December 13, 2008
Nonviolent inmates are lending a hand
For 97 cents a day -- yes, a day -- John Kemp picks up garbage in Austin.
He calls it great.
The work keeps him busy, occupies his mind, helps him change, he said.
Kemp wouldn't mind if the pay was within sight of minimum wage, of course. But after having been caught with a meth lab, Kemp cannot dictate options. Besides, he's not exactly doing his prison time like they did in Alcatraz.
Kemp, of Evansville, will be at the Henryville Correctional Facility for another couple years. He does not sleep behind bars, is not confined by a fence, will not face the barrel of a guard's gun or a stint in solitary. The bricked state prison looks more like a big-box store, except in a nice neighborhood. The facility overlooks a lake in the far reaches of Clark State Forest.
As prisoner Greg Falconberry put it, "It's as close to the real world as you can get, and still be incarcerated."
Those whose crimes were nonviolent may come to Henryville for relatively short stays before they are released. Kemp and Falconberry, of Madison, are among up to 200 men held there, few of whom prove stupid enough to risk losing visitation rights or added stretches served in a tougher joint.
"Everybody wants to go home here," said prisoner Curt Lucas, of North Vernon.
"It's an invisible fence," Kemp said. "We all know where it's at."
All hold jobs, traditionally state-linked duties such as clearing debris in the forest or picking up litter along highways. At least 30 pitch in regularly at the state's tree nursery in Vallonia. "We couldn't do the job we are trying to do without their help," nursery supervisor Bob Hawkins said.
According to Hawkins, the men harvest millions of seedlings each year without causing much trouble at all. [Mark Godsey]
December 12, 2008
Canadian police pull old Tasers off streets
Police departments across Canada, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, are pulling older Taser stun guns off the streets following a new study that found the weapons can deliver more power than the manufacturer says is possible.
Police departments in the United States, however, appear to have taken no similar action.
Taser International responded to the study, commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., with e-mails to police departments claiming the research is flawed.
"It is unfortunate that false allegations based on scientifically flawed data can create such uncertainty," Steve Tuttle, a Taser vice president, told The Arizona Republic. Taser also said researchers redid the test after the company pointed out errors.
However, Taser's assertions about specific data flaws contradict company documents and a letter from one of its top scientists. An audio recording also shows Taser was told that no retest took place.
"No, we never did (a retest). Absolutely not," said reporter Frederic Zalac of the CBC, which commissioned the study by a U.S. defense contractor and a Montreal biomedical engineer. "It is completely untrue."
The study, released last week, found that four of 44 stun guns of the X26 model used most by police departments fired jolts that were 47 percent to 58 percent higher than the manufacturer's specifications. The four high-firing weapons were sold to two police departments in 2004.
An accompanying medical analysis concluded that the higher jolts pose as much as a 50 percent risk of inducing cardiac arrest in some people and that stun guns firing at expected electrical levels pose some risk.
Taser maintains that shocks from its stun guns can't kill.
The president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Washington, D.C., said Thursday that he was not aware of the study. Police officials with Valley departments, where most officers are armed with Tasers, have said they will evaluate it. [Mark Godsey]
Holder fight heats up
GOP leaders took to the Senate floor this evening to call on Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to slow down Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder’s confirmation process.
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Rhode Island attorney general, commands respect in the Senate on legal matters. He took to the floor to argue that the amount of time between the Holder nomination and the proposed hearings was within historical precedent. Leahy has proposed hearings as early as Jan. 8 with the goal of confirming Holder on Inauguration day or very shortly thereafter. Holder's nomination was announced Dec. 1.
Over the past 30 years, Whitehouse noted, the average time between a presidential announcement of a nominee and the first hearing has been 29 days and the time until a committee vote has been 37 days.
Earlier this week, Leahy said that he wanted Holder confirmed with such speed so that he could walk into the Department of Justice after Barack Obama is sworn in and announce: “Okay, justice is back."
Kyl and Senate Republicans, however, say there is still much to be known about Holder’s record at the Department of Justice, among other things. They say more than 100 boxes of documents related to Holder are in the possession of the committee stemming from pardon hearings in 2001. When the GOP controlled the Senate, then-Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) held hearings to look into President Clinton’s last-minute pardons, some of which – such as the one for fugitive financier Marc Rich -- Holder signed off on.
“Nobody is talking about a long, long, long delay,” said Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). “We do ask that we be accorded the same consideration that was given to others in this situation and that there be adequate time to confirm him.” The Senate took four days of hearings, he noted, to confirm John Ashcroft, a former senator.
