April 15, 2009
Constitution Project Study IDs Flaws in Public Defense System
The American legal system guarantees "equal justice under law." Those words, carved in stone on the facade of the Supreme Court, are a constitutional promise that everyone will have the same opportunity for justice.
But a new report by the bipartisan Constitution Project says the United States has broken that promise for poor people accused of crimes. The report is the most in-depth study of indigent defense in decades.
The Gideon Decision
In a hallway of a law firm in downtown Washington, a copy of a handwritten petition hangs framed on the wall. It's two pages, side by side. A stamp at the top says: "January 8, 1962, Office of the Clerk, Supreme Court." A signature at the bottom says, "Clarence Earl Gideon."
On Tuesday morning, Abe Krash stood looking at the petition, remembering a case that he worked on more than 45 years ago. "This eventually led to the opinion and decision by the Supreme Court in the Gideon case," he said.
Abe Krash was a young attorney on the case. It's now considered one of the most important decisions of the 20th century. As Krash describes it, the ruling "held that every person in this country who is tried on a criminal charge is entitled to the assistance of a lawyer, regardless of his financial condition. If he's too poor to hire a lawyer, he's entitled to have one appointed for him by the government."
The Gideon decision helped establish the system of public defenders across the country. Krash returned to his old law firm Tuesday for the release of the report on the state of that system.
'A Basic Constitutional Right'
"It does not paint a pretty picture," said Tim Lewis, one of the report's authors.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
April 06, 2009
Courts Look to Fines and Fees in Tough Budget Times
Valerie Gainous paid her debt to society, but almost went to jail because of a debt to Florida’s courts.
In 1996, she was convicted of writing bad checks; she paid restitution, performed community service and thought she was finished with the criminal justice system. Earlier this year, however, she received a letter from Collections Court telling her that she was once again facing jail time — this time, for failing to pay $240 in leftover court fees and fines, which she says she cannot afford.
Ms. Gainous has been caught up in her state’s exceptionally aggressive system to collect the court fines and fees that keep its judiciary system working. Judges themselves dun citizens who have fallen behind in their payments, but unlike other creditors, they can throw debtors in jail — and they do, by the thousands.
As Florida’s budget has tightened with the economic crisis, efforts to step up the collections process have intensified, and court clerks say the pressure is on them to bring in every dollar. “I would say there is an even more dramatic focus on those funds now,” said Beth Allman, the spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Court Clerks.
Other states are intrigued by Florida’s success, and several, including Michigan and Georgia, have also cracked down on people who owe fines. John Dew, the executive director of the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation, said that when he attends national conferences about fees collection these days, states “are really looking to what we’re doing in Florida.”
With 44 states looking at budget deficits totaling $90 billion this year, 25 state court systems already have budget shortfalls, said Dan Hall, the vice president of the National Center for State Courts. Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court told the American Bar Association in a recent speech that the state courts were in crisis because of budgetary and other issues.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
March 24, 2009
Liptak Previews Strip Search Case
Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade. An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils. The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.” Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21. The case will require the justices to consider the thorny question of just how much leeway school officials should have in policing zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence, and the court is likely to provide important guidance to schools around the nation.
Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.
An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.
The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”
Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.
The case will require the justices to consider the thorny question of just how much leeway school officials should have in policing zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence, and the court is likely to provide important guidance to schools around the nation.
In Ms. Redding’s case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.” “More than that,” Judge Wardlaw added, “it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.” Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting, said the case was in some ways “a close call,” given the “humiliation and degradation” involved. But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.” Richard Arum, who teaches sociology and education at New York University, said he would have handled the incident differently. But Professor Arum said the Supreme Court should proceed cautiously. “Do we really want to encourage cases,” Professor Arum asked, “where students and parents are seeking monetary damages against educators in such school-specific matters where reasonable people can disagree about what is appropriate under the circumstances?” The Supreme Court’s last major decision on school searches based on individual suspicion — as opposed to systematic drug testing programs — was in 1985, when it allowed school officials to search a student’s purse without a warrant or probable cause as long their suspicions were reasonable. It did not address intimate searches. In a friend-of-the-court brief in Ms. Redding’s case, the federal government said the search of her was unreasonable because officials had no reason to believe she was “carrying the pills inside her undergarments, attached to her nude body, or anywhere else that a strip search would reveal.” Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
In Ms. Redding’s case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.”
