort yesterday. "It is the entire prosecutorial system for the state of Kentucky.''

Gov. Steve Beshear has asked all state entities -- including county and commonwealth's attorneys -- to draw up plans for how they would deal with a 4 percent budget cut for the remainder of the fiscal year.

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December 5, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

17 Dallas police officers violated high-speed chase policy, report finds

Seventeen officers violated the Dallas Police Department's high-speed chase policy in a September pursuit that left an officer seriously injured, an internal affairs investigation has concluded.

None of the officers, including the one who was injured, were authorized to be involved in the 28-minute chase that began in Lake Highlands when a driver tried to run over several officers during a confrontation in an apartment parking lot.

Two pairs of officers also face discipline for having turned off their squad cars' in-car video cameras in violation of the department's policy, according to the report obtained through an open-records request.

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December 5, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Walking in cops' shoes -- in the line of fire

I'M WALKING the beat with Officer Casey when the 911 call comes in.

Disturbance. Downtown. Hurry.

We rush to the scene and enter a crowded restaurant, our hearts racing. At a far table by the window a man, 40ish, is arguing with a woman sitting across from him.

An object in his hand catches the light.

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December 5, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

15 officers caught in FBI drug sting

"I ain't always been in law enforcement," a Harvey cop allegedly bragged to the drug dealer whose business he was paid to protect. "I sold a lot of weight at a young age, I just never got caught."

His luck ran out Tuesday, though, as federal authorities unsealed charges against the Harvey police officer and 14 other law-enforcement officers.

The drug dealer was an undercover FBI agent who secretly recorded his conversations. Two civilians were also charged.

The FBI said it launched the yearlong sting after widespread reports from informants and other cops that law-enforcement officers in southern Cook County were engaging in robbery, extortion and distribution of narcotics and weapons.

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December 3, 2008 in Drugs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DNA search fails to find relatives of unknown serial killer

The Los Angeles Police Department's hunt for an elusive serial killer who has stalked women in South L.A. for more than two decades was dealt a setback Tuesday when a controversial search of DNA databases for the killer's family members came up empty.

"We were hoping," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who is overseeing a task force of detectives working to solve the case. "Police work is very much about exploring every avenue. We went down this one and it didn't turn out to be fruitful."

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December 3, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

FBI power in terror cases grows

Beginning Monday, the FBI will get increased power to investigate suspected terrorists under revised administrative guidelines that some Muslim Americans and civil rights advocates in metro Detroit are concerned may target innocent people.

The new Justice Department guidelines will allow FBI agents, for the first time in terrorism-related cases, to use undercover sources to gather information in preliminary probes, interview people without identifying who they are and spy on suspects without first getting clear evidence of wrongdoing.

They're the most significant changes the Bush administration has made since 2003 to rules that govern security investigations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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December 3, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Charge for Bernard Kerik

041213_kerik_vmedwidecDisgraced former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik's glib response to White House officials when he interviewed to be director of homeland security may land him in prison.

"Nope, it's all in my book," Kerik said when asked in 2002 if there was "anything embarrassing that he wouldn't want the public to know about." In "The Lost Son," Kerik admitted fathering a daughter while he was a soldier in Korea and said his mother, a prostitute, was murdered.

In a beefed-up indictment issued Tuesday, Manhattan federal prosecutors said Kerik should have owned up to his ties to a mob-linked contractor as well as his failure to pay taxes for a nanny he employed.

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December 3, 2008 in Criminal Law, Homeland Security, News, Political News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Can swabbing for DNA go too far?

In the settlement around Cove Run Creek, nobody said no when police came asking for their DNA.

A dead baby, wrapped in a flannel shirt and plastic bag, then stuffed into a knapsack, had been abandoned in the woods in North Union, Fayette County, sometime in 2000. As police tell it, the dozen or so girls questioned were perfectly willing to allow a trooper to take a saliva swab from their mouths so a lab could trace the DNA.

"Usually if they have nothing to do with it they have no problem giving up the swab, the sample," explained James A. Pierce, the trooper who cracked the case earlier this month.

Sarah S. Hawk, a 25-year-old woman from the area, was found by that process of elimination. Her DNA was obtained by a search warrant after one of her sisters voluntarily gave a swab this spring.

When the lab identified the sister's DNA as belonging to a relative of the baby, police got search warrants so that they could get swabs from the other sisters. Miss Hawk's came back a match, and she later confessed.

Case closed?

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December 2, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lessons from Hurricane Katrina: Prison Emergency Preparedness as a Constitutional Imperative

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters ever to strike the United States, in terms of casualties, suffering, and financial cost. Often overlooked among Katrina's victims are the 8,000 inmates who were incarcerated at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) when Katrina struck. Despite a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, these men and women, some of whom had been held on charges as insignificant as public intoxication, remained in the jail as the hurricane hit, and endured days of rising, toxic waters, a lack of food and drinking water, and a complete breakdown of order within OPP. When the inmates were finally evacuated from OPP, they suffered further harm, waiting for days on a highway overpass before being placed in other correctional institutions, where prisoners withstood exposure to the late-summer Louisiana heat and beatings at the hands of guards and other inmates. Finally, even as the prison situation settled down, inmates from the New Orleans criminal justice system were marooned in correctional institutions throughout the state, as the judicial system in New Orleans ceased to function.

