December 05, 2008
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.
"Seattle police!" Casey barks. "Put down the knife! Put down your knife!"
The man turns to look at us. He says he just wants to talk to her. Casey, turning red from anxiety, draws his service revolver from his hip and takes aim.
"Put down the knife! Put it ..."
The man ignores the command 16 times. He stands up and inches closer to the woman, keeping his eyes on us. In a blink, he wheels around and plunges the knife into her.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Bullets blast his back. Too late.
"Damn," Casey says under his breath. He turns and sighs: "Can I try again?"
Welcome to the police world of second chances.
Officer Casey isn't really a sworn Seattle officer -- he's my colleague, P-I crime reporter Casey McNerthney.
The restaurant is actually a video projection on a giant screen in a high-tech Seattle Police Department simulator in Tukwila. We wanted a taste of what goes through an officer's mind in the heat of the moment -- in high-stress, rapidly unfolding encounters that involve the use of force. [Mark Godsey]
December 03, 2008
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.
FBI officials say they need the changes because they are hamstrung by outdated rules that limit their ability to investigate people in national security cases.
FBI agents have met with Arab-American representatives in metro Detroit twice to assure them that the new guidelines won't target them, pointing out that the rules state they must be applied in a "reasonable manner that respects liberty and privacy."
But critics say the plan will allow for abuses by agents, including more racial and religious profiling and intrusive investigations into political and religious groups.
Those concerns are amplified in Michigan, a major center of Islam and home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States.
Some say they worry there will be more undercover agents and informants infiltrating mosques, attending events like Palestinian conferences, and snooping into the private lives of ordinary residents.
"There is anxiety the Middle Eastern community will be targeted," said Dearborn attorney Nabih Ayad, who often defends Arab Americans charged in national security cases. "There is always a danger in the implementation when you give such discretion in the hands of agents."
Those concerns may be revisited again sometime next year. Because the new guidelines were not created through legislation, President-elect Barack Obama's administration could decide to remove them. [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]
November 24, 2008
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]
November 18, 2008
Ninth Circuit Holds CA Child Abuse Index Violates Due Process
California's Child Abuse Central Index, a database of known or suspected child abusers, violates procedural due process in failing to give listed persons a fair opportunity to challenge the allegations against them and obtain delisting, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held Nov. 5 (Humphries v. Los Angeles County, 9th Cir., No. 05-56467, 11/5/08).
Being listed on the CACI is stigmatizing in itself, and it also makes access to certain licenses, jobs, and benefits less likely, Judge Jay S. Bybee said. But the state spells out no procedure for getting delisted. Bybee thus concluded that the innocent plaintiffs' being listed on CACI resulted in the “stigma-plus” needed under Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976), for their reputational injury to be actionable under the 14th Amendment's due process clause.
The court followed Valmonte v. Bane, 18 F.3d 992 (2d Cir. 1994), interpreting a similar New York statute, but rejected Smith v. Siegelman, 322 F.3d 1290 (11th Cir. 2003), involving a variant Alabama law, “[t]o the extent that the Eleventh Circuit refuses to recognize a liberty interest [under the due process clause] where the state functionally requires agencies to consult a stigmatizing list prior to conferring a government benefit.”
Under California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, Cal. Penal Code §§ 11164–11174, and implementing regulations, law enforcement and child welfare agencies are required to investigate reports of child abuse or neglect and determine whether the incident is “substantiated, inconclusive, or unfounded.” The incident must be reported to the California Department of Justice and included in the CACI unless it is determined by the investigator to be “unfounded,” that is, “false,” “inherently improbable,” an accidental injury, or not constituting child abuse or neglect.
CACI data is made available to state and local agencies and persons involved in licensing or making background inquiries regarding child care providers, peace officers, adopting parents, or foster parents. It is also made available for use in out-of-state background checks in foster or adoptive parent cases. Certain in-state agencies are required by statute to check the CACI before granting child care-related licenses.
An agency forwarding an incident for listing on the CACI must notify the listee. But the statute provides no procedure for challenging a listing, and, while indicating that the state DOJ shall not retain a report “which subsequently proves to be unfounded,” it does not specify who makes that determination, although the court surmised that it is the submitting agency.
Daughter Reports Abuse.