Specter, now the ranking minority member on the committee, also called for a deliberate process.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) seconded Specter. “I understand the Judiciary Committee has a large number of boxes of archived documents relating to his employment at the Justice Department and those materials need to be reviewed,” he said. "We haven’t even gotten Mr. Holder’s questionnaire, nomination materials or F.B.I. background investigation yet.” [Mark Godsey]
Minnesota judge extends injunction against NFL suspensions
A federal judge extended his preliminary injunction against the NFL's suspension of five players for violating the league's anti-doping policy, a move their lawyer said will let them play the rest of the season.
In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson asked both parties to propose a schedule by Dec. 22 for further proceedings that would lead to an eventual hearing on the merits of the case, a process that could take months. The regular season ends Dec. 28.
Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints were suspended last week for four games each. They tested positive during training camp for a banned diuretic, bumetanide, in the dietary supplement StarCaps.
Bumetanide can be used as a masking agent for steroids. Diuretics are also used to quickly shed weight. The StarCaps label didn't list the diuretic as an ingredient.
"The players and the union are thrilled," Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the NFL Players Association, told The Associated Press. Kessler said the judge's timeframe is long enough that the players can finish the season and go to the playoffs if their teams make it that far.
Kevin and Pat Williams, who aren't related, are star defensive tackles for a Vikings team that is 8-5 and in first place in the NFC North. They play Sunday at Arizona.
"My attorney gave me a little bit of it, but I was focused on the game. I really wasn't focused on that," Smith said Thursday night after the Saints lost in overtime to Chicago, 27-24. "So I got to sit back either tonight or tomorrow and talk to him and see what happens." [Mark Godsey]
December 11, 2008
Domestic violence deaths more than double over 2007
The number of homicides related to domestic violence in Maine more than doubled over the past year, prompting Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday to urge health care professionals to look even more carefully for signs of violence and sexual assault.
Domestic violence-related homicides in Maine rose from eight in all of 2007 to 17 so far this year, Baldacci said at a news conference, where he was joined by the state's attorney general and top health official, as well as several medical organizations and violence-prevention groups.
"The impact of domestic violence and sexual assault in Maine is staggering," Baldacci said. "This is a serious public health problem."
The state Center for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing an advisory on the matter to professional health care providers across Maine. CDC Director Dora Anne Mills said the advisory will go out to about 5,000 recipients, but it will probably be seen by twice as many health care providers.
Reporting of suspected cases of abuse is not mandatory in many incidents, as it is in child abuse cases. But state officials want more medical professionals to incorporate routine screenings into their practices, to be trained in spotting red flags and to ask patients directly whether they are safe at home.
In that way, patients can receive information on intervention services or other help to prevent further incidents. Perpetrators also can be referred to help services.
The state and violence-prevention groups also say screening itself can be a powerful intervention, even if no immediate disclosure results because it lets the patient know that violence is unsafe and does not have to be tolerated.
Officials said they did not see a direct link between the souring economy, which adds stress in many families, to the dramatic rise in domestic violence deaths.
"The economy doesn't cause violence," said Mills, although she acknowledged that added financial pressures could exacerbate it. Officials see a more direct link between substance abuse and sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Attorney General Steven Rowe said domestic violence brings an enormous cost in terms of medical treatment, lost work and other impacts.
Considering the estimated annual cost of $260 billion nationally, said Rowe, violence would have a $1.2 billion impact on the Maine economy.
Baldacci said 60 percent of Maine's homicides are related to domestic violence, and on average in Maine, a domestic assault is reported to police departments every hour and half.
"I think we here in Maine are saying we're not going to put up with this," said Baldacci. [Mark Godsey]
Correa seeks transparency
Honolulu police Chief Boisse Correa said he wants to release video footage of a Taser incident that caused two officers to temporarily lose their law enforcement authority.
Correa came under heated criticism last week from the police officers union for his decisions to relieve officers of their authority when under investigation. Officers used the Taser incident in Makakilo as an example of what they consider Correa's unfair enforcement of HPD's Relief of Police Authority policy.
"We are meeting with city attorneys to see if the Taser video recording can be released," Correa said in a written statement yesterday. "Release of the recording would promote transparency and underscore the importance of the policy. We believe that the policy was used appropriately. My staff and I stand by our decision."
Up to 300 police officers, all members of union State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, rallied Friday night to protest the chief's use of the policy.
Correa said 32 officers have been placed on restricted duty this year due to pending investigations, of whom 15 remain on restricted status. Five of those cases are from last year.
The policy calls for the temporary removal of an officer's police powers due to an ongoing criminal or administrative investigation or for medical reasons.
Correa said HPD management asked the union to submit proposed policy changes, but none was received.