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Roman Polanski Files for Dismissal of Criminal Case

LOS ANGELES, Dec 02, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Academy Award-winning film director Roman Polanski, through new lawyers, Chad Hummel of Los Angeles' Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, and Bart Dalton of Los Angeles, today filed a formal request with the Los Angeles County Superior Court to have the Court dismiss the criminal case brought against him more than 30 years ago in which he had entered a guilty plea to "unlawful sexual intercourse." The request was made on the grounds that judicial and prosecutorial misconduct had so distorted the legal process that the interests of justice can only be served with the complete dismissal of the case.

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Circuit Court Finds Defendant Had Right to Cross-Examine Witness about Swastika Tattoos

The broad discretion that the Sixth Amendment confrontation clause provides to trial judges to control the presentation of evidence was abused when a federal district judge barred a defendant from cross-examining a government witness about the witness's swastika tattoos, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held Nov. 18 (United States v. Figueroa, 2d Cir., No. 06-1595-cr, 11/18/08).

The court reasoned that the witness's tattoos tended to suggest that the witness would lie in court about ethnic groups, including the one to which the accused said he belonged.

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law, Evidence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

In a Brooklyn Parking Lot, the End of a Quiet Life

Funeral_2 The church custodian saw him first: a man alone in a parking lot, swinging a folding chair like an ax, bringing it down toward the windshield of a parked van and stopping, an inch from the glass. Then backing up and dancing around with the chair, a strange ballet. Then swinging again, over and over.

The custodian yelled for the man to stop, and turned and ran for help inside the Coney Island church, where police officers chaperoned the truants of Brooklyn and Queens.

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Standing their ground: More citizens enforcing the law themselves

"I'm killing you right now! You shouldn't have looked at me, man! Go ahead. Say goodbye. Say goodbye. I'm blowing you away right here.''

But when the teen suddenly fled, Morelli's fear morphed to rage. Pursuing his attacker and dodging bullets in a high-speed car chase -- the action caught on a 911 tape -- Morelli was able to jot down a tag number that helped police track down the assailant.

"It was straight out of Clint Eastwood-type stuff,'' Morelli said later. "But I knew if I did nothing, nothing would happen.''

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December 2, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Cops Say Legalizing Drugs Can Boost Economy by Billions

This Tuesday, December 2, a group of law enforcers who fought on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and witnessed its failures will commemorate the 75th anniversary of alcohol prohibition’s repeal by calling for drug legalization. The cops, judges and prosecutors will release a report detailing how many billions of dollars can be used to boost the ailing economy when drug prohibition is ended.

“America’s leaders had the good sense to realize that we couldn’t afford to keep enforcing the ineffective prohibition of alcohol during the Great Depression,” said Terry Nelson, a 30-year veteran federal agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “Now, cops fighting on the front lines of today’s ‘war on drugs’ are working to make our streets safer and help solve our economic crisis by teaching lawmakers a lesson from history about the failure of prohibition. We can do it again.”

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December 2, 2008 in Drugs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Plaxico Burress Turns Himself In On Gun Charge

Amd_plaxicoburressTroubled Giants star Plaxico Burress turned himself into a Manhattan precinct Monday morning where he is expected to be charged after accidentally shooting himself in the right thigh while drinking at a Midtown nightclub.

Walking with no sign of a limp from the bullet wound, Burress stepped out of a black Cadillac Escalade in front of the NYPD's 17th Precinct just after 8 a.m. Wearing dark jeans, a white collared shirt and a black jacket, he stared straight ahead as he walked and ignored shouts from an assembled group of reporters and fans.

His lawyer said the wide receiver would be arraigned at 1 p.m. at Central Booking and would plead not guilty to charges of criminal possession of a weapon.

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December 1, 2008 in Criminal Law, Guns, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Treatment programs key to winning war on drugs

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, commissioned by Sen. Joe Biden, has come to an unsurprising conclusion: After more than $6 billion spent, the controversial drug control operation known as Plan Colombia has failed by large margins to meet its targets.

The goal had been to cut cocaine production in Colombia by 50 percent from 2000 to 2006 through eradication of coca crops and training of anti-narcotics police and military personnel. In fact, cocaine production in Colombia rose 4 percent during that period, the GAO found. With increases in Peru and Bolivia, production of cocaine in South America increased by 12 percent during that period. In 1999 it cost $142 to buy a gram of cocaine on the street in the United States, according to inflation-adjusted figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. By 2006 the price had fallen to $94 per gram.

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December 1, 2008 in Drugs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Gun checks may violate federal law

The Delaware State Police have been conducting secret background checks of some gun owners since 2001, a process known as "superchecks" that may violate federal law.

The checks have resulted in confiscation of weapons, some for legitimate reasons, but have subjected many citizens to a search of mental health records that in most cases police would be unable to access.

In Delaware, when someone attempts to purchase a pistol or rifle, he or she must first sign a consent form authorizing a criminal and mental health check by the state Firearms Transaction Approval Program.

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December 1, 2008 in Guns | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spare the innocent

Another innocent man has been freed. When will state legislators respond to what can only be called a crisis of wrongful conviction in New York? Perhaps in January, when Democrats take over the State Senate.

Albany has been woefully uninterested in this subject. New York has the nation’s third-highest number of people exonerated, but it has done little to keep the law from devouring more innocent suspects. The main obstacle has been the State Senate, where Republicans have shown virtually no interest in reforming the system.

It’s not as though this is a minor issue. Twenty-four New Yorkers have been exonerated through DNA testing, according to The Innocence Project, and 13 of thoses cases involved witness misidentification. That’s how Steven Barnes wound up in prison almost 20 years ago, convicted of a murder he did not commit.

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December 1, 2008 in False Confessions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)