In this case, the plaintiffs' 15-year-old daughter reported that they had abused her for several months. Based on an emergency room examination and a police report from Utah (where the child had driven herself to be with her biological mother), a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective obtained warrants and arrested and booked the plaintiffs for cruelty to a child and torture. The couple's other two children were placed in foster care. The detective identified the case as a “substantiated report” of child abuse, and their names were listed on CACI.
The criminal case against the couple was dismissed, however, after the prosecutor learned that a doctor had surgically removed a melanoma from the daughter's shoulder and had fully examined her during the alleged period of abuse, but had found no signs of it. The couple was found “factually innocent” of the torture charge.
But when they asked the Sheriff's Department to remove their names from CACI, a sergeant told them that the fact that charges were filed “would indicate to us that some sort of crime did occur,” and the dismissal of the case “would not negate the entries” into CACI. The couple then filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit, alleging in part that their initial and continued inclusion in CACI violated procedural due process, and seeking damages and injunctive relief against the county and individual officials. The defendants won summary judgment.
Reversing, the Ninth Circuit said that its procedural due process inquiry has two steps. It first asks whether a liberty or property interest exists with which the state has interfered. It then examines whether the procedures used to deprive any such interest were sufficient.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Tenth Circuit's Construction Narrows Federal Sex Offender Registry Law
The provision of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act that makes it a crime to travel interstate and fail to register as a sex offender does not apply to someone whose travel was complete before the law went into effect, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held Nov. 5 (United States v. Husted, 10th Cir., No. 08-6010, 11/5/08).
Congress's use of the present tense “travels” in 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a)(2)(B) plainly indicates that it meant to reach only those who moved between states following the statute's enactment, the court decided.
The statute provides that a person who is a convicted sex offender and “travels in interstate or foreign commerce … and knowingly fails to register” at his destination as required by the act is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years.
The defendant in this case was convicted of sexually abusing a child in Illinois in 1993. He subsequently moved to Oklahoma and later to Missouri at some point prior to July 27, 2006, the effective date of SORNA. In 2007, a federal grand jury indicted him for traveling interstate and failing to register as a sex offender in Missouri.
The defendant challenged his indictment on the ground that SORNA does not apply to a person whose interstate travel took place before the effective date of the act. The government took the position that the term “travels” applies to anyone who traveled in interstate commerce after having been convicted of a qualifying sex offense. The trial court rejected the defendant's argument but, apparently concerned about ex post facto problems, amended the indictment to reflect that the offense commenced on the date SORNA went into effect.
The defendant pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Carlos F. Lucero, reversed.
‘Travels' Is Forward-Looking.
Focusing on the text of the statute, the court concluded that “Congress's use of the present tense form of the verb ‘to travel' indicates that SORNA's coverage is limited to those individuals who travel in interstate commerce after the Act's effective date.” Noting that 1 U.S.C. §1 instructs courts that “words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present” unless a statute's context suggests otherwise, it said, “The Act uses the present tense (‘travels'), which according to ordinary English grammar, does not refer to travel that has already occurred. Had Congress used the past tense (‘traveled') or the present perfect tense (‘has traveled'), then this might be a different case. Here, however, we find no ambiguity in Congress's use of the word ‘travels.'”
Congress also used the present tense in SORNA when referring to entering, leaving, or residing in Indian country, the court said, which makes clear that the use of the present tense “travels” was not a mistake.
The court found support for its holding in the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of the term “travels” as used in the federal statute that makes it a crime to travel in foreign commerce to engage in illegal sex, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c). In United States v. Jackson, 480 F.3d 1014 (9th Cir. 2007), the court held that Section 2423(c) applies only to travel taking place after the statute's enactment, explaining that “one would not refer in the present tense to something that had already happened.”
Similarly, the Tenth Circuit found the language of Section 2250 unambiguous and held that “Congress's use of the present tense indicates that it was targeting prospective travel.”