In 2007, the median length of time that officers were restricted was 112 days. This year, the median length is about 30 days, according to the department.
The case involving use of Tasers occurred on Sept. 10, when police received a call of a disturbance at Uhiuala Street in Makakilo.
Two men, one of whom was naked and allegedly under the influence of drugs, lunged at the officers. The officers used their Tasers on the suspects. [Mark Godsey]
Eight and on Trial: Young Defendants Throw Criminal Justice Into Confusion
In his videotaped confession to the police, the eight-year-old boy sits in an overstuffed office chair and calmly describes how he shot his father and his father's roommate to death with a rifle. At one point, he buries his head in his jacket and says, "I'm going to go to juvie."
Prosecutors in Arizona, who could have sought to charge the boy as an adult, have charged him in juvenile court with the murder of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39. He could face a trial or plea hearing and end up in a locked facility, designed mainly for teenagers, conceivably until he is 18.
The case highlights an old but persistent quandary of the criminal justice system. Despite society's natural impulse to secure justice for the victims of heinous crimes, most experts agree the adult system is no place for very young children. But some question whether they should face charges in the juvenile system itself, meant for older children.
"When we made so-called murder policy, nobody had an eight-year-old in mind," says Franklin Zimring, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.
A peak in juvenile crime in the early 1990s, followed by a wave of school shootings, helped drive support for a crackdown. For example, in the mid-1990s, after two boys in Chicago dropped five-year-old Eric Morse to his death from an apartment window, Wisconsin lowered the age limit for trial as adults to 10 from 12. The boys who dropped Eric, then 10 and 11, were given the maximum five-year sentence in juvenile court.
State law is all over the map and policymakers are still struggling with the issue. Only 16 states define an age at which a child is capable of forming criminal intent, according to 2007 figures from the National Center for Juvenile Justice. In North Carolina, the minimum age is six. Most of the other 34 states leave it up to prosecutors.
The juvenile justice system stresses rehabilitation and social services. Young defendants whom prosecutors decline to charge can benefit from a judge tracking their progress. "If we look at the foundation of the court, it's not designed to punish but to help," says Alida Merlo, professor of criminology at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors, many of whom are elected, also have to weigh the needs of the child with the demands of the citizens they represent. "It is not the state's desire to persecute this juvenile," Arizona prosecutors handling the case of the eight-year-old said in a court filing. "Rather, it is the desire and intent to find a balance between the purpose of the juvenile justice system -- to rehabilitate juveniles -- and bring a sense of justice to the victims and the public."
Some criminal experts believe that because some laws are soft on children, drug dealers and gang members may be encouraged to recruit more "shorties," or youngsters who commit crimes on their behalf, says Linda Szymanski, chief of legal research for the National Center for Juvenile Justice. Ms. Szymanski adds that "from a victim's standpoint, you're just as dead." [Mark Godsey]
December 9, 2008
Prosecutors Seek to Rescind Cooperation Letter for Millennium Bomber
Federal prosecutors are seeking yet another sentencing for would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam — this time without credit for helping to convict a fellow terrorist.
Ressam was sentenced for the second time last week to 22 years in prison for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium. Prosecutors said at the time that the sentence wasn't long enough, and the guideline range is 65 years to life.
In a motion made public today, the U.S. Attorney's Office asked to withdraw a document prosecutors filed several years ago acknowledging that Ressam cooperated. They say that motion, which provided part of the basis for the lenient sentence, is no longer valid because Ressam told the judge last week he wanted to take back every statement he made to the government, including his testimony against a coconspirator.
Ressam was arrested Dec. 14, 1999, in Port Angeles after coming off the ferry from Victoria, B.C. Inspectors found electronic timers, powders and liquids in the trunk of his rental car that turned out to be the makings of a powerful bomb.
Ressam, 40, was convicted of planning to set off a powerful suitcase bomb at the Los Angeles airport during the millennium holiday. Prosecutors said Ressam had been recruited by a radical Islamic cell in Montreal and had trained in Osama bin Laden-sponsored terrorism camps in Afghanistan.
After his conviction in April 2001, Ressam cooperated with federal authorities in hopes of winning a shorter prison sentence. He became a key source of information on the operation of al-Qaida in Western Europe and North America after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, providing information that led to the prosecution of some of the terrorist organization's top leaders.
Ressam stopped cooperating in 2003, and a court-appointed psychiatrist found that he was suffering from a mental breakdown after years in solitary confinement and repeated interrogations.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Appeals Court Upholds Senator Craig's Guilty Plea
"Because we see no abuse of discretion in the denial and conclude that the statute is not overbroad, we affirm" a lower court's decision, the three-judge panel wrote in a 10-page ruling.