“More than that,” Judge Wardlaw added, “it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting, said the case was in some ways “a close call,” given the “humiliation and degradation” involved. But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.”
Richard Arum, who teaches sociology and education at New York University, said he would have handled the incident differently. But Professor Arum said the Supreme Court should proceed cautiously.
“Do we really want to encourage cases,” Professor Arum asked, “where students and parents are seeking monetary damages against educators in such school-specific matters where reasonable people can disagree about what is appropriate under the circumstances?”
The Supreme Court’s last major decision on school searches based on individual suspicion — as opposed to systematic drug testing programs — was in 1985, when it allowed school officials to search a student’s purse without a warrant or probable cause as long their suspicions were reasonable. It did not address intimate searches.
In a friend-of-the-court brief in Ms. Redding’s case, the federal government said the search of her was unreasonable because officials had no reason to believe she was “carrying the pills inside her undergarments, attached to her nude body, or anywhere else that a strip search would reveal.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
March 17, 2009
New Phenomenon: "Google Mistrials?"
Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.
Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, wasting eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.
“We were stunned,” said the defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he was on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”
It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.
Last week, a building products company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment against it after a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.
And on Monday, defense lawyers in the federal corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania state senator, Vincent J. Fumo, demanded that the judge declare a mistrial after a juror posted updates on the case on Twitter and Facebook. The juror even told his readers that a “big announcement” was coming Monday. But the judge decided to let the trial continue, and the jury found Mr. Fumo guilty. His lawyers plan to use the Internet postings as grounds for appeal.
Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based only on the facts that the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web, or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.
A juror on a lunch or bathroom break can find out many details about a case. Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from point A to point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses.
“It’s really impossible to control it,” said Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
March 16, 2009
Heller "Firing Blanks?"
About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.
So far, Heller is firing blanks.
The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal aliens and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.
“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who keeps a running tally of decisions based on the case. “To date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”
Heller itself struck down parts of the District of Columbia’s gun control law, the strictest in the nation. The case was brought by law-abiding people who wanted to keep guns in their homes for self-defense. The cases that have followed it tend to concern more focused laws and less attractive gun owners.
Harvey C. Jackson IV, for instance, argued that he had a constitutional right to carry a gun while selling drugs in a dangerous neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill. The federal appeals court in Chicago was unimpressed.
REad full article here. [Brooks Holland]
February 24, 2009
Fatal Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Hostage-Taker Did Not Violate ADA
Police officers did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they fatally shot a mentally ill hostage-taker, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held Feb. 12 (Waller v. Danville, Va., 4th Cir., No. 07-2099, 2/12/09).
The decedent's sister argued that the officers did not face exigent circumstances because they waited two hours before taking action. She also contended that they should have reasonably accommodated his disability by not banging on the door and yelling at the decedent, but instead calling mental health professionals, contacting his family members, or seeking to administer medications to him.
But Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, while stopping short of recognizing an “exigent circumstances” exception to ADA liability, said that the officers' reasonable belief “ ‘that this was a potentially violent hostage situation' … cannot help but inform” the ADA inquiry. He further concluded that the accommodations proposed by the sister were unreasonable, while the steps taken by the officers—including speaking with their supervisors, deploying a hostage negotiator, and attempting to calm the situation by waiting at least two hours before entering the premises—were reasonable under the totality of the circumstances, and thus satisfied any ADA duty of accommodation.
The Danville, Va., police received a 911 call at 9:23 p.m. on May 10, 2002, from a woman who said that she feared for her friend, whom she had not been able to reach for two days. The woman said her friend had a live-in boyfriend whom she described as a “mental patient” who had been “in and out of the hospital.”
‘Got Something for You.'
The police went to the boyfriend's apartment. He refused to let them in. The girlfriend called from inside that she was OK but that her boyfriend would not let her come to the door. The boyfriend told the police to leave him alone, and added, “If you come in here, I've got something for you,” leading the supervisor to think he had a weapon.
Checking with headquarters, the supervisor learned that the boyfriend had prior arrests for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and assaulting the girlfriend, and had indeed been in and out of mental institutions.