The government argued that Congress meant to close a loophole in state registries for sex offenders, and that the failure to sweep up offenders who moved to another state before the law took effect would lead to an absurd result. However, the court responded that the absurdity doctrine applies to unambiguous statutes, such as Section 2250, “in only the most extreme of circumstances.” It explained that “the relevant portion of SORNA is unambiguous, and we cannot say that Congress's choice to regulate only those sex offenders who travel interstate after SORNA's enactment shocks the general moral or common sense.” In fact, the court said, “prospective legislation is typical of the legislative task, and Congress may well have wished to avoid the very ex post facto concern [the defendant] raises before this court.”
The court also rejected an argument that the broad statement of purpose in the preamble to the act under which SORNA falls should be read to trump the specific provision under which the defendant was charged. To do so, it said, “would contravene the axiom that a specific provision controls over a general one.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 17, 2008
Craigslist Increasingly Used to Sell Drugs
Drug dealing on craigslist has become so rampant that the city's special narcotics prosecutor has asked the online trading post to curb the ads, the Daily News has learned.
Bridget Brennan's undercover investigators have bought drugs offered on craigslist personals from dealers ranging from a Citigroup banker to an Ivy Leaguer to a violent felon using a halfway house computer. In the past four years, her office has prosecuted dozens of dealers.
"Ski lift tickets are here for sale ... Tina Turner tickets ... best seats around!" Offers like these appear virtually every day on craigslist, and they are thinly veiled ads posted by people hawking cocaine (ski) or crystal meth (cristina or tina).
"Despite devoting considerable resources to prosecuting these cases, drug dealing is still thriving on craigslist," Brennan wrote craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. Brennan said she was inspired to act by a recent agreement between craigslist and attorneys general from 40 states to curb prostitution ads.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel," Brennan said of how easy it is to find dealers on craigslist.
One undercover said he just types "ski" in the search field and up pops ad after ad with offers.
"We respond to the ad, but it must lead to a meeting where the drug is exchanged for money, like any regular drug deal," the investigator said.
Ten days ago, craigslist unveiled sweeping new measures, in partnership with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to stop its ads from being used for prostitution, child exploitation and other illegal activities.
Craigslist will require "erotic services" providers to pay $10 for each listing and pay with a credit card, which the police will be able to subpoena.
Brennan says the idea could be applied to drug ads.
"I would like members of my staff who have an expertise in prosecuting Internet drug sales to meet with you and explore ways to curb drug dealing on your Web site," her letter says.
In an interview, Brennan said the best course is "to work with them to screen out sellers. They would have to focus on commonly used terms and develop screening mechanisms.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 11, 2008
NYPD Starts Collecting DNA from ... the Police
Police brass have been pushing for the samples for at least three years. The need was highlighted when a cop's blood turned up, unexplained, on a sink of the blood-soaked apartment of "Realtor to the Stars" Linda Stein.
A crime scene cop had washed his hands in the sink, leaving a near-invisible drop of blood. Accused killer Natavia Lowery's lawyers claimed the DNA belonged to "the real killer" - until the mystery was solved.
The first 11 crime scene detectives provided DNA samples yesterday under a deal negotiated with the detectives union. Lawyers for the Detectives' Endowment Association hammered out language to protect the samples from being accessed for other reasons without a subpoena, sources said.
Some rank-and-file detectives were not so sure.
"Big Brother is here," said one investigator. "To get a DNA sample from anyone else requires a search warrant. They decided the Constitution doesn't apply to cops."
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 10, 2008
Ninth Circuit Finds CA Child Abuse Database Unconstitutional
California's database of child abusers and suspected child abusers violates due process because it does not allow those named on it to challenge the allegations, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Craig and Wendy Humphries' child alleged that they were abusers, so the county took their other children away. The state dropped the charges after they were disproved by a doctor.
Despite their acquittal, the Humphries were listed on the state Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) with no chance to clear their names.
CACI can be accessed by employers, adoption agencies, and police officers. The information also is available to out-of-state agencies.
Those who have been wrongfully listed on CACI cannot be removed from the list for 10 years.
Judge Bybee reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Los Angeles County.
"We are not persuaded that California has provided a sufficient process for ensuring that persons like the Humphries do not suffer the stigma of being labeled child abusers, plus the loss of significant state benefits, such as child-care licenses or employment," Bybee ruled.