In a written statement, Craig said he was "extremely disappointed" by the action and was considering an appeal.
"I disagree with their conclusion and remain steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport," Craig said.
The Idaho Republican was arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in June 2007 after an undercover police officer accused him of soliciting sex by using hand signals and tapping his foot in a bathroom stall. Two months after his arrest, and without consulting a lawyer, Craig pleaded guilty to the charge without appearing in court.
After the incident became public, he attempted to withdraw his plea, contending that his "wide stance" had been misinterpreted by the arresting officer and that he had pleaded guilty simply to get the matter over with.
In an effort to persuade the panel to throw out Craig's guilty plea, his attorney argued that Craig's foot tapping was protected by his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
But the judges were unpersuaded.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Illinois Governor Arrested on Corruption Charges
Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested this morning on federal corruption charges. Wiretaps recorded Blagojevich discussing how to "sell or trade" the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama "for financial and personal benefits for himself and his wife," prosecutors allege. Also charged in the 2-count indictment, with a lurid 76-page FBI affidavit, was Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris.
Blagojevich allegedly was recorded saying he would demand hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Senate appointment, or else he would appoint himself.
On the day before the presidential election, Blagojevich discussed with "Deputy Governor A" the Senate seat that Obama would vacate if he were elected president. According to the affidavit, "Rod Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open Senate seat, then Rod Blagojevich will take the Senate seat himself: 'if ... they're not going to offer anything of value, then I might just take it.'"
In talking with "Advisor A" about "Senate Candidate 1," Blagojevich allegedly "stated that the Senate seat 'is a fucking valuable thing, you don't just give it away for nothing.'"
The affidavit, by FBI agent Daniel Cain, also claims that Blagojevich threatened to withhold state aid from the Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy Monday, unless it fired editorial board members who had criticized Blagojevich in editorials.
The affidavit includes numerous pages detailing Blagojevich's alleged connections to the Tony Rezko political contributions scandal.
The allegations regarding Blagojevich's alleged attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat fill pages 54-74 of the FBI affidavit.
Read full article, including link to the Government's Complaint and Affidavit, here. [Brooks Holland]
Interrogation Upheld in Country Where Right to Counsel Unavailable
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Nov. 24 upheld the admission of statements elicited overseas by U.S. agents from suspects in the custody of a country that does not provide a right to counsel during interrogations. “[I]nsofar as Miranda might apply to interrogations conducted overseas, that decision is satisfied when a U.S. agent informs a foreign detainee of his rights under the U.S. Constitution when questioned overseas,” the court said (In re Terrorist Bombings of U.S. Embassies (Fifth Amendment Challenges), 2d Cir., No. 01-1535-cr(L), 11/24/08).
No Right to Appointed Counsel.
The defendants in this case were convicted of participating in al Qaeda's bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. The proof at trial included evidence of statements they made while in the custody of Kenyan officials during interrogations by agents of the U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The agents had concluded that appointed counsel was not available to indigent suspects in Kenya, so the agents gave the defendants versions of the Miranda warnings that advised them that they would have a right to counsel during any questioning in the United States. They also presented the defendants with the Advice of Rights form often used by U.S. officials conducting interrogations overseas. With respect to the presence and appointment of counsel, the AOR form states:
In the United States, you would have the right to talk to a lawyer to get advice before we ask you any questions and you could have a lawyer with you during questioning. In the United States, if you could not afford a lawyer, one would be appointed for you, if you wish, before any questioning.
Because we are not in the United States, we cannot ensure that you will have a lawyer appointed for you before any questioning.
If you decide to speak with us now, without a lawyer present, you will still have the right to stop answering questions at any time.
A federal district court later ruled that the rights advisories initially given to the defendants were misleading in that they may have given the impression that the right to counsel attached only in the United States and that the defendants did not have the right to consult with counsel they retained privately. Accordingly, the court suppressed statements elicited from the defendants up until they were later given rights advisories that cleared up any possible misunderstanding regarding their attachment of the right to counsel. The defendants, however, appealed the district court's decision to allow the admission of later statements elicited from them in Kenya.
AOR Was Good Enough.
In an opinion by Judge José A. Cabranes, the Second Circuit observed that the citizenship status of suspects and the location of interrogations are not relevant to the applicability of Fifth Amendment protections because that provision regulates the admissibility in U.S. courts, not the way interrogations are to be conducted. “Accordingly, we hold that foreign nationals interrogated overseas but tried in the civilian courts of the United States are protected by the Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination clause,” the court said.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]