The police sent an experienced hostage negotiator to talk to the boyfriend, who yelled at the officer, “I'm going to blow your goddamned head off.” The police then ceased negotiation attempts and sent in an emergency response team. When the boyfriend came toward them in the apartment, swinging what appeared to be a scythe and brandishing what looked like a knife, three officers shot and killed him.
The decedent's sister, personally and as administrator of his estate, sued the city, alleging in part violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. She alleged that the city had discriminated against the decedent on the basis of his disability by unlawfully arresting him, using excessive force, and failing properly train officers properly in dealing with the disabled.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
February 18, 2009
Study Shows Immigration Offenses Increasing the Number of Latino Federal Convicts
The sharp growth in illegal immigration and increased enforcement of immigration laws have dramatically altered the ethnic composition of offenders sentenced in federal courts. In 2007, Latinos accounted for 40 percent of all those convicted of federal crimes and one third of all federal prison inmates, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank.
Nearly half of all Latino offenders, or about 48 percent, were convicted of immigration crimes. Drug offenses were the second-most prevalent charge among Latino federal convicts, according to the report, which was made public on Wednesday.
As the annual number of federal offenders more than doubled between 1991 and 2007, the number of Latino offenders sentenced in a given year nearly quadrupled, growing to 29,281 from 7,924. Latino convicts now represent the largest ethnic population in the federal prison system, although they make up only 13 percent of the United States population.
Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of four states bordering Mexico. Undocumented federal prisoners are usually deported to their home countries after serving their sentences.
“The immigration system has essentially become criminalized at a huge cost to the criminal justice system, to courts, to judges, to prisons, and prosecutors,” said Lucas Guttentag, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “And the government has diverted the resources of the criminal justice system from violent crimes, financial skullduggery and other areas that have been the traditional area of the Justice Department.”
Last month The New York Times reported that federal immigration prosecutions have increased over the last five years, doubling in the last fiscal year to reach more than 70,000 cases. Meanwhile other categories of federal prosecutions including gun trafficking, public corruption, organized crime and white-collar crime have declined over the past five years.
The federal justice system accounts for 200,000 or 8.6 percent of the total 2.3 million inmates in federal and state prisons and city and county jails. Nineteen percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of jail inmates were Latinos. African-Americans make up 39 percent of state prisoners and jail inmates while representing about 12 percent of the total national population.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
February 10, 2009
DOJ Maintains State Secrets Position from Bush Administration
In the first major national security case of the Obama administration, lawyers representing the government took the exact same position as the Bush administration. Government attorneys asked a judge to throw out a torture case, citing the need to preserve state secrets. Some human rights activists now say they feel betrayed by an administration that had promised greater openness and transparency.
Five former terrorism detainees brought the lawsuit, Mohammed et al. vs. Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. The men accuse Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary, of providing logistical support to the CIA for "torture flights" to overseas prisons.
Bush administration lawyers had argued there was no way to try this case without revealing state secrets. Activist groups and newspaper editorial pages hammered the Justice Department for taking that position, but a trial judge agreed and threw the case out.
As the government prepared to argue the case again before three judges at an appeals court Monday, observers wondered whether the Justice Department would change course now that there is a new president and a new attorney general. The government did not change course.
ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who represents the detainees, said in a phone interview after arguments, "The Obama administration, which came to office on a promise of greater transparency — on a promise of ending these practices — stood up and made exactly the same arguments that were made by Bush lawyers to throw out torture victims' lawsuits. And that's a profound disappointment."
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
February 08, 2009
Federal Sex Offender Law Faces State Resistance
An aggressive federal effort to keep track of sexual offenders is at risk of collapse because of objections from states and legal challenges from sex offenders and others.
The effort, approved by Congress three years ago, requires all states to adopt strict standards for registering sex offenders and is meant to prevent offenders from eluding the authorities, especially when they move out of state.
The law followed several heinous crimes by sex offenders on the run, including Joseph E. Duncan III, who in 2005 fled North Dakota, where he had been registered, and committed sex crimes and murder in three states, ending with the torture and killing of a 9-year-old boy in Montana.
An estimated 100,000 sex offenders are not living where they are registered, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which collects the data from the states and provides it to the United States Marshals Service and other federal agencies.