Article and link to full opinion here. [Brooks Holland]
November 07, 2008
Take the Handcuffs Off the Economic Recovery
A month ago, who would have thought that the Bush Administration would order the partial nationalization of the nation's banks to fix credit markets and support the economy? Maybe other innovative, even "radical," ideas are in order. Unless we come up with new ideas to sell cars and durable goods to fire up the economy, collapsing domestic auto sales threaten tens of thousands of jobs.
In addition, the recession will cause shrinking government revenue at every level. Even last spring 18 states were predicting reduced budgets in FY 2009. Unless new revenues are found, we will soon see the furloughs and wholesale firing of teachers, nurses, and emergency first responders; closed schools, libraries and hospitals; crumbling roads unfixed; and broken bridges closed to traffic.
Cliches about the auto industry's problems blame workers' and retirees' health care costs and management for making the wrong kinds of cars. But to sell cars we need to abandon cliches, old myths, and the blame game.
Consider these facts. Last year we had 2.3 million Americans in prison and jail. How many American cars did these men and women buy last year? That's right, none. That 2.3 million is about ten times greater than the 250,000 prisoners in America during the auto industry's glory days of the 1960s and 1970s. There are another 8 million Americans who got a felony conviction for possessing or selling drugs in the last twenty years. With their convictions, these people rarely have jobs. They don't have a legal income and they don't have credit.
The economic effect of more than ten million American adults who can't buy cars, houses, furniture, appliances, or other durable goods is like 9-11, Katrina, and every other hurricane combined. Even with a job, many are without a credit card and are shut out of the marketplace. From Ticketmaster to Amazon.com to the local shore store, American businesses are losing sales. Economically, our criminal justice policies are cutting our throat. [Mark Godsey]
October 28, 2008
State hopes new prisons, early release cut crowding
A steady rise in the number of inmates and the political risks of paroling prisoners early are complicating the state's efforts to ease crowded conditions in its prisons.
The 27 existing lockups now hold nearly 47,000 inmates, which is up from a population of just over 36,000 in 1998. The number of inmates is now 8 percent over the current capacity of 43,300.
And the tide keeps on rising. State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard estimates that the overall prison population could top 57,000 by the end of 2012. Legislators' desire to be "tough on crime" and the public's fear of rising drug-related crimes have led to longer and more mandatory sentences.
Correctional costs, at $1.6 billion for 2008-09, are the third biggest item in the $28 billion state budget, after education and welfare costs.
Progress to ease the crowded cells is going slowly. The Department of Corrections wants to build three new state prisons, each costing $200 million and holding 2,000 inmates. But the first of the three new prisons won't be open before mid- to late 2011.
The state Legislature has enacted a new law, one advocated by House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia. It's aimed at making more nonviolent prisoners eligible for early release. They would have to complete programs to ease their transition back into society, such as anger management and overcoming drug use, before being paroled.
By paroling more appropriate prisoners, officials believe they can moderate the rising tab for prison construction and operational costs, and thus ease the financial strain on state taxpayers. [Mark Godsey]
October 27, 2008
Residency restrictions for sex offenders popular, but ineffective
Despite research that shows sex offender residency requirements actually hamper the rehabilitation of offenders, jurisdictions across the country continue to pass them, including Allegheny County last year.
Experts say the laws, which prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, day care centers and parks, also don't work to help cut down on recidivism.
These types of residency restrictions have been passed in at least 30 states and thousands of municipalities nationwide. Even as prosecutors, criminal justice researchers and child advocates say they don't work, parents and legislators continue to push for the tough laws.
County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, who was the primary author of the local bill passed in October 2007, said he wrote the law that parents wanted.
Mr. Gastgeb said he originally intended for the restrictions to apply only to offenders whose victims were children. But after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the county this month, Mr. Gastgeb learned that the law actually applies to all registered sex offenders, no matter their victims' ages.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of six sex offenders who said they could not find anywhere to live because of the restrictions.
At the time the suit was filed, Mr. Gastgeb said he would amend the law so that it applied only to sex offenders whose victims are children.
But days later, he changed his mind.
"I do think it's legally sound, and I do think we'll prevail in court," Mr. Gastgeb said. "So a certain section of the county is off-limits. That's the way it is. [Mark Godsey]
October 24, 2008
Chicago torture victims face uphill legal battle
Melvin Jones says he screamed and begged for mercy as Chicago police touched metal clips to his feet and thighs, churned a hand-cranked device and sent shock waves of electricity through his body more than 25 years ago.