But officials in many states complain about the law’s cost and, in some instances, contend their laws are more effective than the federal one. The states also suggest that the federal requirements violate their right to set their own policies and therefore may be unconstitutional, at least in part.
Despite a looming July deadline, no state has been deemed compliant with the law, and some are leaning toward ignoring major requirements. As a result, one of the toughest child-protection initiatives in the nation’s history is languishing.
“We support the intent, and I’m sure every one of my attorney general colleagues supports the intent,” said Mark J. Bennett, the attorney general of Hawaii. “But we believed we couldn’t follow every single provision because, legally and practically, some of the provisions didn’t make sense.”
Some sex offenders and civil liberties groups have also taken court action to block the law’s provisions. In Ohio, a man convicted 15 years ago of “gross sexual imposition” involving a teenage girl is challenging the requirement that he remain on the state’s registry of sex offenders for the rest of his life, instead of the 10 years previously required by Ohio law.
“That’s not what I want my children to grow up with,” said the man, Darren L. Coey, 35.
Members of Congress say they may try to address some of the problems with the law. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said through a spokeswoman that he planned “to determine whether revisions and improvements can strengthen compliance, and then to quickly make whatever changes may be needed.”
While some of the law’s backers acknowledge that the states have legitimate concerns, they remain fundamentally committed to the law, and suggest that the delays leave a patchwork of differing state laws that keep children unnecessarily vulnerable to predators.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
January 31, 2009
Liptak Considers the Future of the Exclusionary Rule
In 1983, a young lawyer in the Reagan White House was hard at work on what he called in a memorandum “the campaign to amend or abolish the exclusionary rule” — the principle that evidence obtained by police misconduct cannot be used against a defendant.
The Reagan administration’s attacks on the exclusionary rule — a barrage of speeches, opinion articles, litigation and proposed legislation — never gained much traction. But now that young lawyer, John G. Roberts Jr., is chief justice of the United States.
This month, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in Herring v. United States, a 5-to-4 decision, took a big step toward the goal he had discussed a quarter-century before. Taking aim at one of the towering legacies of the Warren Court, its landmark 1961 decision applying the exclusionary rule to the states, the chief justice’s majority opinion established for the first time that unlawful police conduct should not require the suppression of evidence if all that was involved was isolated carelessness. That was a significant step in itself. More important yet, it suggested that the exclusionary rule itself might be at risk.
The Herring decision “jumped a firewall,” said Kent Scheidegger, the general counsel of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights group. “I think Herring may be setting the stage for the Holy Grail,” he wrote on the group’s blog, referring to the overruling of Mapp v. Ohio, the 1961 Warren Court decision.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the Herring decision and has been a reliable vote for narrowing the protections afforded criminal defendants since he joined the court in 2006. In applying for a job in the Reagan Justice Department in 1985, he wrote that his interest in the law had been “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure,” religious freedom and voting rights.
Justice Alito replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was considered a moderate in criminal procedure cases.
“With Alito’s replacement of O’Connor,” said Craig M. Bradley, a law professor at Indiana University, “suddenly now they have four votes for sure and possibly five for the elimination of the exclusionary rule.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
January 30, 2009
Federal Judge Orders All Plea Agreements Posted Online
From the National Law Journal, NLJ.com: MIAMI — Chief Judge Federico Moreno of the Southern District of Florida, bucking the wishes of the U.S. Department of Justice, has ordered all plea agreements to be posted online.
In an order issued on Jan. 22, Moreno stated that as of Feb. 20, all plea agreements "will be public documents, with full remote access available to all members of the public and the bar, unless the Court has entered an order in advance directing the sealing or otherwise restricting a plea agreement." Moreno's order rescinds a previous order of April 2007 taking all plea agreements offline and making them accessible for physical viewing only at the courthouse.
The issue of whether plea agreements should be publicly available, able to be viewed electronically through the PACER system, is a controversial one, pitting prosecutors against defense lawyers and First Amendment advocates. In 2007, the Justice Department asked the Judicial Conference to restrict electronic access to plea and cooperation agreements in order to keep information about cooperating witnesses secret.
The Justice Department was concerned about a new Web site, Whosarat.com, which was posting information about all cooperators in federal cases. "We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment," stated the Justice Department's memo to the courts. The Southern District of Florida, like most other courts around the nation, complied, taking pleas off PACER.
But defense attorneys, First Amendment advocates and the federal public defender's office protested, arguing that the public's right to know about the court system was being impaired.
January 15, 2009
Intelligence Court Affirms Wiretapping Powers
A federal intelligence court, in a rare public opinion, issued a major ruling validating the power of the president and Congress to wiretap international phone calls and intercept e-mail messages without a specific court order, even when Americans’ private communications may be involved.
The court decision, made in August 2008 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, came in an unclassified, redacted form.
The decision marks the first time since the disclosure of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program three years ago that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of the federal government’s wiretapping powers. In validating the government’s wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that the president has the power to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping that may involve Americans.
The Aug. 22 appeals court decision upheld a secret ruling issued last year by the intelligence court that it oversees, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court. In that initial opinion, the secret court found that Congress had acted within its authority in August 2007 when it passed a hotly debated law known as the Protect America Act, which gave the executive branch broad power to eavesdrop on international communications.
“The Department of Justice is pleased with this important ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which upholds the constitutionality of foreign intelligence surveillance conducted under the Protect America Act of 2007,” a Justice Department statement said.
The court ruling grew out of a previously undisclosed challenge from a telecommunications provider, which questioned the constitutional authority of the executive branch in ordering it to capture and turn over international communications without court approval.
The telecommunications company, which was not identified, refused to comply and instead challenged its legal basis under the 2007 law.
The FISA court rejected the telecommunication companies’ challenge. It found that the Protect America Act did not violate the Constitution because the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, contained an exception for the collection of foreign intelligence information.
The opinion did not directly rule on the legality of the once-secret operation authorized by President Bush between October 2001 and early 2007, which allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international communications of Americans suspected of ties to terrorists. The disclosure of the program’s existence in The New York Times in December 2005 set off a national debate on wiretapping, privacy and the limits of presidential power. Critics charged that Mr. Bush had violated a 1978 law requiring that the government obtain a court order to listen in on Americans’ communications.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
January 08, 2009
Survey: ER doctors suspect excessive police force
The survey of 315 physicians, contained in the Emergency Medicine Journal's January issue and based on 2002 data, is believed to be the first doctors' account of suspected police brutality, says H. Range Hutson, the lead author and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard.
The responses were based on interactions with patients who were brought in by police or who said officers caused their injuries. Ninety-five percent of the doctors reported injuries caused by fists and feet. Hutson says the survey and analysis of findings were in the works for years.
National police groups challenged the survey, saying it would be hard for physicians to know if injuries resulted from excessive force if they were not present during the encounters.
The report says the findings suggest national emergency medicine groups and police should develop guidelines for "this complex issue."
Criminal justice analysts say the survey represents an important new source of information.
"Excessive force is a huge issue," says Geoff Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina.
"This is another angle on excessive force that hasn't been looked at."
Hutson says the survey does not necessarily mean abuse is rampant. [Marlk Godsey]
January 06, 2009
The Stories Behind The Statistics
A recent report on the rise of young black males being killed in the U.S. continues to raise concern among youth, parents and community leaders. Some say the findings reflect a much larger problem, the failure of society on many levels.
A roundtable of people directly affected by violence share their perspectives. Sylvia Banks, whose son Deon was killed in Detroit in 2003; Karen Graham, a former law enforcement officer whose son Aaron was killed in Milwaukee in 2004, and Ron Moten, of the Washington, D.C.-based group Peaceaholics share stories of loss and offer thoughts on what lies beneath the crisis.
The number of homicides involving black youths — as victims and perpetrators — surged by more than 30 percent from 2002 to 2007, even as overall murder rates across the U.S. have been relatively stable, according to a study released Monday by researchers at Northeastern University.
The study showed that the number of black murder victims rose by more than 31 percent from 2000 to 2007. The number of murders involving young, black perpetrators rose by 43 percent over the same period, according to the study by criminal justice professors James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt.
The report also noted that guns were the weapon of choice in most of the killings.