He says he was told the torture would stop when he confessed to murder.
Jones is among the dozens of alleged torture victims who have little hope of winning compensation, despite the arrest this week of a former police commander who officials say lied about the abuse.
Some have already completed prison terms for crimes they claim they confessed to only after police beat or electrocuted them. More than 20 remain in prison.
But the indictment of former police Lt. Jon Burge -- while a moral victory -- is unlikely to spring anyone from prison soon or prompt any quick settlement of claims for damages, lawyers for alleged torture victims say.
The state attorney general's office hasn't agreed to new trials for those claiming coerced confessions and the city opposes paying damages to alleged victims, they say.
''There hasn't been much courage shown by high political officials,'' attorney Flint Taylor, who represents Jones, said Wednesday. ''That's something that needs to be changed before this nightmare can end.''
Burge, 60, was charged with lying in a civil rights lawsuit when he said he and detectives never engaged in activities such as ''bagging'' -- covering a suspect's head with a typewriter cover until he couldn't breathe. [Mark Godsey]
October 23, 2008
San Francisco to Vote on Decriminalization of Prostitution
In this live-and-let-live town, where medical marijuana clubs do business next to grocery stores and an annual fair celebrates sadomasochism, prostitutes could soon walk the streets without fear of arrest.
San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution if voters next month approve Proposition K — a measure that forbids local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting anyone for selling sex.
The ballot question technically would not legalize prostitution since state law still prohibits it, but the measure would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to go after prostitutes.
Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes and allow them to form collectives.
"It will allow workers to organize for our rights and for our safety," said Patricia West, 22, who said she has been selling sex for about a year by placing ads on the Internet. She moved to San Francisco in May from Texas to work on Proposition K.
Even in tolerant San Francisco — where the sadomasochism fair draws thousands of tourists and a pornographic video company is housed in a former armory — the measure faces an uphill battle, with much of the political establishment opposing it.
Some form of prostitution is already legal in two states. Brothels are allowed in rural counties in Nevada. And Rhode Island permits the sale of sex behind closed doors between consenting adults, but it prohibits street prostitution and brothels.
In 2004, almost two-thirds of voters in nearby Berkeley rejected decriminalization. But proponents of Proposition K say their proposal has a better shot in San Francisco, which they believe is more sexually liberal than the city across the bay.
After all, the world's oldest profession has long been established here. During the Gold Rush, the neighborhood closest to the piers was a seedy pleasure center of sex, gambling and drinking known as the Barbary Coast.
These days, on certain corners, prostitutes sell their bodies day and night, ducking into doorways and alleys when police pass by. One recent afternoon in the Mission District, six prostitutes were plying their trade on a single block.
Police made 1,583 prostitution arrests in 2007 and expect to make a similar number this year. But the district attorney's office says most defendants are fined, placed in diversion programs or both. Fewer than 5 percent get prosecuted for solicitation, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
Proposition K has been endorsed by the local Democratic Party. But the mayor, district attorney, police department and much of the business community oppose the idea, contending it would increase street prostitution, allow pimps the run of neighborhoods and hamper the fight against sex trafficking, which would remain illegal because it involves forcing people into the sex trade.
The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized against the measure, saying it could make the city a magnet for prostitution.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
October 21, 2008
Police chief wants to ease rules on vehicle chases in Charlotte
Tired of what he calls “brazen disrespect” for police, Chief Rodney Monroe wants to loosen rules on Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chases.
Too many suspects get away, he says, because current policy allows officers to chase suspects only when a life-threatening felony is involved.
“At some point we have to send a message back to the criminal element that we are going to come after you,” he said.
Monroe couldn't provide statistics or examples of suspects eluding police, but said officers should have more discretion to pursue suspects in various violent crimes and some property crimes.
The move fits Monroe's reputation as a cop's cop, a chief who trusts his officers to make the right decision. But criminal justice experts are skeptical about rolling back restrictions on chases, which can be deadly, particularly in urban areas.