Last year, 426 black males ages 14-17 died in gun crimes — 40 percent more than in 2000; nearly 1,000 young black males used guns to kill someone in 2007 — 38 percent higher than in 2000.
Fox said the homicide rate for blacks — especially teenagers — has risen steadily and across geographic regions. He said one reason could be the profound shift in priorities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which means police departments have taken on homeland security duties — often at the expense of community policing.
"Now, I don't want to weigh one life against another, but when you look at it, many more people are murdered every single year in ordinary street violence than were killed on Sept. 11, 2001," Fox said.
Fox also said communities' complacency because of the overall decrease in crime may also be a factor. The study found the number of police officers in major cities has dropped more than 8 percent, and funding for crime prevention programs is down.
Fox said funding cuts disproportionately affect black communities, which suffer from broken families, bad schools and active gangs.
"I know people want their tax rebates and stimuli checks, but you know, a few extra dollars in your pocket is of little consolation if you're staring down the wrong end of a gun," Fox said.
Not all criminologists agree on the difference federal funding could make, but Fox said he hopes the Obama administration will increase funding. Vice President-elect Joe Biden was a driving force behind legislation that put 100,000 cops on the streets in the mid-1990s. [Mark Godsey]
January 05, 2009
Human Rights Watch studied abuses
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) is currently being sued by seven female prisoners on behalf of all others similarly situated for sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate visual surveillance within its correctional facilities for women. The suit comes on the heels of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finding in 1995 that sexual misconduct pervades Michigan's women's prisons, including rape, sexual abuse, sexually aggressive acts by guards, and violations of the female prisoners' legitimate privacy interests. Our own investigation, conducted from 1994 through 1996, and based on interviews with current and former female prisoners as well as attorneys, prisoner rights advocates, and MDOC, revealed that rape, sexual assault or abuse, criminal sexual contact, and other misconduct by corrections staff are continuing and serious problems within the women's prisons in Michigan have been tolerated over the years at both the institutional and departmental levels.
Rather than seeking to end such abuse, the Michigan Department of Corrections has consistently refused to acknowledge that there is a problem of sexual misconduct in its women's prisons. As noted below, MDOC dismissed the female prisoners' class action suit as "erroneous" and issued a written statement characterizing the DOJ's findings as "vindictive and distorted" and "full of half truths, innuendo, distortion and lies." (658) The state has taken the positive steps of establishing minimal grievance and investigatory procedures as well as disciplinary and criminal sanctions for custodial sexual contact; however, its stated policy of "zero tolerance" for such abuse is belied by a pervasive bias against prisoner testimony, a high incidence of retaliation against complainants, and a consistent problem with the enforcement of appropriate penalties. [Mark Godsey]
January 01, 2009
Otis L. Sanford: Cops posing as kids just does not seem right
OK, I get it.
This is about creating a safe school environment and protecting students from the scourge of drug dependency.
It's about zero tolerance, or something close to it, for peddling even small quantities of drugs on or near a school campus.
It's about keeping kids from making a stupid mistake that they will regret, and perhaps pay for, the rest of their lives.
And it's about closing a door that could lead to more serious, even violent criminal activity down the road.
I get all of that, and more.
So why do I feel a slight twinge of uneasiness about what went down last week at Millington Central High School?
A fresh-faced Millington police officer posed as a high school student for four months. The "student" attended classes, took exams, did homework, tolerated cafeteria food -- and allegedly bought drugs from other students.
The undercover sting ended Tuesday with the arrest of 13 students on charges of selling marijuana, Ecstasy and prescription drugs. The charges also included peddling fake drugs as if they were the real thing.
That's 13 students nabbed after a four-month sting at a school where 1,500 students attend.
Millington Police Chief Rick Jewell, who is leaving office next month, set up the undercover operation with permission from Shelby County Schools Supt. Bobby Webb. Millington Central's principal and assistant principal were the only ones at the school in on the ruse.
It was the second major undercover drug sting at the Millington school in less than three years. In April 2006, police arrested 26 students and former students after they sold drugs to undercover officers. Those cops, however, did not pose as students.
In fact, Jewell said, the latest sting is likely the first time in Shelby County that a cop has posed as a student to nab suspected high school drug pushers. [Mark Godsey]
December 24, 2008
NYPD's "Operation Impact" Credited with Success in Tough Precincts
Along Linden Boulevard in East New York, the officers of Operation Impact patrol the Pink Houses with all the rigor of a military patrol, a clannish band of partners whose uniforms shout authority even when they do not speak.
They tread the maze of eight-story buildings, inspect the interior staircases, aim their flashlights into the nighttime darkness of rooftops and — on a recent frigid night — coat their lips with layers of ChapStick.
The police officers in this outpost in the eastern end of Brooklyn are part of a mini crime-suppression operation, one reliant on money, manpower and labor. They are the tip of the New York Police Department’s crime-fighting spear.
“We feel really proud of the job we’re doing here,” Officer Kevin Martinez, 24, said as he walked his beat in the Louis H. Pink Houses, a public housing project of 1,500 apartments in 22 buildings.
“When they see us here, they feel safe,” he said.
A similar story can be told in 19 other precincts using Operation Impact, the broad anticrime program devised by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, in which rookie officers join with supervisors to flood the city’s toughest neighborhoods. By focusing on such high-crime plateaus, the Police Department is poised to end another year with even less overall crime.
Yet a stormy economy is not receding.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is tightening budgets and warning of tough financial times. Joblessness is up. Homicides have increased slightly; after dropping to 496 last year — the lowest number in more than four decades — the city hit that number last week. By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the city had 502 homicides, the police said.
At the same time, the Police Department, with 94 percent of its $4 billion operating budget devoted to personnel costs, is facing budget reductions of $45.4 million for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends in June, and $167 million in the 2010 fiscal year. On top of that, City Hall wants the department to find ways to save $285.7 million more.
After the next cut is made, the Police Department’s uniformed force will have shrunk by 4,400 officers, from a peak strength of 40,800 in 2001. The incoming Police Academy class in January will have 250 recruits; the department had previously anticipated hiring 1,100. An additional 1,100 officers set to graduate on Dec. 30 will join the 1,300 officers already in Operation Impact posts — effectively doubling their strength.
But if promotions and retirements create dangerous shortfalls in some precincts, some Impact officers may have to be moved to other spots, Mr. Kelly said. “We’ve had contracting and expanding numbers of cops in Impact, so the concept will remain,” the commissioner said in an interview last week. “But the numbers may vary.”
When asked if New York could ever return to crime levels seen in the late 1980s, he said: “Never. We’d never let that happen.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
December 06, 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.
Williams, a severely mentally ill man with a long history of violence, is now facing a murder charge.
The 160-page report found glaring examples of poor communication, a critical shortage of hospital beds and commitment laws that don't adequately address the complex needs of people who become enmeshed in both the legal and mental health systems after committing violent crimes.
On Friday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg will present 64 wide-ranging "concepts for reform" to the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee. [Mark Godsey]
December 05, 2008
European Human Rights Court Rules to Remove Innocent People's DNA Samples from UK Database
From timesonline.co.uk: 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.
An estimated 800,000 of the 5.1m samples on the DNA database are of people with no criminal conviction.
The options facing the Government are slim. They could adopt the position in Scotland where DNA samples taken during criminal investigations from people who are not charged or later acquitted of alleged offences are destroyed.
Another option is to see if there is some way in which it would be possible to continue to hold samples of people tried and cleared of serious offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and serious violence or limiting the time samples of innocent people can be held.Rest of Article. . . [Bobbi Madonna]
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.
What discipline the officers may face has not been determined. But the chase, along with an October incident in which a squad car fatally struck a 10-year-old child while racing at least 29 mph over the speed limit without sirens or lights on a darkened road, prompted the department to tighten its procedures on how officers respond to emergencies.
Senior Cpl. Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, said he believed that much of the criticism aimed at officers has been unfair second-guessing.
"Officers are going out there trying to do the best they can. God forbid when something happens, because when it does, everybody's up for scrutiny and we're all criticized," Cpl. White said.
Police Chief David Kunkle said he had not yet been briefed on the results of the internal investigation and could not comment on it.
A panel formed by Chief Kunkle has separately made several recommendations to improve the department's management of police pursuits. One calls for a station supervisor to monitor the speeds of those officers rushing toward the chase or following it. [Mark Godsey]