“Charlotte has had not only a good policy, but a good record when it comes to police pursuit,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminologist and national expert on police pursuits. “I just don't understand why he would tinker with it.” [Mark Godsey]
October 20, 2008
Experts: Fla. conviction possible without toddler's body
What they do not have is a body.
Prosecutors building a case against a single 22-year-old Florida mother accused of killing her young daughter will have to rely on forensic evidence and convince a jury that Casey Anthony lacks credibility and had a motive, legal experts say.
To help build the case, the prosecutor will be using what he described as cutting-edge forensic tests, including air testing for compounds released when a body decomposes.
"Sometimes circumstantial evidence is as powerful, or more powerful than the body itself," said Donald Jones, a professor of criminal law at the University of Miami law school.
Since 3-year-old Caylee Anthony's disappearance was reported in July, investigators have taken air samples from her mother's car trunk and tested for the presence of her DNA. Hair samples also have been analyzed. The FBI and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the University of Tennessee performed the tests.
"The investigation contains intricate forensics that are on the cutting edge of science," said Lawson Lamar, State Attorney in Orange County.
It's not known how the forensics will play in court or for a jury. [Mark Godsey]
October 17, 2008
ACLU: Federal death row inmates denied health care
One diabetic prisoner showing symptoms of high blood sugar had to wait two hours to be treated with insulin, the ACLU said after a yearlong investigation. And some prisoners with dental problems chose simply to have all their teeth removed rather than suffer pain while waiting for complicated procedures, it said.
The probe by the ACLU's National Prison Project uncovered "grossly inadequate" conditions that "fail to meet constitutional standards and jeopardize the health and safety" of the more than 50 inmates awaiting execution at the prison, the organization said in the letter to Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
"The Constitution prohibits deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of prisoners, including those sentenced to die," ACLU attorney Gabriel B. Eber said in a news release. He called on officials to "do whatever is necessary" to correct the problems.
Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said she could not comment because she was not sure whether Lappin had seen the letter.
Eber said his investigation included interviews with prisoners and a review of hundreds of pages of prison records.
According to the letter, prison officials do not promptly respond to medical emergencies, provide "woefully deficient" access to acute health care and consistently ignore signs of possibly serious medical conditions. It cited one instance of an inmate pressing an emergency call button in his cell for 45 minutes before receiving attention for a heart problem. [Mark Godsey]
In many US airports, guns are OK outside security
An Associated Press survey of the 20 busiest U.S. airports found that seven of them -- Philadelphia, Detroit, Phoenix, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and San Francisco -- let people with gun permits carry firearms in the general public areas of the terminal.
Some anti-terrorism experts say that is a glaring security loophole that could endanger airport workers, passengers and people waiting to pick them up or see them off. Some suggest that allowing guns in terminals is practically asking for them to be smuggled aboard a plane.
"If your airport is not secure, then the security of your airplanes is jeopardized," said Rafi Ron, former security chief at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel who now works as an aviation consultant. "You cannot separate the two."
Other authorities say the nonsecure areas of the terminal are no different from other public venues and do not warrant special restrictions. [Mark Godsey]
October 15, 2008
Drug Courts Offer Many Another Chance
Over the last three years, she had repeatedly missed court-ordered therapy and hearings, and the judge, J. Wesley Saint Clair of the Drug Diversion Court, at first meted out mild punishments, like community service. But last winter, pushed past his forgiving limit, he jailed her briefly twice. The threat of more jail did the trick.
Now she was graduating — along with 23 other addicts who entered drug court instead of prison. Prosecutors and public defenders applauded when she was handed her certificate; a policewoman hugged her, and a child shouted triumphantly, “Yeah, Mamma!”
In Seattle, as in drug courts across the country, the stern face of criminal justice is being redrawn, and emotions are often on the surface. Experts say drug courts have been the country’s fastest-spreading innovation in criminal justice, giving arrested addicts a chance to avoid prison by agreeing to stringent oversight and addiction treatment. Recent studies show drug courts are one of the few initiatives that reduce recidivism — on average by 8 percent to 10 percent nationally and as high as 26 percent in New York State — and save taxpayer money.
Since Judge Saint Clair took over the King County drug court here in 2005, the annual number of graduates — drug and alcohol free for at least six months — has more than doubled. His court has been cited by outside experts as one of the country’s best, yet a state budget crisis is forcing a shrinkage in participants.
Since the first drug court began work, in Miami in 1989, the idea has spread to more than 2,100 courtrooms in every state, though they still take in only a small fraction of addicted criminals. Offenders, usually caught in low-level dealing or stealing to support their addictions, volunteer for 9 to 18 months or more of intrusive supervision by a judge, including random urine testing, group therapy and mandatory sobriety meetings. The intent is a personal transformation that many participants say is tougher than prison — and with the threat of prison if they drop out or are kicked out.
“I’ve waited 22 months for this day, and I never thought I’d make it,” Scott Elkins, a 26-year-old hip-hop singer, told the Seattle audience in September. A cocaine user and dealer who had been clean for two years, Mr. Elkins had his felony charges dropped and has a job, his own music production company and marriage plans.
Nationwide, 70,000 offenders are in adult or juvenile drug courts at any given time, with the number growing, said C. West Huddleston III, director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The concept has been supported by the Clinton and Bush administrations.
“To find an intervention that works has generated great excitement in the criminal justice community,” said Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, a research group in New York, where Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has been a strong advocate.
But some scholars say that, because of high up-front costs, the limited success of drug treatment and a shortage of judges with the required personal talents, drug courts are unlikely to make a significant dent in the prison population.
Some lawyers also say the courts can infringe on the rights of defendants given that offenders usually must acknowledge guilt to enter the court, or in some places have already agreed to a plea bargain and sentence. Thus an addict might opt for drug court to avoid prison or with sincere intentions of going straight, but if treatment fails and he is expelled from the program, he must serve a sentence without having seriously fought the charges. His total time in court custody, between drug court and then prison, may be longer than it would have been otherwise. Advocates respond that such offenders are facing a plea-bargaining mill in any case, and are offered an invaluable chance for change.
Critics also worry that the courts can monopolize scarce drug-treatment slots at the expense of other addicts seeking help.
Clearly, the courts do not help everyone. One of the most successful programs is in New York State, where about 1,600 offenders are in adult drug courts. Studies found that while 40 percent dropped out of the program along the way, those who started it, including both dropouts and graduates, had 29 percent fewer new convictions over a three-year period than a control group with similar criminal histories and no contact with drug courts, Mr. Berman said.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
October 14, 2008
20 Top Crime Stories
We’ve seen some amazing crime stories on News Gems lately. These Top Twenty from the past six months range from the jungles of Africa to a small town in Tennessee. Some are groundbreaking exposés while others tell stories from the perspectives of frightened witnesses, grizzles detectives, innocent victims, crafty smugglers, and terrified killers.
1. Fugitive Justice. “Free to Flee,” by Joe Mahr of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is a stunning investigation into gaps in the criminal justice system that allow hundreds of thousands of felony fugitives to evade capture. Mahr reports:
• More than a third of all felony warrants are not entered into a national database routinely checked by police across the nation.
• Few fugitives are hunted, and most states don’t even screen for criminal warrants before handing out licenses.
• When fugitives are found in other states, authorities routinely refuse to pick them up — including some wanted for violent crimes. www.stltoday.com/mds/news/html/1252
2. Death of a Prostitute. Ever since security guard Lebrew Jones was convicted of the brutal murder of New York City prostitute Michaelanne Hall in 1989, reporter Christine Young has questioned his guilt. Young, who first came across the case as a journalism student and now reports for the Times Herald-Record in New York’s Hudson Valley, never gave up investigating the murder. In “I Didn’t Do that Murder: Lebrew Jones and the death of Micki Hall,” she has pulled together an impressive amount of evidence pointing to Jones’ innocence. http://thr-investigations.com/lebrewjones/
3. Fraud. Two Miami Herald investigations found rampant Medicare and mortgage fraud in South Florida. A wide-ranging series of reports by Jay Weaver shows that Medicare corruption flourishes while regulators do little to stop it.
Consider this statistic: In 2005, South Florida clinics -- mostly concentrated in Miami-Dade -- submitted $2.2 billion in HIV-drug infusion bills to Medicare, according to the inspector general. That was 22 times more than the total HIV infusion claims submitted to Medicare by healthcare clinics in the rest of the country combined. [Jon Marshall][Mark Godsey]